by Cynthia Rosenfeld
Editor’s Note: Cynthia Rosenfeld is a current resident of Todd and a former reporter for The Roanoke Times.
July 4, 2014. In a 2013 survey by the American Humane Association, 89 percent of Americans said that they would prefer to eat meat that was raised humanely. In a 2014 survey by Cone Communications, 77 percent of respondents said they are concerned that their food be produced in a sustainable manner and 74 percent preferred local products.
For people living in the western mountains of North Carolina, there are several humane and healthy options from which to choose.
Every year since 2007, the High Country Farm Tour has allowed the community to tour the local farms of Ashe and Watauga Counties. This year, participants were able to learn about the farming practices of more than 20 farms. Participants learn about natural types of pest control and how to use “chicken tractors” to fertilize and till the land. Visitors on the tour can pet the livestock, watch them wander around large pastures, learn what the animals are fed and how they are cared for during the cold, and depending on the farm, even learn the names and stories of many of the animals.
The face-to-face interaction with local farmers provides community members the rare opportunity to make purchases based on informed view of their production. Professor Christof den Biggelaar, faculty at Appalachian State University (ASU) in the Sustainable Development Department, says that the most important aspect of buying one’s groceries is to “know who grows your food.”
Den Biggelaar recommends that community members attempt their own backyard gardens to produce some essentials for the home. To start, den Biggelaar recommends herb gardens, spinach and lettuce. For other produce and meats, den Biggelaar suggests visiting local farmers’ markets which he says are often not more expensive than the organic options in supermarkets and accepts EBT. An additional cost-saving option is buy from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, like the High Country CSA which also accepts EBT/SNAP and offers discounts to low income individuals through their Cost Share Program.
In addition to supporting the local economy and having an awareness of what one is consuming, some people claim the natural foods and humanely-raised meats taste better.
“I think there actually is a difference in the taste,” said den Biggelaar. “You are what you eat, and you are what they [livestock] eat.”
Not only do the animals’ diets affect the taste of their meat, but free-range animals are exposed to sunlight and have a greater muscle tone, which can affect the taste and texture of the meat.
Below are a few highlights from the tour:
Highland Meadows Cattle Co. is a self-proclaimed “farm for wayward cows” in Lansing. Dedicated to raising cattle humanely, Tim and Carolyn Miller have 140 acres where their 70 Highland cattle, known for having less fat and more nutrients than other breeds, run and roam as they please. All cattle are free of added hormones and fed vegetarian diets. The Millers sell their meat at the store next to their house and at the Ashe County Farmers’ Market. To learn more about Highland Meadows Cattle Co, find them on Facebook for visit their website at www.HighlandMeadowsCattle.com.
Heritage Homestead is a 17-acre, free-roaming goat farm that specializes in feta, Nathans Creek gouda and chevre cheeses. Carol and Lon Coulter have 40 goats, 20 of which are used for milking. Each goat is milked twice daily, producing about 1.5 gallons. The goats willingly line up to be milked, and like children, they prefer to be standing next to their best friends. The Coulters sell their cheeses at Ashe County Cheese and local farmers’ markets, and products can be found in several local restaurants. For more information, visit their website at www.heritagehomestead.net.
Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Teaching & Research Farm at ASU is a working farm where students get hands-on experience growing and producing farm products including herbs, fruits, vegetables and livestock. Under the watchful eye of the panel that ensures the ethical treatment of animals for research (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees), students and faculty try new farming methods and experiment with innovations. Products are sold through the Blowing Rock Produce and Provisions, New River Organic Growers, Sustainable Development CSA and at the farm. Visit www.sd.appstate.edu/teach-research-farm for more information.
New Life Farm, located in Boone, is in its third growing season producing certified organically grown vegetables, pork and poultry as well as turkeys for the holiday season. Cory and Jenny Bryk are first-generation farmers dedicated to providing their community with food that is healthy, sustainably grown and humanely produced. Combining technical skill and an informed view of ecological processes, the Bryks minimize their farm’s impact on the environment. For example, they use a “cool bot” technique that tricks a small wall unit air conditioner into thinking it’s actually a walk-in cooler. New Life Farm’s products can be found in several local restaurants, Blowing Rock Produce and Provisions, the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, and New Life Farm CSA. For more information, find them on Facebook or visit their website at www.newlifefarmnc.com.
Horse Helpers of the High Country is a horse rescue facility that cares for abused, abandoned and seized horses from five counties. With 50 acres, the farm is large enough to comfortably home 13-15 horses at a time. Horses live at the farm until a suitable adoption match has been made, receiving veterinary care and being trained and socialized during their stay. Any Hudnall, the manager of Horse Helpers, is a licensed equine investigator and also teaches at ASU, finding creative ways to engage her students with the horses. In addition to horses, the farm raises heritage breeds of chicken. Currently, they are raising Icelandic Chickens of which there are only about 3,000 left in the world, with hopes of bringing them back from the brink of extinction. Horse Helpers of the High Country is sustained through community donations. For more information, please visit www.horsehelpersnc.org.
Other farms on this tour were: Faith Mountain Farm, Zydeco Moon, Landmark Farm Alpacas, Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm, A Berry Patch Farm, The Farm at Mollies Branch, Fog Likely Farm, Hospitality House of Boone, F.A.R.M. Cafe’s The Garden Spot, FIG Farm, Waxwing Farm, Lively Up Farm, Apple Hill Farm, Against the Grain and Nelson Family Farm.
For more information on eating humane, sustainable and organic local foods, please visit www.buyappalachian.org/listing/high-country-csa.