In 1910, 40 percent of the United States’s population grew the food that fed the rest of the population. Today the percentage of the population that feeds the rest of the country has been reduced to two.
It’s true that American farms have been disappearing as quickly as developers can snatch up the land. Robin and Jon McConaughy, owners of Double Brook Farm in Hopewell, are exceptions to this trend, however. They are doing all they can to bring the farm-to-table concept of local, sustainable farming to our area.
“It really all began because we were interested in having animals for our own food, showing our children where food comes from, and connecting with the land,” explains Robin McConaughy.
So, in 2003, the couple, both corporate executives, purchased 60 acres in Hopewell, with the idea of raising beef, chickens, and sheep for their own consumption.
“We found we would have more animal meat than we needed,” continues Ms. McConaughy. “There was also great interest from friends and acquaintances in purchasing the meat and eggs, so expanding seemed the right direction. We also sold to some area restaurants. Then, we thought, ‘why not open a store and have a legitimate operation.
“I think more people definitely want local products, and healthy food today. They want to know what’s in the food and where it comes from. That demand for local, all-natural, pasture-raised products has defined the direction of our farm.”
The McConaughys discovered that distribution and procurement were key. “Distribution is a problem for the local farmers, and restaurants say they could not get quality and consistency. So we thought we could close the link: farm, market, restaurant.”
With this in mind, the now former corporate executives-turned full-time farmers, decided to go forward with plans for Brick Farm Market to open on Broad Street in Hopewell this winter, and Brick Farm Tavern, a restaurant to open in a renovated farm house on Route 518 and Amwell Road, in late spring.
“Nearly everything for the market and restaurant will be produced on the farm, and we now have 37 acres designated for vegetable farming,” reports Ms. McConaughy. “The market will have a butcher shop, eggs, cheese, seasonal vegetables, charcuterie, chocolate, juice bar, and Jen Carson’s pastries from Small World.”
Of course, it all begins with the farm, the animals, and the vegetables. Double Brook Farm has 300 head of cattle, 240 sheep, 150 pigs, as well turkeys and chickens. Most of the animals are for meat, some are breeding stock, and some chickens are for eggs. The McConaughys now own 265 acres of land and lease another 200.
100 Percent Devon
“The cows, which are 100 percent Devon, are completely grass-fed, which is healthier for them,” notes Ms. McConaughy. “And the composition of their meat is healthier. It has healthier properties. We have rotational grazing, and we move the cows to new grass every day through most of the spring, summer and fall. This helps the regrowth of the grass. Also, two to three days after the cattle leave the pasture, the chickens come in as the ‘clean-up crew.’ They scratch through and distribute the manure, replant seeds and add nitrogen to the soil.”
The farm has four different breeds of pigs: Hampshire, Berkshire, Old Spots, and Ossabaw. The sheep are the Katahdin breed, named for Mt. Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine.
The chickens, which are pasture-raised, are Rhode Island Reds for eggs, and Cornish Cross for meat. The turkeys, Standard Broad-Breasted and Heritage, are also pasture-raised. They are kept in a free-range pen until they are big enough to defend themselves against predators.
With their emphasis on being as self-sustainable as possible, the McConaughys are also developing a mobile slaughterhouse. This is for humane purposes and also so that farmers will know that they are actually getting their own meat, points out Ms. McConaughy.
Cows are kept on the farm for 24 to 30 months, and as long as people are going to eat meat, this is by far the most humane way for them to live. “It’s about choices,” says Ms. McConaughy. “Our cows are very healthy. I want our children to see that treating the animals humanely and also having a respect for the environment are important.”
Regarding the environment, solar panels are used on the roof of the barn and other buildings; diesel farm machinery runs on converted cooking oil, and all fertilizer comes from the animals themselves.
Everyone knows that farming is just about the most difficult career path one could follow. The hard physical work, the unpredictability, the weather, the insects and other pests all take their toll. The McConaughys are doing their best to make it a success — to the benefit of everyone in the area who appreciates healthy home-grown food. They have gathered a staff of knowledgeable people to help them.
“David Sherman is our farm manager,” says Ms. McConaughy. “He oversees everything. We also have a vegetable manager, cheese manager, restaurant manager, and farm hands.
“We had a plan in the beginning, and the most pleasant part has been working with people who are excited about what we are doing. Being around people who are so passionate about what they do and about what we are creating here is the biggest pleasure.
“Now, I look forward to seeing everything materialize — the market and the restaurant. It all takes hope, optimism, and determination.”
She is also anticipating the farm’s special Christmas event to be held Wednesday and Thursday, December 21 and 22 from 11 am. to 7 p.m. and on Friday, December 23 from 9 to 1. “There will be fresh turkeys, frozen cuts of meat, fresh eggs, fresh vegetables, and Jen Carson’s sweet confections,”
Eggs and other products are currently available at the farm. (609) 466-3594. Website: doublebrookfarm.com.