Across the valley, at the border of Turners Falls but firmly nestled into the hills of Wendell, a family run farm has been steadily providing nourishment for their family, neighbors, and the valley at large.
They are the go-to name for local thanksgiving turkeys, and there’s a good reason for that. Their turkeys are pasture raised, cared for with attention and love, 100% hormone and antibiotic free, and processed right there on the farm. These conditions are unmatched by practically anyone in Western MA. This is as close as you could get to raising your own birds without actually doing the mountain of work it takes. They provide the centerpiece for so many Thanksgiving dinners in homes in and around the valley, it’s as if a part of them is right there at the table with us.
Producing roughly 5000 turkeys a year, the sheer numbers are impressive. The larger portion of those turkeys are for Thanksgiving time, often employing at least seventeen helpers to get the monumental job done, but their work ethic isn’t simply seasonal. Year-round they are producing local meats (beef, chicken, and turkey), farm fresh eggs, fully cooked dinners, pot pies, soups, BBQ chicken, selling the compost compiled from all their endeavors, milling lumber, and the list goes on!
It’s hard to understate the amount of effort and work that goes into the land, and it’s clear the moment you step onto the property. The grounds are clean, the bedding is fresh. Their farm store is literally brimming with the bounty! And brimming with friendly faces.
You can watch the quality and care put into every bite of food, it really feels like coming home for the holidays. They open their home up, the food they offer is the same high quality they eat themselves. If you’ve been in the area and haven’t stopped in their store then you’re missing out. I picked up a personal turkey pot pie, some beef short ribs, and oxtail soup before leaving and that was just the tip of the iceberg of what they have to offer.
The Diemands are a big family, like so many who built farms out here almost a hundred years ago. As third generation farmers they have spread out a little, but most still live a stone’s throw from the farm. The second generation sported 12 brothers and sisters, and they grew up and had families of their own. Enough of them still live so close that the running joke is you could probably call that section of road “Diemand Lane”.
But they face the same issues many non-commercial farms do. The era of family run farms is closing, or at least evolving. Modern issues and regulations are tough on small businesses, and younger family members aren’t as interested in picking up the baton. Between state and national laws there are new standards to be met, this requires modifications and upgrades to existing systems. While there’s nothing wrong with improvement, not all farms can adapt or have the capital to invest in themselves. Diemand farm has made huge shifts to adopt the needs of the state. A law proposed in 2016 spurred a redesign for their egg production to maintain their egg business. That law has walked back on some of its requirements, leaving the Diemands to foot the bill. It’s reduced the number of hens they can house and even increasing their prices hasn’t quite bridged the gap.
It sounds like, in the end, they are happy to have made the improvements. But remaining competitive in the market, specifically one that will not require the same standards for out of state eggs, compounds the issue for any local egg producers.
Hopefully folks will see the value in knowing where their food comes from, and the value of knowing their money stays in the community. At the Creamery this is something we try to emphasize: Buy local, support local. It’s how we raise one another up, and it’s how we create the change we want to see.
No one would argue that times are tough for family farms. Luckily the Diemands have an ace up their sleeve. Tessa White-Diemand is a keen and highly motivated member of the family’s third generation. She grew up on the farm and thinks often about its future. That being said she went to school for social service, even moved out to Boston to try and make it work. Some things aren’t meant to be however, and when she called home asking if there was still a spot for her on the farm the answer was, of course, a resounding “Yes.”
She’s been back for four years, and while she was talking with me it became clear that she’s very much in her element here. Both around the farm as well as in the office, a combination that’s essential to modern farms to succeed. You need motivated people to chase grants and find new avenues for marketing while still being willing to go out into the pastures and move bags of feed or clean stalls. While on my tour she pointed out a building that they recently received a grant to build. The whole structure is freezer storage and that is a game changer for keeping their product year round. It’s this sort of initiative that allows the farm to take new steps, to build on what they have instead of slipping behind.
Tessa, her mom Anne, her uncle Peter, and her aunt Faith are the owners at Diemand Farm currently. And seeing none of her peers seem to be stepping up, it’s fair to say Tessa is here to stay. It’s pretty clear to me that the farm is in good hands.
So stop in, grab a pot pie, and say hello to this local family who are making a huge difference in the food we eat and the local resources available to us all.
* This is a repost, the original article was published on October 27th 2021 *
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