Thoughtful Stewards - Burelli Farm Q&ADecember 7, 2016
Peter Burmeister, Katherine Fanelli and Boo (an Australian cattle dog) raise chickens, cows and pigs in Berlin, Vermont. Peter answered a few of our questions to give us a picture of life on Burelli Farm.
What led you to farming?
I grew up in a rural area of New York State, where all of our neighbors were either dairy farmers or orchardists. So I was exposed to farming at a very early age, although my family did not farm. I developed a great love for the soil and the rural landscape and expressed a desire to be a farmer. However my parents and public school teachers discouraged that wish. Farming was considered a low-class pursuit, as far as they were concerned, something to be engaged in by people who were not capable of doing anything else. I was urged to get a "good education" and to "make something of myself." as though I were not "something" already. It was very depressing and I had a hard time making up my mind what career to pursue. After graduation from high school I went to college, but dropped out after three years. For a while I lived in the country and spent my time hunting, fishing and gardening. Eventually I went back to school and then had a long career in the commercial printing business, becoming the CEO of two printing companies in New York City and nearby New Jersey. I moved to Vermont in 2003. Katherine and I were married a year later and shortly thereafter I became the general manager of the Vermont Milk Company, a farmer-owned cooperative that had been organized by (now Senator) Anthony Pollina. In 2007 we began raising chickens and beef cattle in Marshfield, and in 2010 we purchased 85 acres of land in Berlin, which we named Burelli Farm, by combining syllables of our last names (Burmeister and Fanelli).
Katherine was born in Hanover, NH, but early in her childhood her father, a college professor, joined the diplomatic service and the family was posted to Rome, Italy. Katherine was educated there and she still speaks Italian fluently. When the family returned to the US, they lived in the Washington D.C. area where Katherine finished high school. She then went to Goddard College, graduating in 1970, after which she bought property in Lyme, NH and operated a small farm. Later her travels took her to Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, before returning to VT about 25 years ago. She has worked for the Vermont Cheese Council and for Goddard and also attended St. Michael's College, where she received a masters in administration. Katherine has a deep love for animals. In past years she was a passionate horse person and more recently she is the main person deeply engaged in raising our chickens, meat birds as well as layers, which are major components of the Burelli Farm business. Katherine is a talented artist, her media include pastels, photography, ceramics and quilts.
The third member of our family is our Australian cattle dog, Boo. The breed, also known as "blue heeler," is known for its superior intelligence and loyalty and Boo is no exception. She is a constant joy to us and is also at times a source of frustration because of her quirkiness and sometimes unpredictable behaviors.
What are your growing practices? Why did you choose them?
We are proudly certified organic for all of our products: beef, pork, chicken and eggs. We use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides on our land. All manure from our animals and birds is carefully composted before it is spread on our fields. Our small herd of heritage breed cattle is 100% certified organic grass-fed. We feed no grain, or synthetic supplements. Our hogs are fed on certified organic corn and other certified organic grains that we either grow ourselves here at the farm or purchase from other certified organic farms in Vermont, and nearby New York. We occasionally purchase a limited amount of certified organic pig ration from Morrison's feed mill in Barnet to augment the locally grown grains. Our chickens are fed certified organic grains from Morrison's and certified organic grains from our farm and other farms in Vermont and New York. We are one of the very few livestock and poultry producers in Vermont that are 100% certified organic. In addition to our commitment to organics, we are very excited about the rapidly growing regenerative agriculture movement in Vermont and worldwide. We work daily to improve the quality of our soil, by engaging in holistic resource management practices as described and promoted by Allan Savory, Jody Butterfield, and many others. I have personally been a champion of holistic practices since my graduate school days. I received a master's degree in 2002 and my thesis was largely organized around the theories of holism as outlined by Jan Christian Smuts in the 1920's.
You process your own chickens - when did you build your facility and how has it changed things?
When we first began raising meat birds we slaughtered them on the farm under the Vermont law that exempts up to 1000 birds from inspection. We soon realized that we would prefer to put into practice a series of procedures that would insure food safety. The building that we constructed three years ago for the purpose of processing poultry meets all the guidelines required by Vermont and Federal food regulations. Although our operation remains small, we feel confident that inspection is best for our customers. We follow rigid protocols as outlined in our HAACP plan, our sanitation procedures and careful monitoring of every step involved in slaughter and evisceration by Vermont's professional team of meat inspectors. We are proud to operate what the meat inspection service has told us is the cleanest slaughter facility in Vermont.
What's happening on the farm right now as we lead into winter?
The warm weather has left the farm in a "twilight zone" between the end of the growing season and what we hope will soon be a snow-covered landscape. It is disconcerting and frightening to see how global climate change affects our farm. The fields where we planted cover crops are brilliant green, while the barnyard is a muddy quagmire. By now the ground should have been frozen solid, but instead it resembles mud season. We continue to prepare for winter by doing maintenance on our farm equipment, on the road that leads to the farm and other odds and ends. We have slaughtered some of our pigs and beef cattle and have a few more to go before the end of 2016.
What has surprised you about your chosen career?
The biggest surprise about farming, which really should not have been a surprise at all, is how much I have learned. The teachers on this farm are the animals and birds, the soil, the sun, the rain and snow, the grass, the grains and the vegetables that grow in our extensive garden. I am a life-long learner and have been a teacher of young adults since 1983, and my personal credo, taken from the General Prologue to the "Canterbury Tales" comes from the Clerk of Oxenford: "Gladly would he learn and gladly teach." I have taught at Johnson State College, Norwich University, Champlain College, New England Culinary Institute and at various colleges in New York State and New Jersey.