AmericanFarm.com

Huebners thrive after embracing life on farm

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

HOPEWELL (Jan. 1, 2016) — Unlike most homebuyers, Charlie and Lucia Stout Huebner didn’t even look inside the farmhouse on the 58-acre farm they purchased in 1986, now known to patrons in Mercer, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Bucks counties as Beechtree Farm.
They said they looked at the land and surrounding woods and walked around a lot, but it didn’t occur to them until after they’d closed on the property that they hadn’t once looked inside the house on their farm just outside of Princeton.
Fortunately, the foundation was solid and there were no roof leaks.
The couple had no children at the time, though they now have two kids — a boy and a girl.
Lucia was working in corporate communications for architects and specialty homebuilders and Charlie was successful enough with his garage door, windows and pet door business that they could afford a mortgage on the property.
It helped that the existing owner wanted to sell only to a person or couple similarly interested in keeping the place a working farm.
“We told the seller it was our intention to keep it a working farm. He was not interested in seeing the place sold off to a developer for more housing,” Lucia said.
The Huebners operate a farm market on their property and sell grass-fed meats.
The meat market at Beechtree Farm is open seven days a week, all they ask is that customers call first so they can meet them in the market adjacent to their house.
The seller helped the Huebners finance their purchase, “and Charlie was very successful with his door and window business, and he loves being engulfed with big projects. That’s why I call him my Paul Bunyan husband,” she said, laughing.
Both Charlie and Lucia have served on the Mercer County Board of Agriculture since 2011 and Lucia has been chairwoman of the Hopewell Township Agriculture Advisory Committee since 2001.
It was through her involvement with the municipal ag advisory committee that she found out about Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New Jersey and attended an organic farming conference in Pennsylvania in 2007.
“When we moved to this 58-acre farm, my attitude was, ‘Well it’s nice to live on a farm, but you can’t make a living off of it,’” she said, adding she was raised on a 250-acre dairy farm in Columbia County, N.Y., near the Massachusetts border. Her father had to move the family off that farm after a particularly bad drought in the 1960’s.
“Then I went out to a meeting with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and there were at least a thousand people at this conference doing interesting things with as little as 10 acres.
“A lightbulb went off. I realized, this place is an asset, we had a few cows and knew it was a terrific place to raise children, but then I realized we needed to be doing more.”
At the conference and through her own research, she became interested in raising grass-fed beef.
“I talked to my husband about it, and he said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try,’” Lucia said. “By that time we’d preserved the farm. He built a garage with solar panels and we built the meat room and NOFA-NJ people introduced me to NRCS folks and we invested in some solar powered electric fences.”
They began the switch from their initial careers later in 2007 and now raise about 50 beef cattle and 50 sheep.
In 2006, they took over a nearby 53-acre farm on Route 518 where they grow winter hay for their cows and sheep.
Solar inverters power the farm market and its refrigeration areas and a vernal pond and geothermal well-water system provide fresh drinking water for the cows and sheep, even during cold winter months.
The pond was made possible through another grant from NRCS. Lucia also oversees the farm’s website, www.beechtreefarms.com, so-named because beech trees are Charlie’s favorite type of tree.
“People come to see us from all over, and we really do learn from our customers,” Lucia said walking around the farm market and several large meat refrigerators.
The walls of the farm market are adorned with many of Lucia’s watercolors, pastels and oil paintings and Charlie has found a new creative outlet in recent months by making soap from beef tallow which would otherwise be going to waste.
The soaps have been selling well at the farmers’ markets they sell at and at their own farm market.
Asked how just the two of them manage a 58-acre livestock farm and a 53-acre hay farm, Lucia said the hay farm doesn’t need intense monitoring, unlike their rotating pastures program for the sheep and cows.
Both farms are preserved farmland as of 2006 and 2007.
In the last two years, the Huebner’s have almost completely transitioned from what they were doing in their previous careers to making their living from what they raise on the farm. Huebner also serves on the board for NOFA-NJ.
“That was a great turning point,” she admitted, adding given her experience with her father’s upstate New York dairy farm, “we never imagined we could make our living from the farm when we moved here.”