Sustainable Farming at New Hampshire’s Farm at Woods Hill
Kristin Canty is the proprietor and operator of Woods Hill Table, and nationally acclaimed filmmaker known for the documentary, Farmmagedon - The Unseen War on American Family Farms. She purchased the Farm at Woods Hill in 2013 and since then it has become a the source of food and inspiration for her restaurant, as well as an instance of sustainable farming at its finest.
During a visit to Canty’s restaurant, I was greatly impressed by the range of innovative dishes offered. A few standout dishes included the duo of pastured chicken with Brussels sprouts, turnips, gooseberry and truffle compote, and pommes dauphine; the grilled halibut and Maine lobster with roasted summer squash and blossom; and even the indulgent dessert felt healthy as it was a beet red velvet cake with sweetened cream cheese, beet gel, and walnut ice cream.
Woods Hill Table
Woods Hill Table uses only sustainable, locally sourced ingredients while utilizing “the whole animal” approach. The menu is seasonal and constantly changing depending on what arrives from their farm. The menu features grass-fed proteins, sustain-ably caught fish, raw milk cheeses, locally grown and soaked organic grains, raw fermented foods and organic produce.
"The restaurant is based on ancestral health. The main tenant being that our ancestors ate a lot of their foods raw and were extremely healthy. This is one of the reasons Woods Hill Table has a huge raw bar. Everything used to be made from scratch using foraged ingredients." Explained Canty. "People had more enzymes in them because the soil wasn't as depleted (as it is today); they had to preserve, ferment, and cure things by necessity, but at the same time they were greatly improving their health. Their meat and fish were wild and obviously their vegetables were never sprayed with chemicals."
When you think of farmers, what do you envision? After having the pleasure of meeting and experiencing a full day with The Farm at Woods Hill’s Amber Reed, my entire perception of the agriculture world has changed. Reed, the lead farmer at The Farm at Woods Hill, has numerous responsibilities that range from raising cows, pigs, lamb, and chickens, to growing produce and harvesting honey from the property’s beehives, and more. Detail orientated, in tune with the animals, and hardworking, Reed is a prime example of a farmer who is both grateful for her dedicated team and for the animals she gets to work with every day.
Can you give a brief rundown of all the chores you have to do in a typical day on the farm?
Amber Reed: Every morning and night at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. we tend to each group of animals.
We start with broiler chickens (chickens bred specifically for meat). We have at least 1000 at any given time. We give them a fresh layer of wood chips, clean out the water, and throw in dirt and grass. If they’re outside, we move the shelters so that the land has the ability to rejuvenate. We collect the eggs from the laying hens in the afternoon.
Each day we also move our herd of sheep to a new square of pasture depending on the height of the grass, time of year, health of the land, and number of sheep. We check on the cows each day too, refill the feeder, and move their fence daily. For our pigs, we do the same with the water and feeders, but we move them weekly — they go through about an acre of land per week.
What’s one of the major challenges in keeping everything in control?
Keeping the animals safe is tough. When they’re outside food, water, shelter, and safety are all things that must be constantly monitored. We always need to check the fences to keep predators out.
(Interesting fact: Skunks eat the heads off chickens because their brains are most nutritious.)
Not everyone is aware of sustainable and humane farming practices. Can you speak to why it’s so important to do things the right way, instead of taking a lazier or careless approach?
Just like in any job you get used, people start to numb themselves to the things that that don’t have control over or are afraid of. While some are simply insensitive and don’t care… a lot of people have good intentions and do a good job.
At the same time, some have good intentions but are brought up in the industry with an old school mentality — what’s “normal,” or good enough. Rule of thumb — if you wouldn’t want to lay down on it or drink polluted water, the animals don’t want that either.
Assuming that the average farm has yet to adopt the best practices, what has to happen to build generation of farmers who do implement those practices and believe in them as strongly as you do?
Mentorship is key; on a personal level, I have learned so much from the farmers who were on the cutting edge of pasture management. They didn’t decide they knew everything and instead continued to innovate. It takes a lot of time and energy to teach younger people, but it’s important to have a supportive team so you can have more time to train an apprentice.
Programs where mentorship is valued is necessary. Unfortunately, many of the land-grant universities (those that were partly formed in order to support agriculture) have failed to do so in the way they were originally intended. They supported big agriculture more than what was appropriate.
Another important thing is promoting healthy working landscapes. We need to be creating working landscapes where the farms are flourishing and simultaneously being a destination that people enjoy visiting. Not a pesticide waste land. We need to be teaching students more about sustainable farming practices. Many are just trying to reinvent the wheel unnecessarily, instead of just asking for help and seeking out information from people who have done it in the past.
My hope is to set an example in the way we take care of our animals, workers, and our land. I always want to do better — things can always be improved.
Click here for more information about Woods Hill Table.