A new generation of local farmers is working to supply South Shore consumers with pasture-raised beef, pork and poultry.By Pamela Ellertson | Photography by Kjeld Mahoney
On most weekends, Erin Williams can be spotted striding across her cattle pasture wielding a fence post like a javelin. Summer is prime grazing season at Bogside Acres, the farm she and her husband, Cass Gilmore, own in Plympton, and Williams subdivides her pastures (often daily) in order to provide a good meal for her small herd of grass-fed Holstein and Simmental cattle. Plunging several lightweight posts into their new positions, Williams is thanked with a chorus of baritone bellows from her “beefers.” One of the more energetic of her cattle, Jack Frost, who was named for the freezing cold day he was born this winter, literally leaps and bucks the moment he arrives in the new pasture.
Rotating the grazing areas for 10 cows and five pigs and feeding the 180 chicks that brood in the barn might sound like a full-time job, but for Williams, who earned a degree in agricultural science at Cornell and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, it’s what she does in her downtime.
A commercial loan officer for Rockland Trust, Williams spends as much as 12 hours a day discussing things like asset sensitivity and long-term interest rates before returning home to the responsibilities of her livestock. The time commitment on most weekdays, she says, is not as grueling as one might think; it rarely takes her longer than half an hour to feed and refill water tubs. Her husband, who runs the daily operations for his family’s 40-acre cranberry farm Bensons Pond, helps out when he can.
Farming is a pastime that goes back generations in Williams’ family. She jokes that she was “in a stroller” when she started helping out on her father’s dairy farm in Pennsylvania and the farm where her mother was raised has been in the family since the 1700s. Still, growing up on a farm is not quite the same as building one from the ground up. Williams recalls one of the many challenges she faced when establishing Bogside Acres in 2015 on the four acres of land behind her home.
“I wanted to install an electric fence, and thought: Oh, my God, how do I do this?” says Williams. These days, if she ever needs a little advice or a helping hand, she knows she can call on her friend and neighbor Kathryn Shepard, an accounting analyst at Rockland Trust who lives two minutes away and also happens to be a hog farmer. The two young professionals met while working on a team project for the bank. At the time, Shepard was considering a move to Plympton with her husband, Justin, a financial services consultant. They were attracted to Plympton’s bucolic landscape dotted with horse paddocks, roadside egg stands and farmers markets.
They also wanted to expand their interests in agriculture beyond their four egg-laying hens. Shepard jokingly describes those hens as a “gateway drug,” for just two years later they had acquired an 1840s Greek Revival home that they renovated and named Revival Farm. Shepard admits that it can be a bit of a challenge keeping up with the number of piglets she now owns.
“On Monday we had 26. We sold 16 during the week and then Petunia (a 600-pound sow) had 10—all in one week,” she says.
Bogside Acres and Revival Farm are part of a growing local food movement on the South Shore. The two farms work collaboratively to bring fresh, pasture-raised beef, pork and poultry to discerning South Shore consumers. Tamworth cross piglets born in the spring at Revival Farm are later raised at Bogside Acres where they spend their days rooting around in the woods and pastures. Last year over a glass of wine, Williams and Shepard launched a new venture, Plympton Poultry.
“I told Erin, we have beef and we have hogs, the missing link is chickens,” says Shephard. “We had just enough liquid encouragement to buy 120 baby chicks that night.” To assist with the free-range feeding of the Cornish Cross chickens, Shepard bought the plans for a chicken tractor, which is a portable enclosure that makes it easier to move chickens to fresh grazing areas.
In 2017, Plympton Poultry raised 400 chickens and broke even. They plan to double that amount this year. The farms sell their products directly to consumers through preorders placed on their websites, community supported agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets and restaurants that feature locally sourced meats on their menu.
Similar to most startups, nearly all of the revenue for both farms is reinvested back into their businesses, but the real payoff isn’t something that can be deposited in a bank. “There’s nothing better than doing a pasture walk with a beer in your hand at sunset,” says Williams. “I’ve been known to measure the pasture grass height by where it lands on my beer bottle. It’s a satisfying achievement.”