A Guide to the Meat Farms of (North) Central Massachusetts
I suppose in retrospect it was a bit of a low-grade mid-life crisis. The kids being older meant more time to focus on health. My wife watched the documentary Food, Inc. with some gym friends and we resolved to buy as much farm meat vs. supermarket meat as we could. We joined Chestnut Farms’ (Hardwick; and, yes, Farms is plural in their name) meat CSA that we split with another family: 25 lbs (that’s now been increased to 30 lbs) of farm-fresh, grass-fed, pastured chicken, beef, and pork. (And Chestnut Farms does not have a retail store, which is why they’re not included in the list below.)
As we have grown accustomed to the farm meat (and, once you are, it’s hard to go back; I barely use my spices anymore; the meat is just that good on its own), the combination of three boys that are older and a desire for specific cuts (which you don’t get to choose with the CSA) drove me to explore supplemental options.
We live in Worcester, MA about an hour west of Boston. What makes Worcester great (among other things) is the easy availability of the amenities that a small city offers (great restaurants, minor league sports) with the immediate accessibility to the more rural parts of Central, MA; give me ten minutes, and I’m out of the city and into the rolling hills of small towns the greater Boston area has never heard of. And dotted among those towns is easy access to farm meat.
Each farm is different from inventory, volume, and accessibility standpoints, but they all share a few common features: familiar faces, shopping local, and high quality; this is your beginner’s guide to visiting them. After the list, I’ll describe the CSA in greater detail and offer some thoughts on farm meat in general.
A few caveats, though, before proceeding. Farm meat will run around two to three times more expensive than supermarket meat. And if you’re a medium-well or well-done meat eater, you’ll either have to change your cooking habits or change your eating habits. Because farm meat is leaner than supermarket meat, it gets very tough very fast if overcooked. I of course suggest that you give that medium-rare a try; my guess is that you won’t regret it. But if you insist on medium well or well, you’ll have to slow cook and/or wet-cook your farm meat.
Kalon Farm, Lancaster MA; on 117 across from the Bolton Fair Grounds (every day, 10–6; also 28 Corey Hill Road, Ashburnham, but I’ve not been there and that is not on the map)
If you have a soccer player in the family that plays at Progin Park or the Stars facility, Kalon is an easy errand during warm ups that will get you back in plenty of time for kick-off; that’s in fact how I found Kalon. Imagine my surprise then when I also found that they have their own micro-brewery, Bull Spit. I like beer but I won’t pretend that I can speak intelligently about it to those that really know it. Suffice it to say that Bull Spit is consistently stocked in my fridge.
It’s unclear, however, how long Bull Spit will remain in Lancaster (this article explains why); the short of it is that Lancaster is a dry town but, because the brewery is on a farm, they were able to circumvent that; the town has revisited that, however, and is making life difficult. With that said, I was there a few weeks ago and they were still selling beer. (And they are also opening a tap-room in Maynard.)
Kalon Farm also sells “canned goods, sauces/spices, honey, cheese and other delicious local artisan products… We also have Hillside Cellars wine from our own Winery.” [from their website], in addition to some prepared foods. Some of those local artisan products include olive oil and balsamic vinegar and candles.
Finally, Kalon Farm is the only farm I know of that sells boneless short ribs. This might not matter to most but braised short ribs are a family favorite and my wife prefers the boneless short ribs and Kalon’s boneless short ribs far surpass those that we buy at the supermarket. Kalon also stocks a small selection of refrigerated (as opposed to frozen) meats that are ready-to-cook, so you can shop for dinner that night if you want.
Farmer Matt, W. Brookfield Rd, New Braintree (Th & F: 11-7; Sa: 10-7; Su: 10-6)
I’m a sucker for a good story, and Farmer Matt has one: “he hung up his suit and tie and set out for greener pasture, and that’s precisely what he got when he decided to become a farmer.” [from the website] I won’t include the whole story; you can ask him yourself when you go, because he’s often there and, yes, he’s as gregarious and welcoming as the name implies. In fact, when I ordered our Christmas beef tenderloin, he called to confirm how I wanted it prepared but I couldn’t pick up the phone. When I called him back, I’m pretty sure he picked up while on his tractor; that’s about right for Farmer Matt and is what keeps me coming back.
Farmer Matt has an extensive selection of all cuts and runs weekly sales via his email list. In addition to meat, he sells prepared foods / meals and offers catering services, as well as baked goods (I recommend the maple corn bread).
Perhaps the least convenient from Worcester (certainly if you’re east of Worcester), Farmer Matt has other reasons nearby to visit. First and foremost, the trip to New Braintree is by far the most scenic; if you’ve not been out that way, it’s worth the trip, especially in the fall or one of those first windows-down spring days. Rose32 Bakery is about a five minute drive away in nearby Gilbertville (Hardwick), and makes a great spot for lunch (on the go; there’s been no on-site eating since COVID) or stocking up on bread. (Check their website; they’re only open Th, F, Sa and require pre-ordering for any kind of selection.) There’s also a small brewery in Gilbertville, Lost Towns Brewing Company, named after the towns lost in the formation of the Quabbin Reservoir.
Hubbard’s Farm, 163 Houghton Road, Princeton (M & Tu: 9-3; Th: 2-6; F: 1-4; Sa: 9-noon)
I’ll be honest. It took me two trips to actually find Hubbard’s Farm, or at least the store. At the end of a dead end road in Princeton, Hubbard’s is the least store-looking of the farms. But trust me. It’s there, and it’s worth it. Pulling in the dirt driveway, the farm store is at the back right of the property, the single door to the right of the garage door. (There is an ‘open’ sign but it’s tough to see from the entrance to the property.)
Hubbard’s sells mostly meat, with eggs, some cheese, and syrup. The draw of Hubbard’s is the selection of meats, including the most extensive goat selection of the farms (and, before you pooh pooh goat meat, know that it has been touted as the potential savior of the American meat industry, if we would just try it, like the rest of the world). Hubbard’s also offers packages, which allow you to save by bundling (you usually have to ask to see the packages list).
Rota Spring Farm, 117 Chace Hill Road, Sterling (every day, 8 am-6 pm)
You might know Rota Spring for its ice cream (and, if you don’t, you should; it gets my vote for best ice cream). But to the right of the ice cream windows is a small but well-stocked farm store that sells a little bit of everything: “for the Freshest and Most Delicious Seasonal Fruits, Vegetables, Homemade Breads, Jams and Specialty Items.” [from the website]
When you factor in the ice cream, Rota Spring probably gives you the best bang for the buck (though the ice cream is available only seasonally, the farm store is open year round). It should be noted too that, while the farm store is rarely too crowded, on hot summer days during peak hours, the parking lot can be, so best to go on off hours for the farm store alone.
Lilac Hedge Farm, 216 Wachusett Street, Rutland (W, Th, F: 11 am-7 pm; Sa: 11 am-6 pm; Su: 11 am-5 pm)
Lilac Hedge is by far the best marketed of the group. Their email list is the most active, their website the most functional and user-friendly, and they are the most visible in the Worcester area. And it is paying off. Last year they opened an impressive new store (really, an understatement) that includes natural packaged goods, breads, ice cream, etc.; it’s as close to one-stop-shopping, I suspect, as a farm store will get. They offer window-service ice cream over the summer, though I’ve not had it myself (wasn’t operational yet last time I was there in the summer) and free meat delivery (with a minimum spend) to local areas for web ordering.
That marketing, however, comes at a price, as I find Lilac Hedge’s prices to be a bit higher than the other farms. Their convenience, however, might offset those higher prices. In any case, it’s worth a trip to the store as it is in a beautiful setting and contains the greatest variety of non-meat food, the kind of place where if you’re preparing a special meal, you can pretty much get everything you need for that meal here, and few farm stores can say that.
Cooper’s Hilltop Farm, 515 Henshaw St, Rochdale (every day, 10 am-8 pm)
I get to the two farms south of Worcester the least because I live at the opposite end of the city. But Cooper’s Hilltop Farm, although the smallest of the farm stores, nonetheless maximizes that space to offer a range of goods.
Originally a dairy farm, the Cooper’s Farm milk alone is worth the trip. Offering not only, well, milk-milk, Cooper’s sells their own chocolate milk and strawberry milk as well as the mythic coffee milk (mythic only because my youngest, who considers himself a chocolate milk connoisseur, desperately wants to try it and it’s not been available whenever we’ve been there):
“Our milk comes straight from our barn and is pasteurized and homogenized in the dairy just behind the store. Milk is available in whole, low fat and skim along with heavy and light cream. We make our own flavored milk in chocolate, strawberry and coffee. For the holiday seasons of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter we also make Egg Nog…We also sell our own pasture raised meat in the store including beef, pork and chicken...Also on our shelves we have a variety of other items such as bread, eggs, ice cream and more. Among these are many locally made products including delicious baked goods from Culpeppers Bakery in Worcester and cheeses from Smith’s Country Cheese in Winchendon.” [from the website]
Winksy Farm, 45 Lovett Rd, Oxford (M, Tu, Wed: Order & Pickup; Th: 10am-5pm; F: 10am-5pm; Sa: 10am-5pm; Su: 10am-2pm)
Winsky Farm was the first farm I visited to buy meat outside of the CSA and so, indirectly, encouraged me to keep exploring and find the others. It is no-frills excellence: a small dirt lot next to an oversized shed whose walls are lined with freezers that are filled with meat. Sometimes you’ll find the store unattended but within a few minutes she’ll show up with a smile (and, yes, it’s always been the same person; we talk teaching, as her daughter is studying to be a teacher), having seen you arrive from the house across the street. Winsky has extensive depth to their selection; if you’re looking to stockpile, this is the place. And they’ve updated their website, so now web-ordering is available.
Alta Vista Farm / Milkroom Brewery (80 Hillside Rd Rutland). I’ll admit that I feel like my not having gone yet is an oversight. It’s relatively close and I’ve heard good things about the brewery (friends have gone). The farm seems to sell bison meat, which seems intriguing. (In fact, I didn’t know that before doing this research and that might be the push I need to go.)
Clover Hill Farm (1096 Barre Rd, Gilbertville). This is a small, self-serve store (at least it was self-serve when I went), which is an intriguing model that many farms, meat and otherwise, utilize. Clover Hill was the first farm I found too that utilized a Venmo QR-code for payment, which was great; gone are the days of managing cash and denominations for these forays to make sure you can pay.
If you’re looking for a greater commitment to farm meat, the CSA might be your way to go, as you save money on the per pound price from buying it a la carte. There are plenty of CSAs out there (Lilac Hedge offers one and Walden Meats, which isn’t a farm itself but offers farm meat, does as well, both of which deliver within certain areas, among others). We split our share with another family: 30 lbs between the families. That 30 lb share costs $280, which works out to be about $9.30 per pound. However you might react to that per pound price, more often than not the share will include cuts of beef that cost more than that in their supermarket form (e.g. porterhouse steaks or filets mignon), which for me makes it well worth it from a financial standpoint.
Each share pretty much always includes four pounds of ground beef and four to six pounds of chicken parts plus variables, usually some kind of sausage and/or breakfast meat, some other grounds (turkey or pork), some kind of pork (chops or tenderloin), and then steaks, roasts, and/or a chicken. “We DO offer no adulterated shares, no pork shares and no lamb shares so you can opt out of the things that don’t work for you and your family.” [from the website] (And I believe there is a kosher option as well.)
While Chestnut Farms doesn’t deliver, it offers pick up locations throughout the eastern part of the state: Framingham, Westboro, Harvard, as well as some locations closer to Boston. I work in Wayland and the Framingham pick up site is on my commute so on the third Thursday of every month I pick up our share.
Some Final Thoughts on Farm Meat
The paradox of farm meat is that in every way I can think of it is the right way to go if you’re consuming meat: the meat is local, the meat is healthy, the meat is cared for and respected, and the meat is tasty. But the meat is also expensive, as I said above, often prohibitively so. So any reading of and/or acting on this piece requires a certain amount of economic and lifestyle freedom; I acknowledge that and am fortunate to be able to avail myself of it. With that said, if you are able, I encourage you to make the switch.
In addition to the health and taste benefits, the intangibles for me are almost as important. I’ve never had a bad experience at one of these farms; it seems to be a world in which bad customer service doesn’t exist, almost can’t even be conceived of. At most of the farms, those working the store are the same people every time I visit and, more often than not, have some connection to the farm, whether they live on the property or are related to the owners.
These stores also operate at a relaxing pace, to say the least. Always relatively uncrowded and manageable in scope, these stores allow browsing and interaction, which makes food shopping, dare I say it, relaxing and restorative (and that’s before even eating the food); this experience alone keeps me coming back and makes me never want to go to the supermarket again.
For me, there’s no downside to either the process of buying or consuming farm meat (the price notwithstanding). Using this guide as a starting point, get out there and spend a day exploring this part of the state. Chances are there are plenty of places here that you’ve never been and there’s plenty more to do than buy meat: take a hike or a bike ride, enjoy a picturesque town green, find a non-meat farm to supplement your meat-meal. When you’re done with your day, you’ll have the makings of a great meal to celebrate when you get home. Doesn’t get much better than that.