"What are you grateful for?” This is the question the Heys family answers each night around the dinner table. Since 2018, Chris and Jessi Heys have operated a small family farm, aptly named Grateful Harvest. It is nestled into eight acres on Gilmore Pond Road in Jaffrey. The Heys’ practice of gratitude is palpable in the way they garden, raise animals and share their abundance with the community.
The couple view their land as an extension of the natural world, as they farm in a sustainable, holistic way. In addition to working outside the home, Chris focuses on the garden — a marvel of straight, efficient rows that maximize growing space. The perfection makes sense when you learn Chris is also pursuing a degree in engineering. The garden feeds their family of four, supplies three restaurants and stocks the Grateful Harvest successful farm stand. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides or machinery are used in the garden. As Jessi puts it, “we only use compost, water, love and hard work.”
A labor of love is not a cliché on this farm; Jessi makes caring for her goats and rabbits look effortless. She currently milks five goats by hand twice a day. They are a cross between LaManchas (an American dairy breed) and Boer (a South African meat breed). Jessi fell in love with LaManchas for their calmer demeanor. They are also somewhat quieter than most goats. The Boer genetics help the kids reach market weight faster than a dairy breed, and once she tasted Boer milk, no other goat milk would do. It has a higher fat content making it richer and creamier, and the LaManchas balance that with their greater milk production. Jessi is hopeful the Boer influence will also add flexibility to the dairy goats’ breeding and birthing season so she can keep the farm stand stocked with both milk and her amazing yogurt year-round.
Rabbit is available all year. Jessi’s adoration for her crossbreed is evident when she describes them as “big and squishy and sweet.” The Flemish Giant is large with a gentle temperament, and the New Zealand is a commercial meat breed. The crossbreed usually reaches market weight in about 10 weeks, keeping their feed cost versus price-per-pound sustainable. Jessi keeps the babies and moms in large hutches — if they are raised on the ground, they are very susceptible to parasites and disease. Once weaned, the juveniles are put in a barn stall with hay, where they happily munch, cuddle and have plenty of room to kick up their heels.
Chris and Jessi process their goat and rabbit meat themselves, describing the process as humane, ethical and quick.
“We have a ‘no bad days’ motto for our animals,” Jessi said. “That includes their final day here on the farm.”
The goat meat is limited but they do sell a few shares. Rabbit is sold to individuals by pre-order. Grateful Harvest is also now licensed to sell rabbit meat to restaurants.
The Heys family notes they are extremely grateful to their patrons, who help make farming a viable enterprise and allow them to continue to do what they love. They have also been blessed with enthusiastic volunteers who bring a helping hand and add levity and excitement. In return, Chris and Jessi enjoy doing what they can to provide for their community while remaining sustainable. When bread was scarce this spring, Jessi baked loaves for her customers. Chris has implemented ways to extend the growing season, including a successful practice run with winter greens this past year.
The Heys also encourage other people to become farmers and welcome anyone enthusiastic about sustainable, human-powered, small agriculture to visit. Find them on Facebook: facebook.com/gratefulharvestnh/. Their page lists the fare available at the farm stand, which is open daily for self-service at 671 Gilmore Pond Road. You can also find them at the Team Jaffrey Community Farmer’s Market on the Commons on Fridays from 3-6 p.m.
Farming requires common sense, a love for hard work and optimism. Chris and Jessi have a wealth of all three.
“Do not be intimidated, someone will always know more than you,” Jessi said. “There is a lot of time-tested information available to help you find a farming method and make it your own.”