Wilton community farmer's philosophy: Happier animals, better food
Farmer Andrew Kennedy says that letting pigs be pigs makes for sensible farming and delicious pork. They're allowed to dig, root and fertilize parts of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm that haven't been cultivated in years, helping to turn the land back into plantable acreage. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER/Union Leader Correspondent)
Kennedy is the newest farmer to join Temple-Wilton Community Farm, the oldest Community Supported Agriculture farm in New Hampshire, and one of only two CSAs — farms supported by member families who purchase shares in exchange for produce — in America when it was founded by Anthony Graham, Lincoln Geiger and Trauger Groh in 1986.
Hailing from Oregon, where he studied agriculture and worked on farms for 20 years before heading east, Kennedy views the animals he raises with an eye for utilitarianism and a heady dose of respect.
“I approach harvesting animals with reverence. I only use humane slaughterhouses and I see no reason why I can't make the animals the happiest they can be while they're alive,” Kennedy said.
To that end, Kennedy is simply letting the pigs be pigs — a pretty simple thing that benefits both the animals and the land. Using electrified fencing, he sets the pigs up in large patches of the acreage atop Abbott Hill in Wilton, and lets them do what pigs do.
The land, which hasn't been farmed in many years, has lots of rocks, small trees, bushes and a bit of pasture space, and the pigs root around pulling up the rocks, eating the plants that farmers just don't need to have growing, and fertilize the soil in the most natural way there is. Once the pigs have had their way with the land, Kennedy moves them to a new spot, and the land they've left behind is well-tilled and fertilized so that it can be used for other purposes.
“These marginal areas of farmland, places that can't easily be used for planting vegetables or plowed under, are the kinds of places pigs love to live,” said Kennedy. “Pigs can go into these areas and turn them into something useful while having a good life.”
With the chickens, the process is a bit different. Kennedy has created moveable pens covered in white tarps and has placed them on a worn-out field. Within the pens, the chickens can do what chickens do – eat grasshoppers, peck at the ground for other insects, and run around safely without fear from predators or bad weather. Every day, the pens are moved a few feet so that the chickens have new ground to explore, and to fertilize, and by the end of the season, the tired field has been given a new life and is ripe for planting or for bringing the farm's dairy cows back for grazing.
Both the chickens and the pigs eat a mix of organic grain and soybean with probiotics, sea salt and kelp meal to keep them healthy without the use of hormones or other chemicals. Kennedy said he chooses the animals he raises based not just on whether they produce the most meat, but whether they can stay healthy despite the lack of drugs and hormones.
This fall, most of the chickens and pigs raised by Kennedy will be butchered and sold to families at the farm and the general public, offering people in the region an opportunity to indulge in a kind of meat it's hard to get in a grocery store.
“I chose the slaughterhouse we use, Adams Farm in Athol, Mass., because I respect the way they slaughter the animals,” said Kennedy.
The chickens will be sold whole and clean and ready for cooking or freezing. For folks who like pork, there are options to buy half a pig, a whole pig, or just the cuts of meat they like including smoked bacon and ham, sausage, ribs and chops. The farm also has stew hens and eggs for sale.
Kennedy said he welcomes people to the farm, not just to buy the food produced there, but so children and adults can both see for themselves where their food comes from.
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Bacon and Egg Cupcakes
16 slices bacon
1 can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 350°F. In 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat about 4 minutes or until cooked but not crisp, turning once. (It will continue to cook in the oven.) Set aside.
Spray 8 jumbo muffin cups or 8 (6-oz) glass custard cups with cooking spray. Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Place 1 biscuit in each muffin cup, pressing dough three-fourths of the way up sides of cups. Place 2 bacon slices in each biscuit cup, and crack an egg over each. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until egg whites are set. Run a small knife around cups to loosen. Serve immediately.
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Perfect Roasted Chicken
1 large roasting chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.
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