By Liz Condo
After visiting the four farms on Friday’s Livestock Tour I came away with a lot of information about the health of a pasture and grazing patterns, as well as a great deal of respect for each of these hardworking farmers.
Our first stop was Fickle Creek Farm in Efland. Co-owner Ben began the tour with an explanation of his farming philosophy, which includes the belief that a sustainable farm should also be sustainable for the farmer, spiritually and otherwise. They also believe in preserving the natural ecosystem surrounding their agricultural production. Since starting to farm the land they have planted 14 acres of pines. Ben explained that at the height of egg laying, they collect, by hand, 1,000 eggs a day. He said this while showing the group his egg washer, built in 1956 and purchased used for $900. Ben explained how they had built the quality of the soil over the years, using their animals to clear and fertilize the land. All of their animals, sheep, pigs and chickens, are raised without confinement.
Our next stop was Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, tucked in among rolling hills along the Eno River. Owner Richard Holcomb raises pigs, chicken, cows and sheep on his 55 acres. Half livestock and half vegetable production, the farm is a partnership between the two. When a crop is finished harvesting, the pigs are released into the garden to eat what’s left. The hogs enrich the soil and reduce the need for tilling. The pigs are followed by in the garden by the chickens to pick out the weed seeds and bugs.
We next traveled to the Captain John S. Pope Farm in Cedar Grove. We were first treated to a delicious lunch of lamb, collards, and sweet potatoes. Then owners Robert and Tommy Pope gave the group a brief tour of the former tobacco farm. The Popes raise sheep, and have more than 200 ewes on the farm. They practice rotational grazing, and keep llamas in their flocks for protection against predators. Tommy explained that they’ve learned a lot over the years, including that lambs do better when born outdoors than in a pen, and so they’d torn out the pens they built for the purpose after their first year.
When I think of how to express the spirit of Friday’s Livestock Tour, the scene that comes to mind is from our last farm of the day, Carls-Beth Farm in Orange County. Owner Roland Walters explained his method of mob grazing, putting more than 90 cows on a different half acre each day, and that he never needed to reseed his fields. He then led the group through a pasture, bright green and thick with grass. As I stepped to the side to take a few photos of the group, I heard exclamations of praise and wonder at the beauty of the grass and the lushness of the pasture. I have never before heard such a genuine respect of grass. I have never before understood its importance.
By Liz Condo
The Southern Foodways Alliance is creating a historical record of the food cultures of the South through oral histories and documentary films. Sara Camp Arnold is the editor of the Alliance’s quarterly newsletter, Gravy, and lives in Chapel Hill.
Sara first showed the group a film by Joe York, a documentary filmmaker who has produced about 30 short films on Southern food culture. The film, entitled Cut/Chop/Cook, focuses on Rodney Scott, owner of Scott’s Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, South Carolina. Scott slow cooks whole hogs for his barbeque between 8 and 12 hours, using only wood that he collects himself. One early scene shows Scott wielding a chainsaw to break apart a tree felled by a storm, which was donated to him by a community member. It’s a family operation, started by his father, continued by Scott using traditional methods, which he takes great pride in. Once the hogs are cooked, it’s Scott’s mother who separate the meat from the bone, preparing to be sold to their loyal customers. It’s clear that this story goes much deeper than good barbeque.
The next project was one Sara had worked on herself, a documentation of the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. Both farmers and consumers were interviewed, including loyal market customer Carla Shuford. In the interview, which was accompanied by still photos, Shuford shares her story of overcoming a childhood illness and the way her community of farmers came together to supply her with fresh, organic produce at a time when organic farming was scarce. She has since built strong relationships with the farmers at the Carrboro market, and calls them her “medical team.”
Sara gave some background as to how they choose and research projects and how they conduct interviews. The interviews are transcribed, and stored in whole at the University of Mississippi library. Excerpts of the transcripts, portions of the audio interview and short films are all made available to the public on the SFA’s website.
Sara also announced that the Alliance’s 2012 area of research interest will be Eastern Carolina. In addition to Carolina barbeque, the Alliance plans to explore the stories of tobacco farmers who have transitioned their land to other crops. They are also planning a tour of these farms and restaurants for the Spring of 2012. More information about the tour and tickets will be available on their website in early 2012.
By Liz Condo
The panelists in the Farm-to-Restaurant workshop began the discussion by briefly explaining the business they are in and why they are a part of the farm-to-restaurant movement.
Andrea Reusing is the owner of Lantern, a Chapel Hill restaurant. Reusing explained that using local food in her restaurant is not about reaching a certain purchasing percentage, but rather about fostering relationships with farmers and helping them both to benefit from the partnership.
Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm revealed that working with restaurants has encouraged him to try growing new crops at the request of chefs and restaurant owners. Hitt says that about 15-18% of their business is selling to restaurants.
Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery, a restaurant in Durham, says that state pride is part of what drives her to buy locally. She says that in addition, she finds that local products are of a higher quality.
Portia McKnight, co-owner of Chapel Hill Creamery, says that restaurants can be a steady and reliable buyer for them. They sell at farmer’s markets and wholesale, but find they make the most money in distributor and restaurant sales.
All four presenters emphasized the importance of establishing good, long-term working relationships between farmers and restaurants, often citing examples of how they had worked together in the past to find solutions to problems of ordering or pricing. Andrea explained that she and Portia worked somewhere between 6 months to a year to decide on a fair price for pork that Portia was providing, so that both would benefit. They also acknowledged the complexity of purchasing food for a restaurant, and the challenges restaurants face in keeping food and labor costs down. Buying fresh, local produce not only increases food costs, but also requires more labor to process it. Amy and Andrea joked that they run their restaurants as not-for-profits, and rely on alcohol sales to break even.
The presenters answered questions from the crowd throughout, giving pointers on how to approach a chef to sell your produce when farmers in attendance expressed an interest in working with restaurants. Alex also emphasized the need to be consistent, dependable and on-time when working with restaurants to keep their business.
by guest blogger Mitra Sticklen
Friday afternoon I attended Will Hooker’s Hands-On Permaculture Design Intensive. As a professor at North Carolina State University http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/
After reviewing the permaculture principles he uses as a designer and educator, Will focused on the four concepts we’d be using throughout the workshop:
1. relative location
2. each element performs many functions
3. each function supported by many elements
4. energy efficient planning by permaculture zones http://permaculture.wikia.com/
We compared the standard scientific process (observe, hypothesis, test, analyze results, conclusion) to the process that Will uses (see Kober & Bagnall’s The Universal Traveler, below for resources)
1. accept responsibility
2. analyze -> wild energies (sun, shade, slopes, water, wind, noise, light, great and undesirable views, wildlife, fire, kids
3. define problem / design program
5. ideate/brainstorm (bubble diagrams, schematic designs)
6. choose (preliminary planning)
During a brief ‘show and tell’, Will shared a few case studies from his work and practice and travels. Examples included:
- Whitted bowers (began profiting after just five years) www.whittedbowersfarm.com
- Edenton Community Garden
- Burlington urban garden
- TS Designs (Will calls TS Designs “the most sustainable company in the state”)http://tsdesigns.com/
- Journey to Zero, about designing an off-the-grid homestead http://biohenry.com/
- Firefly farm http://www.facebook.com/pages/
Then we began working on our own projects. Will asked us to take out our maps and schematics of the land we’re designing. He guided us in brainstorming our “program elements,” i.e. the list of things you want the space to DO for you or your community. What are your GOALS? Examples of program elements could include saving seeds, growing vegetables, teaching groups, making music, hosting bonfires, washing produce and packing for market, cooking food, sharing meals, etc. Will stressed that this is YOUR space, and you can dream big! It’s OK if you don’t have the resources to do all these projects right now, “but get started with bite-size projects today!”
Will then asked us to categorize the above features of our program elements by each physical systems present:
3. shelter/built environment
5. material resources (including waste/re-used)
I worked on the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s farm www.FoodShuttle.org but after a while of working on my project I joined Brenda Brodie (co-founder of SEEDS in Durham, www.seedsnc.org ) in following Will around from table to table. We watched him field questions, suggest innovative design elements, and tell many stories of success and challenges as a designer and teacher.
Here are a few grains of wisdom from the Piedmont’s premier permaculture designer/teacher:
- Ponds need 75% shade to function
- Slopes with 6% grade or higher will erode if gardened! Best to focus gardens elsewhere
- In the Piedmont, in general, the wind comes from SW for 10 months/year, then from NE in hurricane season
- For a 1000 square foot roof, every 1” of rain collects 600 gallons of water. Don’t use a 55 gallon collection tank! Will always uses a minimum of 300 gallons.
- Will suggests installing orchards on a north-facing slope so it isn’t susceptible to early blooming and unpredictable late frosts
Here are a number of books Will recommended during the workshop:
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
- Edible Forest Gardens 1 & 2 by Dave Jacke
- Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development by John Lyle
- The Universal Traveler: A Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Reaching Goal, by Koberg & Bagnall
- A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Alexander, Ishikawa and Silverstein
This hands-on intensive was a great introduction to the principles and practices of design, and a great way to watch an experienced designer/teacher facilitate our design process. If you’re interested in getting deeper into permaculture or pursuing a Permaculture Design Certification, check out http://www.
Pre-Conference Workshop: Assisting Beginning and Aspiring Sustainable Small Farmers: Workshop for Service Providers
by guest blogger Mitra Sticklen
My 2011 SAC conference was off to a great start with all the wonderful pre-conference activities on November 11, 2011. My day began with a workshop on “Assisting Beginning and Aspiring Sustainable Small Farmers: Workshop for Service Providers”. The workshop was created in collaboration with NIFA-USDA http://www.csrees.usda.gov/ , the National Center for Appropriate Technology www.NCAT.org , the Center for Environmental Farming Systems www.CEFS.NCSU.org, and our conference hosts Carolina Farm Stewardship Association www.CarolinaFarmStewards.org.
As we all introduced ourselves and shared our main challenges, I quickly realized the audience was mostly representatives from NC and SC Cooperative Extension as well as other organizations that provide beginning farmer training. As a beginning farmer and educator myself, I was representing the non-profit Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s farm projects www.FoodShuttle.org including the Young Farmer Training Program and new Regional Outreach Training Center www.growingpower.org/training_
As we all know, demand for local produce has grown exponentially, yet the resources and opportunities for learning how to farm have evolved at a slower pace. As a group, we need to develop a comprehensive “How-to-Farm” kit! Because farming is becoming more glamorous and hip, many new farmers are unrealistic about the challenges, especially the business side of farming. This workshop was a great way for us service providers to brainstorm and share the following:
1. Who are new farmers and why are they interested in farming?
2. What do beginning farmers need and what are their technical/financial/marketing challenges?
3. What resources are available for beginning farmers?
The first half of the workshop was a panel discussion with three local farm educators and service providers.
The first panelist was Kelly Owensby, a beginning farmer and manager of the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Project of Carrboro, from Orange Partnership for Young Children. Check out their blog with beautiful photos, stories of the Karen Burmese farmers, and revelations on their journey together http://ocpyc.wordpress.com/ . She discussed the 3-year grant that includes weekly workshops, translated resources, cooking classes, and training videos for over 90 participants. Each new farmer is given 1/10 acre, and in 2012 they will be required to complete 8 weekly courses for marketing and business planning. The specific challenges Owensby sited for refugee farmers include their non-science background, language barrier, lack of internet skills and access, and especially marketing challenges. However, these Karen Burmese farmers value farming as part of their culture, have great attendance at all workshops, and their refugee farming population is large and growing quickly. Kelly also mentioned L’il Farm http://lilfarmnc.com/, which she co-manages, and the $30,000 RAFI grant awarded for their innovative 6-farm tool cooperativehttp://vimeo.com/21811545?
The second panelist was Karen McSwain. Her path brought her from managing the garden at Warren Wilson College http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~
Richard Boylan was our third panelist, the only extension agent in the panel. Richardhttp://watauga.ces.ncsu.edu/
For the rest of the workshop, we worked in small groups to discuss the various resources that a beginning farmer can use in their ‘toolkit’, and to identify the ‘gaps’ in the path to becoming a farmer. The groups were: Land Options, Business Plan, and Credit. Although the lists of challenges and resources is too long for this blog, this is an important question that we can only answer as a collaborative network: What beginning farmer resources are available, and what is missing?
Before the workshop concluded, I shared information about a 10-minute survey (open until November 27) www.surveymonkey.com/s/CRAFT-
I learned so much and made great connections during this workshop, thanks so much to everyone who hosted and attended!
By Jack Beuttell
Sure you can cook a mean rack of ribs. But do you know where they came from? Not the farm, but the part of the pig.
In the past I’ve tried to learn about where the different cuts come from on a cow or pig, but gave up in frustration because there are so many different names for the same piece of meat, and some of them are counterintuitive. Even Chef Hadley, Head of the Culinary Arts Department at Wake Technical Community College, who led the “Lessons from a Master Butcher” session on Sunday morning at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, confessed he had no idea why the forward shoulder of the pig came to be known as the “butt”.
Nonetheless, the master butcher proceeded carefully with his anatomical disassembly, offering tips on everything from the type of knife to use, to the angle at which it should be drawn against the carcass.
Admittedly, I don’t know the next time I will quarter a hog carcass and reduce it to chops, ribs and sausage. But it was still pretty useful information. I should now be able to remember that baby back ribs are cut from the section of the rib cage that’s closest to the spine, and that spare ribs are what’s left over. That St. Louis ribs are the middle part of the cage (between the babies and rib tips) and that the meatier country ribs may not be ribs at all since they’re cut high on the rib cage where the baby backs meet the shoulder blade. (More detail here).
The timing of this new information is perfect, since I’m new to Durham and have made it a personal goal to visit every noteworthy BBQ institution in the area. And don’t hate me for this—but I’m coming in with a little bias, believing that the best BBQ in the world is in Charlottesville, VA. Perhaps now with a little more sophistication, however, I’ll be able to compare apples to apples instead of country ribs to spare ribs.
Regardless, I think it’s time for lunch.
By Jack Beuttell
One of the more interesting themes from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham was the role of the government in sustainable farming and food production. On Saturday afternoon, for example, there was some impassioned discourse on the federal inspection of meat production facilities in the “From Pasture to Plate: Post-Production Issues for Meat” session.
Panelist Uli Bennewitz, owner of the Weeping Radish Farm, Restaurant and Brewery in Grandy, NC, for example, expressed strong opinions that the federal inspection process is broken and misguided, having very little to do with food safety. As an artisan butcher, he thinks the common use of the phrase “processing” to describe his work is crass. So when the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service approaches the inspection process with a similar absence of sensitivity to nuance and purpose, Uli and his master German butcher are left acutely frustrated. And lots of heads from the crowd nodded in agreement.
In the “Energy Issues on the Farm” session on Sunday, however, there was a much more favorable opinion of the government in the air. Two JD candidates from the Vermont Law School, representing its Institute for Energy and the Environment, delineated the many incentives offered to farmers by the government via the U.S. Farm Bill. They described the REAP program under the Energy Title and theEQIP program under the Conservation Title, among others, delivering a barrage of acronyms that everyone was eager to learn. And the crowd was alive with questions, because who doesn’t like getting free money?
By Traci Nachtrab
“At least I get to stay at home and be my own boss.” “I learned so much from this experience.” “My kids are getting an education in hard work.” We’ve all said stuff like this when we haven’t made a profit from a farming project. Want to never say stuff like this again? Yeah boy, sign me up!
Then pay attention! A little bit of time budgeting can make or break your business.
Would you do something without knowing you were going to make a profit from it? Farmers do it all the time. They just jump into something without knowing all the costs – hidden or not – of a project and then months later figure out they’ve lost their shirt.
Do a budget for each little project you do on your farm – this helps you know if you will make money from the venture and it will help you set your prices for your products. Here’s an example:
You want to raise 50 Meat Chickens
(This budget assumes you have housing, waterers, and feeders.)
|(50) day-old meat chicks||$2.65/each||$132.50|
|25 lbs/feed per chicken||25 lbs = $7 x 50 chickens||$350.00|
|$15/hr for labor||1 hr/day x 49 days||$735.00|
|Processing||$3.50/bird x 45 birds||$157.50|
Your cost per bird = $30.50
Average weight of birds = 4.5 lbs.
You would have to sell these birds at $6.79/lb to just break even. Can you sell a non-organic chicken at $6.79 per lb? Probably not. So at this point, you have to decide if raising meat chickens will be profitable for you or if there is something you can cut from your budget to save money. Maybe processing your birds yourself?
You may be tempted to remove the LABOR part of the budget, so your cost per bird will come down and it will look like you’re making a profit. Don’t do this. Your time is worth something. Pay yourself.
Taking a few minutes to figure out the real costs of your projects and then to find out if you’re making a profit is a few minutes well spent. It could save you a lot of time and heartache in the future.
For more budgeting help, check out “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crop, and Staff” by Richard Wiswall of Cate Farm.
By Traci Nachtrab
This workshop by Anne Fanatico of ASU and David White of Oaklyn Plantation was packed with people clamoring for information on raising meat chickens. There are many decisions to make when you decide to raise meat chickens. Here are the major ones:
- Which breed will you raise? The fast-growing Cornish Cross chickens you can finish in 6-7 weeks or one of the medium-growing heritage chickens, like the Freedom Ranger? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Do a budget to figure out which will be most profitable and in-line with your farming philosophy.
- How will you house them? A mobile chicken tractor you move daily, a mobile coop/house with temporary chicken netting you move every week, or a permanent chicken house with a fenced in area for them to roam. With each of these options comes many dozens of available designs. Decide what fits into your budget and your labor pool.
- What will you feed them? Organic or non-organic? Pellets or milled grain? Will you put the feed in the house or out on the range? Where will you store your feed so it won’t get wet?
- How will you water them? Suspended buckets with nipples (available from Farmtek), piped nipple watering system, bell waterers, and water hoses are just a few options available.
- How will you protect them from predators? Guard dog or really good fencing?
- Where will you purchase them? Will you purchase eggs you can hatch yourself or will you purchase day-old chicks that are shipped to you? Murray McMurray, Mount Healthy, and JM Hatchery are good, reliable sources for healthy meat chicks.
- Will you raise them year-round? If so, you need to think about how you will keep them cool in the dead of summer or warm in the dead of winter. Most small farms choose to raise birds in spring and fall so they won’t have to deal with the weather extremes. It never hurts to be prepared for inclement weather, however.
- How will you process them? Some people like to process their own chickens because they have control of the quality and it’s much less expensive than commercial processing. Check into purchasing your own scalder and plucker. Do a budget. Then figure out what’s best for you.
Chickens are easy and fun to raise, not to mention profitable. Try just 20-40 chickens your first time to see if you like it and to learn the ropes of raising meat chickens. It’s super easy once you get the hang of it.
Below is a homemade range chicken feeder made by David White of Oaklyn Plantation. He made it by cutting a barrel in ½, purchasing 2 inch gutter spouts, cutting holes in the barrel for the spouts, and then installing the gutter spouts into the holes on the barrel. It will hold over 200 lbs of feed.
By Traci Nachtraub
Greg Judy started out his all day Mob Grazing workshop on Friday by asking this question to the 40-so hardy attendees who braved the bitter cold and wind to learn about this intensive pasture management system.
Greg said it’s all about growing top soil. Mob Grazing, that is. Soil health is what you’re trying to achieve so you can grow better, more nutritional forage year round for your livestock. Mob grazing is beneficial for any pastured livestock.
You don’t need any farm equipment for this system – your livestock do all the work. Charles Sydnor of Braeburn Farms went from using 5000 gallons of diesel fuel to 400 gallons per year. Makes sense, huh?
Here are some tips from Greg Judy:
- use poly braided wire and reels for your temporary fencing (Pasture Management Systems is a local supplier of these products)
- Get a good charger – double the power you think you’ll need. Stayfix or Gallagher are good brands.
- Set up your paddocks of temporary fencing on the weekend for the entire week. (This is a great tip for those who have full time jobs.)
- Use steel 30-32″ posts. Buy good quality the first time.
Poop was a big topic. Healthy cow manure should be the consistency of a pumpkin pie. If it’s too runny, they are getting too much protein and need more roughage. Earth worm and dung beetle poop was another big topic. Remember, the goal for mob grazing is better soil for better grass. Earth worms are required for this. Earth worms aerate the soil and their poop provides free lime!
Greg says don’t worry about weeds. The healthier your soil gets, the more grass you’ll get and the less weeds you’ll have. Also, if your livestock eats the weeds it’s probably something they need in their diet.
A great day in the pasture learning more about mob grazing! Yes, we can be beyond sustainable.