NEW MARLBOROUGH -- If you've driven on Route 57 in South County, you've probably passed Brookmede Farm. Maybe you've had a moment of serenity looking at John Miller's massive brown barn, situated just off the road.
Miller has about 100 chickens, between 25 and 28 goats, and eight pigs on his 50 acres in New Marlborough. The barn has been in his family since 1944, the year he was born, and was originally a dairy operation. He sells eggs, pork and goat from a smaller building next to the barn with a few freezers and refrigerators, and he's a member CSA farm.
Miller, who grew up hearing stories of the Great Depression, was brought to farming about five years ago, when the economy seemed headed the same way.
"My mindset for what was going to be a depression was a little different" and maybe a little more dire than others' points of view, he said, but he's turned the cautionary measure into a business and a source of nutrition.
A Berkshire native, Miller spent the majority of his working years in New Hampshire. He decided to start the farm and learned as he went.
"I'm the type of person that jumps out of his plane and then looks for his parachute," he said.
It's mostly just Miller on the farm. His wife, Wendy, does what she can outside of her full-time job in Connecticut. The chickens are free-range and share a barn with a percentage herd (mostly one breed with some intermixing) of Boer goats.
He collects the eggs from some nesting boxes, but also from the perfect chicken lofts made between the barn's first-floor ceiling and the top of its wall. Some are blue, laid by Araucana hens. The goats and the chickens on the second floor get along and live there in harmony.
It's just after baby goat season, so when I went the barn had plenty of young, rambunctious cuties running around with stubs that will become horns.
Miller loves them: He climbs onto a ladder to take two chickens out of their nesting areas, saying "what are you girls doing up here today?" and retrieving a still-warm egg.
When a young goat pushes against his leg, he says, "why are you doing that to me? You're starting to become a man."
He carries the kids around.
But the Millers don't name the goats anymore, besides the mothers, because, regardless of their sensitive nature and sweet disposition, these are meat goats.
"It's as much an economic issue as anything else," Miller said about loving his animals and selling their meat. "It takes a lot of money and effort to maintain animals Š They have to contribute back to their care. I was raised to respect animals. Every one of them is taken care of -- they're respected until the day they go off."
Goat sausage is $6 for four generous links; pork chops are $6 for four; eggs are priced by size, $5 for a dozen large, $4 for medium, $3 for small.
"I'm probably lucky if I break even," Miller said. "With 100 chickens, I'm going through 150 pounds of feed a week, $15 a pound or so for feed."
The goat is made into sausage because people mostly aren't familiar with goat meat in the Berkshires. Miller said he went with sausage because "everybody knows about sausage, and I've got eggs."
He decided to add pigs to the equation because "everybody knows what pork is -- and the pigs are a hoot!"
And of course, with care and chores, it's a 12-hour day. But people call before they come to check if there are eggs. People will stop by and get three or four dozen eggs on their way back from summer homes.
"That's where the reward comes," he said. "When people appreciate what you're doing."
Brookmede Farm is for sale.
"If someone was to buy my farm I'd be out of here," Miller said. But if not, he'll be farming as long as he's physically capable of maintaining it.
"I'll probably scale back a little," he said.
Rustic goat sausage-potato bake
Four links Brookmede Farm goat sausage
Five to seven potatoes, red and russet
One-half coarsely chopped onion
One green pepper, cut into large chunks
Four or five cloves roasted garlic (unroasted is OK, too)
3/4 tsp. Jamaican curry powder,
3/4 tsp. turmeric
One can red kidney beans
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 350.
Sear sausage in a pan with a little water; cover and cook almost all the way through.
Meanwhile, fry potatoes with 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a pan, preferably cast-iron, until lightly browned. Add onion and garlic cloves, then add spices and green pepper.
Cut sausage into chunks, four or five per sausage link. Add to cast-iron pan.
Drain beans and add to pan. Stir all around; bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are soft.
Take out pan and add cheese; set oven to broil; let cheese brown on top of bake. Serve!