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/.
Bull City Farm: A Childhood Dream Becomes Reality
By Lesley Lammers
(On my romp around the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour during one of this growing season’s most beautiful days yet, I came across three farms that particularly caught my local farm-loving eye. Part 2 of 3.)
Scott and Samantha Gasson of Bull City Farm began raising animals on their property in Rougemont because of what Scott calls “a bad habit of collecting animals.” They first started out as somewhat accidental farmers after offering to help a neighbor raise 40 heifers when he lost his help. This pushed the Gassons from a hobby to a working farm. Grazing animals on the land at first was no easy task. Samantha recalls, “It was just sand. There were big open spots with no graze, no pasture whatsoever.” It had been overgrazed by horses which can severely compact the soil and not add much nutritionally.
“But the cows were just fantastic. We put 40 calves in a little area. They were a week old and we kept them for one and a half years,” says Samantha. The amount of cow manure and how well it supplemented the soil astounded her. “It’s taken us 12 years to get here, but we’ve never added anything. We’ve never fertilized. We’ve never over-seeded.”
While Scott’s family grew up on big farms out west, Samantha’s farming inclinations appear to have come from her own imagination as she dreamt of being a farmer as a young girl. “My mom found it so amusing that I’ve been obsessed with farming since I was little. She thought it would be interesting to find out where the last farmer was in our family. She said, ‘you had to have gotten this gene from somewhere.’” What they found was a fisherman from the 1400s who came from France to England, and that was the closest they could come to some kind of farmer. “So I am technically the genetic reject. Actually no, I am enlightened” and clearly proud to hold the title of the family’s first farmer.
BCF offers free range eggs from their 50 hens, pasture raised meats from their frolicking sheep and cows, as well as kid summer camps, classes and tours. Something you won’t see on every farm is that the chickens, a donkey, cows and sheep are all in the same pasture together, seemingly getting along just fine. Samantha explains to me this is good for the animals and the soil, “It works out really well. There are some animals that eat different things than others. Mostly the reason why we do it is because it helps with parasite control. All of those parasites have basically the same life cycle. They go from the poop, through the soil, up to the grass, and depending on the species they go up the blade of grass to a certain extent. If they are trying to infect a cow, they will stay low to the ground. If they are trying to infect a sheep or goat then they will go up higher. But if a cow comes along and eats that parasite that was destined to go into a sheep, it will die.”
Meanwhile, the chickens peck at the feces and spread it out over the field, picking up any little eggs they can find and helping with fertilization. She warns aspiring farmers, however, not to put goats and sheep together because they share a lot of the same parasites. They chose cows over pigs, deciding swine didn’t fit into their particular system. “Cows are not destructive. They just go and do their own thing.” As for goats, they went from several, to just one — who is very friendly, I might add, and was happy to steal apple slices from the farm tourists’ hands that were intended for the horses. Samantha bemoans, “Goats are horrendous. They just do things you don’t want them to do. They don’t listen. They are like eight year old boys.” Ending on a positive note that gets a chuckle from her listeners, “but the sheep are so polite!”
Homegrown City Farms: Keepin’ It Urban
By Lesley Lammers
(On my romp around the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour during one of this growing season’s most beautiful days yet, I came across three farms that particularly caught my local farm-loving eye. Part 1 of 3.)
Homegrown City Farm, new to the farm tour this year, is a 1/4 acre urban farm tucked away on a residential street of East Durham created by Durhamites Collier Reeves and Maryah Smith-Overman. “It’s definitely been a long time coming,” says Maryah. “My background is in fine woodworking and furniture, but I’ve always grown food for myself and been interested in plants, food quality and accessibility. I really came into this through Collier who studied sustainable agriculture and worked on a bunch of farms. We moved here together with the interest of farming in town.”
Maryah brought the business knowledge, having run a business prior to starting the farm, but admits that she is learning everything, “and that’s the really exciting part for me.” Collier and Maryah plan to expand the farm over into the neighboring property. They currently serve 15 CSA (community supported agriculture) members with their produce as well as local restaurants like Vin Rouge and Panciuto when they are able. Both need to have jobs outside of the farm to pay the bills, but a goal of Homegrown’s is to make a partial living off of farming, while also providing food to their community.
Homegrown received a Slow Money loan to kickstart the farm. “It’s basically a person-to-person loan. There are no banks involved. It’s low interest, so it’s really reasonable and realistic for us to get the drip tape for irrigation and buy seeds and tools. That really made it possible to start it up,” Maryah gratefully notes. They aren’t just growing food at Homegrown, but offer services off-site including garden consultations, education, design, installation as well as construction of wood and stone masonry walls, retaining structures and garden beds.
BB and HomeGrown City Farm host Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Workshop
by Lesley Lammers
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour workshop hosted by Durham’s very own worker-owned edible landscaping cooperative, Bountiful Backyards (BB). This hands-on edible landscaping demonstration at HomeGrown City Farm’s property attracted the gardening-curious and aficionados alike, who came ready to learn and get their fingers down in that North Carolina soil! BB worker-owner Sarah Vroom starts off with this mantra, “When thinking about your own yard, plant things that you want that also support your landscape. This will increase the ‘joy factor.’”
Fall is an ideal time for planting fruit trees and berry bushes, says Vroom. “You get them in the ground and they go to sleep for the winter. If you mulch them well, they are going to put on root growth, spreading themselves out, getting themselves happy and comfortable before the summer comes.” Then when summer does come, the tree won’t have to be watered as much because of all the root mass supporting the plant.
(CLICK THE LINK ON THE BOTTOM RIGHT FOR FULL STORY.)