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 Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Did you know that about a million species of insects have been identified worldwide, but that only about 5% of them qualify as pests of humans? As is often the case in other, non-insect circles, “bad guys” get all the press. And not entirely without reason – remember bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 1400’s? It was transmitted by the lowly flea. Malaria, still a concern in most developing countries, is carried by certain mosquitoes.
But how much do you know about lacewings, the predaceous larvae of which resemble tiny alligators hatched from small white eggs atop long, gossamer stalks on the backs of leaves? Have you met the big-eyed bug, a once common resident of cotton fields, which eats at least 67 species of other insects, but takes only shelter and a little moisture from your plants? How about the twice-stabbed lady beetle, a smaller, lesser-known cousin of our red-with-black-spots-ladies? More than an opportunity for entomologists to express a sense of humor while naming insects, this black–with-two red-spots ladybeetle
is a voracious eater of aphids and scales in trees and has demonstrated effective control of elongated hemlock scale, a problematic introduced pest.
Welcome to the other 95%! Perhaps you were already aware of the benefits provided by our more famous beneficial insects, like honeybees and butterflies. Perhaps you were already aware that pollinators also come in beetle and fly form. Perhaps, you have at some point noticed a rove beetle or carrion beetle and appreciated that it serves the same function, on a smaller scale, that vultures do on the roadside. Or do you focus only on the 5%?
A lifelong student of horticulture, my first foray into the world of pure botany illustrates an important point when it comes to insects. Roaming the campus on a plant ID walk, my professor noticed that I was saying the Latin names of many of the plants to myself as he named them. He pointed to a broadleaf herbaceous something and asked me what it was. “Sorry,” I said, “I know a lot of ornamentals. But I don’t know weeds.” I don’t remember what plant he asked me to ID, but I clearly remember his response: “ Over on this campus, young lady, we refer to those as native plants. It’s only a weed on the Ag campus.”
Ever since, I have been careful to label plants as weeds only when they are so located as to be “troublesome plants out of place”, as per definition. Similarly, “pest” is a label often applied unfairly to our insect friends. Fast forward five years to when I was the director of a well-known butterfly conservatory, taking a call from a frustrated would-be butterfly gardener. “I’ve planted every plant the books say I should”, she said. “I’m doing everything correctly. But I can’t seem to grow a butterfly garden because these (explicative) caterpillars keep eating up all the plants!”
Was the pest the caterpillars, or the caller who did not know her insect friends well enough to recognize them in their juvenile stage?
The world of our insect friends, once discovered, is fascinating, educational, perspective-changing, and at your fingertips. To see fantastic images of your insect friends (and those not so friendly to human enterprises), spend some time on the amazing website Bugwood, where you will find insect images by category. Hint – your insect friends include, but are not limited to, predators, parasites, parasitoids, and pollinators. Don’t let the “bad guys” get all the attention!
by Nicole Sanchez
Another April Saturday, another plethora of choices for family activities in eastern NC. We chose the Master Gardeners’ plant sale at the Lenoir County Extension Center, where they sure weren’t kidding when they said to get there early to enjoy a good plant selection. Thankfully our small kids enjoy plants and gardening, so it wasn’t hard to get them there early. We picked up tomato, pepper, herb, and ornamental plants for our garden, and some for friends. These plants were grown by the Master Gardeners and help them support their efforts in the community. There was an impressive selection of plants, including many old fashioned gardening favorites, and most were of quality comparable to that of a reputable garden center.
(For those who read my first post, which included a lengthy portion about how it is too early for tomatoes, all I can say is, try explaining it to my four year old. He’s got gardening in his blood, and is at the age where encouraging his interest is more important than providing the ideal conditions for a particular plant. )
The Lenoir County Farmer’s Market, nestled in downtown Kinston near the Neuse Nature Center, was also a hive of activity. The Lenoir County Extension team lined up live music, free hot dogs and ice cream, and a panel of local growers, dignitaries, and friends of the market to welcome both vendors and consumers.
The threat of an incoming storm did little to deter the steady stream of visitors, who lined up to purchase strawberries, bedding and herb plants, collards and greens, cabbages, sweet potatoes and more. Spice and barbeque sauce vendors added a little variety. The Lenoir County Farmer’s Market will is open every Saturday from 9-5 and on Tuesdays from 9-6, though when we got there last Saturday at 9 am, sales were already in full swing. I hear that different vendors participate on Tuesdays than Saturdays. To get the latest information on happenings at the Lenoir County Farmers’ Market, email Lenoir County Extension Director Tammy Kelly to be included in email updates about the market and its activities.
I have often heard people reflect on farmers’ markets that price is a deterring factor. Some folks have the impression that foods at farmers’ markets are more expensive, and I am sure that is sometimes true. But I have been pleasantly surprised at each of my buying trips, where prices seemed reasonable, and the quality was excellent.
While the market was steadily busy for the entire two hours our family was there, from my perspective there continues to be room for growth. I would have liked to have purchased fresh parsley and cilantro, which can be grown here this time of year, and I missed some of the other winter vegetables, like parsnips, that I love so much. At the Kinston market, I think several more vendors could take advantage of this location without negatively impacting the sales of the vendors already participating.
Our selection and availability of local foods in the counties I work in as an extension agent is truly impressive, but there appears from my perspective to be room for growth. North Carolina has climate and soils conducive to growing a wide variety of food crops. As agriculture in the state continues to transition away from tobacco dependence, foods are poised to fill the gaps. If you are considering trying to raise food or herb crops or sale, don’t forget to take advantage of your local extension service to help you get started on the right path.