Peter and Mary Montague own Bridgmont Farm, which was started in 1786 by an ancestor, Elisha Bridgman. Peter grew up on Bridgmont Farm located in Westfield, MA and Mary grew up on Fitzgerald’s Farm, which was owned by her father, in nearby Ashfield. At the time, both were dairy farms.
As fellow dairy farmers, their grandparents knew each other. Peter and Mary competed against each other in 4-H when they were 9 and 10 years old. “Not sure we liked each other then. He kind of grew on me,” joked Mary, as she reached out to hold Peter’s hand. They married in 1969.
“This is my grandfather’s farm. I used to come here quite often as a boy. My father had cows and sold them. I was here because of the cattle,” said Peter, overlooking the 200-acre farm they bought from their grandfather’s estate in 1976, continuing the farm as the seventh generation. They ran it as a dairy with 70 award winning Holstein and Guernsey milkers until 1995, when the milk market started going south and they sold the cows. Peter went to work for the town highway department, sold feeder calves (instead of processing them) and also sold hay.
Coinciding with Peter’s retirement from the highway department five or six years ago, the Montagues started selling grass-fed beef. “We started with two beef in one year. Now we send two beef in one month,” taking care of all the hay they can grow from approximately 60 acres of fields.
Their herd of 50 beef cattle, Angus Hereford crosses and a few Dutch Belted, are fed only grass or hay, and no grain, with access to salt blocks and minerals. The meat of cattle that has consumed live forage contains higher levels of vitamin E and Omega 3s, compared to cattle that has been fed corn.
People come by appointment to their store in their cellar in their brand new house with four full freezers full of beef and shelves full of maple syrup from their 700 taps. They also run a beef CSA and have 25 meat goats. Both work on the farm full time. Peter does the heavy work and Mary does the marketing.
To help them choose the cut, Mary asks her customers what they are going to do with the meat. She makes sure they know that grass-fed beef is lean, high in protein, takes one-third less cooking time than feed lot beef (due to the difference in marbling of fat) and will continue to cook when removed from heat. She also gives customers recipes to use.
“I love the flavor,” said Mary. She also loves farming.
“We both love this. We want to keep the farm in farming. It’s too bad to see good farmland go to houses.”
“I’m trying to make a living,” agrees Peter. Like most farmers, they diversify. Smith College officials were concerned about waste from the college, so three times a week trucks arrive at the farm full of food waste and horse manure from Smith College to be mixed with their own waste from goats and beef cattle. “I bag it and use it on my hayfields. Originally just on hayfields, got a little extra, so I sell it,” said Peter.
They are very proud of their son and daughters, who, along with their own families, help out on the farm, making it a ninth-generation business. In exchange for their efforts, the children get meat, maple syrup and babysitting — as well as a chance to live a healthy, rural life close to their roots.
The couple are well-known beyond the farm too. Peter has been director of Tri-Country Fair in Northampton for more than 20 years, and was superintendent of cattle before that. Mary is a member of Hilltown Plein Air Painters and has had many shows. Lately she has transitioned from painting landscapes to immortalizing their cattle and goats, bringing forth their beauty and the peace they experience roaming on the farm to others on canvas.