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Farming and the Local Food Scene: Spending my weekend at “America’s Largest Farm Tour”

A long-awaited event here in North Carolina took place a few weekends ago—the 8th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour. Touted as “America’s Largest Farm Tour,” the tour was put together by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA)—an incredible resource for many people interested in food and farming within the state. Although I only made it to five of the forty farms listed, I was able to meet many other people interested in making farming their career, and speak directly with farmers from the farms we visited.

Here’s a little bit about what farms I visited during the tour:

Saturday, April 28

For a small fee of $25 per carload (there’s a cheaper biking option), the tour enables you to visit any of the forty listed farms, meet the farmers, and learn a bit about how their farm works. On Saturday, after not getting much sleep the night before and working the Saturday morning Durham Farmers’ Market, our car got off to a late start to visiting farms. We were all very hungry but wanted to explore new farms, so we decided to visit the Chapel Hill Creamery where there were rumors of sausage and cheese tastings. Shortly after arriving in the parking lot of the farm, we were picked up in a wagon drawn by draft horses and taken to the cheese-making headquarters where we were greeted by chorizo and an assortment of cheese samplings. The Creamery produces around seven different kinds of cheeses ranging from farmer’s cheese to “Calvander” (an Asiago inspired cheese) with the help of around 40 head of beautiful Jersey cows and a small, dedicated staff. After learning a bit about the cheese-making process and visiting the fat and happy whey-fed pigs, I left with a hefty amount of farmer’s cheese and was able to put faces to the Creamery’s award-winning cheeses that regularly occupy my refrigerator.

Sunday, April 29

On Sunday, I participated in a “Young Farmer Livestock VIP Tour,” also sponsored by CFSA. Starting out on a bus in Carrboro, NC, along with a group of ten young farmers, I traveled to three different livestock farms around the area. I was surprised to find that around two-thirds of our group were “second-career farmers” (people who’ve had a career prior to going into farming) and it was fascinating to chat with the VIP crew on why they were taking up a career in farming while being transported in between farms.

We were allotted forty-five minutes at each farm, which was broken down into a brief introduction to the farm and its history, a short tour of the farm, and some time at the end for Q&A (as well as to buy some of the farm’s fine products). The first, Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm, featured a family-run grass-fed beef operation only ten minutes outside of town.  Interesting facts from Hogan’s: The farm’s products are sold in a refrigerated truck on the property a select number of days and hours a week, the new farm manager has designed a rotational grazing system where his head of cattle (around 14 I think) get to eat around an acre of grass per day, and the farm follows Animal Welfare Approved standards.

After Hogan’s, we headed out to Coon Rock Farm located outside of Hillsborough. Nestled into some of the Piedmont’s most beautiful rolling hills  (the farm’s namesake is a beautiful rock formation on the farm that is visible from the main barn), to me, Coon Rock is a young farmer’s dream. There are vegetables and animals, and Coon Rock does a great job of understanding how the two work best together to maximize sustainability and profit (some examples: feeding food scraps to the pigs, using the pigs to till the soil and fertilize for planting new crops, etc.). The food is grown for the farm’s two organic restaurants, its CSA (a weekly produce or meat box from the farm), and three market stands. The farm is also a relatively closed loop—food waste either goes to the pigs or is composted, food that is not deemed as market or CSA worthy (but still of high quality) is cooked at the farm’s two restaurants, the pigs till up and fertilize the soil for the planting of new crops—the list goes on. From the tour led by co-farmer Jamie DeMent, I gathered that a lot of what they’ve learned has been through research and good old-fashioned trial and error. She certainly gave me hope for my (possible) future career as a farmer—you learn as you go and with help from the farmers around you.

The last farm we visited was Walters Unlimited. Walters Unlimited has access to large tracts of land and practices mob grazing where cattle eat a different acre of land per day throughout the year. The farm is family run and owned and also raises catfish, goats, pigs, chickens, and produces eggs and some seasonal produce.

CFSA’s Piedmont Farm Tour is an incredible opportunity to get to know your farmers and local farms. As one farmer put it, “We’re in a time in society where people like to know where their food comes from.”

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she focused in environmental and community health. She is currently working full-time at a small, organic farm outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina called Maple Spring Gardens. Laura writes the Farming and the Local Food Scene series about her experiences with local farms and farmers around the Piedmont area of North Carolina.



Posted on: May 15, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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