Chip Allen Natvig owns and operates Pebble Brook Farm in West Brookfield. The desire to be a farmer developed early in his life and he is living the dream: producing a wide variety of organic produce for local restaurants, breweries, grocers, and individuals. I met him in his squash field late last August and we did a follow up interview a few weeks later.
(Ben) Your name?
(Chip) Chip Allen Natvig
The town you live in?
Are you a small farmer or an avid gardener?
A small farmer - Pebble Brook Farm When and what got you into farming?
My grandfather (my dad’s dad) back in Pennsylvania when I was growing up had a big greenhouse in his backyard and I remember as a little kid going out there with him all the time and I remember the smell of it. I loved being inside the greenhouse and helping him. The planting, transplanting, harvesting and watching them grow, the humidity ... everything about it at a very early age got implanted in my head and heart. So then, growing up when I was old enough to have a job, I started working on organic farms (well, at least organic practice farms). And even before that I would go into dairy barns across the way from my house and muck stalls when the farmers were sleeping just to be around farms. We came to Vermont every summer so it was kind of me getting close to Vermont in a weird way. I’d skateboard over, muck some stalls, and go home (laughter). So I’ve always wanted to learn how to farm and, after managing Dog River Farm in Berlin, I acquired some land in Northfield Falls and got started. What aspects do you enjoy most about farming?
Many things. No one day is the same. It is the kind of job where every single day is different and I am outside. It gives me great satisfaction and peace of mind that people are eating the things I grew and worked so hard to do. Knowing that [the food I produce] is out there all around Central Vermont and Cape Cod, that they’re eating my stuff, its pretty cool. And of course the smell of the greenhouse. Sarah (Chip’s wife) can vouch for this. Every single morning I go out to the greenhouse, drink my coffee in my pajamas and look at things that having been growing overnight. I just look and smell.
That’s pretty cool how you have this strong connection to back when you were a young child…
It took me a while to realize why I was so into farming. I’ve always loved it [but] my lifestyle [prior] to having a farm was very much into action sports. I skateboard, snowboard, I worked for red bull, and photograph extreme sports, but farming is my…ahhhhhhhh (the sound of peaceful satisfaction). Now [farming] has become my career [along with] photography. Winter is my busy season as a photographer and my down time from the farm. Tell me about the food that you have picked for this project?
Squash. Oh, man - I go down to the field every single day to try to harvest squash. I have six different varieties: winter squash, pumpkin, blue hubbard, delicata, red curry, acorn, buttercup, butternut - seven varieties. Every day I go down and harvest more so they are put into storage to cure so when I get an order I can pack it up and go. You should see my barn now: bins of squash [and] my truck bed was full. I was driving slow coming back to the farm saying 'Oh man!' Today I did a lot of blue hubbard and delicata. The menu tonight [at The Black Krim] (a restaurant run by Chip’s wife Sarah Natvig) has red curry and blue hubbard. How and when do you harvest squash?
I started two weeks ago (late August). When the squash is ripened, let’s take acorn for example, they get dark, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are ripe; you gently pick it up so the stem doesn’t snap and check the bottom color. If it is orange that means it is ripe or close. Same with the delicata: the yellow will go from greenish to tan and that’s ripe. You just have to watch the colors or if the stem snaps easily. The bigger squash don’t snap and you have to cut the stem with a knife. How do you like to eat squash?
Many, many ways! Delicata is one of my favorites because it is super sweet. Just cut it in half long-ways, place it on a cookie sheet, and let the sugars do their thing. You can add maple syrup or butter afterwards, but you really don’t need to because it is so sweet. After you pick them you are supposed to let them cure in a warm area for at least a week. I usually put them in the greenhouse or let them sit in the sun out in the yard. [This] brings the sugars down, once the squash is off the plant the starches start converting to sugar, and the hotter it is, the more it speeds [the process] up. [Also as] soups or cut into cubes and roasted. Take an acorn, make it into a bowl, put stuff in the bowl and you have an edible bowl. Anything else?
(Chip's farm started in Northfields Falls on an old dairy farm that had been unused for several years before they bought a house and transitioned it to West Brookfield). Transitioning the farm over took some time and was tough to do, and [during] a year where I wasn’t selling anything and income was really low. But now each year is getting better and better; it is nice to have a home base in Randolph (West Brookfield is connected to the greater Randolph community) and the whole area is great spot to be.
Was there are lot of work with your soils (after moving)?
So much! Oh man! The new field I just acquired with the squashes is my best soil, not a rock and virtually weed free. All the other fields I’ve ever had have been rock, on a hill, full of clay; constantly rotating crops, adding soil amendments, and sometimes rotating chickens, turkeys, and pigs [which] have helped. Now I have some great fields, five of them. Ten acres total. The new field with the squash - everything is going to be there next year and the [other vegetables] will be taking one, two, or even three years off and I’ll add more organic matter to the soil. That’s it! Find out more about Chip and Pebble Brook Farm at his Facebook page link below. You can now sign up for his certified organic CSA. I’ll add a link when he has his website up.
Pebble Brook Farm Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pebblebrook.farmstaff
Find more about this project HERE.