In the middle of the village of Warwick, MA, beef cattle and sheep graze on green fields while geese peck the ground around them. The grazing occurs from April until it snows, which this year was early December. Framed by the town’s historic houses, its like stepping back in time. The livestock belong to Jennifer and Olivier Flagollet of Hettie Belle Farm, they raise grass-fed organic livestock, selling meat orders to Community in Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) members as far away as Boston and as close as three doors down. The Flagollets are restoring depleted land, with the added benefit of assisting, “a multitude of village farms with little fields going back to forest and reclaiming them. It very much speaks to our community’s value of keeping the land open.”
Olivier grew up on a pig farm in Usson Du Poitou, France and brought his expertise to their farm; they also raise pigs. Jennifer earned a Master’s Degree in sustainable development and they both worked at The Farm School in Athol, MA for seven years designing and delivering their adult agricultural training program. “We’re working on our model here,” she says. Soon after they had twins, they decided to begin Hettie Belle Farm. The twins, Louise and Emmanuel, are now five, they also have a 17-year- old daughter, named Zoe. The farm is named after matriarch, Hettie Belle Lincoln, who once owned their property.
They graze livestock on 12 acres at School of International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, VT, where Jennifer works fulltime. She also farms almost full time at home with Olivier, who farms fulltime. The family raises 100 percent of their animals, oftentimes CSA orders are filled with meat or produce from other farms, but not at Hettie Belle.
They currently have 120 regular season CSA members and 75 summer members. They also sell organic geese, turkeys, Peking ducks and chicken. The farm also has 24 beef cattle, a combination of Hereford, Angus and Belted Galloway, grass-fed only — not a “lick of grain.” They are given mineral salts and kelp.
On grass eight months a year, livestock is moved daily until they come into the barn during the winter. Moving livestock every day and multi-species grazing allows them to be given no anti-wormer or antibiotics. The couple is constantly putting up and taking down fencing and toting water. During winter, they spend a lot of energy managing manure. They use lots of carbonaceous material — local straw and wood shavings — for bedding, to trap the valuable nitrogen so it doesn’t leach out.
When they started, some of the parcels of land “Were in pretty bad shape.” The Flagoletts remember when the land couldn’t carry many animals. Now, “Looking down at a pasture 20 by 20 feet, every acre we have is producing more high quality grass than it was five years ago.”
The couple has long term leases on these small hilltown fields, changing them in five years, by farming sustainably, adding organic amendments. Grazing livestock lay down manure, changing the soil’s fertility. They changed the pH of the soil by adding short-acting wood ash and long-acting lime.
Now, 10 months of the year, the fields are green, supporting livestock, “a palpable transformation.” Without seeding, seeds already in the soil had a chance to grow. “Add the animals, managing land properly, adding wood ash, a combination of manure and type of grazing. Just letting them graze, it wouldn’t be as profound,” says Jennifer, adding “It’s age-old wisdom, it isn’t new information, any sort of organic farming is returning to age-old farming, before availability of chemicals.” This allows them to produce food they feel comfortable feeding to their children and their many customers.