GRAFTON, Mass. — On an open field overlooking Mount Wachusett sat two oxen, resting after a full meal. Barley, an 8-month-old border collie, darted around attempting to herd them, but they were as responsive as parked cars.
So the black-and-white dog settled with herding Matty, a tabby who has a love/hate relationship with his canine brother.
Jeff Backer, the 31-year-old who operates Potter Hill Farm, is a former conservation biology major who now grows vegetables and locally raised beef to locals through a cooperative plan called a CSA, or community supported agriculture.
While most farm stands and farmers' markets have long closed for the season, Backer continues to sell root vegetables in his barn to local restaurants and people who signed up to get his weekly newsletter.
Lined up in six green containers and covered in plastic, are locally grown beets, carrots, onions, rutabagas, leeks, and celeriac a root vegetable the size of a candlepin bowling ball.
“You boil it then mash it like a potato,” Backer said. “It tastes like celery but less starchy.”
He keeps the temperature and humidity at a level similar to a root cellar so the vegetables will last longer after they have been picked.The trick, he said, is covering the produce in plastic.
Backer works on 30 acres of land owned by the Grafton Land Trust and a local church. In two weeks, two of his cattle will head to the slaughter house. After the meat is cured, they will be delivered to CSA members, some who will pick up about 200 pounds of meat that will last them the winter.
Backer only had three heads this season because he is choosy. He only will take animals that are free of antibiotics and are grass fed. In January, he will take new orders and promises to have six head for the new year.
He also will be selling some beef on a retail level in January, though he still is working out the details.
Meanwhile, Backer will continue selling his winter vegetables. To find out more about that or when he will be offering his grass-fed beef, visit the Potter Hill Farm Website and sign up for his newsletter.