Stillman Quality Meats
Away from the bustle and activity of Boston Public Market, there is a farm in the rolling hills of central Massachusetts where happy animals and a hard working farm family produce some of the best quality local meats in New England. The animals and operations of the farm are overseen by Kate Stillman who is not only an advocate of family farming, a steward of land and conservation, a mom and business owner, but also a champion of local food production.
I visited the farm after a late March snowstorm which left a blanket of snow on the ground and Kate trying to juggle her spring planning to accommodate the unpredictable New England weather. She shared some of her thoughts about the farm, her animals and the quality she strives for in her products...
What would you like more people to think about when it comes to the meat they choose to buy and eat?
It always surprises folks when I say this, but in general I advocate for people to eat less meat but of a higher quality. As a farm committed to sustainable practices which include high animal humane standards, we really would like people to think more about the meat on their plates- the effort involved in bringing a steak or a chicken breast to plate- it's huge. It's very easy for folks to visualize the difference between commodity produce vs homegrown or farm raised produce. Example a tomato. Most folks have grown a tomato in their garden or at least sampled one from a friend or neighbor. They understand the process and appreciate the difference. Meat is a whole other story and the level of understanding in regards to the herculean effort involved in bringing each pork chop, or burger, or steak to plate is largely not understood. Folks can taste and appreciate a good steak, but do they really understand the journey of how it got to the plate? Unless you have grown up on a farm or have an extra 20 acres to spare, most folks have not grown or raised their own meat. It really all boils down to "you are what you eat". I am an omnivore and think eating meat is part of a healthy diet, but the decision to take an animals's life is not lost on me. I really believe that if folks are going to eat meat, then they need to take personal responsibility by committing themselves to knowing and understanding the process of hoof to steak to plate. I really am all about fundamentally changing the way consumers think about meat.
Part of your philosophy is to raise "happy animals" - how do you put this into practice and what is the result?
So I grew up having only consumed meat that was raised on my family's farm. I had no idea what a CAFO was or that animals in modern food production were abused and raised in a sub par manner. In essence raising happy animals was second nature to me, I thought nothing of it and assumed it was the way of the world. Raising happy animals just seemed like the correct thing to do. That being said- there is a very real reason animals are being abused and raised in unhealthy environments- PRICE. If more consumers were willing to pay the actual price for their meat and food, animals would be reared differently.
In terms of our own practices, it all comes down to personal philosophy and beliefs. I am very proud of my farm crew and the fact that at heart we are all animal people. We genuinely love what we do and are extremely proud to know we raise our livestock is a sustainable and humane manner. It's the only way we would have it.
How does the location of your farm in central Massachusetts influence your products and your approach to farming?
Our farm location is a huge part of our story. I know it is a bit cliche, but farming is hard... for a million reasons, not the least of which has to do with the resources available and the community that our farm exists within... and thus supports us. Our farm is located in Hardwick, MA in the east Quabbin valley. The east Quabbin valley has become its own farm belt and represents a very diverse and amazing network of real working and thriving MASS farms. Existing within such a diverse and amazing network of family farms is critical to our success. Yes, I am two hours away from my customers, but I am just a stones throw from neighbors that know, support and love what we do.
There are so many terms used to describe meat options today - grass fed, pasture raised, all natural, sustainable farming, natural diet, etc. In simple terms, what should people look for when purchasing meat and poultry?
Very good question. I'm not terribly big into labels, because I think they are designed to disengage folks and don't tell the real story of the food. Sadly the USDA owns most of the buzzwords, which most consumers do not realize. I am into only one label- LOCAL. Go to the markets, farm stands, farm stores and engage with the local producers. Ask them what's good. That is the only way you are going to truly learn about your meat or food. I do the same on the farm. I ask my butcher and farm crew almost daily- "what's good today?" ...and inevitably I end up with something different every time. That's the point- enjoy the farm bounty. It's not about what you want, but rather what they farm has produced for you.
What types of things can people expect to find at your BPM shop? What are some of your best sellers?
First, because we process all of our own meats, we offer a huge selection of freshly butchered cuts- beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and water fowl. Because we butcher our own meats and because we believe in utilizing the whole animal our selection changes daily. We try to always stock an assortment of the basics, but we also tailor our selection to seasonal needs, so as an example during the winter season we stock more roasts and braising cuts whereas in the summer we stock more grill ready cuts- burgers, sausages, kabobs. One of the things that is unique about our selection is because of our on-farm processing, we are able to offer a great selection of value-added and specialty selections. For example, we smoke our own bacon- over 12 different types and we make over 40 types of sausage- many of which feature seasonal and local ingredients grown right on the farm.
Naturally, we love all of our products but if I had to draw attention to a couple- it would be our bacon, our sausages and our chicken. Our chicken is amazing. It's made people cry!!
With spring and summer on our minds, what is your favorite thing to barbecue when the weather is nice?
Wow, that is a tough question. I truly have the pleasure of choosing almost any cut or type of meat... but alas I am a purist at heart. It's a burger! I am a farmer through and through and cannot think of a summer night in the farm kitchen much before 10pm. We cook often on the grill when weather permits because (we're tired and slightly lazy... and) it keeps the mess out of the kitchen! After a very long day a burger is simple and the purest way to enjoy the farm. I grew up on grilled hamburgers, fresh corn and boiled new potatoes. (The freshly dug potatoes are still my ultimate farm fav...) But that is the quintessential summer farm meal.
You can find Stillman Farm's best seasonal cuts and products on sale everyday at their shop at the Boston Public Market. You can also find out more about their Meat CSA Share program on their website.
Photos: Melissa DiPalma