A Day at Mohican Farms
At Mohican Farms, workers and animals alike are calm and happy.
Nestled in the foothills of the Kittatinny Mountains in Blairstown, New Jersey, this serene roadside farm started as a hobby for Ryan Herold and his partner, Sean Lavery, and quickly turned into a business.
Their initial intentions for the 130 acres of beautiful land was to use it as a place to enjoy the wilderness with their children—riding quads, hiking, and shooting. They planted a garden and kept some animals on the land as a side-gig, more for recreation than anything else, but when Covid-19 struck, their hobby turned into a valuable resource.
In those first few months of the pandemic, food was scarce in traditional grocery stores. While many of Mohican Farms’ first customers initially came to the road-side shop on Mohican Road out of necessity, they have returned for the higher quality of food.
“It’s all about what you feed your animals and how you treat them,” Ryan said. “We give them high-quality grains, and that makes the meat taste better.” Mohican Farms does not use hormones, antibiotics, or any of the other chemicals that are commonly used in the agricultural industry. Not only are the animals fed well, but they are treated well, too.
There are no cages—only fenced-in areas with enough space for the animals to run around and barnyards to keep them warm. There are hundreds of chickens used for meat and eggs, scores of Berkshire and Yorkshire pigs, several ducks (used for eggs only), and Angus cows with acres of space to graze on.
The chickens that are raised for meat are separated by age, with different parts of the barnyard set up for each age group. The first section is for chicks—small and yellow, they huddle together under the red glow of a heat lamp. Once they are about two weeks old, they can create their own heat and move on to a slightly larger area. Then every two weeks, the chickens get moved to a different area until they reach about 8 weeks of age, at which point they are fully grown. Piglets are also separated in a similar way, with each litter staying in the same area as their mother until they are adults.
The farm enlists the help of a team of donkeys and dogs who act as guardians for the animals. The dogs—beautiful and friendly Great Pyrenees Guardians—alert the farmers to any intruders.
The donkeys, who act like dogs themselves, will nudge a human hand to ask for love and attention. They patrol the outskirts of the farm. Their main area of duty is near a large pond where coyotes and foxes are known to emerge. The donkeys—much larger, stronger, and braver than any coyote—can either scare or kick away the intrusive wild animals and, in doing so, are able to keep all of the smaller, weaker, farm animals safe.
Once a customer arrives at the farm store, they will be greeted by two friendly, fluffy alpacas who coexist with three rainbow-colored peacocks in the fenced-in area at the side of a red barn; and across the street, two 7-foot-tall ostriches can be seen running around on their long muscular legs that have only two toes, which helps them gain speed. These animals serve mainly as attractions.
Mohican Farms packages their meat in a more hygienic and natural way than Big Ag. Ryan described a time-consuming procedure called air-chilling, a process by which the individual chicken meat is brought down to temperature slowly before being frozen; this seals the flavor and eliminates the transfer of germs from one piece of meat to another. The common industrial method involves dunking all of the meat into freezing water to reduce the temperature, which not only influences the flavor, but increases the possibility of bacteria spreading through the meat.
After explaining the difference in methods, Ryan admitted, “I get nervous buying meat from the big-box stores because you don’t know where it’s coming from or how it was processed.” Ryan believes more people are becoming aware of the haphazard nature of large agricultural vendors and are learning that the extra money spent on all-natural. food is well worth it.
While there are no fish swimming on the farm, Ryan and Sean felt that meat and fish go hand-in-hand. So, to expand their offerings of all-natural fresh food, an employee goes to Philadelphia every Thursday to get the freshest and best seafood and brings it back to Mohican. This gives local residents fish, including sushi-grade salmon, Dover sole, Branzino, halibut, and Chilean sea bass, that normally isn’t available to people outside of city markets. Word of their freshly caught fish, displayed on ice, has spread through the hills and dales and into neighboring Sussex and Pike Counties, where folks will travel the country roads, just to buy the seafood, once the weekly selection is posted on their Facebook page, Mohican Farms LLC.
Beyond the wide selection of livestock, Mohican Farms also grows its own produce, including onions, lettuce, garlic, peppers, zucchinis, and many more crops to come in the summer and autumn. All of their products, along with several produce items from other local farmers, are available for sale in their small two-room shop. Business is good, but Ryan and Sean, who are co-owners of two other businesses, are looking to expand Mohican’s offerings by building a larger shop where customers can buy not only meat and produce, but ready-to-eat food as well. Ryan envisions a salad bar, pizza oven, barbeque grill, and ice cream window, providing customers with a well-rounded farm-to-table experience.
Beyond the community impact of the farm, the owners are looking to the future of their families. Ryan says, “I want it to be big enough so that it can sustain itself.… I want my kids to have the option of running it and making a living from it if they choose to when they’re older.” Ryan believes that farming families tend to be tight-knit, and he hopes that the farm can bring his family closer, while also teaching the children the values of hard work, pursuing the American Dream, and enjoying the great outdoors.
In the past century, the influx of industrialized farming by large companies has taken over the nation, running smaller farms out of business or swallowing them up entirely. These large agricultural apparatuses make astronomical profits while mistreating millions of animals, poisoning crops, and generally lowering the quality of life for man and beast alike. With the recent national awakening to the mistreatment of farm animals, as well as the clear taste and health benefits of buying local, well-fed, well-treated meat and crops that haven’t been sprayed with Round-Up, perhaps local farmers can return to the nation’s identity.
Mohican Farms has an attitude of simple kindness. Treat animals well, and they will treat you well—both literally and financially. The idea that something as generic as “be kind,” or more specifically, “be kind to animals,” could become a profitable business model might sound silly. But, once you’ve walked among the animals, rubbed a donkey behind the ears, seen chickens nestled next to adult pigs, heard the oinks of baby piglets running around with each other, let a farm-cat rub up against your leg, smiled at alpacas grazing on the rolling green hills, and truly felt the joy of seeing well-treated animals, you get the sense that kindness and happiness go hand in hand and that they should be the most important aspects of any business.
Beyond that, tasting the meat of a well-fed animal or biting into a ripe, succulent, locally grown piece of fruit might make you realize just how delightful good food can be. A great meal can bring you joy, especially when you know that the meat you’re eating comes from an animal that ate well from the hands of kind-hearted farmers near your home.
Mohican Farms is not just in the business of growing and selling food. They’re in the business of keeping their customers and animals safe, healthy, and happy.