At Maple Heights Farm, it is our goal to provide you, the consumer with nutritionally dense and authentic food while working in harmony with nature by respecting the biological life-cycle systems of flora and fauna on our farm. You have our guarantee that everything we sell was produced on our farm, by us.
After working towards purchasing our farm for over two years, we finally closed the deal in October of 2007 as part of a preservation project with the town of Westminster and the state of Massachusetts. Our family has continuously farmed in North Worcester County for the last century.
USDA Certified Organic
What does this mean to you? It means our farm is certified by the USDA and monitored to prove to you that we are doing what we say we are doing. We use very few off-farm inputs on our fields and garden. The animals eat and convert grasses, nuts, roots and bugs into the best fertilizers available. We only use the highest quality inputs on our farm when we need them. Thus far, this only consists of extra manure and wood ash and lime from a USDA approved source when it is needed. Our cattle eat only from our fields and fields we manage for other people in town. Their diet is not only 100% grass, but it is also 100% organic. The organic standard requires that a calf must be under organic management before it is born. We currently have four cows that are under organic management though not yet certified and we hope this grows over the years. They cannot be considered organic unless they are certified, and we do not know if we will do this someday due to the extra expense of the certification. Our meat products are not certified organic as our pigs and poultry receive high quality non-organic grain that we source from local growers. We always attempt to get GMO free grain.
What does this mean to us? It allows us to give you the assurance that what we are saying about our practices is overseen by the certifying agency (Baystate Organic Certifiers). It also means we have the assistance of Baystate Organic Certifiers in helping us make certain that every product we use on the farm is safe for us, our children, our animals, and you!
Raising healthy animals in a healthy environment eliminates problems that occur on feed lots. Our small herd of 40 cattle watch out for themselves. They come in when they are too hot and they have shelter on cold stormy days – though typically we find them outside even in the worst weather.
Our pigs get rotated onto fresh pasture when needed. They have shelter but prefer to spend much time out of doors – even in the winter. They receive fresh water and grain twice each day.
Laying hens keep our maple grove free from weeds and then are moved to grass pastures. They are fenced to keep predators away. They are given fresh water and grain twice each day and they are never locked in their coop during the warm weather. They are moved to the comparatively warm barn during the coldest winter months.
Broilers and Turkeys are raised in our barn for about two weeks and then moved onto pasture in movable pens – which protect from predators. These pens are moved twice each day and are a very important facet of our pasture management plan. Moving the pens stirs up hundreds of tiny grasshoppers which appear to be a favorite food of our poultry especially the turkeys and seem to make up a considerable portion of their diet. They also receive fresh water and grain twice each day.
None. Ever. Would we use medications? Yes, absolutely, if the health of an animal absolutely required it. But our farm is in balance and we do not have the disease problems that other farmers report. Many farms require regular use of worming medications and antibiotics for diseases. It is almost routine even on small farms to use "medicated" (read antibiotic) feed to start turkeys and chickens. We start ours without medicated feed (and non-medicated can sometimes be very difficult to find in this area). We simply do not have the problems that require medications and we believe this is due to our concentration on keeping our land healthy.
Natural Resources Conservation
We have a goal to add one local field per year to our Organic Plan. What does this mean? It means that, for each field added, one more field is being cared for without pesticides, herbicides and poor management. Our fields are managed with regular mowing and the addition of manures and wood ash and lime as needed. No polluting quick-fix fertilizers that give a quick boost but return nothing to the soil. At this time, we have 15 acres off-farm that are included in our organic plan and managed by Maple Heights Farm.
Our pastures are managed by our animals, with a little help from us. Our Cattle and Broilers are used to fertilize our fields. Each are rotated on a regular schedule, broilers twice each day and cattle about every five days. After rotating off a section of pasture, we spend 15 minutes chopping out perennial weeds (typically thistle or wild rose). Next, we “bush” the field by dragging a box rake around the entire field. This breaks up manure plops and keeps flies under control. The pasture is then “brush hogged” (basically extreme mowing) to chop any plants that the cows won’t eat. We do this before any biennials have a chance to flower/seed or saplings have a chance to take hold. Finally, the pasture rests and grows until it is ready for another feeding. Prior to winter, we spread any manure that we have on hand and, if needed, we spread wood ash from an approved source under our organic plan. The wood ash (and occasionally extra manure) is typically our only off farm input to our soils.
Our garden soils are managed by spreading well composted manure in the fall (and wood ash if we already have some going on pastures). We make "bio char" (you may be interested in reading about amazonian dark earth or terra preta) and incorporate that into the garden soil and around fruit trees. We compost all vegetable matter from the garden and the compost gets reapplied when we are planting. The soils around the beds are heavily mulched with any leftover hay that was not needed by our cattle. We have no need to use any other fertilizers (organic or otherwise). We start 95% of our seeds for our vegetables using our own soil in our potting mix made from our compost and soil. Weeding is done by hand, weeds are laid in between rows for additional mulching and adding hummus to the soil. We also use an old fashioned wheel hoe for weeding between rows.
Our biggest pest problems on the farm are vegetable garden pests and flies in hot weather. Our soil management system helps a great deal with flies but we also use self-contained fly traps when needed. We do not use any pesticide (organic or otherwise) or sprays on our farm. It is our belief that bugs that eat vegetables indicate a system that is in need of balance. We hand-pick bugs as much as we can and use row covers when appropriate. The balance is controlled NOT by poisoning bugs but by attracting predators to the garden. It is not the fast way to do it, but it provides a much more long-term solution. Japanese beetles are handled with pheromone traps. We put these in the chicken pens after slitting a whole in the bottom of the trap bag. Beetles fly in and it doesn’t take long for the chickens to realize that they can get an easy, tasty treat by hanging out near the traps! When we first purchased our farm, ticks were everywhere and seen DAILY on our clothing. We rarely see any even when it is reported to be a bad year for them.
Our primary heat source is a wood boiler in our basement. This is used for heat and domestic hot water. Our backup system is a heat pump system that can utilize the heat thrown from the refrigerator in order to heat water for the house – though, being a back-up system, it is rarely used. In the summer we use get our hot water from a solar panel on the house. Fluorescent light bulbs keep our electric bills down and a plug-in electric/hybrid car keeps our gasoline bill low. We are planning to install a small windmill.