31 May 2012

( greening up—a farmtastic mooove )

by gillian slater

with the advent of pink slime and foodborne illness, where can you turn for quality moo meat ? consider the playfully titled bendy brook farm
located in oley township, bendy brook farm joined berks county as a dairy in 1941 through levi and miriam mast. this lush, green farm took its name from miriam who felt inspiration in the sight of a winding brook running through their land. today, it is her son, nevin mast, who single-handedly operates bendy brook farm, which has transformed into raising beef, goat meat, and poultry. it is also green—quite green and chemical-free.

( at bendy brook farm, the cows never have to come home because
they’re already there, tucked into the oley valley in berks county
all photographs by gillian slater

mast had always kept himself open to new ideas and ways of thinking, so when he noticed his cattle becoming sick decades ago, he took one field off of chemicals, encouraged through an advanced biological concepts meeting he attended. he gleaned that the chemicals he used destroyed the good bacteria and earthworms needed for healthy grass and cows.

“the earth was meant to be covered, and it will cover itself unless you put so many chemicals down that nothing will grow,” he says.

mast stretched his concept of care a step further when he received a request from a customer to raise soy-free broilers, or chickens bred for eating. allergic to anything soy-related, the change mast offered to make in feeding habits meant a lot to her. before that, he never gave soy-free feed much thought. then he read ty bollinger’s, cancer: step outside the box. according to bollinger’s book, soy can contribute to the development of cancer, so mast revamped the diets of his pigs and chickens.

bendy brook farm has now been soy-free for more than a year.

once, someone asked mast to figure out his unfair advantage in life. he claimed several—his animals are far away from the road, close to the buildings. having the main portions of the farm so far set back keeps the area safer for children, with that security as an asset that might not be noticed right away by those visiting this treasure to oley and berks county. although, it could be easily argued that mast’s truest unfair advantage is his mind.

“the older you are, the harder it is to change, but you have to be open-minded,” he says. “think outside the box. never confine yourself to think like everyone else.”

when mast needed a way to transport feed and a coop for his chickens, he renovated an old van—a wrecked van. what started off as a useless hunk of scrap metal became a valuable tool on wheels.

( moving chickens from pasture to pasture is a cinch with this van—
given a new chance at wheels & life )

farming is more than just early mornings, hard work, and late nights. it requires research, too, and that led mast to shift from grain-feeding to primarily grazing in 1990. grazing, as it turns out, is much more relaxing for both farmer and animals. fortunately, grazing animals practically take care of themselves.

it was this reshaped approach to thinking that also steered mast away from black angus cattle. although black angus cattle are widely considered cream of the crop-worthy, they don’t fare well in the sun-spent heat. summer temperatures are brutal on these dark delights. so most of what you’ll see at bendy brook farm are red devin, white park, and angus cows bred to birth a smaller animal. smaller animals mean less maintenance and the ability to raise more on less land, with better care per animal. 

while working on a farm, it is important to really know what people are eating, out in the world. in the united states, the demand for goat meat is twice that of what is produced, mast says. while goats have less fat and cholesterol than beef, there is also an increase in cross-cultural cuisine experimentation to weigh. today, this country is a bubbling melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures, where goat meat is quite sought after. that’s smart for a farmer with livestock to know, in the meaty realm.

though admittedly, mast originally brought in the goats to chew down and mow the weeds of his grassy acres, they found mast’s blend of orchard, fesque, matua, and blue grass quite delicious.

through speculation, experimentation, and a reverence for research, mast pinpointed a magic breeding combination that stirred success. as a result, the goats at bendy brook farm developed into a curious cross between spanish and boar because the former are wonderful parents, while the latter make for a better meat.

to mast, farming is all about finding what works. his laying chickens, the rhode island reds, live primarily outdoors in his repurposed van. they happily enjoy a combination of soy-free feed, bugs, and beautifully-bladed grass.

mast is an example of a person who understands the all-encompassing value of ecological efficiency, or the smarter brand of going green, as it’s now called. the history of these efforts right on his oley valley farm date back to the early 1980s, showing a wise mind blossoming ahead of others.

and a final plus is that his grass-fed cattle carries a taste of old times long gone, according to one bendy brook farm enthusiast—a taste that mast never expected to experience again.

to find out more, visit bendybrookfarm.com, search for it on facebook, or visit the collegeville farmers’ market any saturday till november 17, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the market is located along east main street near clamer avenue not far from west fifth avenue.