Herondale’s Grass-fed, Free Range Animals

Originally Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012


Meat eaters. I live with two of them. They don’t consider it a meal without meat. Eric, 17 years old and at 6-foot 5 inches is always eating. He wakes up every morning, strolls into the kitchen without saying a word — opens the icebox, removes a flatiron steak from Herondale Farm and puts it on the chopping block to thaw.


At some point in the day — for breakfast — after school snack or dinner — Eric will cook himself that steak in a hot buttered pan with sea salt and fresh black peppercorn to a charred medium rare and add a squeeze of lemon to complete the flavor explosion he swears he invented.


Truth is Jerry Peele of Herondale Farm is the farmer responsible for the amazing meals we consume in our home and he offers a popular yet uncommon grass fed CSA for meat. His British heritage white cattle are 100 percent grass fed, free range and the herd of up to 240 steers, mother cows and offspring live comfortably, clean and happy on the bucolic farm at Jerry and Iva Peele’s in Ancram.


The restored barn they live in is your exact dream of living on a farm. In 2003 Jerry and Iva bought the farm after renting upstate. Looking for a farm and a life change after 35 years in the financial business, Jerry “wanted to do something more physical and have something to show for it at the end of a day.”


He said having a business acumen helped but “it was a steep learning curve learning to farm.”


Almost 10 years later Jerry is hoping his son Jack returns to the farm and told tales of days when Jack and his friends worked all summer long building fences, clearing brush and painting the barns.


His youngest son Sam is a “natural” farmer. Sam and Jerry moved to Herondale Farm first in 2003 while his mum and siblings stayed in the city. Maybe the story of succession will unfold at the Peele’s farm over time, we should be so lucky!


From the western part of England, Jerry grew up in rural farming country but only spent time at other peoples’ farms doing chores. He just enjoyed being on the farm.


When I asked him about the least favorite part of his job he told me sadly, “taking the steer to slaughter because you get to know them!” I inquired how you handle the paradox of loving animals knowing they become part of our food source? “It’s part of the process raising livestock,” Jerry said, and added with nearly 100 mother cows that live a decade longer than steers, “it’s clearly a matriarchal society.”


Other “permanent residents” at Herondale include sheep (sheep is the animal type — ewes are female and lamb their offspring), laying hens producing 100 eggs a day, pigs and chickens — who all eat as honestly as we do from Herondale Farm — non GMO corn/soy mixture with grass from good quality and well-tended pastures.


This morning’s egg is no joke. Eric’s dad and the other meat eater in our home says, “It has changed my life eating fresh food within a five mile radius.” He will never buy a store bought egg again! “Did you know yolk eggs are orange?” he asked when the transition first transpired.


I told him, the taller the yolk, the harder the shell, the fresher the egg. “I’ll take it,” he told me scrambling away. The hens aim to please laying brown and blue heritage eggs provided the hens aren’t “off duty” in the summer heat that makes them strike!


Who knew hens were so emotional?


Iva Peele, the farmer’s wife, wasn’t so sure she was cut out for this “Green Acres” life in the beginning. The first day she arrived, five cows decided to go on their own and stroll down the road. Thankfully Sam, the “natural,” herded them back to the field and they all had a good laugh.


Today Iva loves the farm but mostly tends to the “crew,” which is a dog pack and recently includes a new member she found abandoned in the road in terrible shape. “Lil bit” or “Miss Ellie” (as she is now more formally known among her Chihuahua handbag peers) is happy among her farm friends!


Reba is a sheep dog and the protector — most of the time. She came from Nashville as a pup (named after Reba McIntyre), was bonded with the sheep and chases off coyote but ironically is terrified of thunder and lightening. Did someone say thunder suit? She needs one!


Stef, a golden lab, is the “cheerleader” on the job. Daniel the spaniel heads up meet and greet and accompanies Jerry when duck hunting — his favorite hobby.


Toby, the schnauzer, hangs mostly with Iva until she travels so he can “swing both ways” between house and farm Jerry says laughing.


Initially I wrongly assumed Christine was Jerry’s wife, but quickly learned as his “white” wife she manages daily life on the farm and is the real crew leader.


Christine Harrington is not only bright, pretty and witty — she makes farming seem easy and fun. She welcomes you at the farm store with a greeting and joy that is quickly contagious. It makes me love shopping there and leaves little doubt that making the farming community my supermarket is a smart one.


It creates a connection with your food and the person that grows it so you learn more about eating healthy. It also creates commerce, jobs and community — beneficial to us all in many ways.


Shopping local is essential and at Herondale Farm it is not only responsible, it’s pure joy. Selling at the farm shop, to chefs, restaurants and the year round CSA meat shares (now in Brooklyn and Long Island too) there are lots of ways to buy local. There’s even a winter share available now; you can pick it up at the farm or in New York City. Fifteen pounds of mixed cuts — steaks, roasts, braising meat, sausages, ground beef or lamb.


People think of grass fed or organic food as expensive but actually shopping locally means it not only tastes better but it’s more nutritious. This means you eat less, are full and happy. Why wouldn’t you buy a share!


Located in the heart of farmland in Columbia County and surrounded by many other farms Herondale is on the Ancram Farm Map and offers tours of the farm on the weekends and by appointment.


Put it in the family to-do list of activities. Learn about animal practices, how best sellers like rib steaks and chicken sausage are made and leave like all the worry and stress in the world vanish just from a walk in the fields and a chat with your farmer — and his British accent we Americans adore is captivating.


Farm store hours are online at HerondaleFarm.com. I pick up my CSA farm share there on Saturdays and complete the basic food shopping trip with milk, butter, bread, cheese and organic from Hudson Valley Fresh, Ronnybrook, B.ray Bread, Amazing Real Live Cheese and Sol Flower Farm.


Can you say blissed out? Eric says we are just blessed. At 17 — that’s a far cry from the McDonts food choices of his many local peers. I’m proud to shape his food choices now to impact his eating habits for the rest of his life. If you truly are what you eat — Eric will be healthy, responsible and honest in his consumption for years to come. Imagine if we all chose to eat local food once a day every day. Imagine the impact!


Needless to say there is lots to do, always the need for more hands and the best way the community can support the farm and get involved is to buy more of your food locally, join a CSA or volunteer!


Meet Jerry at the upcoming farm events this Sunday and on Oct. 27 or visit the farm store through Columbus Day! You’ll be glad you did! Tell him I sent you. And as always … FarmOn!


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