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Maker Feature: Silk Tree Farm

Maker Feature: Silk Tree Farm

The Farm: Silk Tree Farm
The Farmer: Cathy Bardsley
The Place: Exeter, RI
The Goods: Ethically raised pork, goats and chickens, soy-wax candles and soaps
Where to Find Silk Tree Farm Meats: Exclusive to Pip!!
What We Carry: Pork, Chicken + Soaps

The Silk Tree Story
Cathy Bardsley doesn’t come from a long line of farmers nor did she have agricultural experience even, leading up to that moment when she dove, head first, into animal husbandry. Of all things, it was a cheese making course that sparked a fire, followed by a candle making class, followed by the realization that to make cheese and candles, raising your own animals for the basic ingredients was the obvious next step.

Cathy took the leap and started with just one goat and a new found love for making cheese. When her daughters took off to college, Cathy had some newly discovered hours in the day which coincided with a love for food and collided with a new found passion for raising animals which led her to establishing her own farm: Silk Tree Farm.

Cathy single handedly now raises Heritage Breed Red Wattle Pigs and Freedom Ranger Chickens in addition to turkeys and goats. She manages all aspects of business from the every-day challenges and surprises of raising animals to standing at the farmer’s markets.

Why we love Cathy and Silk Tree Farm:
The meat is in a category all its own in flavor and texture. Cathy’s ethos towards farming - sustainably-minded, ethically, with a love both for the animals but also the food they produce - it’s gender-bending and paradigm-shifting, it’s beautiful, it’s forward-thinking, it’s what we want to see more of in the world of food and let’s face it, a single-mom starting from scratch raising pigs and goats all on her own…it’s pretty badass.

Getting ethically, sustainably raised pork around here is especially difficult. We really appreciate Cathy and her dedication to raising heritage breeds and doing it with love. She is fierce, passionate, tough as nails and we are grateful to be carrying her products

Silk Tree Farm Heritage Breeds

Cathy on cooking: Recipe alert!!!
“I love to experiment so much. I really enjoy trying recipes from all different countries and regions but my favorite meal to cook is a simple one. Seared Red Wattle Pork roast slow braised in goat milk with a whole onion, 1 head of garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage and a bayleaf. The milk separates while the roast cooks. You strain the sauce and you are left with a flavorful, thin gravy that you can thicken if you like. I often add potatoes and carrots about an hour before it's done or just serve it with creamy mashed potatoes and a veg. So simple but so delicious."

Pasture Raised Meats FAQ: They cook a bit differently so make sure to check out this guide for chicken. If you want to go deep diving and understand why Pasture Raised Meat is different and is cooked differently CLICK HERE.

"...When we take the raw materials of the earth and work with them - touch them, manipulate them, taste them, revel in their heady smells and glorious colors, and then through a bit of alchemy transform them into delicious creations-we do honor to the source from whence they sprang. Cooking demands attention, patience and, above all, a respect for the gifts of the earth. It is a form of worship, a way of giving thanks."

- Judith B. Jones, Not for Bread Alone

Putting the Silk Tree story into the bigger picture:
One of the things that really strikes me in talking to so many of our farmers is the difference between a farmer 80 years ago and the farmers that are filling our shelves with amazing goods today. One of the biggest differences is that most of our farmers today are new to the game. They are not generational farmers with decades of farming in their DNA - they have googled and apprenticed and learned the hard way about how to grow. Their backgrounds are in carpentry and engineering, real estate and finance. The other big difference and a hurdle they have to leap day in and day out is that they lack a strong agricultural community around them and the generational knowledge and hands-on support, that goes with that.
The heyday of the agricultural community in New England was actually quite a long time ago, the mid-nineteenth century when almost 70-80% of Massachusetts was cleared for farming with the subsequent decline of agriculture in New England coinciding with the push to the MidWest for cheap and less rocky land, in the early 1900s. Up until then, many towns and villages in New England were strong agricultural communities with barn dances and barn raisers more common than not. Whether for wisdom or a helping hand, your neighbors were there with you and you were deeply embedded in a farming history that provided you with tangible and intangible resources and supports. Today, it's a very different story both for generational farmers and new farmers as they are carving out their own paths much like our featured producer, Cathy Bardsley.

It is hard to quell my admiration and awe of this one particular farmer. Perhaps it is because she is doing this solo? Perhaps because it was a cheesemaking class that sparked her path to going all-in on raising livestock? Or perhaps it is the way she resolves what always seemed to be an irrefutable dichotomy of love, stewardship and raising animals for food that I find so fascinating and am so thankful for.

Cathy Bardsley epitomizes this first generation of farmers - self-taught and building her own community, when she can actually get off the farm and grabbing a proverbial bull by the horns as she chased a spark that led her from raising her family as her sole focus to raising pigs, goats and chickens for meat.
When she told me how ten years ago she wouldn't even drive a Prius at night and now she pulls up in the giant truck that can pull a trailer behind without batting an eyelash - the fearlessness, the courage it takes to follow where your curiosity and passion takes you, especially when it brings you to the doorstep of a lifestyle that can be so unforgiving, leaves me in awe and admiration.
As eaters, the best way we can support this generation of farmers is seeking them out, making the extra effort to find their goods, educate ourselves on the cost of food and why conventional meat costs less and maybe eat a little less meat but learn to cook it, really, really well.

VIDEO from Rob Delgaudio and BP productions
Photos from Silk Tree Farm

Contact Info:
Silk Tree Farm
Exeter, RI
Instagram: @silktreefarm

Resources and More on Red Wattle:
Red Wattle Pork On The Slow Food Ark of Taste
Saveur Article
Cooking Pastured Meat
Roasting Chicken Tips

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