Farming is a niche market

TEMPLETON — Matthew LeClerc does a lot more than run a farmstand on the side of the road in his front yard.

He is a licensed butcher, a pig roaster, a beekeeper and a winemaker, and he considers himself a great neighbor. With the help of a handful of part-time workers, his products include Christmas trees, ribeye steaks, maple syrup, fresh eggs and sweet blueberries, to name a few.

“Traditional farming in New England is gone for the most part,” he said. So to make ends meet for his family, Mr. LeClerc comes up with “as many money-making ideas out of each season as I can.”

Serving hundreds of customers from his yard, Mr. LeClerc said, making a living isn’t easy.

On his 80-acre Valley View Farm, which includes a large pond and overlooks Mt. Monadnock, last week he had five pigs, about 100 chickens, three goats, about 20 cows and one audacious black bull his children named Herbie.

“In the Disney version of American agriculture, the farmer barely ever has to leave the farm. A quiet, soft spoken man in overalls spends most of the time at the homestead raising animals and crops,” wrote Brad Mitchell, director of government relations for the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation Inc. in a recent newsletter. “In the real world, and increasingly so, farmers need to be out there in the community — vocal, well-known and visible.”

The son of a furniture maker, Mr. LeClerc went to college for livestock production and worked in a meat shop in Gardner.

Then in the mid-2000s, he saw the need for a meat processor in his hometown, so he got a permit, which he pays more than $200 to renew each year. From there, he started to diversify uses for his farm and continues to add new products to the shed.

While he seems to be a jack of all trades, Mr. LeClerc said his biggest struggle is marketing. He is able to pull some customers who are visiting and camping at Queen Lake in Phillipston, but he would like to find more ways to sell products early in the week.

The shed, equipped to process credit and debit cards, brings in hundreds of dollars in revenue each week, he said. But a lot of his sales come from meat processing for hunters and other farmers.

“I cut more meat for other people than I do for myself,” he said.

During the fall, the majority of his revenue is generated by processing turkeys. Last Thanksgiving season, he processed about 3,000 birds. And he butchers about 100 or so deer per year, at about $100 a pop.

Although he sells vegetables, Mr. LeClerc doesn’t grow them at his farm. Instead, he regularly buys them in bulk from nearby farmers, who, he said, buy his products as well.

“You have to niche market,” he said. To make money he tries to focus on the things that he can provide to set him apart from other farms. That includes selling apples he grows on-site and maple syrup harvested from his 385 taps, and soon a Valley View Farm cookbook.

One of his neighbors, he said, has about several dozen blueberry bushes on his property, but doesn’t want to sell them himself, so he gives them to Valley View Farm.

“I sell them and he gets a tab at the farmstand,” he said, explaining that “horse-trading” is an efficient way of supporting other farmers and neighbors.

But in addition to having a slew of products to sell with options for when things go wrong.

His handlebar mustache moving as he speaks, Mr. LeClerc said that it’s important to leave a good impression.

“You’ve got to have that pizzazz,” he said.

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KnotheA.