It’s a common question on a summer Saturday
around our house: “When are we going to Forks?”
Forks Farm Market has become a hub of the local food comun-ity in Northeastern Pennsylvania. John and Emily “Todd” Hopkins, both raised on farms, returned to 85 acres of family land in Northern Columbia County in the early 1990s and found their way to the model of pastured poultry through the writings and teachings of Joel Salatin.
In this model, birds are raised outdoors in small, moveable pens as opposed to the large, indoor factory conditions of conventional chicken farms. John and Todd also do all the butchering of their poultry right on the farm in order to ensure cleanliness and humane treatment for the birds. Although their pastured chicken and turkey put them on the map, they also produce 100% grass-fed beef and lamb as well as “woodlot”
pork – pigs bred right on the property that range in wooded areas of the farm.
John Hopkins explained that when their eldest daughter, Emily, was born, they started reading about antibiotic resistance and the problems associated with antibiotics and hormones given to meat animals. They were already feeling dissatisfied with raising animals conventionally.
“We got into it as a concern for feeding ourselves and our family,” John said.
At the time, the whole concept of grass-fed meat was new. Now, with authors such as Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma) and regular meat recalls making consumers more wary of how their food is handled and processed, grass-fed meat is looking more and more attractive to many consumers.
“We don’t have to ‘sell’ [the idea] anymore – we just have to produce,” said John. “We’re switching modes.”
For many, the selling point is health.
“How the animals are fed greatly affects the quality of the product,” he added.
Forks has done nutritional testing of its
products at Penn State and West Virginia universities. Its results are striking: pastured chicken and eggs are significantly lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol than conventionally raised products, while higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin A. Similar results are found with grass-fed beef and pork.
These days, Forks sells through buying clubs in Philadelphia as well as in the Wilkes-Barre area, with drop-off sites at Wegmans and House of Nutrition, and it hopes to continue expanding its sales in the Wyoming Valley. It regularly supplies area restaurants such as The Settler’s Inn, in Hawley, and the Turkey Hill Brewing Company, in Bloomsburg, where its grass-fed beef burger is a bestseller on the menu.
The heart of the business, however, has always been a visit to the farm. More than 10 years ago, the Hopkinses began hosting a bi-weekly seasonal farmers’ market on their property. Today, more than 20 farmers and artisans sell at the market, April through December, including the hugely popular Turkey Market on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when customers come to pick up pre-ordered birds.
The Hopkinses learned“ relationship marketing” as a concept from Salatin’s model, but it’s really as old as the family farm itself.
“We really like the relationship with customers,” said John. “Knowing them, and having them and their kids come to the farm, that’s when they get it – they see where their food comes from.”
What is most striking about Forks Farm Market is the personal nature of the operation. It is steps from the family home and visitors will always encounter either Todd, John, or their daughters behind the cash register, chatting with customers or making sure that everyone is getting what they need. During a summer market, there may be a harp-and-flute duo playing in the barn as customers walk by or one of the Hopkins’ peacocks strutting down the lawn.
Forks Farm has created a vibrant community in which people come together, not just to make purchases, but also to catch up with friends, chat with vendors, and enjoy the atmosphere of a working farm.
Whether you are interested in animal welfare, clean meat, local foods, or building community, Forks Farm has brought a rich and important business to our area and continues to develop a strong and loyal following.
Forks Farm Market is located at 29 Covered Bridge Road, in Orangeville. It can be reached at (570) 683-5820 or www.forksfarmmarket.com.