Bottom Line: With Woodstock farm-to-table restaurant tabled, farm keeps farming
|Published: 12-12-2021 7:36 AM
For Woodstock farmer Matt Lombard, he was smitten at first sight.
“I’ve wanted to farm Peace Field Farm ever since I first drove past that piece of land,” Lombard said last week of the former Conklin Farm on Pomfret Road outside the village of Woodstock. “It has some of the best soils in the area for growing.”
Lombard, 37, grew up in Taftsville and graduated from Woodstock Union High School in 2003 before going on to study animal and dairy science at Vermont Tech and UVM. He wanted to be a farmer since he was 16, worked on Vermont farms and dairies for several years before settling in South Woodstock and today leases Peace Field Farm from owner John Holland, where he raises prized Mangalitsa pigs and grows scores of different varieties of vegetables, greens and herbs that make it onto the plate at his village restaurant, also named (appropriately enough) Mangalitsa.
Mangalitsa pigs, Lombard explains, are bred “for their lard, a fat hog of Hungarian and Serbian origin” which gourmands liken to the “Kobe beef of pork.”
A farmer uncomfortable with attention, Lombard nonetheless has been receiving a good deal of it lately as part of Holland’s ambition to open a farm-to-table restaurant that would be run by Lombard’s culinary team and supplied by food grown and raised at the farm.
Holland. a Boston developer, sank more than $1 million into building the red-painted barn-like structure that would house the 80-seat restaurant on Pomfret Road, only to have his Act 250 permit deniedpost facto on the grounds that its proposed ancillary on-farm business did not comport with Woodstock’s town plan.
The Act 250 decision made neighbors along Pomfret Road who oppose the restaurant happy, only to have their jubilation dashed when a few weeks later the town’s Development Review Board — which had held off for a year rendering a decision — decided the ancillary restaurant was permissible under local zoning ordinances.
(The two sides are now fighting it out in the appeals process both before the state’s environmental court as well as the town’s Development Review Board.)
Whether or not Holland and Lombard will ever get to open the on-farm restaurant — a concept passed into law three years ago as a way to bolster struggling Vermont farms — remains to be seen, but the developer and the farmer are expanding their relationship by teaming together to purchase 61 Central St., which houses Lombard’s 28-seat restaurant Mangalitsa and seafood-and-pasta restaurant The Daily Catch, which is owned by Boston restaurateur and Barnard resident Maria Freddura.
The purchase, which is expected to close in January, will pave the way for Lombard to open Decant Wine Shop (motto: “Real Wine for Real People”), which will be managed by Kevin Ring, former beverage director and sommelier at Twin Farms in Barnard. Lombard worked at Twin Farms earlier in his career and learned the ropes of running a farm-to-table restaurant.
Initially, Lombard had been raising Mangalitsa pigs for his Woodstock village restaurant, which he opened in the fall of 2017, at his place in South Woodstock. But raising chickens and a herd of 100 pigs “in the woods on a hillside” wasn’t felicitous husbandry.
When the opportunity arose to lease Holland’s farm in 2018, Lombard moved his poultry and swine there.
“Once we got to Woodstock, we were able to raise the bulk of our food for the restaurant,” Lombard said.
The Mangalitsa pigs are now joined by a cohort of Berkshire pigs, and Lombard raises each breed separately in addition to cross-breeding them. The busiest boars are a 700-pound Berkshire named Zoobie and Igor, a red Manglitsa “pushing close to 500 pounds” who, with 15 sows at their disposal and two farrowing cycles annually, can sire more than 70 piglets a year.
“The majority of it goes to the restaurant,” Lombard said of the pork raised on the farm. “Some of it is sold to homeowners who want a share to put in the freezer, and some occasionally goes to other restaurants.”
“We make a lot of sausage in-house, too,” he noted.
Holland’s farm has 60 tillable acres, although Lombard — he has six farm employees plus himself — said they use only a fraction of it growing produce for the restaurant, with the majority of it utilized for haying. The farm also now hosts 12 Black Angus beef cattle with six more calves due in the spring to bring the herd to 18.
The red-painted building erected for the restaurant includes a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and blast freezer and it could function as a food processing, product and storage center serving not only what Lombard produces at Peace Field Farm but food from other farms as well, Holland has said.
But Lombard said he’s trying not to get caught up in the drama of what he calls “that red building,” where upward-turned nighttime flood lights inspired one neighbor to liken it to “Santa’s Village.”
“I have a farm to run,” Lombard said. “I have too much going on to be fatigued by waiting on the red barn any longer. It’s out there. We’re fighting for it. But the most important part for me is the farm. I love that farm.”
Contact John Lippman at email@example.com.