It's a Saturday morning in June and Jennifer Hashley is in her backyard in Concord picking some tart currants to put in the mini-store. Jennifer is the "Jen" of Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds (159 Wheeler Road). What started out as a simple endeavor with six chickens to supply fresh eggs for their own enjoyment has blossomed; Pete and Jen's now offers high-quality pasture-raised meat, produce, and specialty products, as well as eggs for the local community. In addition to the quality of their produce, Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds prides itself on humane and responsible animal and farm practices.
You might think that raising chickens, pigs, sheep, and rabbits and tending an acre or so of crops is a full-time job. Not so! Jen and Pete both have full-time day jobs. By day, Jen is the Director for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts University. This program helps aspiring farmers with limited resources by providing training and education (or re-education in the case of immigrants who need to transition existing agricultural knowledge to growing conditions in Massachusetts), locating farmland, as well as a number of other services to help people begin farming in Massachusetts.
Jen works with organizations such as land trusts, conservation commissions and agricultural commissions in eastern Massachusetts to locate and lease land for these emerging farmers. This initiative is an important part of preserving open space and increasing local agricultural economies. Since interest in eating locally is steadily rising, farmers will find opportunities to meet the demand in their communities.
Pete's day job is Farm Manager at Verrill Farm. Pete and Jen studied organic agriculture in Santa Cruz, Calif. There, they lived and worked on a farm, in the lovely growing conditions of Central California. They learned about and grew vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers year-round.
Through their experiences, Jen and Pete have gained knowledge for their own growing, and for that we can all be grateful! They started with the six chickens in 2002 and were amazed with just how good the eggs tasted. When those chickens laid more eggs then Jen and Pete could eat, it sparked their interest in learning more about raising animals.
Pete and Jen's chickens are fed organic grain and benefit from other humane practices like a mobile chicken coops (providing fresh ground, allowing chickens to range freely, protecting them from predators). For meat chickens, the coops are moved as frequently as two times per day, while the egg laying chickens are moved every two to three days. This is labor-intensive work. It's not only the chickens that get this lush treatment. All the animals are fed organic grain (without compromise) and live in lovely pastures and are also repositioned in the fields on a regular basis to provide them with fresh areas to graze.
All this work has its rewards. Customers rave that the eggs and meat are delicious - the best they've ever eaten, and come back again and again. Pete and Jen take orders in advance for some of their meat and as you will note from their website, it sells out, sometimes within hours. Eggs are always available.
In their garden they follow organic practices and grow a variety of produce including leafy greens such as kale and Swiss chard, plus herbs, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, arugula, pea tendrils, broccoli rabe, and beets, to name just a few. In their mini-store they sell their produce as well as herbal salts, pesto and more.
Try the delicious eggs from their happy hens in a frittata or simply poached on toast. Pete and Jen's self-service mini farm store is open daily.