The Load Out

By: Amy Ager

 

Jean-Paul the newest member of the leadership team who is running our operations and finance departments joined me on a long, fun day to Dobson Farm to meet farmers and help load out the cattle for that weeks harvest just outside of Statesville, NC.

Sam Dobson, our livestock coordinator at HNG and his wife Sherry invited us into their warm, beautifully renovated farmhouse complete with wood floors,  beadboard walls, and high ceilings. All good meetings happen at the kitchen table and the four of us had the pleasure of sitting around for a bit that late morning catching up on how the kids were doing in their many endeavors and cutting up and laughing on the recent inevitable foibles of life.

Our plan was to visit a handful of producers whose farms are in close proximity to Dobson Farm but as all good days go, our agenda was too ambitious to accomplish. We hopped in Sam’s farm truck, bundled up for the cold day in fleece lined coats and headed to lunch at the Amish Store in Union Grove. To Sam’s and my delight, eggnog season had arrived, so we aptly toasted to our love of the drink and the holidays ahead while enjoying a custom sandwich made at the store for lunch. 

We ate on the porch at a high top table and got up to speed about farming, processing and logistics, all the things that come with a scaling farm and meat business. It is an exciting time to be part of HNG as we are planning and strategizing for how our farm in Fairview, the butchery, store, events and deli are going to fit beautifully into our ever growing wholesale and distribution business of 100% grass-fed and pasture raised meats.

Being in the meat business at our scale is a tough go, in and of itself, but when you add the layer of our idealism and the mission to build community through agriculture it takes creativity, innovation and a more than healthy dose of optimism to plan for the future. We covered a lot of ground and got our new hire up to speed.

Jean-Paul has a steady presence and insightful knowledge and we dove into all the important topics to bring him into a grand understanding of the state of things in the industry.

As it turns out our conversation wrapped up just in time because as we pulled into Sam’s farm our first trailer load of cattle were arriving from John Sherrill. For these guys a Thursday load out goes smoothly just about every week but for new eyes the coordination is a testament to Sam’s management. He had three more trailers from HNG farmers, Charles Johnson, Mike Christopher and Ritchie Herman, coming in fifteen minute increments, unloading a mixture of cull cows and finished steers in a range of weights destined for specific customers. The new loading facility Sam invested in at his farm is top notch. Sawdust floors, gates that open and swing effortlessly, and a workflow that requires very little in the way of words. Cattle and people moved about in a dance to organize the cattle backwards so that as we loaded the tractor trailer for the processing plant they would go on and come off in proper order.

 

Shane, Myron Leath’s son, and the driver that day arrived just at the end after the bull, who was stout and just right for grass finishing genetics, was loaded out to another farmer.  The light was waning and the social hour over as the final paperwork was completed and Shane headed out for an overnight haul to get our animals to their final destination.

Sam has this way about him that attracts good people and that day Jean-Paul and I got to hear about their lives in a way that really connects your food to the farmers as people and entrepreneurs. Land based professions take a resolve that is hard to sign up for if you really knew what you were getting yourself into to make managing those resources a profitable reality.

Things like a rescued raccoon, pulling carts with a team of ponies, and a curiosity for what is happening in the marketplace with our customers weave deeply into the fabric of our organization and our connections to these folks. This weekly ritual of checking in with our farming and hauling partners, and the sushi dinner we gathered to eat afterwards over three pots of green tea, demonstrates the open-minded nature and energy dedicated to making this business work.

 

We are truly a family of farmers and entrepreneurs carving a path into a food system that is transparent, understood and connected. It is an amazing thing to see this in action. The amount of work that goes into that beautifully marbled ribeye you may eat at a restaurant in Asheville or Atlanta should be duly honored with a hearty thanks to the farmer.

 

 

A Weekly Account of Life on the Fairview Farm

By: Asher Wright

Weekly update: August 4th – August 10th, 2019

Per usual, below you will find a recap of this last week. It has been a good and productive one and everyone has been doing a great job executing all of the tasks that we have to do while fitting in the ones that help us advance. Enjoy.
  • We weaned the group of sows on Monday that were at the top of the berry field. This entails separating them from their mom, giving them an injectable dewormer, and putting them into a nursery area where they get a higher quality feed compared to the field pigs, adjust to being by themselves, and most importantly learn the electric fence.
  • The Crew finished building the new nursery pen on Monday and that’s where the piglets weaned into.
  • The Crew built 6 new farrowing pens for the next 6 sows that are about to farrow. They are due around the 15th. This was a lot of work pounding t-posts, running new waterline and moving all of the Sows into their homes on Friday. It’s important to let them get settled for a week before they farrow, so they feel comfy and at home, it’s those extra touches
  • All of our focus that past 10 days, outside of chores and a few other items we had to do, has been on the sow pens and the nursery. Getting these pieces of infrastructure built allows us to focus solely on animal welfare and not have to scramble the next 8-10 weeks which is where we need to be. I’m really impressed with everyone’s hustle who helped pull all of that off.
  • We have continued our quest to repair the Ford 5000 and have made progress by finding a salvaged, high-pressure steering line. It was about $425 cheaper than buying the factory made one for our year and model. This was after 2 sourced parts didn’t quite fit right. We still have another major repair on our hands to get the steering 100%, but for now it’s safe and can help us finish out the season.
  • I went down to Rutherfordton this week to assess current forage availability, think about winter stockpiled forage, and help make a plan that ties that all together. Each year we pull a portion of our pasture out of grazing rotation towards the end of summer to allow it to grow and “stockpile” throughout the fall for the winter. This is in the place of hay which saves money by decreasing labor, wear and tear on our equipment, and fuel consumption.
  • On this trip I also looked at some used farm equipment that an old timer is selling that would allow us to make our own pig feed. This is all exploratory and research based at this point, no changes are being made at this point.
  • Our orchard and berry specialist, Craig Mauney visited the apple orchard on Friday to help us get an idea of where we are at with disease and pests and this years harvest. We have some final work to do in the coming weeks to prep for U-pick. We will be mowing, weed whacking, and cleaning that area up next week. I ordered apple picking baskets for the higher branches as we should be ready to pick the early ripening varieties in 10-14 days. More to come on that.
  • This past week on Friday our next intern to start, Darla, arrived in town and she is moving in this weekend. She officially begins next Tuesday. I’ll be sure to introduce you if I’m around but please introduce yourself and make her feel welcome if you see her, we are excited to have some extra hands in the middle of the busy season.
Until next time!

A Weekly Account of Life on the Fairview Farm

By: Asher Wright

Weekly update: July 22nd – August 2nd, 2019

I hope everyone had a productive week. Remember, the key word is “production” if you can’t produce, you can’t stay. Ok, ok, that’s really just what I say.  So what’s been going on? Check it out here:
  • I had the pleasure of joining some members of the meats team as we went down East to Duplin county to tour some of our hog producers’ farms and meet with them to talk about what lies ahead and to help everyone get a better understanding of where we are headed. It was a great trip. I especially enjoyed our 5 hour car ride back as Natalie and Sam serenaded us to top 40 hits over the past 20 years in the back seat like 2 agro teenagers.
  • The team continues to push forward with fence line weed whacking. This is hard work, tell the crew thanks when you see them. Because we don’t use herbicides on our farm we have to maintain our fences with weed-whacking instead of spraying.
  • We have been monitoring the orchard closely and the early ripening varieties will be coming off in the next 2-4 weeks. Stay tuned!
  • The crew built another pig paddock for our top hogs in the Sawmill pasture and got them moved out of their old paddock and into their new paddock. The old paddock was the one I wrote about in my first post. We will be rotating them through pasture space every 4-6 weeks to keep the ground protected and new forage in front of the piggies.
  • We are about 90% prepped for Turkeys and they are hitting the ground around August 15th. This involved setting up the houses and tarps, getting the propane heater dialed in, setting up the water system, and cleaning and sanitizing the feeders and waterers. We will be bedding the houses with straw and pine shavings before they get here.
  • The production team had a meeting to discuss all the infrastructure that will be needed for the fall agritourism push and begin knocking out that check list. This week we fixed the broken electrical box on the Southeast corner of the event shed.
  • The steering broke on the Ford 5000 and I broke into a steering line project. Because the tractor is so old and has a number of parts exchanged over the years it took me awhile to find the correct part, but we did, and it’s on it’s way.
  • Eli led a tour to about 40 campers and did a fantastic job. They looked happy and I know they learned a lot.
  • We made another weed whack pass through the berries and got them mowed. They are looking sharp and we are ready for the final U-Pick push. We have some blue berries still and are full with black berries. Spread the word.
  • Today we build a .14 acre, woven wire (thats like the wire that’s around Atticus) fence nursery for our weaned piglets. This is where we we will wean them, give them higher quality feed and train them to the electric fence. They will hang here before moving in with the other growing pigs. We will also be moving some of the small pigs in the viewing area out to the nursery as well. Our plan is to leave the boar and a buddy in there for the fall season.
  • We named the boar! He is that studly looking black Berkshire boar in there. His name is Diesel. Go say hi, he is cute.
  • Beyond these items the crew has done a great job moving the cattle along and managing our pastures nicely.
  • We have gotten a little over 2.5″ of rain since I last wrote, thanks Weather Station.
That’s it for now. I hope everyone has a fun and safe weekend.

A Weekly Account of Life on the Fairview Farm

By: Asher Wright

Weekly update: July 8th – July 19th, 2019

I hope this email finds everyone well. It certainly feels like summer out there doesn’t it? We have almost hit 90F at the farm a number of times now and with 70%+ humidity that makes for a pretty hot day. The crew is staying hydrated and the animals have plenty of shade so things are plugging along nicely. Here are some more details from the past 2 weeks.
  • Our friends at Beacon Village Farm lent us their plow and disk harrow to prepare the corn maze. Historically we have used a small rototiller so this allowed me to bust out field preparation within a week. We did a rain dance and the soil moisture was right and it was a go. On Monday July 1st I plowed the corn maze. The reason we plow is to do the initial tillage (working the soil) pass that kills the sod that is out there. If you don’t use a plow you have to use herbicides to kill a perennial stand of plants. Once you plow you let the soil sit for a day or two to kill the grass below it. Then you come along with a disk and begin breaking the soil up into smaller pieces.  The goal is to increase seed-to-soil contact to aid in germination and nutrient uptake of the small seedling. I then disked the field a few times between July 4th and July 8th and the seed bed was ready to plant. On Tuesday July 9th our corn planter arrived but had a job-ending breakdown one pass into the field. Insert hand-to-face emoji. Fortunately we had another person with a 4-row corn planter in our network. He and his team bailed us out late in the day on the 9th and we got the corn in and fertilized before the rain that came in throughout the rest of the week.
  • Walker has been improving and upgrading our apply sprayer and he put some final touches on it last week and troubleshot another breakdown and repaired it.
  • We repaired the bush hog’s broken PTO shaft. The PTO is for Power Take Off, its a shaft that connects to the splined drive shaft on the tractor and it’s how all tractor implements that are mechanically (not ground driven) operated get their power. If your shaft breaks you out of luck.
  • Once we repaired it we got back on some bush hogging and cleaned up the the weeds around the corn maze and the old pig hoop house site. This also included hauling pig panels and trash out of there to get it prepped and ready for the new hoop house we will be getting sometime in the future.
  • We replaced a broken float valve in one of our pig waterers and brought another water tank online to be used for a new pig field for the Warren Wilson gilts that are ready to be moved out of the viewing area. The crew also built new fence that will enclose that space and we plan on moving the gilts out next Monday.
  • I had a meeting this week to get our fall agritoursim check list and we are making a comprehensive plan to bust all of those items out before Labor Day. It’s a lot of work in addition to the normal operations of the farm, so if we are running around looking frantic, or as Grace put it “manic”, then you will know why 🙂
  • We have found a good source for some Jersey dairy calves so we are good to go on those cute little buddies for bottle feeding.
  • Ronnie and hay team busted down 10 more acres of hay for us and we put up another 24 rolls of hay for the winter this week.
  • We finally got our delivery of straw bales that we will use for bedding for our animals. This helps them keep warm when cold and it also manages the “living bed” that is beneath them like we talked about previously. The straw is parked in the tractor trailer in the sawmill pasture. We have 525 bales in stock now and we will go through these over the next 10 months before we get more. This saved us about $1050 dollars plus labor, time, and vehicle wear-and-tear over buying these one truck load at a time from the local store.
  • What’s straw you ask? Well, straw is the highly lignified stalk that supports a cereal grain head (wheat, barley, rye, oats). Once the seed head is dry and ready to be picked by a combine, you harvest it, and the combine spits all of the straw out of the back of the machine while keeping the grain in the hopper of the combine. Then a square baler comes along and turns that windrow of straw into 50-60 lb bales. These are great for bedding and mulching but they have no nutritional value. Straw is not to be confused with hay. Hay is for feeding animals and contains nutrients, straw is a by product of cereal grain production and is general not used for feed, it only contains fiber. If you call the straw bales hay, I’ll be sure to correct you in a polite way 🙂
  • The team has continued to systematically weed whack our fence lines and we also brought our 3rd whacker back online so we are going to really get ahead of it the next few weeks. As we speak the team is out cleaning up the blue berries for this weekend’s U-Pick fun.
  • We hired our next two interns who will be joining us August 15th and September 1st. Darla Will be joining us first from California. She is taking a gap year between high school and college and I believe she is going to bring a lot of great energy and hard work to our team.

A Weekly Account of Life on the Fairview Farm

By: Asher Wright

Weekly update: June 29th – July 7th, 2019

Hello Friends,

I hope this finds you all well and I hope everyone had a nice 4th of July celebration of some sorts. This past week on the farm was a good one. We did as much as we could with a number of production staff members out for the holiday. Here is the update, enjoy!
  • We Cut another 10 acres of hay on Sunday June 30th and got that baled this week. This was our first cut to get rained on which isn’t bad considering the rain we have been getting. This puts our total round bale count at 184. Our goal this year is 300-350 bales, I am still wrapping my head around everything before we make that call. It’s a balance of cash and true need and having some in the bank for Summer 2020 in the event of drought.
  • On Monday, we moved 11 spring weaned calves from the Rutherfordton farm to Fairview. Our forage is more high quality up here so it’s best to have the younger growing animals on it.
  •  We plowed the corn maze on Monday and then disked it 2x on Thursday. The goal here is to kill the above ground plants through plowing and then to make the soil into small particle sizes for planting. The smaller the soil particles are the greater the surface area is and the better chance of seed to soil contact you get. Because we do not use herbicides on our farm we cannot no-till plant the corn maze. We must do “conventional tillage” on it to prepare the seed bed. A neighbor of hours will be planting this coming week with his 4-row John Deere 7000 planter.
  • We weaned one of our sows piglets. She weaned a great litter of 13 at 37 lb. on average which = 481 lb. total or approx. 80% of her body weight, that’s great, go mom!
  • We began systematically weed whacking all of our fence lines which I initially estimate to be about 10 miles worth of fence lines. More to come on this one day.
  • We finally got our 5 gallon box of Effective Microorganisms (EM) which is a liquid that contains billions of beneficial lactic acid forming microbes. Lactobaccilus is commonly known one but there are many others. If you want to nerd out on this, Wikipedia isn’t a bad place to begin. Check it out here. We spray this into our heavy use pig and chicken areas and around the compost to help with nutrient cycling and to eliminate fowl odors created from hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and other organic compounds that are associated with anaerobic fermentation and decomposition. Basically, this stuff helps make the animal environment healthy and odor free. We mix 1 pint of the liquid into a 4 gallon back pack sprayer and mist it on the ground.
  • The crew processed almost 140 chickens on Wednesday which is the most we have ever done. They did the extra 30 birds in about 30 minutes more than the typical average time which show some serious improved efficiency. Go Team! The 30 extra this week were because the plucker broke last week and processing was cut short. Brian and the team worked hard on Thursday getting these extra birds packaged. Thanks Brian and butchery team!
  • These items are in addition to the basic chores that are performed every day which take about 3 hours.
Thanks for tuning in.

A Weekly Account of Life on the Fairview Farm

By: Asher Wright

Weekly update: June 23rd – June 28th, 2019

  • We finished the final touches on the apple sprayer and got it 100% dialed in this week. It worked beautifully today and we have a lot of apples in the orchard. I’m really excited about the late summer and fall harvest.
  • Blueberries are continuing to produce well and U-Pick was on for today and tomorrow.
  • Crew got a mow in the orchard to keep the tall grass down, great work Eli and Ian.
  • We borrowed a plow from some friends of ours so we can plow up the corn maze after the event this weekend. Corn seed for the maze will be in the ground within 2 weeks
  • The mamas with baby piglets are all doing well and the piglets are growing nicely. We will be weaning one litter from our beloved Sow (female pig), next week, her name is Banana, thanks Nora.
  • We got some Farm Crew Only signs put up on the road through the farm shop area.
  • We process chickens every Wednesday but this week was cut short by a broken electrical wire on the plucker, Ian repaired the plucker today with a replacement plug, go Ian!
  • We turned our compost pile and mixed in some wood chips to add a little carbon to our nitrogen. Ideal C:N ratio in compost is 20:1 respectively. This prevents it from stinking and gives all the microbes the carbon they need make a well balanced compost. We will continue to improve our composting operation and eventually be able to spread it back on our pastures.
  • The cattle are grazing in the chamomile pasture and are looking great. The pastures ahead of the cows have good forage (grasses, legumes, forbes, google it) and that’s great for us. It’s always a gamble with the rain and we are getting just the amount we need when we need it. Keep those fingers crossed.
  • I have been working on a budget for a few capital investment items for the farm that we hope to make within the next couple of years.
  • The final work of the week has been hustling to get the Farm to Fork Fondo event space ready. The team has weed whacked, set up parking spaces, organized the sawmill pasture, mowed the corn maze field for parking, fixed ruts leading into the field, and overall had a great attitude when putting on our event planning hats and taking off our farmer hats.

The Inaugural Post 6/22/19

By: Asher Wright
As the week comes to an end I wanted to take the time to send you an email updating you to all the things we have going on on the farm. I’m planning on sending one of these out each week at the end of the week to keep everyone in the loop. I’ll miss a week here and there throughout the year but will look forward to getting you all this weekly update.
On occasion I may be compelled to write the farm update in beautiful prose but typically I will use a bulleted format so you can quickly read the highlights of what is going on.
  • Farrowing has begun! What’s farrowing? Well, it’s the verb for when a female pig (Sow) has babies. We have 3 litters on the ground and 2 more expected for this farrowing cycle. The sows are up by the berries, each with their own house, bedded with straw, to keep those little buddies cozy and comfy. This group of sows is called “The Rowdy Bunch” because some of the moms are quite protective. Please do not approach the pens if you go visit, you’ll see why if you do 😉
  • We just finished processing our 3rd batch of broiler chickens. Batches 4 and 5 are in the field and Batch 6 and 7 are in the brooder house by the farm core. Our birds are dressing around 5.7# on average now.
  • The Cattle herd is split into 2 herds with the Brood Cows and their calves down at Rutherfordton and the yearlings and finishing beef cattle up in Fairview. We just sent 6 beef animals to the processor this week which also included a couple of animals for the North Asheville Tailgate Market, our customers will be thrilled. Thanks to the recent rain and cold front and these great cool season pasture growing conditions, the forage ahead of the cattle is looking good!
  • The U-pick berries have begun with 2 successful picking periods behind us. Last week and this week has yielded about 43# of berries so far.
  • The farm crew has been working hard doing daily chores, maintaining the grounds, weed whacking the berries, upgrading the apple sprayer, repairing and servicing the bush hog, organizing and cleaning out the shop, hauling pigs and cattle, and much more. If you see Eli, Josh, Walker, or Ian around, thank them for their hard work! They are doing great.
  • Last but not least, we opened up our grower pigs into a new fresh pig paddock that’s approximately 2 acres. We will be rotating them to different paddocks (slices of a field) in the Sawmill pasture every couple of weeks.
I hope everyone has a great weekend, and until next time…

At Hickory Nut Gap, we celebrate a rich history dating back to 1916 as well as a futuristic outlook where we are building a new model of progressive agriculture.  Many, we hope, would find this unique convergence of past, present, and future to be compelling and interesting.  After listening to our loyal customer base and responding to the requests of new visitors, our team has developed several tour models for customers to enjoy on a re-occurring basis.

Option #1: Join a Bi-Monthly, Guided Walking Tour

Offered two Saturdays per month, individuals can sign up to join a 1.5 hour group walking tour. There are two tour models offered; high impact and low impact. The morning jaunt features the low impact tour and is designed for limited mobility, guests with young children, or anyone wanting to stay centrally focused around the farm store and hear a more in-depth depiction of the farm history.  The afternoon tour is considered high-impact as guests cross over streams, explore fields and picturesque photo ops, and go beyond the main grounds.  This tour will touch on the farm’s past, but provide great insight into farming practices, animal welfare, environmental regeneration, and future goals.

Both tours invite guests to arrive early or stay late and enjoy a farm-to-fork lunch by ordering off of our seasonal menu.

Option #2: Reserve a Private Top Tier Tour

For those looking to receive a private, up-scale experience, our tour team has partnered with our culinary team to create a Top Tier Tour. Only offered 1 Saturday per month, this 2.5 hour tour begins with either a high-impact walking tour or a trail ride on horseback soaking up the late afternoon sun. Limited to 12 total guests (but requiring a minimum of 4), this is an intimate opportunity to receive a truly personal guided tour.  Immediately following the tour, guests will be ushered into the History Barn where decorated tables await the group while our chef prepares a plated dinner to enjoy.  Filled with compelling conversation, delicious chef prepared food, and adult beverages, this tour provides an unforgettable evening with a sensational view.

 

Our mission at Hickory Nut Gap is to “Build Community through Agriculture” and we feel the best method of achieving that goal is through education and awareness.  Our team is dedicated to fostering a deep curiosity about the food we eat, the environment, and how it all works together from the farm to the table. We hope you join us for a tour and look forward to sharing our story with the community we serve.

 

There was a moment today at the farm store inspired by a woman who is staying nearby, that stopped in to shop for food and gifts. She hasn’t been together with her entire family for 20 years but this year they overcame the insurmountable logistical task and are having Christmas in Fairview. It could be said that six busy months of long days in the farm store may leave one exhausted and ready to hide from the general public for a few days but today I felt renewed as we witnessed the spirit of giving in a way I have never experienced before. It happened among strangers and despite the warm, humid December 23rd weather, we all had chills and tears.

It started like this: one of about 60 special orders we cut at the butchery this week was brought to the register, erroneously the wrong name had been heard and therefore the wrong order had made it’s way to the counter. Jokingly, the customer said to the person behind him that she could pay for that order, a six rib standing rib roast. The seed was planted and while our employee was ringing him up the person in line behind him said silently to the employee that she wanted to pay for the man’s pork crown roast which was being brought out at that time. The total was much less than he anticipated and he asked if everything was rung up correctly. Our employee told him “yes, sir, it was the woman in line behind you, she just paid for your crown roast.” He was in awe and not sure how to respond but then suddenly the two began hugging and crying. This was an amazing, unnecessary and kind act between two complete strangers.

Our farm store is only about 20×40 downstairs, and at that moment we had a rush, so the kind act did not go unnoticed but what happened next was even more unexpected. The gentleman declared he was going to pay for the next person and as the customers in the store gathered their last minute sausage, eggs, and handmade gifts for the holidays each person paid for the person in front of them. The generosity continued and it went on and on for about 20 minutes worth of transactions.

At last, there was a woman waiting to be rung up because she wanted to cover the order for next customer yet at that moment no one was ready to check out. However while she was opening the door for a man with crutches another person stepped in and offered to pay for her order! She was moved to tears and exclaimed that he had no way of knowing how much this meant, as the pork shank she had ordered was for a traditional Mexican dish called posole which was being prepared for her mother, who worked as a translator, to share with some of her clients on Christmas Eve. So this act would indeed benefit many more than just her.

She eventually had to go but left $30 on the counter. The next person, only purchasing $23 worth of goods went home on their merry way having their order paid for and an early Christmas present. The $7 that was remaining was put towards the next customer’s order who happened to be the person who actually did order the rib roast [originally brought to the counter the first time this happened] and with impeccable timing the brother of the first generous customer who started this entire line of giving came down from shopping upstairs and declared he would cover the rest of the order and so it came full circle!

By this point in time we were all feeling the love and noticing what we as humans can do for each other. I can’t help but wonder was it the season, the love of a family finally being together, or the space that is created for all of us this time of year, that allowed us to remember who we can be to each other. It was amazing to see people share in the good times, support one another through the hard times and give to another person a connectedness that isn’t always apparent in every day life. I hope this story will be told to the loved ones of the people who witnessed this moment today and that there will be acts of kindness and love that will grow exponentially because of her gift. Thank you to this beautiful soul who made today the most memorable day of the season and prepared our spirits for Christmas.