by Laura Rodley
In the hills of Cheshire, MA sits Elmartin Farm. The brothers Shawn and Kim Martin raise grass-fed and grass-finished beef to sell to area stores, restaurants and at their own farm store.
The farm has earned the distinction of being a Century Farm, having been in the family for over 100 years. The brothers are the third generation to farm this particular track of land, but they are the eighth generations of farmers in Cheshire, as the Martins started farming in 1790. Everett Lawrence Martin was Kim’s grandfather. It is his initials that gave the farm its name, Elmartin Farm.
Their father, Everett Martin Jr. lives on the main farm, boasting over 400 acres. Shawn lives with his family 800 yards down the road and Kim lives with his family on the next road over.
“I’ve been farming all my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Kim.
In the 1930s and 40s, they delivered milk locally in glass bottles with their own Elmartin Farm label. In the 1950s, the farm was a major dairy with 80 milkers and 80 head of livestock. The main barn, 200’ x 52’, was built by Cheshire resident and builder Bob Daniels in 1952, equipped to house seven dozen cows, nine calf pens, nine heifer stalls, three bull pens and five miscellaneous pens.
Then in the ‘80s, they sold the cows. The family continued to farm the fields, raising hay to sell and having some livestock for their own use, including goats and chickens.
Surveying the market six years ago, the brothers started raising black Angus beef organically, though they are not certified organic. The cattle are also raised free of antibiotics.
They started out by buying 80 head of beef. “We kept 10 of those to breed our own calves — to have everything grown at own our place and raise it from scratch,” said Kim.
They use no pesticides on the hay they feed their cattle and now raise the hay mainly to feed their own cattle, though they do still sell some. They trade hay with a local farmer for the services of a bull for three months of the year, rather than using A.I. They chose not to have a bull on the farm year-round for safety reasons.
Among others, they sell beef to a wholesale co-op in Albany, NY, and to a store in Becket.
They turned the old milk house into a store officially in 2012. Open year-round, they sell their beef and pork from their range-fed Berkshires. The milking parlor built in 1980 still stands at the ready, albeit a little dusty, but the milk buckets besides them are kept clean. The brothers are contemplating bringing the equipment back into use, not for actual milking, but set up as a learning tool for visitors sometime in the future.
While the farm store is heavily frequented in good weather, “in winter, customers never want to drive the seven miles to the store. They want to go to the supermarket, right around the corner. It’s convenience. It all comes down to convenience,” Kim said.
Customers also expect their farm store to be open all the time, but he said, “It’s difficult to be open all the time. We can’t be here.”
Consumers need to be educated on the importance of farming, buying local and the value of buying meat that is not trucked or flown in, as well as appreciating the farmer’s workload. Customers have the added advantage of being able to buy a whole steer, a half or a quarter.
The inherent challenges of farming are the hours and the amount of work. “No one truly wants to work that hard,” Kim said. “Farming is not a job — it’s a lifestyle. You have to live it. In summertime, I’m here until 9 o’clock at night most days. You have to love it to do it.”
He and Shawn both work off the farm too. Kim is a construction worker who doubles as a snowplow operator while Shawn delivers oil.
The brother’s two sons have been huge assets, but Shawn’s son is going away to school and Kim’s son, Bryant, age 17, is going away to lineman school “to be a lineman for 20 years before he comes back to the farm. He likes to farm.”
Another challenge Kim sees is labeling. “In local supermarkets, they don’t have to label the country of origin on their meat. Stuff raised in the U.S. would, but products of Argentina and Mexico don’t have to label. Where is the quality control?”
They are secure in the knowledge that they are producing high quality beef their customers and neighbors can count on.
Branching out, they are listed with a Boston-based company, advertising their farm as a place to get married with the view of Mount Greylock from their farm as a background. “Besides myself and my brother, no one else got married here” so far.
His most valuable memory “is farming with my son, when I’m out baling hay and he’s up in another field, cutting or raking or baling hay — that family connection.”
And he’ll keep working those 16 hour days to keep the farm in the family and keep that family connection thriving. For more information, visit www.elmartinfarm.com.
Eight generations and counting
by Laura Rodley