Gideon Spykman brings chickens to Whippoorwill

Gideon Spykman and some of the Cornish rock poultry (insets) he's raising in West Tisbury. — Photo By Rich Saltzberg

After a successful pilot project last year with existing CSA members, Whippoorwill Farm in West Tisbury is expanding its offerings to include a poultry CSA, called Back 40 Farm.

These chickens, which are being raised on Lakeview Organic Grain, are at present young, more fluff than feathers. They’re a modest-sized breed known for their meatiness and quick growth. “The chicks are called Cornish rocks or Cornish rock crosses,” said Gideon Spykman, the creator of the poultry CSA and assistant manager at the farm.

In addition to at the farm itself, Islanders will find Mr. Spykman’s chickens at the ArtCliff Diner in Vineyard Haven, The Port Hunter in Edgartown, the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market and, during the Agricultural Fair, at Local Smoke.

Thus far, the chickens have been well shielded from the marauders that often penetrate coops across the Island.

“I’ve only ever suffered one attack from a skunk or raccoon,” Mr. Spykman said. “I try to remain diligent about setting traps.”

With the addition of new canine friend and farmhand, Barney, Mr. Spykman’s chickens are better protected than ever. “Barney is from a lovely rescue shelter in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, called Rosemont Rescue.” As of this spring, Mr. Spykman and Barney have some other wards at the farm besides the chickens, wards of the oinking variety. In their pasture-side pen, Mr. Spykman’s pigs drove run about a lot quicker than you’d expect they could, even the massive sow. At a full trot, bowling over a few dozen people and stoving in the front end of say, a Kia Sorento, looks like child’s play for her. But like her kids (all of which, though lower in the shoulder, are heftier than big Barney) she seems more playful than menacing.

“The pigs are what I call the heritage breed variety pack with some Tamworth, Berkshire, Large Black, and who knows what else in them. The sow’s name is Ophelia because the boar that she was breeding with was named Hamlet.”

Having grown up in Oak Bluffs and lived off Island for a while before returning, Mr. Spykman considers himself a “wash-back-ashore.” His thumb went green working vegetable crops at Morning Glory Farm, but he didn’t get the itch to tend livestock until he worked for Debbie Farber at Blackwater Farm in  Lambert’s Cove. Primed with the animal experience he gained there, the chicken CSA he developed at Whippoorwill Farm wasn’t much of a leap. With a porcine project burgeoning and the chickens well underway, Mr. Spykman is keen to further diversify.

“In the future I would like to offer lamb, eggs, and duck. I have a couple of other ideas up my sleeve.”

From tractor work to addressing the many needs of the animals, toil at Whippoorwill, like any farm, can be pretty consuming. And though he enjoys doing it, Mr. Spykman makes time for himself to go for runs with Barney, to take dips in Ice House Pond, to go out dancing, or simply to “drive around listening to bad country music in my truck.”

The CSA shares are offered in two-, four-, and eight-week shares, for $42; $84; and $163 respectively. For the two- and four-week shares, members pick up one chicken a week for two or four consecutive weeks. Eight-week shareholders pick and choose any available dates from June 6–October. 3. Pickups are on Fridays, but can be made available on Saturdays at the West Tisbury Farmers Market.

Though other bird types are expected to be reared at the farm in the future, for 2014 the scope will be limited to chickens.

For more information about Whippoorwill’s CSAs, including Mr. Spykman’s chickens, visit