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Bavette Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Recipe Created by Ashley English of Small Measure.

You Will Need:
-1 Hickory Nut Gap bavette steak (or similar steak, such as skirt or flank)
-2 tablespoons neutral, high-heat cooking oil, such as light olive oil
-2 garlic cloves
-1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
-1 bunch cilantro
-1 bunch parsley, stems chopped off
-Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh oregano
-½ cup olive oil
-¼ cup sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar
-Juice of 1/2 lime
-A few dashes hot sauce
-1 teaspoon fine sea salt
-Several grinds black pepper

To Make:
1.Make the chimichurri sauce first. Mince the garlic very finely, then chop the coarse salt into it. Leave to sit and mellow for 20 minutes. Place all of the ingredients except steak and neutral oil in a food processor or blender. Pulse until saucy. Set aside.

2.Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the steak. Let sit, at room temperature, for at least 20 minutes.

3.Meanwhile, warm a large, heavy pan over high heat. Add the oil to the pan. Sear the steak for 2 minutes on each side, and then turn the heat down to medium.

4.Continue to turn the steak every couple of minutes, until desired doneness (depending on thickness and preference, this should take about 8-15 minutes). This is not a steak that should be cooked above medium. Medium-rare is perfect.

5.Let the steak sit for about 10 minutes, and then cut in thin strips, across the grain. Drizzle liberally with the prepared chimichurri and serve.

Sustainable Farming for Future Generations: The Hickory Nut Gap Story

Jamie Clarke, circa 1922

Hickory Nut Gap Farm began with a love story in the mountains in the year 1916, when newlyweds Jim and Elizabeth McClure visited Fairview during their honeymoon.

They were smitten with the beautiful Blue Ridge foothills and purchased historic Old Sherrill’s Inn, a way station for stagecoach travelers and cattle drovers built in the 1800s. Jim and Elizabeth spent their lives creating a vision of beauty and serving the WNC agricultural community through the Farmers Federation, an organization that pooled farmers’ resources and buying power for local markets.

Left to Right: Cyrus, Jamie, Nolin, Amy and Levi

Four generations later Jim and Elizabeth’s great grandson, Jamie Ager, met his sweetheart Amy Frey at Warren Wilson College. Jamie and Amy fell in love and embarked on a mission to share the family farm experience with the world and develop a sustainable farming model for future generations. In 2000, they began managing the farm, raising 100% grassfed cattle and pasture-raised pigs and chickens, as well as rearing their three sons, Cyrus, Nolin, and Levi.

Sam Dobson and son, Chase

The growth of the farm-to-table movement led to an increased demand for pasture-raised meats in the local Asheville market. While continuing his education in agriculture leadership at NC State, Jamie met Sam Dobson, an organic dairy farmer from Iredell County. The two determined that there was a need for farmers to work together to supply Asheville and surrounding areas with pasture-raised meats, forming a partnership that would later become the Hickory Nut Gap Meats wholesale company.

The Farm Store is just 20 minutes from Asheville

In 2006, Jamie and Amy opened up their land to the public by building the farm store. Built from poplar trees harvested on the family farm, the store has grown with the community over the years, offering fresh and frozen meats, local goods, and a growing meat CSA program. Eventually in 2015, Hickory Nut Gap Farm launched a Barnraiser campaign to fund the addition of a deli, bakery and butchery, which is open year-round to the community for shopping, lunch, and brunch.

Kids and adults alike can navigate the Corn Maze in the fall

Throughout the seasons, Hickory Nut Gap Farm offers an array of family-friendly events. May through October, folks can enjoy live music and dancing at Friday night barn dances, held in the rustic Big Barn. Through September and October, the Fall Festival gives families an opportunity enjoy the corn maze, buy local apples, go on hay rides, and more. Other events include the Renaissance Faire, Sausage Festival, stargazing events, and butchery classes. Foodies and fun-seekers alike can bring their appetites and families to experience farming first-hand anytime! Learn about current events on the farm.

pigs on pasture
Rotational grazing creates healthy soils and healthy pastures

Hickory Nut Gap is proud to be a leader in 100% grassfed and grass finished beef, pasture-raised pork, and pasture-raised chicken, and now works with over 30 farmers in the Southeastern United States. They are spearheading the regenerative agriculture movement by using a pasture-based farming model, following in the footsteps of brilliant minds such as Joel Salatin and Allan Savory to rebuild soil and reverse climate change. Hickory Nut Gap is sincerely driven in their heartfelt mission to support local farmers in a growing economy, and to connect customers to the food they consume.

“My fiance proposed over a dinner of HNG Porkchops” ~ Julia

Meet our farm General Manager, Julia Wolfe!

Q: What is your favorite HNG Product? 

Julia: HNG Bone-In Pork Chops!!

Q: Why is it special to you?

Julia: It’s special because of the heritage breeds of hogs we raise.  Berkshire and Duroc are known for the quality of their meat and fat…and because my fiance proposed over a dinner of HNG porkchops.

Q: What is your favorite way to prepare it? 

Julia: Salt and pepper and a hot cast iron pan, sear till golden on each side, basting with rendered fat 4-5 min a side.  Take out and let rest on a bed of fresh thyme with a knob of butter.

Rolled Up Pork Tenderloin

From Guest Blogger: Ann Araps Sitler- HNG Meats General Manager

Rolled Up Pork Tenderloin

I love my grill and am easily pleased by a simple salt and peppered 100% grassfed burger any day, but sometimes I feel the need to mix it up. Pork tenderloin is a favorite cut of mine… small enough for 2-4 people, delightfully tender, and fairly uniform in shape. The shape is what makes it fun to cook and present. It is surprisingly simple to filet it open, line it with seasonal goodies, and roll it up. The result is a beautiful spiral of meat, cheese, and anything else you please.

Rolled Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • 1 – 1 lb pork tenderloin
  • 1/3 cup chopped greens (spinach, watercress, kale, anything fresh)
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped or shredded cheese (Looking Glass Drovers Rd is a favorite)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions: Butterfly the pork tenderloin, leaving some space on either end to tuck (make a ½ inch deep cut 2” from the top of the pork tenderloin along one side down to 2” from the bottom or to the point where is starts to thin. Pull the tenderloin apart and continue to cut along the side until the whole thing laid out is ½” thick). Rub the outside with olive oil and salt and pepper. Pan sear or grill for 30 seconds/side on medium high heat. Remove from heat and set aside. Mix your greens, onions, garlic, and cheese. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the opened pork leaving 1” around the edge. Roll lengthwise, tuck in the ends, and tie with butchers twine. Grill for 20 minutes on low heat or bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Let it sit at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Play with all different types of fillings for your pork tenderloin. Some suggestions are apples and goat cheese in the fall, shredded beets and sweet potato in the winter, or garlic scapes and brie in the spring.

 

A Deviation From Farming

You may have read about my UL love, my hometown connection to Louisville and that we usually journey here at least four times a year to make sure that everything is relatively the same as it was from the time I was born until I left in my parents car to be dropped off at college. This, oh its so good to be around people who say Louavul everytime, visit has been beautifully balanced. So much so, that rather than feeling like a visitor coming back from out of town, my heart is happy with the feeling of home washing over me. The anchor of our visit was the KY Camp of Champions, hosted by Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, former UL basketball stars gone pro. Cyrus and Nolin didn’t take this opportunity lightly and realized that they have been in the presence of hard work and dedication for the past three days and that this is how you reach your dreams. This is the second year for the camp and rather than last years chips and salsa snack they stepped it up to burritos and hot dogs which was a super welcome boost to the insatiable 1o year old in our family. So naturally I’m thinking that we need to get some hot dogs and ground beef to these people so they are serving up some HNG goodness to 200 some kids each day the camp is happening and have made a note to myself for next year!  It’s a real family affair around the camp though, Russ Smith, Peyton, his wife, his adorable daughter and his father are all there helping out and making these kid’s day while teaching them basketball skills that will come in handy back in NC this winter for the boys. Alot of the team coaches are personal friends and former teammates of these guys and you get the feeling that you too are part of this basketball family during camp.

Russ Smith and the kids

The experience at basketball camp and with the guy who knocked on the door today at my sisters house selling math educational materials for children who is an exchange student from a country in Eastern Europe called Estonia aren’t actually all that different. It’s the connection to each other and to something greater than ourselves that we are all seeking. Its through these experiences that we choose to engage in each day where we find this place to relate.  I think this is what has been so fulfilling this week. It really is the small things, like walking from my parents house to Walgreens and finding that they have local craft beer, West 6th IPA, on the shelf which paired perfectly with 92 degrees and Ohio River Valley humidity and the fact that my sister already had some in her fridge knowing I was coming over when I finished up work.  The fact that my father, both my sisters, and brother in law work within a 1/2 mile radius from each other in what I call the Frey family business (Humana, ha) and that I can randomly call them while downtown to meet up for a Louisville Slugger Museum tour and to see my Dads 23rd floor corner office, is something I truly love. We noticed alot on the river that day out my fathers office window, the locks that help huge barges navigate the Falls of the Ohio where my grandfather once worked on the dam, the train bridge that elevates for the barges, and how the new bridge is going to look.

Gorgeous Day Dad explaining the bridge to the kids

It has taken me 37 years to appreciate this city. Actually, I think Lvl has become a really vibrant place, more so than it used to be or maybe it just skipped a few years between ’92-’96 when I was in high school. In ’78 my dad owned one of Lvl’s first skateboard shops, the Sidewalk Surf Shop, how cool is that! Well it was really cool until I was born and well, as alot of us can relate to, cool is no longer the highest priority once you have kids. Our main activity in high school was hanging out at Cherokee Park, camping at Red River Gorge and B&W photography, everywhere else we tried to hang out ended up not really working out if you know what I mean. Now a days, well maybe because I’m not in high school anymore, there are just so many things to appreciate about this city.  We now have a pop up food truck lot and our own Whiskey Row showcasing the states finest whiskey and bourbons on Main St. but I can’t help find a small bit of irony in the fact that at the end of whiskey row they give you a small souvenir bat after touring the Louisville Slugger Museum so everyone heading back up Main St is carrying one!

My sisters and my brother in law have taken off work this week so I could get two solid days of catch up work time in without kids. This has been huge! I wouldn’t of been able to leave this crazy adventure of a business I own for five days straight without their help, deviation vacation at its best here. The boys have been to the Science Center, across the walking bridge to Indiana on some type of three wheeled pedal cart, slip n sliding, swimming and out for pizza twice.  Friday we are getting fishing licenses and heading to rent a pontoon boat on Nolin Lake and to walk through Mammoth Cave for two hours Saturday morning for the true vacation of the week. I’ve driven the entire length of Wolf Pen Branch to avoid rush hour traffic while admiring all the houses and land I remember seeing from the back of my best friends fathers Suzuki with the top off as a kid when he would take us on a drive “in the country.” I have driven every interstate multiple times a day 265, 71, 264, and 64, literally going in circles to avoid traffic lights, to get my kiddos to camp on time. I have passed houses of old friends and places with many memories that were long buried in my mind and even went to an amazing yoga class with an old friend. I’ve known her since I was 8 years old and we are still in touch, all due to her efforts, as I tend to get lost and overwhelmed with what’s in front of me rather than whats behind these days. I can definitely say this was one of the most refreshing, as she put it, afternoons of my time here in the ‘ville. I kind of like the fact that there is another human being on this planet who has witnessed me as a friend for the past 29 years.  At this point our friendship has come full circle and its pretty amazing to have her in my life.

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I’m loving this connection to my hometown because even though we are settled in Fairview a big piece of my heart is in Lvl, with the rest of my family (seriously, I’m the only one not living here),  all those 600 people that I started high school with years ago, and everyone I have met on the periphery in between.  Family, cousins, basketball, and all this city has to offer will always keep Lvl in my heart as home and continue to deviate me from farming at least four times a year.

 

From the Farm Front

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.  nolinonuke

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. fieldandfamilywsam

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.

kitchen smokerview [Check out the smoker location back center wall!]

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.

amyandjamiecatawbadinner

 

Elle Early Appreciation Day

Elle Early and Grace McAbee
Elle Early and Grace McAbee

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.

Nanny
Nanny
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Clinnard

 

Ruth Suttles
Ruth Suttles

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.

The Man Behind Hobson Dobson

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.

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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.

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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.

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Can the Bull Come Inside?

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?”

bull

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!

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What ARE We Doing?

Jamie and I often ask this of each other when we are up in the middle of the night catching up on all the things we weren’t able to touch base about that day, taking advantage of the rare quietness in our house while the children are sleeping. The answers could be running two businesses, giving attention to our marriage, raising three boys, driving to basketball and soccer games, or building a kitchen at the farm. It could be gaining more gray hair and lines around the eyes, spending Sunday afternoons working on budgets and cash flow projections, loading pigs, or walking the farm waiting for the grass to grow. Or perhaps if we choose to take a long term scope, we may say to each other, building a grassfed beef and pastured pork brand, developing a regional production model of grass finishing that works in the Appalachian mountain region, raising food that people can trust, creating opportunities for young people in agriculture, serving our customers, and all in all trying to make things work, everyday, holding the pieces together- all of them, all of the time.

We are entrepreneurs, we are farmers, and we are a family. We are putting it all on the line because we think that taking the risk to build our family business is worth it, and we think based on what’s happened so far that you all will like it and that you will come here and to shop, play, and enjoy our farm as much as we do.   We want to create an atmosphere that’s intriguing and inviting — a place to hold your child’s birthday party, a wedding reception, your family reunion, where we will feed you meat raised on our farm, cooked in our kitchen, served by our dedicated staff who treat our business as if it were their own. We want you to think of HNG when you have a free afternoon with your children and you want to show them where their food comes from, what a farm feels like and while you hold their hand walking in the orchard share with them your own memories of your family farm when you worked alongside your grandfather as a child.

Jamie likes to say our mouth just isn’t big enough for the bite we are trying to take. Some days it does seem we are trying to down a half pound cheeseburger with all the fixins on a big sesame seed bun but if you sprinkle that with two days of big opportunities launched and task list accomplished you can, well, sleep at night.

The launch of our new website comes at another turning point as we have now, without realizing it really, arrived at our 15 year plan. This is why we ask ourselves what ARE we doing and how did this happen?  We spend our centered moments thinking through the best way to launch the next piece of our vision for Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Hickory Nut Gap Meats, and our family’s future.

We have plenty of ideas, believe me! There was a point in 2009 when our third son was born that I put a moratorium on new ideas, it became mandatory to only work on the things we had in motion and not add any more to our plate. However, now Levi is 5, Nolin 8, Cyrus 10, and we are gaining some space. They are helping out and interested in what’s next on the farm, and frankly, it’s so cool that they are because I can picture myself working next to my sons in the coming years and feeling so proud of them — that they care and that they may want to be a part of the movement too and that soon they will be the ones with a million ideas.

The next 15 years will be the second phase of raising our children, of our marriage, and of our business. I hope that we have spent our working hours so far laying a foundation that will carry our family and our vision to a place that serves our community what it needs to thrive.

Amy Ager

 

Direction

Repetition.

In farming we learn by repeating a process. Over and over and over again. We pay attention, we try to improve, we do the best we can with the time we have but the reality is that we never really reach perfection. There is always a more productive way to prune the berries, an easier way to move the pigs, a cleaner method of bedding the chicks…

We are constantly learning and trying to change based on experience and observation. We are constantly trying to become better farmers. And that process doesn’t end. That is an exciting part of farm work for me.

There’s always more to know. From visions of future building projects, all the way down to the biology of fungi in the orchard, I think I have learned something new every day that I’ve been working here at Hickory Nut Gap. My last day of work is Friday. My fiance and I are moving back to Chapel Hill where she will begin grad school and I will find a job doing…something. Now that my stint on the farm is almost over, I feel it is a good time to look back to the beginning.

I began writing this blog with a post on direction. I’ve thought on that theme quite a bit during my time here and I can’t say that I’ve come to any definitive answers on the topic. I have begun to realize that life doesn’t run in a straight line. It’s more like— a pig in an unfenced pasture. He can’t always see what’s beyond the next hill, but he will move from one good and interesting thing to the next and be perfectly content with ambling slowly along, rooting at whatever comes his way.

So maybe life has a little more direction and focused action than that. But it’s the contentedness that I think is admirable. Hickory Nut Gap is moving purposefully into the future, but, as a farm, there will always be new projects that crop up, unforeseen and unasked for. Those are usually the most fun, though. Or at least they are the projects where we learn the most.

I think it works the same way on an individual level, for me, anyways. I know certain things about the future and other things I am still figuring out. I’ve learned to accept that and to have a little patience during the trial and error period. Life is a series of trials and errors (mostly errors it seems at times), but that is how we move forward. I know that farming or gardening or working the land will always be part of what I do. I know that I want to be a good steward of the earth, I want to eat good food, I want to be a part of community. The details—those are up in the air.

Best,

Sweetbread

I Wish I Had Paid More Attention in Science Class

When I was a little kid I loved the Young Explorer version of National Geographic.  I loved the science shows like Kratt’s Creatures and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I loved learning about animals and plants and how they work. I would spend hours digging in the creek behind our house looking for salamanders, snails, and crawfish. Though I didn’t really know it at the time, I was conducting a scientific experiment when I took a toad out of the spring house and tried to raise him in a jar in my room by feeding him flowers.

I think lots of kids experience a fascination with the natural world- an absorption in the detail and mystery of life. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, science became dull. I struggled through high school biology and chemistry and then stayed as far from the hard sciences as I could in college. I stuck to history, English, sociology, things I felt that I could connect with more readily. I could get excited about a great book, but not about a new element in the periodic table.

Now that I work on a farm, I only wish I could have retained more of my childhood interest in the sciences. I wish I would have taken biology in college, even if I’d gotten terrible grades. I constantly feel as if I’m having to learn scientific principles backwards. When we encounter a disease in the pigs, I have to identify symptoms then possible origins then I have to research the science to try and understand how to prevent those illnesses in the future.

In the orchard, everything is connected. The bacterial and microbial life, the insects, animals, weather conditions, apple tree age and health… it all interacts in complex and beautiful ways. Understanding at least some of those relationships is crucial in order to make it to September with a decent crop of apples. Right now, for instance, I am thinking about Apple Scab. This disease produces blackened and rotting spots on the leaves and fruit of apple trees. If an orchard is highly infected, much of the fruit is inedible or falls to the ground before ripening.

Notice a little scab on these apples in a painting from 1824 by James Peale

We of course want to prevent that from happening. But it’s not as easy as knowing what to spray on the trees, we also have to know when. That means we have to know a little bit about the cellular activity and reproduction cycle of the disease. We have to understand how temperatures and moisture levels affect the initial release of fungal spores and what organic options we have to try and counteract that release. It’s all science.

I don’t know why it wasn’t more interesting to me in high school, I just know that if I had paid a little more attention, I might not feel so lost when I come across questions like: What is the probability of ascospore release this week…?

Best,

Sweetbread