We all got a lot of tongue at the last crew dinner…beef tongue, that is. Ann, queen of the crockpot, whipped up some amazing tongue tacos for us all last week and, even though it looked like she’d crammed some strange alien into her slow cooker, it tasted delicious.

I had never had the pleasure of eating tongue before, nor of seeing it prepared, and I’m not sure which one was more exciting. After nearly 12 hours on low heat, the tongue looked, well, a lot like a human tongue except that it was white and weighed about three pounds. Ann peeled the rough outer coating off to reveal a very tender dark meat underneath. (I tried a little bit of the coating just for fun. It wasn’t fun. It made me think of chewing on a slice of a bouncy ball.) Ann cooked the whole tongue in beef broth with onion and garlic so that it would soak up some flavor, but you can also boil it in water for a few hours then strip it and continue cooking the inside part with any kind of spice that you want. The consistency of the tongue reminded me of those giant slabs of meat they have in gyro places that are continuously spinning on an upright spit. It didn’t just fall apart, but it had an almost bread-like quality and was quite flavorful. I was surprised that one tongue provided sufficient meat for five people. It’s one of the least expensive beef items available, yet very few people take the time or effort to learn how to prepare it. Getting over the initial repulsion may take a while, but it’s really no different from cooking any of the other cow muscle except that this one looks a bit strange while it’s in the pot.


















Here’s an interesting recipe I found for BBQ beef tongue in the NY Times. I think we’ll have to try this one out next time.






In order to understand the workings of Hickory Nut Gap Farm it is, first and foremost, important to meet the crew:

Jamie and Amy are the founders and co-owners of the farm. They have been making this whole thing work since 2000, when they picked up what was then a confusion of endeavors, and began to solidify and realize a new vision for the farm. They have three boys, Cyrus, Nolin, and Levi, and an unbelievable amount of energy and enthusiasm. Any task they have to do for the farm, I’ve seen them master with a wriggling infant in one arm. Amy deals with marketing, company finances, insurance, bookkeeping, and some of the more technical needs of the business. Jamie is a visionary and a mover. He’s always getting fired up for the next project, the next idea, and he has the persistence and drive to follow through (most of the time).

Often, Jamie and Amy are occupied dealing with the business side of things, so Walker Sides is the Farm Manager (that’s a new title for him woot woot!). Walker is an ingenious fellow with oodles of common sense and a clear-headed nature. He’s a good guy to work for not only because he knows so much about the farm, but also because he is willing to jump in and get his hands dirty no matter what the task may be.  He’s got a wry sense of humor and loves to find fun in his work.

My favorite story about Walker is that once, when a salesman called him to try and sell a home security system, Walker told the guy he already had one. The salesman asked what company was the provider and Walker answered, “Marlin”.

“Marlin?”, asked the salesman, “I’ve never heard of them before”.

“Yeah”, Walker replied, “that’s the company that made my shotgun, that’s the only home security I need”, and promptly hung up.

Ann Araps is the Retail Manager and does most of the work pertaining to the Farmstore. She is very small, very blonde, very energetic, and undoubtedly one of the most capable people I’ve ever met. Our customers love Ann. Quite literally. I think there are a number of regulars who come all the way out to Fairview just to see her, forget about buying meat. When I’m working in the store and someone calls, they almost invariably ask for Ann. If I tell them she’s taking lunch and that I can take a message for her, they usually just say, “No thanks, I’ll call back later”.  Somehow she makes customers feel they’re getting a special deal that only she can provide for them. I’m not sure how she does it. Her undaunted positivity is infectious and makes people feel good about themselves and their choices.

Jake Buchanon (pr. ‘Buck-an-an’ not ‘Byookanon’) is the intern this year from Sylva, NC. He graduated from Western Carolina last May and is in basically the same situation as me; farming because he needed to spend his days outside after four years of musty libraries and mustier history books. Jake’s a good ol’ boy, a true Western Carolinian who loves bear hunting, drinking Bud Heavy, and playing baseball. He just stopped smoking cigarettes, but habits like that die hard, so he’s taken to popping dum dums whenever he gets the craving for nicotine. It’s working for him so far but it is a little comical to see him walk off to strike the distant-eyed smoker’s pose and then whip out a sucker instead of a pack of smokes.

Jake loves to talk. He loves to talk about politics, religion, tradition, family, literature, you name it. He really loves to talk about history and if you get him started on the Civil War, you’re in for a longer conversation than you may have bargained for. His gregariousness is a great quality when it comes to the more repetitive tasks on the farm like weeding berries or mulching apple trees. In fact, we have designated a certain term for the odd conversation topics that crop up because of those mind-numbing activities: ‘orchard talk’. Jake is a phenomenal orchard talker and I feel like I’ve gotten to know him pretty well because we are often paired together for long stints up in the apple trees or out on Berry Hill.

Steve Howard is the wholesale manager and the resident Bostonian on the farm. He’s got a sharp sense of humor and an even sharper business sense that doesn’t tolerate too much rambunctiousness. Dealing with restaurants is not an easy line but Steve is good at buddying up with the chefs and making sure that everyone gets what they want and all the bills get paid. I’ve had to pack the deliveries with him in the past and it’s no easy task. Not only can you not forget any of the restaurant orders, all the boxes have to be labeled correctly and properly noted with the product and exact weight included. He is meticulous with regards to the details, and that makes him good at his job. Steve loves to talk about growing up in Boston and the rest of the crew members joke that we could get a number of people in a lot of trouble because he always remembers the first and last names and the addresses of the characters from his youth.

Kat Johnson works part-time in the farmstore but is planning to move to Virginia in the spring to work on another farm. She’s an amazing painter/potter/visual artist/clothing designer.  She has redone a good portion of our apple signs and made the most beautiful painting of an apple life cycle that I’ve ever seen. Kat has spent her time on the farm living in the little shack by the creek with Jake. Her room, which we spent several weeks reclaiming from tangles of poison ivy vines, probably never gets warmer than 60 degrees because its so poorly insulated. She also had to put up with a string of unclaimed black cats coming to the shack and whining to be fed. I’m not sure exactly what relationship she had with the cats, but they always seem to be hanging around the house and I’m fairly certain Jake wouldn’t feed them if even if he had scraps he didn’t want. Kat is quirky and fun and we’ll all be sad to see her go in April.

This is the crew, as concisely as I can present it, anyways. I feel like I’ve left out too much, but that’s probably inevitable when real people are the object of reflection. I hope that at least this provides a glimpse at what the people on the farm are like and what to expect when you come out and visit!

Working on a small farm is a continuous lesson in the complete and unreserved ability to change priorities without a second thought. Some days we set out with a singular goal in mind, one which we’ve been planning for weeks, and then we get a call that the pigs are out or Jamie has a vision for some new project that no one has contemplated before and that idea becomes the singular focus of the ensuing weeks or months even. As a recent college graduate this environment of flexibility is absolutely refreshing. After four years (really sixteen years if we go all the way back to the beginning) of having rigid schedules set years in advance and invariably marked out on the school calendar with no thought for spontaneity, the freedom to address only the most pressing problems as they arise is wonderful.    Alright, public school is not so inflexible as all that, and farming should not be idealized as a carefree or whimsical occupation. Sometimes the newest exploit isn’t exciting. Entire days are literally spent shoveling manure or mucking through pastures or crashing through thickets of multiflora rose, grapevines, and privet to pull out old barbed wire. There are plenty of mundane, uninspiring tasks, plenty of thoughtless physical jobs, plenty of cold mornings when the thought of bed and a hot breakfast is much more enticing than the frost covered seat of the tractor, but, even still, there is a freedom in the work that, for me, lends inspiration even to the least inspiring task. I am never completely certain how the next hour will be spent or what small new adventure is waiting to unfold.

Our special little Black Angus mix can’t see out of his left eye very well so he holds his head as if he’s deliberately trying to ignore you

This morning as I was getting ready to feed the pigs Ann called with the news that the cows were out. We hauled most of the herd down to Rutherfordton yesterday to overwinter and the only ones we left in Fairview were the male Holsteins, the bull, and a unique little Black Angus mix calf.  Holsteins are milking cows. We buy a few males every year for the agritourism season in the fall because they are cute calves and they’re cheap and they look like your average person’s idea of a cow (probably something to do with the black spots). Neighbors and farm families usually raise these calves for meat, but they’re not ideally suited for that purpose so we don’t normally keep them with our herd. What with being bottlefed for several months and having to put up with screaming elementary schoolers nearly every day, they become unafraid of human contact and subsequently they are some of the most difficult animals on the farm to herd. This morning they simply refused to let Ann and me direct them back into the pasture. It was a strange dynamic between the black angus mix, who couldn’t seem to understand what we were doing flapping our arms at him, the Holsteins who clearly thought we were playing some strange and ridiculous game with them, and the bull, who just plain didn’t care what we were doing, as long as he could continue to eat in peace. You just can’t push a bull too hard. You might suggest he move in one direction, but if he doesn’t want to go, there’s not a whole lot you can do. Frankly, I’m surprised that he hasn’t just crushed one of the Holsteins for nudging him with their horns the way they do. It took us nearly half an hour to move the outlandish little herd only fifty feet, but Ann and I were able to get all the animals back into the pasture without riling anyone up too badly, except maybe for some of the neighbors on Ambiance Way. I guess you can’t please everyone.


Our bull isn’t enormous as far as bulls go but look at those shoulder muscles! He doesn’t quite know what to think of this strange little Holstein calf.


Well, the New Year seems determined to start off with the same wet, chilly weather and unflagging resolve not to snow with which the last one ended. I’ve been hoping for a good cold winter since June but in the mountains of Western North Carolina you just never know. It was so warm and wet last week that, while Walker and I were sawing up a fallen oak for firewood, we found a big stash of wild oyster mushrooms growing out of the rotten wood. Oysters are a cool-weather variety, but it was a shock to see them thriving in late December. In the fall we grow them in specially designated mushroom logs, but ours were never as big or healthy as these wild ones.

I was in Chapel Hill recently and, while taking a walk through one of the parks, I noticed a group of people huddled off the path in the woods. As I passed them, I noticed they were picking mushrooms from some of the fallen trees. I’m not sure what type they were, but I was impressed that, even in a city, you can forage for food. If you know where to look, that is.

I’m no expert on wild mushrooms and what I do know all comes from Walker. Basically I trust his judgment enough that if he says they’re safe to eat, I’ll let him try them first and then I’ll give them a go. By now I can recognize some of the more common varieties and the tastier edibles. I brought some of the oysters we found over to my parent’s house for dinner that night. Mom sautéed them in butter with some onion and a little white wine—they were extraordinary. Paired with some hearty chicken stew and mom’s homemade molasses oatmeal bread, it was a dinner fit for kings…or farmers. People are so cautious of wild mushrooms these days but the reality is that most of the edible kinds are readily recognizable. I don’t know how the mushroom section in our grocery stores has been monopolized by the small white button mushrooms, but it seems a shame. Don’t get me wrong, I love the buttons, (I also learned recently that button mushrooms are the baby form of Portobellos, who knew?!)  I just think there is room for a little more variety in the fungus section at Ingles.

Until this summer I thought that mushroom cultivation was some kind of highly technical procedure of the sort that only stubborn hippies from the 60’s were into (The ones who needed to support themselves but couldn’t bear the idea of conventional work or needed an excuse to grow the psychedelic shrooms without causing a row), but it’s not. We grow several varieties one the farm, when weather permits, in old logs which were specially cut for the purpose. You can buy mushroom mycelium online and then it’s a simple process to cut and prepare the logs. Once the mycelium is introduced you can even force the mushrooms to grow by soaking the logs in water to emulate wet weather. It’s almost comical to walk up in the woods behind the farmstore to find rows of logs laden with shitakes or shimajis sprouting awkwardly from every available surface. I encourage you to go out and try some new kinds of mushrooms. Don’t be cowed by the epicurean haughtiness that surrounds them. Just heat up some butter in a frying pan and sauté them until they darken and become soft.  They go really well with beef, but can make a good match for any kind of meat.

If you look out under oak trees
Or around an old pine stump
You’ll know a mushroom’s coming
By the way the leaves are humped

They send out multiple fibers
Through the roots and sod
Some make you mighty sick they say
Or bring you close to God

So here’s to the mushroom family
A far-flung friendly clan
For food, for fun, for poison
They are a help to man.

–from The Wild Mushroom by Gary Snider