What's in your barn?: The meat market inside East Mountain Farm's barn

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WILLIAMSTOWN — On an overcast, early spring day, East Mountain Farm sits nestled in the cow-dotted fields and snowy woods off Henderson Road. Turn onto the dirt driveway, and little signs will direct you through the mud-season conditions toward the farm store. At the top of the hill and in the parking lot, Max the dog will greet you in a flurry of wet nose and black and white hair as you leave your car.

Walk through the open door to the large, red barn, and farmer Kim Wells will show you his freezers; bacon, links, ground pork and bratwurst line the frosty insides, all assigned a different price-per-pound on neon-colored Post-it notes.

"I guess if you asked me what's in my barn," Wells said, "I'd say tons of good meat."

There are tractors, hay bales in the back too, plus a box truck. But between his retail selection and the walk-in freezer where Wells stockpiles his store of product, there's a lot — a lot — of pork, beef and chicken in his barn.

And the animals for said meat? Wells' dozen or so cows chew in the pastures leading to the road. In summertime, his 1,200 chickens peck at the grass, too, with the cows. As for the pigs — about 120 each year — they get the woods.

"Pigs are obviously my favorite," Wells said. Curious, entertaining, human-like, he added, "How could they not be?"

This reporter has an admitted bias toward pigs, too, and upon request, Wells drove up the snowy path to his electric fence enclosures in the woods and woke up his pigs from their late morning nap. At the sound of human voices, the pigs scrambled from their little round, metal houses, snouts first, to sniff out their visitors.

Wells explained his pigs were a kind of heritage breed, called Hereford Cross. Each had reddish-brown, bristly skin. Some were speckled with dark spots, and others sported a blonde patch around the face. All of them were muscular, round — one might even say pleasantly chunky — at four to six months of age. The older ones were ready or close-to-ready for Wells to trailer them to Eagle Bridge Custom Meat and Smokehouse, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected slaughterhouse in New York.

Wells also buys his pigs from New York, at two months of age. He said he likes his heritage pigs because when he gets them, they've already been raised to live outside and root around in the dirt. By contrast, Wells said Yorkshire pigs — the pink ones like in Charlotte's Web — are raised in industrial settings on slatted floors and aren't necessarily made for outdoor living. The first two pigs Wells ever had were "Yorkies" that he named Herbert and Harriet. Wells learned a lot with Herbert and Harriet, like the fact that pigs need to be trained to respond to electric fences.

"They just went right through the fence," Wells said. "They sort of toured the hill for awhile. People were calling me."

Another time, Herbert and Harriet spooked at the loud noise made by the feeder lid and, once again, went through the fence. "[They] were heading to Pownal," he said.

That was more than three decades ago, shortly after he bought East Mountain Farm in 1982. Since then, Wells has raised a lot of pigs who (mostly) stay behind their electric fences.

It wasn't until 2004, though, that Wells started selling meat. That's how long it took for him to save up money to rebuild the barn, which was in disrepair to the point that it had trees growing; the property's former dairy farm had gone out of business and the federal land bank foreclosed on it.

"They basically took everything they could of value, including light bulbs," Wells said. "There were no light bulbs."

The only part of the old barn remaining today is the cement foundation. Now that he has his newer barn and his freezers in there, Wells said he's working on getting more people up to East Mountain Farm to buy the meat through his self-serve system, where people take the meat and leave the money. Currently, about a quarter of his product is sold through on-farm sales; he sells the other portions at farmers markets, on the shelves of Wild Oats Market, and through an agreement with Mezze Restaurant.

In the meantime, with his barn and 125 acres in the hills of Williamstown, Wells is living out a dream he had as a young man. He said he worked on Kentucky farms growing green beans, beef and grain in his 20s, and all the while, he imagined owning his own land.

As for why, when the time came, he chose to raise livestock over vegetables?

"I just like to eat meat," he said.

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