By Janet McCue
Photos by Rachel Philipson
Minute, skirt, flank, sirloin, or Delmonico–a litany of steaks–listed on the blackboard next to a linkage of sausages—chorizo, andouille, Italian hot and mild, and kielbasa. Stop by the Wixom Farm Store, on the outskirts of Mecklenburg to spot these specialties and your taste buds might begin to sizzle. Cookbook author and former Moosewood-er, Ashley Miller, was shopping for andouille. “I am delighted to be able to buy andouille sausage only a short drive from my home in Ithaca. Wixom’s is as good as any you’ll find in Louisiana,” she declared.
Top billing goes to the stars of the show—farmers Meghan Tauck and Andy Clark—and the majestic herd of Scottish Highland & Red Angus crossed cattle roaming the fields. The first recorded importation of Highland cattle into the United States was in the late 1890s– right around the time Charles Wixom inherited the farm from his parents. Judging from the photograph hanging in the farmhouse, the whole neighborhood showed up for a topping-out party when they raised the highest beam on the iconic Wixom barn in 1895.
Meghan and Andy bought the Wixom property—123 acres, the farmhouse, barn and outbuildings—a decade ago. They populated the farm with a herd of 36 cattle, Tamworth pigs, goats, dozens of chickens and ducks, their dog, and themselves. Novice farmers when they purchased the property, Andy and Meghan relied on mentors to teach them the basics of caring for Highland cattle. They depended on their own determination and plenty of trial and error to turn Wixom farm into a faceted and flexible enterprise. With help from friends and family, they built a new hay barn, a sugar shack equipped with an evaporator and osmotic concentration system, and remodeled the carriage house into “A Mouse in the House Kennel.”
Today’s small farmer is an entrepreneur and a juggler. When I stopped by the farm store, Andy was fixing a log splitter. Inside the farm store was the maple syrup they’d made the previous spring; adjacent to the store was the garden that had produced the bounty of garlic. Add product development to the list of responsibilities. Wixom introduced gourmet dog treats in 2021—in time for the holidays.
Mecklenburg was a vibrant community in the 19th and early 20th century. Farms surrounded the center of town–a crossroads midway between Ithaca and Watkins Glen; Trumansburg and Odessa. Early histories of Schuyler County reflect the liveliness of its economy. There were three churches, three blacksmiths, three general stores, four physicians and two lawyers in Mecklenburg. The 1935 flood along with changes in transportation and the economy decimated the downtown but the agricultural heritage lives on.
Farms still surround the hamlet’s center. Some, like the Gaige’s dairy farm, have been passed from generation to generation. Other, newer, enterprises each within a mile of Mecklenburg, take off in new directions. Wellspring Forest Farm & Schools specializes in its mushroom harvest and maple syrup production; Farmer Liz Brown raises lamb at Finch Farm adjacent to Wide Awake Bakery, east of Mecklenburg central.
The Schlafer farm is nestled in Smith Valley, south of Mecklenburg and nearly opposite the Wixom Farm. Don Schlafer likens his view to the Yorkshire Dales. “Wixom Farm is a magical auditory and visual feast. In the early mornings when the livestock fan out over the pastures, calling to one another, and the brown, black, and red coats of the Highland cattle begin patterning the hillside, the scene is reminiscent of All Creatures Great and Small,” asserts Schlafer. Given the number of drivers stopping to photograph Wixom’s cattle, he suspects others imagine something similar.
Schlafer’s Golden Doodles were frequent guests at A Mouse in the House kennel; Wixom’s tender meats make regular appearances at the supper table. But it’s Andy’s role as the consummate neighbor that stands out. When Schlafer and a small crew were raising a large, very heavy beam up over one of his barn doors to replace one that had served to arch the span, he called Andy for help. “Andy was here with a tractor and loader in minutes. We would never have been able to hoist that beam without Andy’s help. It reminded me of the times farmers regularly relied on their neighbors for seasonal tasks and for help with larger jobs.”
Schlafer’s beam-raising is a smaller version of the @1895 Wixom Barn Raising photograph. Only thing missing was the neighborhood party. The opening of Wixom Farm Market collided with Covid –no ribbon cutting, no celebration. But come summer, Wixom Farm intends to rectify that. There will be burgers on the grill, local musicians making music, and neighbors emerging from the very long pandemic hibernation.
You’ll find Andy at the Trumansburg Farmers Market and an assortment of Wixom’s meat at Trumansburg’s Main Street Market. But, for the best selection, head to the Wixom Farm Store, Rte 228, south of Mecklenburg. There you’ll be able to shop not only for the roasts and ribs but farm fresh eggs, local honey, garlic, and maple syrup.
Janet McCue enjoys writing about the bounty—the food, wine, and natural beauty of the Finger Lakes. She is also the author of Back of Beyond: a Horace Kephart Biography.
Rachel Philipson began her career as a freelance photographer in Boston after receiving a B.F.A. in Photography. A native of Ithaca, Rachel and her husband share their home with 2 beagles and 2 cats.