In 2008, the documentary Food Inc. was released by Robert Kenner and it shone a dark light on the mass consumerism of modern-day America. The film also exposed large-scale animal processing plants, turning many off from eating meat, and highlighted local farm practices. That’s when Carol Festa, an assets manager at the time, and her husband Thomas Geppel, an accountant, were inspired to do their part in helping change the way Americans eat.
In 2011, with no experience but a deep passion for effecting change, 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue opened its barn doors with Festa, Geppel and their two children, Olivia (now in college) and Max (now 14 years old). The 28-acre farm began with 13 Icelandic sheep that were brought in from Maine and Virginia and has since grown to include Tamworth pigs and a variety of heritage breed chickens. Though they had no hands-on farm experience, a financial background forged an efficient mentality. Sheep were economically desirable, producing meat, cheese, and fiber products from their biannual sheering for wool and yarn. They also allowed for the couple to differentiate themselves from other farms.
“We never thought much about behind the scenes with animals and production,” Festa said of how Food Inc. influenced her. Wide scale animal production forces the animals to eat products their bodies cannot naturally process, such as grain, in addition to being raised in horribly confined environments. Festa notes that the word organic doesn’t mean enough, as animals are oftentimes still unable to express their basic instincts, like running outside.
At 8 Hands Farm, the sheep are 100 percent grass fed and raised on pastures. Their pigs are outdoors, allowing them to dig their noses into the ground, and are supplemented with organic feed. The hen coops are moved every three days and the birds have complete free range. All of these simple, basic practices allow the “fundamental behavior of the animals” whereas the traditional food economy is “counterintuitive,” Festa opined.
“These animals make the ultimate sacrifice but in the interim they’re not treated well,” said Festa, about the mass market slaughterhouses. Festa, along with the rest of her family, still maintain a carnivorous diet. She takes each animal from 8 Hands Farm to a certified humane facility where they are slaughtered and processed as humanely as possible. She added, “Wouldn’t you rather be able to see them grazing and knowing they’re having a good life? In the end, we enjoy eating meat, and we would rather know they’re being raised well.”
Farm tours are currently based on demand and available on Saturdays at 11 AM. They are approximately 45 minutes to an hour long, allowing people to feel a connection to their food. Festa said, “That’s what we think is so rewarding. We have people who genuinely want to know more than ‘How do I cook this piece of meat?’ They want to understand what the animals consumed, how it was raised, and even how it was slaughtered.”
Next for this family of eight hands is a proposal for a food truck to add value to their business, aiming to add true definition to the term “farm to table,” with food cooked on the truck directly from elements on their farm, on their property.
Festa and Geppel had a dream to start a farm and live a healthier, more environmentally conscious, life for themselves and their children. In turn, Olivia and Max have learned something a school cannot teach: what it’s like to push through adversity and come out successfully, added Festa. Their connection to animals is done through observation, watching the basic behavior and drawing conclusions on what it needs.
It’s all about “having a goal and trying to achieve it in the best way possible,” added Festa.