A guide to living local in Southern New Hampshire

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Old-World Techniques and Biodiversity

at Brookford Farm

By Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

A dozen cows graze in a pasture in Canterbury. The animals lumber from tussock to tussock, chew thoughtfully and occasionally moo. They radiate serenity and contentment. And why not? They’re living the bovine dream.

Luke and Catarina Mahoney’s Brookford Farm is a celebration of agrarian biodiversity and good old-fashioned farming where the cows have names, not numbers.

“Biodiversity is a good word to use for our operation,” Luke said recently while operating a tractor on the 600-acre property along the Merrimack River, 15 minutes north of Concord. And he’s not kidding. With the help of 20 workers they raise organic acorn squash, bok choy, cabbage, cantaloupe, microgreens, eggplant, green beans, turnips – everything from arugula to zucchini. They raise cattle, hogs and chickens, and sell eggs, whole milk and cheeses made in their own creamery.

“I think it’s safe to say we provide a broader variety of products than most,” said Amy Haller, director of marketing at the farm. “Some of those products are sold at the farm’s store, which is operated on the honor system and is open seven days a week.

In addition to a rack of produce, the farm sells eggs, free-range fryer chickens, grass-fed beef, pastured pork, butter, raw milk, artisanal bread from the wood-fired oven at the farm, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, cultured butter and assortment of cheeses, including feta, brie, camembert, cottage cheese, quark and a variety of cheddars.

They also jar their own probiotics, raw veggies, sauerkraut, beet kraut, pickles, kimchi and apple kraut, prepared by a Russian woman affiliated with the farm.

“We wash all the produce so it can go straight to the table,” said Jodie Martinez, administrator of Brookford’s community supported agriculture (CSA) program.

The farm delivers food to farmers’ markets and restaurants in a refrigerated truck. Half of its products are sold through a CSA that has subscriptions that run through the winter.

Much information on the farm and its programs is available online at www.brookfordfarm.com.

“We understand the value of direct contact with our customers,” said Luke, who was raised in upstate New York and worked on farms in his youth.

“I studied anthropology and became fascinated by looking at old photographs to see how different cultures live in relation to the land,” he said.

He jumped at the opportunity to work with on Svetlana Farm in Russia. “I wanted to travel abroad and live where I did not know the language,” he said.

He first met Catarina at the farm, about 140 kilometers from St. Petersburg, where he worked on dairy and she on vegetable production.

The couple got additional training in old-world farming techniques and biodiverse farming at Kattendorfer Hof near Hamburg, Germany, before moving to Rollinsford 15 years ago. They operated that farm for five years and provided milk to Organic Valley. They moved to the larger spread in Canterbury 10 years ago with the financial aid of Gary and Meg Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm.

Luke said the diversification is a double-edged sword, it indemnifies them from a crop failure or an animal disease.

“In that way it’s like a diversified portfolio,” he said, “but it does have its downside. It’s hard to be super-efficient when you’re not devoted to one product, like a dairy farm, and you have to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.”

He said they have a herd of 100 cows. “We move the cows to a different pasture every 12 hours,” he said.

So, from a bovine perspective what’s not to love?