Farmers are some of America’s oldest workers, according to census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average age of a U.S. farmer is 58. And the National Young Farmer’s Coalition reported that between now and the year 2030, an estimated half a million — or one quarter — of American farmers will retire. Nick Westervelt ’05 and Becky Mumaw ’06, of Lisle, N.Y., are doing their part to show that farming is a viable business option for the younger generation.
Westervelt and Mumaw, who married in 2013, run Clawhammer Farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York. “We have thirty acres of the worst land in the county,” Westervelt said. “It’s a big bowl, and the only flat land is soggy bottomland. The old timers call a farm with land like ours a ‘hard-luck farm.’ ”
They bought it a couple of years after graduation, after spending time in Chicago and Philadelphia, because “we wanted to get away from the city,” Westervelt said. “The thought of farming was real.” The land they purchased was some of the cheapest available.
Buying the land was just the beginning of their adventure. The first year, they tried everything from growing daikon and flowers to raising chickens, in order to see what they enjoyed doing most. They settled on raising livestock — mostly heritage-breed pigs and sheep — because it’s the most profitable for them and it’s what works best on the land. “All the big farm operations work the same way: grow feed in the field, then drive it to the animals, who live in a barn,” said Westervelt. At Clawhammer, the animals roam free, so they eat off land that would be too difficult to farm with machinery. “Since our animals live outside, they are much more functional on our land than tractors are; feet are way better than wheels.”
Today, Clawhammer has about 150 pigs, 50 sheep, 30 rabbits, and five goats. The couple sell directly to restaurants and to the public through subscriptions, supplementing their products with meats that they buy wholesale from autumn’s Harvest Farm so they can offer a full range of meats. Mumaw handles the animal management and sales to the public and the farm’s breeding program, while Westervelt keeps the infrastructure of the farm and the machinery running, takes care of sales to restaurants and makes deliveries.
Educating their customers, they say, is one of the biggest challenges. Shoppers accustomed to feedlot animals expect uniformity in the meat, as well as year-round availability, neither of which is realistic on a farm like theirs. To help people understand their approach, they encourage people to visit the farm, and even hold “slaughter your own” seminars for those wanting a real taste of livestock farming.
Clearly, they’re doing something right. The couple recorded over $500,000 in sales in just their third year of business, putting them in the top three percent of farms in the country. Westervelt said, “Our biggest success is making a living farming, and doing it in such a short time.”