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Our first batch of chickens are now out in the pasture to graze! Did you know that chickens are SUPER GREAT for our pastures? While grazing, they leave their chicken “litter” – full of nitrogen – to fertilize the grass for our cows to eat. This means that our cows are able to eat the freshest, naturally fertilized grass we can provide for them! Here’s how we use planned rotation with our chickens:
With that in mind, you can thank our chickens the next time you eat some of our 100% grassfed beef!
What are the added benefits to eating pasture-raised pork? Here at Hickory Nut Gap, we ensure that, through planned grazing and the use of annual and perennial grasses, that our pigs get the highest amount of nutrients as they graze.
Here’s how we do it:
We are what we eat – which is why it’s so important to us to ensure that all of our animals are eating nutritiously to ensure that you are too!
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.
Last night I sat on the porch while the third rainstorm of the day came up the valley my way and I watched the lightening bugs in the forest and couldn’t help but wonder what soundtrack they were dancing to, if there was was one to hear. Summer has arrived on the farm and what lies ahead in the next few months needs a soundtrack to dance to. The dance has many people, but I don’t envision that its a typical Fairview square dance where you can’t quite hear the caller and your next step will likely end up on someones toes in effort to keep the line moving in the right direction. No, it sounds more like the thunder and the applause of the rain, loud and heavy storms coming my way before I can gather my things, bring in the comforter from the clothesline and head for the house.
The past two nights Granny Annie has joined us for dinner. With John in Raleigh most weeknights and Jamie visiting accounts in Hickory and Charlotte this week we have had some not so organized impromptu dinners. I cooked the boys favorite Pasta Roberto and we had spicy greens and peas from the garden two nights ago. When I got home from picking up Cyrus and Nolin from their afterschool fun yesterday I found, that our proud fisherman Levi, had caught a 16″ large mouth bass from the pond with Granny Annie, which she was sauteing in the pan for dinner. We coupled this with mashed potatoes (Cyrus’ dinner request) and an egg casserole with kale and cilantro also from the garden bounty. Not exactly a well put together dinner, but substance nonetheless, and a chance to sit for 20 minutes that was welcome at the end of a long day.
Levi is in his last week of preschool, my baby is heading to kindergarden after this summer break, and he is so ready. My hope for him is that he doesn’t enter this new school year with another cast on his arm. Two major breaks and six casts later he has the resilience and tolerance of no person I have ever met as he still attempts life with gusto. Nolin played his first Capture the Hoops game today, an Evergreen tradition for third graders, which he will be rising to next year. He also celebrated the joys of two months of ukelele lessons and made $8 busking at the inaugural Fairview Farmers Market at the elementary school over the weekend. Cyrus will be in middle school next year its still hard to believe! He and his cousin Anne were the first buskers at HNG making their ice cream and root beer money playing at the farm store while jamming away on bluegrass songs for our customers. It’s hard to believe that these children I carried in the sling while giving farm tours to preschoolers seven years ago are growing up into the wonderful young people that they have become.
But the boys aren’t the only thing growing around here:
1. The blueberries are ready for picking and we are opening the upick today. This marks the beginning of berry season with black raspberries and blackberries to quickly follow.
2. I made my first solo appearance on the cover of a magazine. Farm Bureau’s Field and Family wrote a nice article about the farm and our berries. This all was prepared last year at this time which might has well been a lifetime ago because when my friend Sam called to tell me about it, it took a minute to remember that day even happened.
3. The kitchen and butchery is coming along. The roof is on and we are diligently making all the fun decisions like where to put electrical outlets and light switches. It’s going to be so great when we can serve you food, cut our own meat, create awesome sausages, make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and offer cooking classes over the winter.
4. We just launched our first ever (can you say step outside of your box Amy) crowdfunding campaign on Barnraiser. Get this, we are trying to raise $25K in 30 days. So far we are on our way with 52 awesome supporters donating for some great gifts to total $5785! If you want to be a part of this project and show your love by backing it you can do so here. All this support keeps us going and fuels our enthusiasm for this bear of a project. The benefits to the community we hope will spread far and wide once we open, fingers crossed, in August.
5. Saturday, June 20th we will bring in the official summer season with an Open House: Kitchen and Farm Tour. Burgers and hot dogs will be served between 11-1, with all donations going to our Barnraiser Project. Tours will be given at 10am and 2pm on Saturday. The culvert slides, baby chicks, pigs and creek will be ready for the kiddos to come play. See you there?
6. HNGF Camp will be held in the Big Barn behind the Farm Store so the farm will be alive with lots of children enjoying art, drama, and riding horses over the next five weeks. But don’t worry we have plenty of room for other visitors during that time as well!
We hope you are as excited about the transition from spring to summer as we are and that you will come to the farm to celebrate with us and catch us up on your lives too. The chance to make this land and this business into a place for our community to enjoy has been one we are thankful for and you are the reason we are still going.
Cheers to whats ahead in food, family and community.
As a family business passes through generations of management the culture of the family business also shifts appropriately. At the turn of the century things at the farm experienced a change of guard in its own right.
There is a strong oral history in this family telling of the times when Jim, Susie, Annie, Billy, Bobo, Dumont, Mark, and Doug were being raised by Jamie and Elspeth which involves stories about the people that were helping to run HNG from the 1920s through 2000. Most of the employees were local Appalachian people who knew and experienced homesteading as the way things were, out of necessity. Growing a large garden, canning and putting food by, chicken killing day, hog butchering, curing hams, milking cows, picking apples, growing corn and tobacco and feeding a large farm crew each day were some of the tasks getting done. The stories about these folks who made life tick at HNGF are told to our children near bedtime by their grandmother, Granny Annie who reminisces about life during those times and keeps the memories alive.
I came to HNGF young, idealistic and in love in the year 2000. There were a few of these folks still around when I came to dwell in the Spring House Cottage behind the Big House. Grace, Clarence and Elle Early were some of the teachers of my early learning at the farm. I particularly took to Elle Early and her fierce spirit which true to her name got her out of bed and on the phone by 7:00 to arrange her transportation to work that day. Jamie and I ate breakfast with Granny (Elspeth) in the mornings and one of us usually took Elle home while Annie Ager, who was also up at ’em early, would usually swing by to pick her up and bring her in to work. A usual suspect on the menu at Big House breakfast were fried eggs as there were usually plenty of cracks from egg washing the day before. Granny liked her eggs more on the hard side as she didn’t like “Ager eggs” particularly which tended to be runny. The three of us spent alot of mornings eating together. Jamie and I listening to the long list of things Granny was going to accomplish-people to see and care for, meetings she was to attend and what she was leaving for Elle to get done that day.
Grace McAbee and Elle Early worked at the Big House, mostly on different days as they weren’t the best of friends; doing house keeping, getting flowers for the table, washing eggs, cooking lunch, harvesting and canning the garden bounty and working the apple stand when needed.
Grace was Clarence’s mother. She married at 13 and raised her family of 6 in a one room cabin with a loft just up the road from the farm. Her son Clarence has been a fixture at the farm for nearly 30 years and he still helps with the laying hens and taking care of the Big House repairs. Grace shared pickle recipes with me and taught me how to make apple butter and raspberry jam. She showed me that mayo and yogurt can be substituted in your cornbread and taught me how to feed a crew of twelve people for lunch multiple times a week.
Elle grew up in what used to be the heart of Fairview near Church Rd and walked to the old Fairview School, as she put it, each day. At the time when I first met Elle Early (cursive captial L as she signed her name) was in her mid eighties. On breaks between ironing and cleaning out the fridge you could find her drinking a Pepsi she had been cooling in the fridge that morning and smoking a Lucky Strike cigarette. She had a knack for telling you what she thought and more than a few young, long haired men got a good talking to for the length of their hair and how they should cut it, less they wanted to be mistaken for a girl. Her sense of humor and wit were something I always appreciated as she would catch you off guard if you weren’t quite listening with a good jab or joke aimed at something happening in the kitchen that day. We got to know each other over the years and she would invite me in to thank me for the ride with a piece of pound cake or a cutting from a plant she was growing that I was instructed to take and plant right when I got home. We often walked her gardens, talked about how things were growing and I’d water her plants for her as she put away the groceries we had just bought.
Elle was as fierce in personality and in her thriftiness. I have been by her side when she returned a black Sharpie marker that had dried out and demanded her money back at Food Lion as well as intimidating the sales associate into giving her the discount on Puffs tissue even though the coupon was for Kleenex. She shopped at Ingles as that was the only grocery store near Fairview for a good while but refused to buy Laura Lynn brand anything because she “never like anything that woman made.”
She passed away at age 96 but I still have two sweaters she thought I might like because they were really good to keep a person warm as well as a blanket she crocheted for Cyrus which she gifted us on her first visit to meet him a week after he was born. I reveled at the fact that she made this and the effort put into it because at the time she must of been nearly blind.
During the spring as I drive past her old house on the way to town I always feel a longing to walk her garden to see whats coming up and help her with the little things around the house but as time has passed so has her era. If she was still around I sure could use her energy and gusto at the farm as I know she would keep us all in line. When I’m in my eighties I hope to embody her abilities and appreciation for work well done when I am on that side of life at HNGF.
So there is a city, far far away, where a man named Hobson Dobson lives. Hobson Dobson has super human abilities. He can save people when they are in danger, he can fight the bad guys and do pretty much anything a four year old can imagine whose daily mode of operation was keep up with his big brothers abilities. Hobson Dobson came in to our lives via the vivid imagination of our youngest and his best friend and cousin Hythe.
Hythe’s mother comes from Elizabeth City and I am from Louisville. His mother and I often go back home to visit our families, at least four times a year in fact, so one day when the little boys were talking about their upcoming travel plans it made sense to Levi that he should have a city too, just like Hythe’s Elizabeth City.
Well Levi’s city, as it became known in our family, was a magical place where all things can be done. If Jamie and I were having a conversation about a challenge on the farm Levi would always be able to solve our problem with a story from his city. When we pursued a line of questioning to learn more about his city (at the time I was pretty interested in relocating there) we found out there was a man named Hobson Dobson who lived there too. Hobson Dobson had a dog named the sound “kheec” and together they were all a spectacular bunch working with superhuman powers to accomplish all things a lively four year old wishes he could do in a day without the handicap of size, strength or age holding him back.
Conversations in the morning while we are feeding the kids breakfast and working out logistics on efficiently driving to and from town each day, often involve discussions about how other farmers are making their cattle business work, when we are taking a load to a different farm to custom graze or how many animals are coming back from the processor that day. As many of you know anytime the adults are talking the little ones are always listening.
One of our long time farmer friends and collaborators is Sam Dobson. We met Sam at a Young Farmer and Rancher Event hosted by Farm Bureau back in 2005. He is the most outgoing dairy farmer I’ve ever met. That day he had on a suit complete with a Holstein tie but the other 364 days of the year you will find Sam in jeans and an old t-shirt milking his organic cows in Iredell County twice a day. In between milkings he feeds, works the fields planting and harvesting alfalfa, and cover cropping clover and triticale for his dairy cows. Sam also manages a beef herd which he cares for daily, moving their break fences as well as fences for our calves which he custom grazes. Sam’s land was deeded to his family by the queen, and they have been a thriving farm ever since. Four generations still have a presence at the farm including his grandmother, his parents and his wife Sherry and son Chase.
Sam has always grazed his dairy cows because it was the best way to keep up the health of his animals and their milk production balanced with cost and efficiencies. Lucky for us Sam Dobson figured this out just about the same time our business was growing so fast that we could no longer supply our wholesale customers with meat from animals grown on our own leased 290 acres. Sam had a know how, the equipment, and the land base available to finish steers consistently on 100% grass. Over the last ten year he has become a key partner in Hickory Nut Gap Meats production and forage chain supply. He is also plays the role of Livestock Coordinator and Consultant for the dozen other farmers who grow beef for our program.
He is passing along his farming and business acumen to his eight year old son as well. When we stopped by yesterday on our way back from a farming panel discussion in Virginia we found Chase out back taking care of his organic laying hens. He came to his dad last week announcing that he was looking for about four $10 investors to help pay the grain costs until his chickens started laying. The return on investment once they started laying is 2 dozen eggs. After admiring Chase’s operation and set up Jamie pulled a ten dollar bill from his wallet and gave it to Chase. He glowed and so did his mom and dad while we did some calculations about how much revenue he was looking at once he opened the farm stand to sell the eggs.
As far as I’m concerned I think Levi hit the nail on the head. Hobson Dobson is alive and well in the big city of 2000 acres called Dobson Farm. The only thing he missed was the dog’s name which is Freckles not Kheec.
Our house is nestled on a slope about 8 feet below a split rail fence. Right now all the lady cows are in Rutherford County finishing up the stockpiled grass from the farm we lease down there and the two bulls are grazing in the Chamomile Field which borders our yard. The bulls seem to get along with each other just fine since there aren’t any cute cows to show off for. The trees along the fence line help to keep their spirits up as it shields them from the rainy weather we’ve had recently.
It’s been a wet couple of weeks mostly marked by mud on our boots, red clay paths throughout the farm store, and the gnawing need to pour the concrete pad for the kitchen we are building at the farm. We try to wait patiently for the rain to stop, long enough to make mopping a worthwhile endeavor and to check for a forecast that suggests we might get something done in the near future. We overcame the urge to be productive one day last week and instead cuddled on the couch watching basketball and those hilarious Capital One and VW Passat commercials while discussing that the next feasible day to pour the pad would be in a week. So we would just have to wait regardless of what the google calendar plan I put together last week indicated. I am from Louisville, KY and Jamie’s from NC so basketball is something that both he, the kids and I do together during the month of March. It wasn’t SO bad to have to wait out the weather I guess. (Note: UL plays NC State on Friday night. Go CARDS!)
But while my mind was being swept away in basketball and how my bracket was performing, I kept having this unsettled sense that I was being watched. As I turned my head, slowly mind you, to see what could be out there, the bull- all 1500 lbs of him- was intently leaning over the split rail watching us through the bay window as if he wanted to come in to get warm and dry by the woodstove too! I looked at Nolin and said, ” Look, I think the bull wants to come inside.” He walked over to the door and said, “ok,” gauging my reaction and teasing me by turning the sticky handle of the door threatening to call the bull “co-um, cuu-uum”. Levi got on board with the idea and we considered where the bull might sit that Sunday afternoon and which team he would be pulling for. Par for the course with a discussion between two boys, ages 8 and 5, the question was also entertained, “what if he poops and pees in the house mom?” “That would be a disaster boys! [consider mopping that up I think] “lets just let him stay where he is, how about that?”
He’s there at the top of the pasture nearly every morning while we are getting ready for school. Maybe he appreciates the general chaos our household embodies ranging from indoor Nerf wars to celebratory win wrestling matches. (see below) I hope our family of five provides those two bulls with ample entertainment and peaks their curiosity about humans in general. I remember a time when it was final exam week at Warren Wilson and I was splitting my time between studying, two jobs, my friends and a functional amount of sleep, I would often drive back onto campus and pass the cows in the field wishing that I had a cows life of leisure. Some of those lady cows were nearing 10 years old at that point seeing them hanging out on Dogwood all day grazing and socializing spawned a jealously within. Free time was such a luxury in college and at times still is, but in that moment when my husband was home, my kids were all together and the game was on, I was happy to be on inside the looking out and even happier that the bull was on his side of the fence and not in my living room!