Making healthier meats local

Marlboro farm looks toward growth, expansion

MARLBORO — Nestled on a hillside, Center Mountain Farm is one of the newer establishments to offer high-quality meats, many of which are raised by owners Madonna and Tim Racine.

The Racines own the farm, which they opened in August 2011, raising chicken, eggs, turkey, and pigs. They sell much of their own produce, along with products from several local farms and artisans, in their small shop.

When considering where to start their farm, Marlboro was a natural choice given the couple's deep roots there.

Madonna's family has lived in the area for over a century, and she chose to raise her two daughters in the same community in which she grew up.

Prior to the new enterprise, Madonna managed Mountain Meadows Farm, an organic beef farm in South Newfane that sells to more than a dozen Whole Foods grocery stores throughout the Northeast.

Madonna's experience there not only prepared her for the challenges of raising her own livestock, but also showed her the value of organic products.

“People are coming around to organic, but it's still a tough sell,” Tim says. “Lots of people think organic is just a big hype. I never believed organic was much different until I tried it myself.”

“Now that I drink only organic milk, it tastes so different I can't drink anything else,” he says.

While some consumers are conscientious about eating only organic, the Racines also understand that, for much of the local population, the higher cost can be prohibitive.

For this reason the Racines sell not only organic chickens, but “natural” chickens as well - chickens that were fed on grain that had not been certified organic.

Both organic and natural chickens are otherwise raised the same way on Center Mountain Farm.

“There are definitely people who want only strictly organic [products], but locals especially are happy to pay a bit less for a high-quality product and to support a local business,” Madonna says.

“It's really a financial thing,” Tim adds. “But the last thing you want to really cut corners on is what you're putting in your body.”

For the Racines, one aspect that sets their product apart is the on-premises slaughtering of their livestock.

“Most farmers would want to be able to do that,” Madonna says. “Sometimes you go to pick up a bird from the butcher, and you're not even sure it's yours!”

Surprises and growth

Even an experienced farmer is often faced with unexpected challenges and surprises.

“It surprised us how much room we need, for animals and to grow vegetables,” Tim says.

Madonna agrees: “Being a farmer, you never know what you're going to get with animals.”

Because nature is unpredictable, “you might wind up in the hole before you start,” she says.

While the financial aspect has proved a challenge to Center Mountain Farm (as it has to many farmers), the Racines have not only kept themselves afloat but also plan to expand and raise their own beef, sell prepared foods, and open an even a larger shop to serve a growing clientele.

“It's been hard getting people to realize what's here,” Madonna says. “We see customers who have stopped [and bought from us] and are coming back. Our business is building, but it takes a long time.”

“People come all the way from Cape Cod to buy meat here,” she adds. “But it's really rewarding when the customers come back.

“At the Brattleboro Farmers' Market after Christmas, a lady who bought a few turkeys from me gave me a thank-you card. That makes you feel really good, when people appreciate it and understand what you're doing.”

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