The year was 1944. Scores of Bedford boys were fighting in Europe and the Pacific. The sleepy town, with fewer than 5,000 residents, two police officers, and no sewers welcomed troops stationed at a brand new airfield built on farmland at its southern extremity. And down the street, a family chipped in to purchase a few acres of its own.
What began as a family-run egg farm in 1944 has slowly grown to new heights over the course of almost eight decades and three generations of ownership.
Chip-in Farm is situated on about six acres of land on Hartwell Road purchased by the grandparents of the current owners, Neil and Paul Couvee. “It started out as an egg delivery farm,” said Sandy Couvee, Neil’s wife and a farmer at Chip-in. “So, it’s always been a poultry farm.”
Soon after, the farm began selling eggs on-site, using the honor system.
“It’s very much a community farm,” Couvee said. “I always consider the community an extension of my family.”
For 25 years, Couvee has worked alongside her husband and brother-in-law to provide meaningful learning opportunities for local youth. “There’s just so much you can learn on the farm,” she said. “To me, it’s a classroom without walls. So, my big thing is farm-based education.”
Couvee actively works with area schools, Bedford’s Recreational Department, and the local 4-H club to teach about the farm, its animals, and much more.
She explained how Chip-in Farm offers a “leasing program” where 4-H kids show up regularly to work with animals and then bring them to fairs and showings.
“Not only do they work with the animals on our farm, they do a lot of community service, which is the basis of 4-H,” Couvee said. “You try to make your town, your community, your world better. And you try to make yourself better.”
Goats are perfect animals for children to nurture because they’re “easy keepers” and they’re fun, Couvee said. There are currently six “mama” goats on the farm, three yearlings, and nine babies born around three weeks ago.
Although kids gravitate to the farm for cute animals such as newborn goats, most stick around for the experiences. This year, children from the 4-H club played an integral role in helping with the newborn goats.
“We had 4-H-ers in there while [the goats] were giving birth, and they did a lot of hands-on stuff,” Couvee said. This included “breaking the sack open” and cleaning the newborns’ faces.
“They spent the whole week at the barn, which was great,” Couvee added. “I was there helping them and directing them, but they got the opportunity to do hands-on stuff.”
Typically, goats give birth to multiple babies at a time and twins are most common, she said. At Chip-in Farm, goats are bred around this same time every year because there’s favorable weather and kids from the 4-H club are usually on school vacation.
Couvee expressed gratitude for all the kids and members of the 4-H club who visit Chip-in to help out and learn, saying the farm “would not be the same” without them. “We need the community just as much as the community needs us.”
Right before current owners Neil and Paul began running the farm in the ’90s, “people started asking for a bit more,” than just eggs, Couvee said. This is when Chip-in expanded to become the farm stand and general store it is today.
“We practice what we preach: buy local,” Couvee said, explaining how the farm stand and general store sell local breads, pastas, milk, cheese, ice cream, and produce. “You can go in and get anything you want for dinner,” she added.
Couvee credited her husband Neil and his brother Paul for their teamwork and efforts to expand the farm throughout the years. “They just worked together to create it into a farm stand and general store,” she said.
But one consistency throughout the years has been the poultry aspect of the farm. Neil Couvee, said, “It’s funny — in the late ’80s we had planned to be out of the egg business by the year 2000 because it was a declining business.”
Now, times have changed and there is a big demand for eggs. “We really can’t produce enough eggs,” he said. “We could get bigger, but we don’t want to get any bigger because then it gets more than we can handle.”
Compared to store-bought eggs, which can be anywhere between four and eight weeks old when they hit shelves, Chip-in sells fresh, day-old eggs seven days a week. The farm boards 3,000 free-range chickens, producing an average of 2,500 eggs each day, all of which sell out.
“We joke about people who call and order eggs for wholesale,” Neil said. “Sometimes they’ll forget to call, and they’ll want to come right over and get three or four cases of eggs. We have to remind them that when they’re calling, that egg is still in the chicken.”
Sandy said, “The whole egg production itself is a huge process when you think about it.” She explained that farmers receive day-old chickens in the mail, raise them, and then collect eggs three times daily.
Then, eggs need to be washed, graded, and candled, a quality-control process that requires a “tremendous amount of hand labor,” she said. “With all that, to think you can get a dozen large eggs for $3.85 blows my mind away.”
In addition to having chickens for poultry, Sandy said they keep a few cows and pigs for meat production, mainly steaks, hamburgers, and sausage. Since Chip-in is a small farm, she said they don’t do much meat production and all beef is processed at a USDA-certified butcher shop.
But one animal off-limits from food production is the goats.
“We try to sell them to people who aren’t going to butcher them, because they do become pets,” Neil said. “They’re all named.”
Sandy said, “These goats bring in a lot of new people because they’re excited to see them.” At Chip-in, goats are used in the farm’s educational programs and also star in wildly popular goat yoga lessons.
Upon first hearing about the new trend where participants perform planks and other low movements while goats climb and jump on them, Sandy admitted, “We really thought it was kind of a joke.”
The farm’s first goat yoga event began five years ago as a fundraiser for the Recreation Department. “We sold out within minutes,” Sandy said. From there, goat yoga has expanded. “We ended up traveling, and we’ve gone into Boston. We did college tours when we were able to do that,” she added.
“The goats have been to more colleges than I ever went to,” Neil said with a chuckle.
Goat yoga classes for this year resumed at the beginning of this month and Couvee encouraged people to give it a try. “It’s soothing, it’s fun, it gets you to laugh — I find as an adult, I forget to laugh,” she said.
Although goat yoga is popular, Neil has yet to try it himself. “I stick to chicken yoga,” he joked.
While goat yoga will take place as planned, Couvee said other summer programs at the farm will “look totally different” due to Covid-19.
“We want to keep everybody safe, and one of the things that’s great is we can be outside,” she said. “What I’m offering is farm-family drop-ins.” These will allow families to visit Chip-in, do farm chores, and see the animals, all while remaining separated from the public.
Additionally, Couvee plans to run the farm’s Goats and Giggles program, where children can play with the goats in a fenced-in pasture, as she usually does. They also will be hosting birthday parties outside.
About a month ago, the petting zoo opened for the first time since the pandemic because the weather was nice enough to have animals outside. “We’ve been packed,” Couvee said. “It’s great to have people on the farm visiting the animals because we’ve built relationships with these families over the years.”
Both Sandy and Neil are glad to finally welcome more people back to their farm.
“Without the people coming in we wouldn’t exist, and without their support we wouldn’t exist,” Neil said. “Everybody that comes in I call a friend.”
Since the farm has been around for so long, Neil said he knows multiple generations of some customer’s families. “We’ve been here forever it seems like,” he added. “We’re always grateful. This isn’t all about making money or a profit. It’s about supporting an idea.”
Sandy said one of her favorite things to do at the farm is talk to customers and provide them with the same experiences she had growing up. “I love customer service, I love that I know most people by name, I love that I see a lot of the same people every day,” she said. “I love sharing the farm with people.
“Any person I can get ahold of to come to the farm, I’ll do it,” she added. “I think there’s just so much emotional value in it.” Above all else, Sandy said she’s “most proud” of the farm’s educational programming. “It’s like oxygen.”
Eventually, Sandy and Neil hope their two teenage sons will become the fourth generation of Couvees to take on ownership of the farm. But they also understand if they don’t want to.
“Farming can be a miserable job if you don’t like it,” Neil said. “They have other interests and that’s OK.” Sandy said, “Farmers have a lot of passion for what they’re doing because it’s hard work and it’s 365 days a year. Without that passion you’re not going to do it.
“There is something special about having a working farm in the middle of Bedford Massachusetts that has been going for three generations,” she added.