Winstead Farm has Successful First Year Farming
by Gwen Roach, New Farmer
photos provided by Winstead Farm
Editor’s Note: This is our third in a series of blog posts featuring current CFSA members during our Winter Membership Drive.
Food has always been a central and growing passion in our family. In 2008-09, while facing significant health challenges, we began to understand the huge connection between the quality of our food and our health. We read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, Adelle Davis’ Let’s Have Healthy Children, and watched the documentary Food, Inc. All of these thoroughly convinced us we needed change.
Gwen, Graham & Ephraim at the Cobblestone Market
We started to change our patterns of food consumption from buying and eating all commercially-produced supermarket food to sourcing larger portions of our diet from local farmers producing whole foods naturally. Gwen started to learn about and experiment with cooking truly wholesome, scratch-made, traditional foods without processed ingredients.
On New Years Day 2010, we looked forward to a new decade and found ourselves dreaming about a different life direction. The dream that was born in us that day was to raise our family close to Graham’s in NC, and to become producers of good, clean, high-quality food. We also wanted to share our passion for healthy living with our community. We spent the year researching small-scale sustainable farming. Reading Joel Salatin’s books, You Can Farm and Pastured Poultry Profits, got our wheels spinning and we were excited to get started. We felt like starting with pastured poultry and a bit of gardening before adding other ventures would be a good way to learn without taking on too much risk.
In early 2011, we purchased our farm and in June we packed up and left good work and friends in Houston, TX to become NC farmers. We spent summer and fall growing chicken and produce for ourselves and gearing up for business. We also shopped regularly at the CFSA’s Cobblestone Farmers Market open on Tuesdays in downtown Winston-Salem. We got to know other farmers and the local food scene that way.
We joined CFSA and attended their 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham. We made significant contacts there and gained a lot of encouragement and excitement about getting our farm business off-the-ground.
We found out at the perfect time that CFSA was helping to establish a Saturday Cobblestone Market at Old Salem for the 2011-12 season. This market would be producers-only, just like the Tuesday market downtown. We applied and were invited to participate as vendors. This was the best thing that happened to us. Being at this market just one day a week during our first season allowed us to build a solid customer base and maintain very good sales. We couldn’t have asked for a better outlet. The managers and other vendors have been marvelous. This new market was hugely supported by shoppers in the city and was amazingly recognized as the #11 Farmers Market in the nation by US News and World Report!
This season we sold pastured-meat chickens, eggs from pastured hens, and fresh-ground whole-grain treats baked at home. In the beginning, we struggled to meet demand for chicken. We were dealing with a learning curve and losing our birds to predators. On several early batches, we processed only 50% of the chickens we bought as chicks. After a good bit of research and some trial and error, we found a better way to secure our mobile coops from predators. With the last few batches of broilers, we were able to process almost the entire batch. We ended the season strongly with a great survival rate, a strong customer base, and excitement for the next year.
Winstead Farm chickens on pasture
This fall, we both attended the Sustainable Agriculture Conference again, and the value of the conference was magnified significantly after having a year of experience under our belt. We knew what questions to ask, and who to hear from and talk with. Graham went on the livestock tour, had significant discussions with experienced livestock farmers, and gained a wealth of great advice from the pastured poultry workshop. We were thankful to receive scholarships through CFSA and the Forsyth County Extension Office to attend.
CFSA has been a key resource in our first year farming by helping us make significant connections, get our product to market, and learn new skills to help us be successful. We’re thankful for those who support CFSA, and in turn, support farmers like us working to produce high-quality food for our local community.
Ephraim and his chicks
Gwen, Graham, Ephraim believe that humanely and naturally raised food is the tastiest and healthiest food. They are also excited to be welcoming a baby girl, due in March. Find out more about their story and farm-fresh products, visit their website: http://winsteadfarm.com/.
by Gillian March, conference blogger
Greenbrier Farms, a three hundred acre organic livestock and produce farm in Dacusville, Pickens County, South Carolina, is operated by Chad Bishop and Roddy Pick. Roddy and Chad have downsized considerably in terms of livestock and are, to a certain extent, having to ‘do-over’. In the last year, they have sold their 287 breeding ewes and the majority of their breeding cows, shrinking the herd down to 37 steers and heifers. Greenbrier Farms used to be in the breeding business for cattle, but now the farm is in the finishing business.
Roddy, who runs the livestock side of the operation, now considers himself a grass farmer as his main focus is on getting his pastures right. In past years when his herd was bigger, he would bring on the hay for the winter. But now, in his words, he has “kicked the hay habit” completely. The cows at Greenbrier Farms are purely grass fed, with a daily free-grazing bucket of minerals (‘cattle health insurance’). A free-grazing system is in place, and each paddock is managed separately in terms of the season and the nutritional needs of the herd. Once a field has been free-grazed and then stripped down with a bush-hog, it will be over-seeded with seasonal specific seed. However, with Roddy’s research and attention to – literally – the grass roots of his land, he hopes to have a multi-species forage system that will be self-sustaining in his five year business plan.
There is no doubt that Mr. Pick is a businessman, but his attention to animal welfare is exemplary. When we, the thirty something spectators, got off the bus and among the pigs, they were as happy running round our legs as puppies in a kennel! The hogs are used to being handled and are extremely calm (well, as calm as a pig can be when exciting things are happening – like the arrival of food or a busload of visitors). Each day, when Roddy brings the feed to his hogs and the minerals to his cattle, he goes on foot. Roddy walks through the herds to be in touch with each member of his livestock, spotting any issues with the wellbeing of his animals off the bat, thus preventing undue stress in dealing with any problems.
Is the livestock business currently keeping food on the Bishop’s and Pick’s tables? This is a transitional period
for the farm and a third of their income comes from agritourism. The old hay barn that was part of the farm when Chad’s Aunt and Uncle owned it has been converted into an ‘events room’ and many weddings are held on the abundant acreage of Greenbrier Farms. Have Chad and Roddy ‘sold out’ to cater to tourism? I think not – this profitable sideline enables them to pay attention to restoring the land and best practices for the livestock..AND all the meals prepared for the weddings and events are locally sourced, with the majority of the meat and produce raised and grown on-site at Greenbrier Farms.
A cut of meat is only as good as the animal it comes from, and the animal is only as good as the forage it eats, and the forge is only as good as the organic matter that is in the earth. Become a grass farmer like Roddy Picks and the animals will practically take care of themselves!
Opening Night at the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Conference
An eclectic crowd of five hundred sat down to eat in a community of bounty: local food, local growers, local farmers and stockmen, local purveyors, and local chefs brought a veritable feast to the attendees seated in the ballroom at the Regency Hyatt in downtown Greenville. This was the opening night and Local Foods Feast at the 27th annual conference organized by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. It was an incredible sight! Students, new farmers, old time farmers, non-profit representatives, folks from differing cultures, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds all united under one agenda – to bring back real and fair food to the tables of America (pertinently for this conference, the Carolinas). The total number of attendees surpassed eight hundred, which is an inspiring coming together of like-minded individuals in a downtown area that, according to Senator Daniel Verdin’s opening words, was a “deserted and dangerous town” a mere thirty years ago.
The ethos of the conference is supporting local, sustainable agriculture and the speakers at the Welcome Event spoke about the economic social, political, and even emotional issues facing farmers today. Often farming seems an isolated toil, the only friend and sometimes foe being Mother Nature itself. But, as twos and threes of people gather together, farming is no longer an isolated event. Co-operatives of farmers are being formed within non-profit associations and other structures. Sometimes we have to get involved in political forums, like in California’s vote on Proposition 37, but ultimately food should not be a political decision. It should be a grassroots decision because we all have to eat. Every day, consumers get a chance to vote three times a day as to how they want their food to be produced.
There is a huge movement in the Carolinas, forged by the Carolina Stewardship Farmer’s Association, which provides help to farmers and growers. We can see positive changes all around the Carolinas. Farmer’s markets are springing up in towns all over the state. To get to the conference on Saturday, the weekly market day in Greenville, I had to walk straight through the stalls of local producers and growers lining Main Street. I have been a visitor to Greenville for many years and this was a sight to behold. It made me very glad as did the incredible hope, progress, and support which emanated from the organizers and attendees of the 27th Sustainable Agricultural Conference – from a “desolate” town to eight hundred strong, united to bring real and fair food and farming practices to America.
by Matt Lardie
Here’s a dinner table topic: local is not always sustainable, and sustainable is not always local. Discuss.
Oddly enough, that realization came to me while reading Amazon.com reviews for a cookbook I was considering purchasing—not buying locally, I know, I know, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense. See, I tend to divide the “buy local” group into two camps: those that make an earnest effort to keep their dollars in their community, and those that treat “buy local” as less of a lifestyle and more of a religion. I’m guessing you can tell which group I favor.
Personally, I fall in the earnest local spender group—I do my best to patronize farmers’ markets, local restaurants, and independent businesses. I’m not perfect, however, and the occasional trip to Home Depot, ground beef from Kroger, and oil change at Wal-Mart is part of my life. Do I feel guilty about it? Sure. Should I feel guilty about it? Probably not.
Let’s do a case study—which option is better: buying organic produce trucked in from California at a chain grocery store or buying conventional produce at my locally-owned supermarket? I can keep my dollars in the community, keep my neighbors employed, and also support a system that relies heavily on industrial chemicals to grow my food, or I can choose produce that has not had as negative an impact on the environment yet left a large carbon footprint in getting to my dinner table.
The simple fact of the matter is that we live in an increasingly global society, a trend that is about as likely to reverse as Sarah Palin is to become a vegetarian. Who are we to deny communities in emerging markets the opportunity to sell their wares across the globe and improve their standard of living? Those handmade baskets from Ghana you purchased, the ones from a rural cooperative? They were still flown here on a plane. Does that mean you shouldn’t have bought them? That those women don’t deserve access to American consumers?
Bringing the focus back to food, I’d also like to pose the fact that just because something is grown here in North Carolina does not mean that it is sustainable. Smithfield pork—need I say more? Tobacco, poultry, peaches—all local commodities that traditionally involve high off-farm inputs. On the other hand, that pound of coffee you purchased at your local co-op probably helped support rural communities across Latin America and Africa, was most-likely organic and shade-grown, and very likely had little negative impact on its environment. Unfortunately, it had to be flown here.
Back and forth, back and forth. My point is not to answer the question, but to start the discussion. That second group I mentioned, the Church of Buy Local, often gives very little wiggle-room for compromise. They preach and they harangue and they very often judge, but I’m here to say that life is about compromise, that you can buy local, regional, and international, and still be sustainable. As global citizens, we have just as much responsibility to participate in the worldwide market as we do in our local communities, and while our dollars often have a bigger impact locally, they are still important to millions of struggling workers in emerging markets across the world. As Americans, we are fortunate enough to have a myriad of options for any one thing that we might want to buy, and as long as you remember that local is not always sustainable, and sustainable is not always local, I’m confident that you will find that middle ground upon which we all should be standing.
Matt Lardie loves food. He loves to grow it, cook it, eat it, and learn about it. You can find his musings on the local food scene, agriculture policy, and his culinary adventures on his blog, Green Eats.
By Sarah Sinning
(cue incredibly hyperbolic orchestral duh, duh, DUH!)
I do love the taste of a good burger. The juicy, tender, can I have another napkin for my face?—yes, the entire face, and probably shirt—meatiness. The luxurious blanket of ooey, gooey, if this is wrong I don’t want to be right cheesiness. The cool, clean snap of fresh Romaine lettuce—swimming on the back of a dolphin couldn’t be more refreshing. The sweet, lusciously delicate but not on your life sissy tomato. The ever so light but all business Kaiser roll, taking one for the team to carry its delicious passengers directly to my belly. Hmmm. This is a tasty burger.
Want a bite? (It’s real tasty!) Let me tell you how.
Step One: Buy all local ingredients. Do you really think the above description (which took me at least half an hour to get right) could come from the sad, sad (did I mention sad?) offerings of your average grocery store? Moving on.
Need a little help finding said ingredients? No worries. I’ve got you covered.
Hint One within Step One: Your local co-op is your friend.
Now, I’m a loyal shopper at Weaver Street Market (and Chatham Marketplace when I lived in Pittsboro) for several reasons. First of all, I am highly allergic to institutional florescent lighting bouncing off white-washed walls with “happy” farm animals painted on them. (I know they’re happy because I can see their teeth.) Any one of these conditions is fine on its own, but together, the combination is deadly. Second of all, the food is better, ‘nuf said. Yeah, it bothers me a little that the majority of the produce, especially at this time of year, comes from California or Mexico, but you have to pick your battles. I, for one, cannot live without bananas and avocados. (Sorry.) But what they do have all year round is a plethora of locally produced goods, which luckily for us includes some really exceptional cheeses and breads.
To create the masterpiece that was The Burger, I chose a cheese out of Ashe County from a rather appropriately named creamery—Ashe County Cheese. The cheese itself was a mild cheddar, also appropriately named for its round shape—Daisy Hoop Cheese. (The creativity is astonishing.) Coming in at $5.99 per pound (more than enough to be the crowning glory of The Burger, and probably 25 quesadillas), it was a surprisingly good deal, and admirably served its regal purpose.
For the bread, I chose a long time favorite—Pittsboro Bread Shop’s poppy seed bedazzled Kaiser rolls. (Who says bread can’t be fun and functional?) At $2.49 for six freshly baked, preservative-free beauties, they were a steal.
Hint Two within Step One: Find your nearest farmers’ market.
Can you really beat vegetables that were picked within hours of purchase, or livestock that actually did lead a happy life in the pasture down the road? This is, again, rhetorical.
But for a lot of folks, making it out to the farmers’ market each week can be a bit tricky. Late night alcohol-induced shenanigans do not happy Saturday mornings make. There is, however, a truly brilliant solution to this dilemma—weeknight evening farmers’ markets! (If you’re still hung over by Thursday night, you, my friend, may have a problem.)
For those of us who live in the Chapel Hill-Pittsboro area, Angelina’s Kitchen (home to local, homemade Greek and New Mexican deliciousness) hosts a Thursday evening mini-farmers’ market in the parking lot in front of the restaurant. I strongly suggest you check it out if you can—it may be small, but it’s got the makings for one heck of a burger.
A regular at this market as well as the Carolina Brewery’s Saturday morning market (for those of you without substance abuse issues), Lilly Den Farm is my absolute go-to place for beef (although they also have veal, pork, lamb, goat, poultry, and produce…hmmm, perhaps I should stop shopping elsewhere). I purchased a grand total of 7 pounds of beef, including a dinosaur-sized chuck roast, a couple of strips, and a few pounds of ground beef, for around $40. This may seem like a lot of money to some people, but trust me, this will last FOREVER. Well worth the money and the trip out to Pittsboro.
And I mustn’t forget the lettuce and tomato! Yes, that’s right—I bought fresh, local Romaine and summer-worthy tomatoes in February thanks to the valiant efforts of Ralph “Screech” Sweger of Screech Owl Greenhouse in Pittsboro. Coming in at $13 for a humongous head of lettuce and 2 rather well-endowed tomatoes, this purchase wasn’t too shabby at all.
Step Two: Cook The Burger.
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain this too much. Make your burger patties any size you like, prep your toppings any way you like, cook the meat anyway you like, do I need to continue? You can most certainly use The Burger as a blueprint, but please, by all means, make it your own way. I mean, if Burger King can do it, why can’t you?
By Sarah Sinning
When I was still just a lowly Freshman in college, caught up in the excitement of being a real, bona fide adult (well, in my own mind, anyway) and trying to figure out what practical direction I was going to take with my life, I did the only logical thing for an 18 year old with near flawless grades and a father to support her for the next four years—I decided to become an artist. While the 27 year old author of this blog has many times since questioned this so-called “logic” of her former self, what’s the saying?—oh yes, hindsight is 20/20. Right. (Oh, to have beaten this logic into her head with a “Wake Up, You Daft [insert choice expletive] Stick” the size of Kansas.)
But never mind, the past is the past. No use crying over spilt milk. (Aren’t clichés grand?) All we can do is work with what we’ve got, and what I’ve got is a chronic, borderline debilitating appreciation for creative expression of all, strike that, most kinds. (Come on, there’s some really awful stuff out there.) Now, I’m not talking debilitating as in hit-by a-bus-while-wearing-stilettos-and-a-mini-skirt-in-a-snow-storm-debilitating (take a moment to just picture that for yourself), but I do mean debilitating in the strictly emotional sense that eventually takes over all motor function.
You want examples? Fine. Try this on for size: after seeing Romeo + Juliet for the first time in the theatre, I sequestered myself in my bedroom for at least 12 hours, refusing all proper nourishment and actual human contact so I could indulge uninterruptedly in songs like U2’s “With or Without You” on repeat. Leo’s life was over, so my life was over. Period. (And if I was going down, you’re darn right I was going down to Bono’s hauntingly melodic crooning. Like some hack’s music would do!)
Fast forward 13 some odd years, and what do you know—it’s still happening! And now that I’ve overcome a practically paralyzing case of adolescent shyness, these art-induced emotional breakdowns of mine have gotten even better—they happen in public! (Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be terrified of people again.) So what slightly sticky sentimental classic did it to me this time? I’ll tell you—David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind, that’s what. But before you go snickering off into your own corner, writing me off as just another overwrought female, I’ve got news for you—I wasn’t the only one this time. At the Varsity Theatre’s big screen showing of this 1939 Academy Award winning film over the weekend, I wasn’t the only sap in the building, I can assure you.
Now, I’m not saying that Gone with the Wind is a perfect film or that everyone should necessarily like it because of its reputation. (I wouldn’t be surprised if most people were inclined to dislike it because it has become so ubiquitous in our culture. But this, my friend, is another discussion.) But while seated in that theatre last Sunday, enjoying my fresh popcorn (the very best in Chapel Hill) and a Highland Gaelic Ale (yes, you can even drink local, craft brews during your feature), I witnessed something truly special—the theatre roared with laughter when Mammy “hmph’d” her disapproval at an undaunted Scarlett, we all held our breaths during the devastating burning of Atlanta, and there were few dry eyes in the house when Rhett walked out that door with his immortal line. Frankly, my dear, I don’t think a filmmaker could expect much more from an audience. No, everyone wasn’t reduced to a red, quivering, snot-ridden pulp like I was (I don’t think road kill could look less appealing), but for a few hours of the afternoon, we all came together despite our differences, and allowed ourselves to feel something outside of our own existences. If this isn’t a work of art, then I don’t know what is.
So why did I feel that this would be an interesting topic for the CFSA blog? Well, for starters, there’s the obvious fact that the Varsity is a locally-owned Chapel Hill business that partners with other local businesses to put on events such as last weekend’s Gone with the Wind Red Carpet Gala. This most recent affair included a buffet at intermission catered by downtown Chapel Hill’s own Mediterranean Deli; and although I must admit to being a little disappointed that we weren’t treated to down home, Southern favorites (can you get more Southern than Gone with the Wind?), Med Deli’s own classic lineup of hummus, falafel, spanakopita, and dolmas (grape leaves wrapped around rice and ground lamb—yum) certainly hit the spot. And because Med Deli also proudly makes its pita in-house with locally-ground, organic flour from Lindley Mills, this definitely added to the homegrown feel of the afternoon.
But I wanted to write about this event for another reason. Sure, I wanted to give you the scoop and entice you to check out these places for yourself, but there’s also something more, something not quite as tangible. While I’ve always thought Gone with the Wind a wonderful film and generally don’t pass up the opportunity to watch it on Turner Classic Movies, seeing this movie as it was originally meant to be seen was as much about feeling a connection to my roots as anything else—a connection to history, a connection to people, a connection to the land, even. Yes, that’s right, for what roots can we possibly have if we have nothing to anchor them to? Scarlett’s father, Gerald O’Hara, certainly believed this to be so—“Land’s the only thing that matters; it’s the only thing that lasts,” his words echo on even after his death. So let’s take care of that anchor, shall we? A lesson to live by, indeed.
Guest Blogger Mitra Sticklen
2010 was my first year at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference, and I was blown away by the organized networking events, workshops, hands-on activities, and panel discussions. Over 800 attendees this year meant that tickets completely sold out! If you missed the conference or want to revisit the main discussions and speeches, check out the new CFSA podcast page and leave comments! You can stream or download each event.
Or listen to a few sessions here:
ÂFeaturing farms in Alamance,
People like Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farms, Cathy Jones and Mike Perry of Perry-winkle Farm, Ken Dawson and Libby Outlaw at Maple Spring Gardens, Bill Dow of Ayrshire Farm and many, many others have been working to provide wholesome food utilizing environmentally-safe production methods for Triangle area families for 25 years. We are fortunate that these innovative growers open their farms for the public to visit. Â
ÂTour visitors got the chance to see how organic practices have helped local farms cope with the continuing drought. Farms like Fickle Creek,
Last week the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture and the North Carolina Farm Bureau teamed up to announce an initiative to save the stateâ€™s dairy industry. The program, Dairy Advantage, comes in the form of a 28-page report on options and strategies for small dairies to compete in the modern milk marketplace. Search the entire document and you know how many times the word â€œorganicâ€ comes up? Zero.
Thatâ€™s right, zero. There are at least seven dairies in NC that have been certified organic in the last year, all of them small conventional family dairies that converted to organic with the help of the Organic Valley Family of Farms and the CROPP Cooperative. Here are seven success stories, living proof that organic milk can be produced in our region, and that our dairy farms can take advantage of the growing market for this healthy, wholesome milk. These dairies are role models for other family farms, especially in the mountains and foothills of the Carolinas where farm and herd sizes naturally tend to the optimal size for organic operations.
And yet the Dept. of Ag. and the Farm Bureau donâ€™t even mention organic dairying as an alternative for saving our dwindling supply of family dairies. Not to mention raw milk options, which are verboten under the stateâ€™s antiquated public health dogma.
Why the disconnect? Itâ€™s tempting to assume a conspiracy, and yet itâ€™s really more likely that the reason is somewhat less sinister, if no less disturbing. The agriculture establishment in the Carolinas is just not used to thinking in terms of sustainability. The (mostly) men and women who run that establishment have been trained in a conventional system, based on conventional agribusiness wisdom, for a generation. That wisdom predicts that only a food system modeled on industrial processes can survive. Theyâ€™re not used to thinking about an agriculture that isnâ€™t dependent on massive subsidies, synthetic controls, concentration and monoculture.
When I met Larry Wooten, President of the NC Farm Bureau Federation, for the first time, he said to me that he wasnâ€™t opposed to organics: â€œConsumers should have a choice,â€ he said. The leap that hasnâ€™t been made in the Carolinasâ€™ ag establishment is that farmers should have a choice, too; that thereâ€™s hope for sustaining, and renewing, our dwindling supply of farmers and farmland in the new sustainable ag paradigm.
Thatâ€™s why CFSA is dedicated to being a Voice for Sustainable Ag, and we are putting more of our resources into the effort. When policy-makers hear the stories of sustainable ag success in our communities first-hand, when they learn about the income that local food systems can provide Carolina farmers, they want to get involved. Thereâ€™s no stigma attached to organics anymoreâ€”the market ($17 billion in the US) and the consumer participation (52% of Americans bought organic food last year) and the buzz (â€œlocavoreâ€ wasÂ Oxford’s â€œwords of the yearâ€ in 2007, http://blog.oup.com/2007/11/locavore/) are impossible to ignore. So thatâ€™s why CFSA and its members are working on policy at the local level, to help more officials and opinion-shapers understand how to bring the benefits of sustainable local food systems to their communities.
Our website redesign, this blog, and even the new online food guide are all ultimately geared toward bringing more consumers, farmers and business into the sustainable food movement, and activating them to press for change. So spread the word about this site and CFSA, and help our collective voice grow louder.
To learn more about NCDAâ€™s â€œDairy Advantageâ€ plan, visit http://www.agr.state.nc.us/markets/commodit/dairy/dairy_advantage.pdf.
For an interesting exchange on the prices paid to organic milk producers, check out this recent series of posts over at Grist, http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/3/10/6475/66460
For the latest update on Monsantoâ€™s efforts to upend the market for hormone-free milk, see http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=84227&m=1FNU326&c=mdxcfimlghpcovs. (This is actually a case of sinister motives!)
And if you are interested in the raw milk issue in North Carolina, keep tuned to these pages for an announcement of a bill to overrule NCDAâ€™s requirement that raw milk sold for pet food be dyed gray.