Anna Houston has a special way of describing the happy, healthy chickens that she and her partner Rob Perazzo raise on their New Marlborough, MA farm. “They’re total freaks,” she said with a laugh. “But chickens are supposed to be freaks, roaming around, catching bugs, and bathing in dirt, and just doing what they do. And that’s great.”
It’s great because during a chicken’s normal day of roaming and bug hunting, they fertilize the soil, and they cut the grass, benefiting the pasture in a variety of ways. “And then, as a bonus,” Anna said, “We get this amazing nutrient dense food that we can feed to our community, while building a strong local economy, and strong communities that share in these beliefs.” Not a bad day’s work for a chicken.
Not a bad day’s work for Anna and Rob, either, who started raising chickens on their farm about 16 months ago. “We started last April, with just a flock laying hens, 13 sheep and a small batch of broiler chickens,” Anna said. “Then, actually, this year, we more than doubled everything.” They currently lease around 50 acres and manage around 1,500 laying hens and 30 lamb.
Prior to their amazing year in New Marlborough, Anna and Rob apprenticed at North Plain Farm in Great Barrington, MA, where they first met. Rob grew up in New Jersey and worked as a bicycle mechanic before venturing into agriculture. Anna grew up in Vermont, but has family near their farm. Currently, they live in her grandparents’ house near Great Barrington.
Both Anna and Rob have carried a passion for pasture-based farming, which guided them toward the profession. “I was looking for a farm like that to work on,” said Rob. “I have read books about this type of farming, pasture-based farming, I knew that was what interested me.”
Anna was a vegetarian for 15 years before she started raising chickens. She had worked previously on a vegetable farm but was looking for a way to make a more meaningful difference in the way Americans eat. “I realized that being a vegetarian was not really having any impact on anything but myself,” she said. “I really wanted to make a difference and what I discovered would be the most effective would be to provide an alternative to what is essentially commodity meat.”
Opening up their egg laying business to Walden members has made a huge impact for the two pasture-based farmers. “Being in our first year, our local market was still finding out about us and so it was a slow start,” said Anna. “But then to be able to have someone like Walden who could take a ton of eggs every week and wanted to, that was a pretty amazing opportunity because that demand wasn’t yet there locally. For us, early on, that was pretty important.”
For Anna and Rob, being part of a community of like-minded agriculturists keeps them in the Berkshire area of Massachusetts, and having customers like Walden members—people who care about the food they eat, people who put their food dollars into grass-fed, sustainable options that benefit both the Earth and the local economy—makes everything worthwhile.
“I think building a community around good food and pasture-raised food and grass-fed food is a really important thing that we can do. So just being part of that and being able to provide a platform for that is what motivates me in a lot of ways,” Anna said. “And, also, I’m just an animal lover. I want animals to have good lives.”