We are so lucky to live in a region where we literally live next to a remarkable group of small farmers who care deeply about providing people with nutritious, organic produce and meat. North Carolina, and in particular Chatham and Orange Counties, are in a unique position of actually having an increase in small farming, instead of most of the country, which has seen a decrease in sustainable agriculture.
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), which has been helping these small farmers since 1979, will be holding the 19th annual Piedmont Farm Tour April 26-27, from 2-6pm each day. This is your chance to go out and meet farmers in person and see the incredible and creative ways they are growing your food! This year’s tour includes almost 40 farmers, and costs just $25 per carload of people. Please refrain from bringing your dogs/cats with you, though.
I have toured many farms this way in the past, and have always been impressed with the passion our farmers have for growing things in a sustainable and nurturing way. And isn’t it better for everyone when we can eat food that was so lovingly grown? This is a great way to teach your children where their food comes from!
Take Beausol Gardens in Chatham County, for example. Owners Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail LeBlanc use a system of planting and growing called biodynamic farming. The basic concept of biodynamics, which was developed in the 1920′s by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, is to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem. The system follows moon cycles and astrological signs to determine when to plant and when to harvest certain plants. The system divides plants up into root plants, fruit plants, and above ground plants. By following this system, many of the plants grow faster and more robustly than those that do not follow the system.
The farm was originally a cotton farm back in the 1940′s and was later abandoned. The soil was depleted from overuse, so it took several years to get the soil back in good shape.
Another farm I toured in the past was Captain J. S. Pope’s Farm in Cedar Grove. Pulling up to a pretty farm-house in the middle of acres of gentle, rolling, grass-lined hills, I was excited to get to see lots of little lambs. This farm has been in the family for several generations and was started in 1859 as a tobacco farm (actually, the farm was started in 1806, but came to the Pope family in 1859). The farm grew tobacco and corn until just nine years ago, when the family decided to try something completely different. The family raises meat sheep, and have about 250 sheep right now. Of course, the lambs are raised for their meat, but though they live short lives, they are well taken care of and roam freely all around the 75-acre farm.
Maple Spring Gardens, also located in Cedar Grove, is another very impressive organic farm. Farmer/owners Ken Dawson and Libby Outlaw are long-time farmers. Ken started full-time farming in 1984, but has been growing organically since the 1970′s and was selling produce to Whole Foods (then called Wellspring) as early as 1981. They bought the 61-acre farm in Cedar Grove in 1990. The farm had been a tobacco farm and the soil was very depleted, so he spent many years rebuilding the soil.
Ken has a great diversity of crops (over 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables) and is constantly moving things around to continue to keep the soil fertile. He grows things like cowpeas to draw off stink bugs near the tomato plants. He grows buckwheat to attract the bees, and also to lure the fruit worms away from the tomatoes.
This farm also has a photovoltaic array 4.73 kW ground mount system that consists of 22 panels, installed by a Chapel Hill based company, Strata Solar. The system is used to power the farm’s water pump, produce coolers and greenhouses.
In addition to the farm tours, CFSA helps farmers learn about organic methods of farming, and other sustainable farming practices. The organization advocates for farmers, encouraging changing agriculture laws and regulations to help local and organic small and mid-sized farms.