“I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
– George Bernard Shaw
There are times in your life when the unexpected turns your life around. Tom and Kyla Satkowski, current owners of East Willow Farm in Columbia, were living in Berlin and then Amston, Connecticut and were slowly outgrowing their residence and were in search of a larger piece of property. They had engaged a realtor who had introduced them to several options, however these were not quite right. Finally running out of viable options an opportunity arrived to visit a farm in Columbia. On the day of their visit, they were met by the current owner and to Tom’s surprise it was an old classmate who he had not seen in many years. The farm had hundreds of apple trees and Tom’s classmate, who was a former chef on the Cape, had come to conclusion that farming was not a career that was practical for him, and he offered Tom and Kyla a deal that they could not refuse. So, that all took place a few years ago, and now, several years later, Tom and Kyla have created a “one stop” shop farm that continues to take Columbia by storm.
Over the years while driving up Route 66, heading out of Columbia proper, while heading to Hebron, I have passed the farm sign on numerous occasions but never took the opportunity to stop in. If you are familiar with the area the entrance to East Willow Farm is right after the park and ride parking lot on Route 66. Visiting the farm, I was welcomed by an inviting avenue of trees that lined the road leading to the farm. While it was a warm day back in Mansfield, I was surprised to feel a fall-like breeze which brought a comforting coolness to the air. At the end of the road there was plenty of parking and a well-appointed farm store. Let me correct that. The “well appointed” description does not do it justice.
Perhaps this is the best place to stop and explain a trend that I see local farmers are adopting. If you look back many years ago our state only hosted a few farmer’s markets. Now, most towns have a seasonal market that offers a wide variety of local fresh options. The farmers that are present at the market must spend a lot of time and energy to prepare for the market, load their trucks, set up and then tear down and subsequently unload, always hoping that the weather is conducive, and the market has a lot of customers that are interested in purchasing the farmer’s offerings. The trend I mentioned earlier is that some farms are finding that the markets are not the best opportunity and subsequently have created farm stands on their own farms. In essence some of the local farms have almost made a 360-degree change back to what it was in the early days.
Now, let me take you back to Tom and Kyla’s, East Willow Farm. Gone are the apple trees except for a few left standing while the land makes way for berry bushes and a field for the chicken tractors. You ask what is a chicken tractor? A chicken tractor is a movable chicken coop lacking a floor. Chicken tractors allow free range feeding along with a shelter, this allows chickens fresh forage such as grass, weeds, and bugs, which widens their diet and lowers their traditional feed needs. Unlike fixed coops, chicken tractors do not have floors so there is no need to clean them out. They support a natural, symbiotic cycle of foraging through which the birds eat down the vegetation, deposit fertilizing manure, then go on to a new area. Tom moves their “tractors” daily, so the chickens are always foraging in a new area.
Adjacent to the parking area is a greenhouse that provides an area to start the farm’s vegetable plants as well as providing starter plants for sale to the farm’s customers. The farm grows a variety of vegetables, raise pigs, chickens and soon turkeys as they prepare for Thanksgiving. While their produce is not certified organic, they do use organic practices and do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The farm also has a small apiary that is used to help pollinate their gardens. Tom and Kyla operating a farm has become a labor of love and devotion. They started this farm because they found something worth sharing right in their own backyard.
As the responsibilities are divided up Tom takes care of the gardens and livestock, and Kyla operates the well-supplied farm store. Their two children are right alongside them pitching in whenever they can. Now their farm store is not an ordinary store since they sell their own meat offerings, eggs, candles that are made by Kyla and extensive line of locally sourced dairy, honey, and bakery items.
Back to the farm activities, Tom makes sure that the farm provides a stress-free setting for their animals. Tom has experimented with various strains of pigs in order achieve a hybrid vigor, the best attributes of various pig species combined. The farm’s pigs are pasture raised and they move from paddock to paddock as they go about clearing the land. Tom refers to them as his “construction workers”. Were they happy pigs? I can honestly say when I was taking a photo, I swear I saw some of them smiling.
So why does East Willow Farm operate with such a caring philosophy? Because their initiative supports healthier and happier animals that are raised ethically in open pastures, animals that deserve to be fed what they are meant to eat. The farm’s efforts builds a stronger community which consists of the customers who wants to take back their control of the food they purchase, cook and eat in order to ensure a long term health and happiness for their friends and families. Lastly, the farm’s efforts are part of the overall stewardship of the soil since it is one of our most vital resources.
Here is a recipe to try out utilizing East Willow’ prized pork:
Maple Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted Corn Relish
Prepare Corn Relish prior to cooking chops on grill. You can make glaze prior to making corn relish. You might want to place dishes or serving dish, if you are using one dish to serve from in a warm oven ahead of time.
Maple Glaze / Pork Chops
6 tablespoons of maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
4, thick sliced pork chops
Combine maple syrup and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.
Simmer until reduced by half and just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. About 4 to 5 minutes.
Season with several grindings of fresh pepper and set aside.
Pre heat grill to medium high
Oil the grill rack with an oil spray.
Place pork chops on grill for a few minutes and then turn over and do the other side. This should have made grill marks on the chops.
Brush maple glaze on one side of pork chops and then turn the chops over and do the other side.
Cook until the internal temperature is 145 degrees.
Roasted Corn Relish
4 ounces of thick bacon diced.
½ cup of finely chopped red onion
3 scallions, white and light green parts coarsely chopped.
2 cups of fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears). Substitute frozen if necessary.
6 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 red or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeds removed and diced.
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp.
Drain all but 1 teaspoon of fat from the pan.
Add onion and sauté until lightly cooked.
Stir in the scallions, corn, and bell pepper.
Raise the heat and add balsamic vinegar.
Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.
Sauté over high heat, stirring constantly until vegetables are warmed but barely cooked, one to two minutes.
Remove from heat and season with salt & pepper.
When pork chops are done gently reheat corn mixture by either returning it to the stove or placing it briefly in the microwave.
Place corn mixture on plates and place pork chops on top of corn mixture.
I would highly recommend stopping by East Willow Farm in Columbia. They are open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm. I would suggest a visit not only because of the variety of options they offer but because their farm meats and their farming philosophy make this farm differ from others. Pasture raising their animals is an extremely rewarding process for them. It’s a way to connect their animals with the earth in a healthy and stress-free environment. When they can almost eliminate some grains and introduce high quality grasses and nutrient rich soils, their efforts produces an amazing tasting meat. When grains are being used for their livestock, they are purchased with a specific diet mix from a farm in Scotland.
When animals can roam free, it generates more oxygen in their bloodstream and creates what’s called myoglobin. Myoglobin is a mixture of water and proteins, which move oxygen to muscle cells. You will find their pork is of a finer quality than store bought. You will also taste the difference in their chicken. Since they are pastured raised it is a tender and more favorable meat like no other. Interested in being part of their meat CSA? You can join anytime during the year. Their CSA runs in 6 moth increments. Pick-ups are the first Saturday of each month during normal store hours. For more information give them a call. East Willow Farm’s phone number is 860.538.2747. They also host a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/eastwillowfarm/
If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that would feature a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column. Drop me a line at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. So, Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet. I’ll save you a seat at the table!