Jeff Dill and Scott Simpson, the new owners of Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, share their innovative vision for this historic farmland. The land at Wyebrook has been farmed for over 200 years, and previous owners proudly used environmentally friendly practices to feed the local community. Now, Jeff and Scott are continuing that legacy by working towards a more decent and decentralized food system. Here are some highlights from their interview with The Decency Foundation.
Tell me about your relationship with agriculture.
Scott: I started farming fifteen years ago with my father-in-law, raising cattle in Central Pennsylvania. Later down the line, my wife and I started a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm in Downingtown [Pennsylvania]. I also have experience in horticulture and landscaping, so I know a bit about taking care of land already. I’ve always wanted to have my own butcher shop or something along those lines. But the way I learned [how to farm] was from those local farmers in Central Pennsylvania. I was able to learn from some of those multigenerational, traditional farmers and implement other techniques that make sense for my farm.
Jeff: [Farming] is admittedly pretty new to me. I’m an academic by training; I’m a sociologist and teach at a local college. But I’ve always had an interest in it.
What was your relationship to Wyebrook Farm, prior to becoming the new owners?
Scott: I went out [to Wyebrook] when it was open to support the small bands that would play, and eat at the restaurant. The previous owner, Dean Carlson, created this great infrastructure on Wyebrook that I loved so much, I wanted to emulate it on my own CSA. Between the events, the food, and the farm itself, it had a great family atmosphere that I always enjoyed. Now that we own this land, we get to build on the great work he’s done.
Jeff: Dean is also friends with [The Decency Foundation’s co-founder] Jon McConaughy, which is how we got involved with other members of the agriculture community, and eventually, The Decency Foundation.
How has it been creating plans for the farm during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Scott: Right now, some materials are in short supply or take a long time to acquire. For instance, we need certain things for the commercial kitchen on site. The date they were supposed to be delivered on keeps getting pushed back, so there are those hangups. But those are minor and don’t really bother us. Because the pandemic has slowed the world down, we’re able to ease ourselves into this project.
Jeff: We plan on opening sometime in 2022, so the pandemic bought us an entire year to set everything up on this farm, especially on the agriculture side. It’s given us a longer runway before launch.
How has the pandemic changed people’s view of the food system?
Scott: Last year, people signed up for my wife and I’s CSA right when the pandemic started. Our meat sales went through the roof. To some extent, people will go back to their old ways [post- pandemic], but I do think that it helped shift people’s food system views. It showed the fragility of our food system, and I think this will benefit us in the long run, seeing that not only are web raising animals with proper health and welfare, but people realizing where their food comes from. If they buy from us, they know their products aren’t coming from these big companies, it’s coming from a farm down the road.
Jeff: As awful as a pandemic like this has been and continues to be, it does certainly show the cracks in our country’s industrial food system. It revealed more demand for a decentralized system, like The Decency Foundation has in mind for farms like ours. We’re a long way off from being able to feed the world this way, but we’re certainly moving in the right direction.
What are your plans for Wyebrook?
Jeff: We want to raise various animals such as beef, pork, and possibly poultry in the future.
Scott: Animal welfare is a big priority for us. We don’t buy animals from auctions, so the one and only time the animals would get on a trailer is to the processing site. But when you don’t have a shop on site, sometimes you have to drive for hours to get to one. The animals are with you that entire journey, and it causes them a lot of anxiety. Adrenaline and stress can actually taint the meat and make it taste different. They’ve never been in a trailer before and suddenly, they're cramped into one at the end of their life. Ideally, we’d have both the animals and processing on the farm to avoid that. We want to work with The Decency Foundation to build an on-site facility so everything can happen right here.
Scott: On top of that, we hope to sell products through an online store, farmers markets, and of course, on site. We’re still figuring out plans in terms of a restaurant and event space, because it’s a beautiful spot and already set up for those kinds of things.
What agricultural practices do you plan on implementing?
Jeff: Dean [Carlson] was using a lot of regenerative methods like rotational grazing, multi-species grazing and more. It’s all about rebuilding and re-nourishing the soils and pastures. We’re hoping to continue and build onto that.
Scott: If you go back about seventy years, people were doing what we call sustainable or regenerative agriculture now. It’s not a new way of doing agriculture; it’s what our great-great grandparents did. For example.They had multi-species grazing on their land because they had to raise multiple kinds of animals in order to feed their family! They also lacked any large farming instruments, trucks, everything like that that typically destroys the soil.
Jeff: What we’re trying to do, and what The Decency Foundation is trying to do on several farms, is think about every aspect of the farm as part of its ecosystem. Every employee, customer, animal, and plant connected to the farm is a part of that system. We’re thinking about how we treat every aspect of Wyebrook, and that will create a successful model.
Scott: Our approach isn’t anything new. In fact, we’re just going back to the basics.