The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) offered a farm business planning course though the winter. I was fortunate to be able to take this course, giving me the skills to make my family’s farm more profitable and sustainable. And I was also fortunate to become acquainted with the Diemand family in my class.
Tessa Diemand had been on my radar already. Tessa recently returned home to the farm, leaving behind a corporate job in Boston. She quickly started a group for young, next generation farmers. After just returning back to the farm myself, I was glad for the opportunity to meet her and the others in this group.
The Diemand Farm, located in Wendell, MA, has been in operation since 1936.
The family farm raises and processes their own poultry and farm fresh eggs – additionally raising grass-fed beef. Diemand Farm’s slogan is “Come See What’s Cookin” which is appropriate for the amount of delightful goodies that comes out of their store. They have a small commercial kitchen and create delicious home-style foods from their own farm-raised meats and other local ingredients. From desserts to pre-made meals, they really know what they are doing!
25 miles and 40 minutes away from Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery, our customer base is not the same. Without competition and a bond every farmer shares, I got the full farm tour from Tessa and her mom Anne last week. Our businesses are similar in a lot of ways: prepared foods, baked goods, farm raised beef, and awesome views. It was Diemand Farm who inspired us to try the Soup CSA this winter!
One thing that is markedly different between our farms, however, is the livestock that we derive our primary income from. Barstow’s Longview Farm is a dairy farm with a few chickens for eggs. Diemand Farm is a poultry farm with a few cattle for beef.
Back in 2016, voters approved Massachusetts Ballot Question #3. The new law, which goes into effect 2022, will prohibit Massachusetts farmers from confining egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves raised for veal in spaces that prevent the animals from “lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely” — and the sale of products from animals confined in that way.
The Diemands have been farming for 83 years, I’m sure they know how to raise their flock. Allowing animal extremists to determine what goes on the ballot takes the power away from the people who actually work with the livestock. Massachusetts Ballot Question #3 used emotional language to persuade the public to vote “Yes”.
And of all the farms in Massachusetts, this law impacts just one farm.
Who voted “No” on this Question? The community that Diemand Farm resides. The community that knows this family, knows this farm, knows their quality of care, and knows they don’t want another farm in Massachusetts to close up shop.
This multi-generational family business is now faced with the financial challenge of readjusting barns, purchasing new equipment, and rethinking their processes – while still maintaining their existing flock and revenue streams. When your office is renovated you get the day off. When a school gets an update it happens during the summer. What do you do when you have to reconfigure your entire barn (your entire business!)? Ask the chickens to take a paid holiday?
The Diemand’s have diversified their farm. They sell beef, lumber, compost, prepared foods, eggs, chicken, and turkey – retail and wholesale. They are raising chickens and turkeys, at varying stages of their life, in large barns and on pasture. Every space on the farm has a purpose, every acre is accounted for, every critter is cared for.
During a farm transition, the bills must still be paid, the eggs must still be gathered, the animals must still be cared for – but who cares for the farmer?
When do you choose to make a big purchase like a new car or big renovation? Typically farmers make changes to their businesses when it works best for the family and their finances. There’s not a lot of money in agriculture, especially at the scale we are doing it at. But local food is a priority. It nourishes our community, keeps land open, preserves heritage, and keeps dollars circulating in the region.
The Diemand family is faced with a difficult deadline. But I know they will make it and do it well. If you haven’t checked out the Diemand Farm Store yet, stop by! They are open year round excluding Sundays and offer Smokehouse Dinners in the summertime. You can also catch them at Festivals throughout the area like the Garlic & Arts Fest and the Mutton & Mead Festival. Here is their lovely website.