With a cold rain drumming on the roof of the 18th-century farmhouse, a celebrated local chef visited Coggeshall Farm this past Tuesday to get up close and personal with the products on his …
With a cold rain drumming on the roof of the 18th-century farmhouse, a celebrated local chef visited Coggeshall Farm this past Tuesday to get up close and personal with the products on his menus.
Ben Sukle of Birch and Oberlin restaurants and formerly of The Dorrance and Farmstead, is one of the finest chefs in the region, routinely appearing as a James Beard Foundation Award nominee. He’s also one of Ester Bishop’s best clients.
Ester and her husband Joel own Gnarly Vines Farm in Tiverton. The formerly Boston-based professionals bought their farm a handful of years ago with the most basic of motivations: they wanted to see where their food came from. It wasn’t as much of a leap as it might seem at first glance — Ester is originally from rural Brazil and Joel grew up in New Hampshire, surrounded by friends and family who raised goats, cows, and chickens.
The couple started with 25 chickens, just for eggs, got some goats for milk, and planted vegetables. They started to sell their extra eggs to restaurants and before they knew it, they were selling 300 dozen eggs a week. They then decided to raise pastured meat.
With Coggeshall in a rebuilding phase (they have rehomed their animals while building a new barn), Gnarly Vines partnered with the Farm to bring activity back to their pastures. They have located a couple of mobile chicken coops for both chickens and turkeys in the pasture. The mobile coops are secure enough to keep the birds safe from predators, but can move daily, allowing the birds access to fresh forage and bugs.
On this day, Ester led Ben and his staff, both back and front of house, on a tour of her Tiverton property before coming to Bristol to see the coops and cook a staff meal of Ester’s products, including mutton, duck, and eggs.
“They asked for a tour of the farm,” said Ester. “I said yes, but we have two farms. We came from Tiverton to Bristol to cook some food and enjoy the farm. It’s too bad it’s not a nicer day, but it’s good to be able to spend some time with them, talk about what’s going on.”
Ester starts her chickens at her farm in Tiverton through the brooding phase, before transferring them to the mobile coops at Coggeshall. “Right now we are rejuvenating the pasture so it’s ready for next year when the animals come,” she said. “Then we can show the contrast between old farming and new farming. We have them enclosed because of the predators, but they can still express their natural behavior, and eat fresh bugs.”
Gnarly vines recently received a grant from RIDEM for a mobile processing unit and a new well, which will allow them to process poultry at their Tiverton farm, and keep costs down.
To date, they are still primarily a wholesale operation, selling nearly 4,000 chickens a year to local restaurants. They are also expanding their goat herd, as Ester has several clients who would like to offer more locally-raised goat meat.
Gnarly Vines products are available on a limited basis at farmers markets and at their farm stand, though they are planning to expand their retail offerings next year.