According to Dwight Ely, Upper Makefield “has grown a lot of houses” in recent years. But it still has some of the best farmland in the country.
“The area is incredible. Where there are still farms, it is very fertile,” he said.
He knows from experience. His family has operated a farm in Bucks County since an English Quaker named Ely crossed the Atlantic in the late 1600s on a boat called The Shield and settled in the New Hope area.
His closest relatives have lived on their 30-acre farm on Woodhill Road in Upper Makefield for eight generations now, tending to their crops and the cattle that graze on his rolling pastures.
He also cultivates an additional 470 acres, largely so he can grow corn and grains to feed his cattle, pigs and chickens. “So we know what they’re eating,” he says.
“My father and my grandfather were dairy farmers,” he said. But while he makes hundreds of pounds of award-winning ripened cheese each year, enough to supply 30 restaurants and stores, his real expertise is in meat processing.
This year, Ely, 62, will put that knowledge to good use, as President of the American Association of Meat Processors, an association of more than 1,500 people that includes Western ranchers, Corn Belt pig farmers, poultry hatcheries and wild game processors.
Some of them may have large herds and large areas or large processing plants, but it’s Ely’s knowledge of how to run a small operation that is in demand.
“It reflects the seasons in our industry. Now it’s farm to fork, ”said his wife, Susan. “People wonder where their meat comes from.”
The Elys said they don’t use antibiotics or growth hormones in their animals.
Since the COVID crisis severely affected meat production last year when workers at some of the major beef and pork processors were hit hard by the virus, consumers have turned to smaller processing operations .
AAMP is all about promoting these businesses. “The government is encouraging more small factories to ease the pressure on larger facilities,” Ely said.
During the pandemic, former President Donald Trump called the meat processing industry a critical infrastructure. the the Wall Street newspaper noted that it is a $ 213 billion industry.
As president of AAMP, Ely has already started to travel to other state associations to offer advice to new farmers and meat processors as more and more small operators enter this agricultural specialty. .
Continuing the family tradition
Ely said he realized as a child that he wanted to continue the family tradition of farming.
His brothers studied engineering at Princeton University, but after graduating from Council Rock High School, he won a full scholarship for wrestling at the University of Tennessee where he majored in animal science. and meat and met a professor, Gordan Davis, an expert in meat processing. by Texas Tech.
“He was my mentor… He inspired me to get into the meat business,” he said.
Work at a Hatfield processing plant also played a role. But, he says, he could not have done all that he has accomplished without divine help. “I choose to follow Christ. The Lord inspired and blessed us and gave us the idea to start a meat (business) … He supports us.”
“He gets the glory for what is done here,” said his wife.
It is important that the Elys are grateful for their blessings.
They met and loved praying at Upper Makefield United Methodist Church and each fall they process deer meat for hunters in the area, helping the Hunters Share the Harvest program of providing game. to charitable organizations.
Deer meat is processed in a building separate from the farm animals. “We are very meticulous,” said Susan Ely.
The farm has received a “hardy human” designation from the USDA for the care and “harvesting” of the animals, Dwight Ely noted. “Because we are smaller, we have the ability to take our time.”
The Elys buy some of the beef they sell, but he bones the meat.
He plans to build a new butcher’s shop larger than the current one on the Woodhill Road farm. It is open to customers on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
And Ely knows a good piece of meat when he sees it.
In a jury competition during his college days, he came “second in the country” in judging, he said, before taking a visitor to a walk-in freezer where he indicated which parts of the room. A side of beef is used for steaks, roasts and stews.
Ely’s farm is known for its smoked hams and sausages, including kielbasa bonds presented in a smokehouse. “We use hickory and beech wood for everything,” he said.
Ely has been a member of the AAMP since 1989 as well as the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors.
“He actively helps and attends conventions of national and national meat associations, striving to acquire more knowledge and expertise in the industry,” AAMP noted when announcing his presidency. “He has been a tremendous promoter for PAMP and AAMP.”
It was inducted into the AAMP Deli Hall of Fame in 2015 and Ely Farm Products has won countless awards.
The next generation at Ferme Ely
Work remains a family business.
The couple have three children: his son Aldan, who is married; her daughter Elizabeth and her son Luke, all of whom now work on the farm.
A winter break from their home schooling led to a new business for Ely Farms. It was during a trip to the French Alps that the family got interested in cheeses.
They won the first of several awards for their cheeses in 2012 when the American Cheese Society honored their Gouda. It’s a Dutch cheese with hints of Italian seasoning and a crunchy alpine flavor, Ely points out.
Ely Farm cheeses are now sold at DiBruno Brothers, a famous artisanal cheese maker in Philadelphia, as well as in McCaffrey markets and restaurants. In their cheese factory, the Elysées have a cross printed on the rind of each wheel, which is blessed before being distributed.
While most Bucks County residents can vacation on the shore or in the mountains, the Elys are planning a trip to Kansas in late summer. They have a second home there where they can meet neighbors and enjoy several harvest festivals in a part of the country where farming is a way of life.
“It’s really cool … we love it,” said the couple, as they sat on their shaded porch last week looking at their expansive front yard, with a hammock strung between two old woods.
Before marrying Dwight 33 years ago, former Susan Lorch said she had no idea she would be a farmer’s wife. The couple are both graduates of the Council Rock School District. But his grandmother told him that being a butcher was in his family. Dwight still calls her his “bride.”
As President of the AAMP, especially with the pandemic still ongoing, Dwight knows the coming year will be a busy one for him. But upon their return from Kansas, he and his wife will be expecting a new arrival at Upper Makefield Farm.
Aldan and his wife, Emily, are expecting a baby at the start of the New Year. Ely was beaming at the good news.
“She’s wearing the ninth generation. Can you imagine,” he asked.