Friday, September 23, 2011

Know Your Farms Tour 2011

This past weekend, we packed up the family and headed out to visit some local farms on the Know Your Farms Annual Tour.  This annual event it organized by Know Your Farms, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group that helps bring locally grown food to local customers.  If you haven’t heard of it, be sure to check out their website for information on how you can support area farmers and serve your family fresh, healthy food.

There are over 30 farms on the tour, some open on Saturday and some on Sunday.  You purchase a car pass for $25 which is good for both days.  Obviously, you can’t see every farm on the tour, but they provide information about each farm and area maps so you can plan out a route that most interests you.  We figured with a 2 year old in tow, we’d make it to maybe 4-6 farms total.  We ended up making it to 2 per day, but that was only because we were having so much fun at the first farms, we could barely tear ourselves away to go to the next one.

We started our adventure at Stowe Dairy Farm in Gastonia. They raise all natural grass-fed beef, and grow sorghum cane (molasses – yum!) and Christmas Trees.  They are also the nicest folks you will meet!  We spent almost 2 hours there learning about their farm and meeting the cows, chickens, and goats.  


The highlight for our daughter Sarah Beth had to be her first marshmallow roasting experience.  Although the delicious homemade sorghum cookies were a close second.   


I think Kurt was ready to move into the old chicken coop and stay awhile.  It was so peaceful and welcoming there, I may not have protested too much.  We left with new friends, delicious beef, and eggs fresh from the chicken that morning.  We can't wait to go back after Thanksgiving and pick out our Christmas tree!

We finally dragged ourselves away to see the next farm on our route, Lewis Farms, also in Gastonia.  We got a little lost thanks to my navigation skills so we got there very late in the day, but it was worth the trip.  The farm sits in the back of this residential neighborhood, so you would never guess it was out there.  Kurt kept asking, “are you sure this is the right way?” until we made the turn and poof, there’s the farm.  Sarah Beth met her first horse there.  She’s a little too young for pony rides, but she sure did like patting the sweet horse’s nose. 

She also saw some barn cats, which thrilled her since she’s never seen a cat up close before.  I am crazy allergic to cats so one will never darken our doorstep in my lifetime, but she thought they were cute.  Lewis Farm grows pork, and they had some monster pigs there for us to gawk at.  Pigs do not oink, by the way.  I don't know who came up with that, but the guttural grunting that they do sounds nothing like "oink."  My daughter used to say oink when asked what a pig says, now she makes some god-awful snorting sound that is quite hilarious. 

 There were some little piglets that just appeared out of the cornfield while I was taking pictures.  They were so cute, but not interested in making friends, as they fled when I got closer.  Incidentally, they didn't oink either, more like "whee whee whee" likethey do in This Piggy Goes to Market.  At least someone got it right.  Speaking of pigs, we walked away with some scrumptious pork sausage to cook up for Sunday breakfast. (Sorry fellas!)

Speaking of breakfast, let me share how other-wordly fresh eggs are.  We normally buy the organic, free-range, and whatever else eggs at the Harris Teeter, but after tasting a fresh egg, those pale in comparison literally and figuratively.   

Here are some egg facts we learned on the tour:  (1) Eggs can last in the fridge up to 5 months (2) Eggs you buy at the grocery store have already been sitting around for 45 days.  (3) Fresh egg yolks float in the middle of the egg.  Older egg yolks settle on the side of the shell because the liquid starts to evaporate.  The fresh eggs we scrambled Sunday morning were much yellower in color and the taste was so rich and delicious it tasted like we poured half & half in the egg mix.  Simply delicious.  As was the sausage.  It was a lovely start to Farm Tour Day Two.

Our first stop was Mary L Farms, an organic dairy farm run by the Parker family in Mt Ulla.  They sell the milk from their 185 cows to Organic Valley.  We knew we were in the right place when we saw this:

 And once we got there we saw this:

 Baby cows!  Is there anything cuter than a baby cow?  Seriously.  Those big brown eyes and long eyelashes were irresistible.  The milk truck was there when we arrived which was cool to see - this big shiny tanker truck driving through the farm. 

After polishing off a few hot dogs and hamburgers, we joined a tour of the farm.   

We saw the milking room, which was sparkling clean and more state-of-the-art than I could have imagined.  I wasn’t thinking bucket and stool, but I sure didn’t know that it was all computerized, down to microchipped cows and low milk level detection.  The farmer’s 16 year old daughter explained that they milk the cows at 3PM and 3AM.  She and her mom do the 3PM shift and her dad, older sister, and brother in law do the 3AM shift.  Next time your kid complains about having to do the chores, remind them that at least they don’t have to milk the cows.  The funny thing is, you could tell these daughters really had a passion for the farm. The family loves their cows and they work so hard to produce a quality product for our families to drink.  As I mom of a big milk drinker, I appreciate that.
Then we headed down to the barn to see the ladies:

 Despite being a barn, it felt clean and organized and there weren't any flies buzzing about as I would have imagined.  Don't get me wrong, it smelled like cow but not what I'd expect nearly 200 cows to smell like.  They all seemed pretty happy too.  Eat. Sleep. Poop. Moo.  Humor the occasional visitor with a sloppy lick.  Sarah Beth thought the cows were great.  She now understands that the milk we give her comes from cows. Every morning, she says "Milk, please Cows....Mooooooo."  Pretty cute.

This friendly farm dog wanted to play ball with everyone.   I think he was getting a little tired out by this point.

The last stop on our tour was another late one since we enjoyed our time so much at Mary L.   We got to KC Farms in Mooresville just in time to take the last tractor ride.   This place was beautiful.  Like what you’d imagine a farm to be.  Pretty farm house, white barns, rolling hills with cattle mooing in the distance and horses in the pasture.  


 This was the first farm where we got to see the “garden” as the farmer called it.  A little bigger than our backyard box garden, for sure.

They also raise cattle and use some of their land for horse boarding stables.  You can see some of the residents saying hello.

My daughter was most impressed by Oreo, the sweet Dalmatian who licked her hand through the fence.  As soon as we’d set her down on the ground, she’d make a bee line for the “doggie.” 
We had to say “bye-bye doggie" but left with our hands full of sweet potatoes, kale, and a few baked goods that Kurt was kind enough to take off their hands.  As Kurt was strapping SB into her carseat, I stopped to take a few more pictures and heard the farmer’s young daughter calling the cattle for supper.  They mosied on over to the trough, mooing with anticipation.  It was a neat thing for this city slicker to see.

Watch the video:

Know Your Farms Tour 2011 from Jennifer Fagan on Vimeo.

This weekend gave me a glimpse of the life of a farmer.  It is a brave way of life.  We complain if lack of rain turns our lawn brown, but for a farmer, it could destroy your livelihood.  A bug could kill your crops.  An illness could sicken your cows.  I also noticed how friendly, well-spoken, and knowledgeable these farmers and their families were.  The kids we met were so outgoing and smart.  Pitching in to help is just how it is growing up on a farm.  We saw the happiness of a little girl running across a pasture to meet some horses and were touched by the simple joy in the moment.  We heard stories of how flexible you have to be as a farmer. How you need to diversify and plan for potential disasters well ahead.  How important it is to know both the latest technology available as well as the old methods their great-grandparents used; know when to use which and how to marry the two.
I'll never look at food I eat quite the same way.  I'll think about the farmer who milked the cow or planted the seeds to grow what's on my plate.  I have a much stronger desire to eat local, to know how my food was raised and understand what I'm feeding my family.  We're already looking forward to visiting new farms next year.  I hope you'll join us!