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Some Thoughts On Death

When school groups come to the farm for field trips, I’ve noticed that, among the parents and teachers, there exists one of two ideologies about the kids’ farm education. When we take the youngsters up to see the baby chicks or the calves and piglets, the question of longevity inevitably comes up. “What happens to them when they grow up?”, “Where are all the mommy pigs?”, “Why do you keep them inside pens?”… When these sorts of investigations arise, I always take a glance at the parents to see how graphic I need to be. Can I use the word slaughter? That is only for the most extreme (often those alternative outdoor experimental schools). Can I talk about hamburgers and bacon? Sometimes the parents react more strongly to this than the kids.

On other occasions, the teachers are gung-ho about delving into the steak-ness of a cow. The other day I was leading a group of third graders through the farm tour and their teacher wouldn’t let up. During our visit to each of the animal pens he pressed the kids about what meat that creature was good for. By the end of the field trip I was surprised that the kids weren’t looking at each other and trying to figure out what the most tender cut of human would be.

Truth is, I don’t really appreciate either of these mentalities in the chaperones. I think that an over exuberance about the end product misses the point just as completely as an inability to talk about the difference between a beef cow and a dairy cow. I think the parents can learn just as much as their kids from a trip to the farm. What I know about small scale farming is that all the details have to be intimately connected in order to sustain a healthy system. Whenever Jamie leads a farm tour, he talks a lot about biodiversity. We are trying to mimic a kind of natural biodiversity in which plants, animals, fungi, lichen, bacteria… all work together. If we focus too much on one part of the system then we blind ourselves to the beauty and intricacy of the whole.

We don’t raise animals just for meat. That is a part of what we do. But we also manage our cows on pasture in such a way as to increase the nutrient density in the soils, prevent erosion, protect from drought, and encourage other pasture critters to thrive. We put our hogs on land overgrown with multiflora rose and scrubby trees that we hope to turn into pasture after a time. We keep our goats out on poison ivy and privet control. A local bee-keeper has several hives around the farm to help pollinate our fruit trees and pasture flowers. While it’s important to acknowledge that the animals do die and that they provide us with delicious, fresh meat, it’s equally important to understand that the animals are an imperative part of the farm ecosystem. Not just in their death, but in the way that they live and interact with all the other forces that are in the constant flux of birth, growth, and death.

I know that’s a lot to take in for a third grader. It’s a lot to take in for an adult! That is what agri-tourism is all about, though. I hope that at least some of that will make it through to the folks who come visit this place, or any farm for that matter.

Sweetbread

Soil and Sacrament: Book Review

I recently finished reading Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, a new book written by my cousin-in-law, Fred Bahnson. Fred is director of the Food, Faith, & Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He and his wife Elizabeth, live on a small homestead in Transylvania County, NC with their three sons.

Soil and Sacrament is a deeply personal account of Fred’s search for a life of faith, community, and work. It is also a beautiful study of the way in which food and spirituality are profoundly and inextricably connected. Fred visits several food-and-faith communities throughout the book and finds that “soil work reveals the joyful messiness of human life…”

I like thinking of farming as a representation of a spiritual truth as well as a reality in its own right. Everything on a farm or in a garden is so profoundly interconnected that the work does force us to pay close attention to each component in order to sustain the health of the whole system. I know that the only way for me to maintain a healthy outlook regarding work, and to maintain a healthy ecosystem within the farm, is to meditate on the relationships that exist there without assuming certain truths that may, at first seem self-evident. Fred’s book made me realize that the communities of grasses, fungi, animals, and trees on the farm are, in many ways, similar to the communities of people that live here. There are interactions in the natural spaces that mirror those in the human ones and are mirrored again on a spiritual level.

I found great pleasure in reading Fred’s book, not only because of the interesting stories he tells, but because his writing is beautifully crafted. The depth of thought and intentionality that drives the book is so apparent in every page. I also know firsthand that Fred is a masterful gardener and his knowledge of the actual work about which he writes gives that much more credibility to his prose.

You can pick up a copy of Soil and Sacrament, as well as Fred’s other book, Making Peace with the Land, at the farmstore. I definitely recommend that you do! (wow, this feels just like a grade school book report only, I enjoyed doing this one. Funny how you can’t stand something until you age out, then you wish you could go back and do it again!)

Sweetbread.

Walking

So, I’m thinking of buying a car. This will be the first vehicle I’ve ever owned and part of me is sad that I won’t be forced to walk everywhere anymore. It may have made my life a little more difficult at times, but there was something grounding (literally and figuratively) about not being able to just jump in the car whenever I felt like it. The pace of my day moved a little slower. I had to think ahead and build in 15 or 20 minute to everything I did to account for time spent walking to and from each event. Most of all, I love walking to work. The house that I rent now is only ten minutes from the farm on foot. I like the walk to work in morning when I can think about the day ahead and enjoy the beauty of the waking world around me. I like the walk home in the evening, too, when I can let my body stretch after a long day and maybe dunk in the stream by my house to cool off from a hot afternoon.

I saw a statistic the other day that only two percent of Americans walk to work. Two percent! I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’m proud to have been a part of that small number, even if I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

I still probably walk several miles at work every day. I guess I just like how connected my day feels when it isn’t broken into separate categories by a commute or a significant distance. I’m moving to a new house in November. My roommate is getting married and I won’t be able to afford the rent by myself. I’ll no longer be able to walk everywhere I need to go. That prospect has made me realize that I’m so blessed to live in a place where my community, my work, and my family are so closely intertwined. I can just as easily walk to my parent’s house as I can to my best friend’s, or my job. Walking allows me to know very intimately what those distances are and what lies in between. It makes me pay attention to things that I normally wouldn’t; the ripening of berries in the summer, the daily change of color in the leaves of an old sycamore, the way the clouds move across the sky at night. It makes me aware of my own limitations and also of my own capabilities. I can make it to certain places but only within a relatively small radius of home. I can get rides of course, but that only makes me more aware of my dependence on my friends and community.

I hope that this new drive (only about 8 minutes by car) doesn’t make me less attuned to my sense of place or community. I know it may sound silly, but I think a thing as simple as that will have an effect on the way I perceive my home and my place on the farm. I guess it is a step away from the farm. I’m still not sure what it is toward, but I hope that whatever it is, I will be able to hold on to the lessons I have learned here from a life that moves at the speed of my own two feet.

best,

Sweetbread

My little house. I’m moving out at the end of October and I’m sad to say goodbye.

Germans, Brazilians, Farviewians, and Pirates

Last summer we had a fellow working with us from northern Germany named Thies Winkelmann. Thies was a great worker and unfailingly cheerful. He loved to work hard and he loved to drink beer. He also loved to grill. Not just any kind of grilling, though, he loved Churasco. Churasco is a Brazilian style barbeque for which the meat must be brined at least a day in a tub filled with salt, onion, garlic, lemon, rosemary, bay leaves and assorted ground spices. Thies made Churasco for the farm crew several times during his summer here and would get excited just thinking about the succulent grilled meat. He gave us the recipe, but all the measurements were for 20lbs of meat, enough to feed 40 people! Of course, on our first attempt, we decided to double it.

The Fairview Feast is an event that we hold every summer here on the farm. Originally it was conceived because we’d joked about how much fun it would be to attend a medieval feast. Drinking from goblets, ripping into crusty loaves of bread and tender drumsticks, cheering loudly and making enthusiastic toasts and huzzahs, what more could you want from a meal? Our first year, we held the feast in August on a hill overlooking the farm. We slaughtered a goat the day before and spent all day roasting the meat, baking bread, and apple pies, and setting up tables and benches in our spot. After that The Feast became a tradition, each successive event more boisterous than the last. Each Feast also has a theme: medieval, roman, barbarian… This year we went with pirates. The Buccaneer Banquet.

Because it was such a busy summer for the crew, we decided to make The Feast a more low key event. It went down this past weekend without too much fanfare, but plenty of rousing cheers.  We stocked up meat from the employee boxes for several months and, on Thursday night, made enough Churasco brine for 40 lbs of meat. It sat in a big cooler in the fridge for two days and when we took it out to put on the grill, the aroma of rosemary and garlic were wonderfully strong.

I’m not an expert at the grill. I always seem to run the thing too hot and burn the meat, or else I keep too few coals and it takes forever. On Saturday though, it all came out perfectly. The meat had soaked for so long that it was tender and bursting with flavor. I’ve never been good at planning far enough ahead to marinate meat that I’m cooking for myself, but after tasting that Churasco, I know I’ll start. Even though it rained all day Saturday, we had a good crowd come out in their swashbuckling garb and we devoured all but a few pieces of the meat we prepared plus a variety of vegetable dishes that people brought and some good home brews. Folks from Fairview certainly know how to have a good time, even in the rain.

Here’s the recipe, though you may have to scale it down based on how many people you’re trying to feed. Truth is, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble getting rid of any leftovers!

Shiver me timbers!

Sweetbread

Turkey Jargon

As an aspiring farmer, educator, and writer, I thought it might be a nice component of this blog to include a vocabulary section. This is as much for my own edification as for anyone else’s. There are just so many interesting words involved with farming that most people will never have the pleasure of learning. I love the feel of some words, the taste as they leap from the tongue. Some match their subject, while others are confusing in their possession of some characteristic completely opposed to the thing they describe. Every vocation and hobby has its own jargon; a vocabulary that is specific to the needs and desires of those individuals who deal with a certain set of problems and tools on a regular basis. Farming may encompass several sets of terminology because farmers deal with such a wide range of daily tasks nevertheless, there are certain words that I’ve come across during my work here at Hickory Nut Gap that are just too good to keep hidden within the farming community.

Here are my words for today: Caruncle, Wattle, and Snood. These words sound like they came from a Dr. Suess book but they are real terms for the anatomical aspects of turkeys! The snood is the protuberance that hangs from over the male turkey’s beak. This fleshy finger is supposed to have a function in attracting females. The wattle, or dewlap, is the red flap that hangs under the beak. It also is an ornament which the toms (male turkeys) use to attract the hens. Caruncle simply refers to all the fleshy bits that hang from a turkey’s head and neck, including the snood and wattle.

Turkeys that are competing for a mate will often defer to the Tom with the longest snood.

I find these words perfectly suited to the curiously endearing birds that we raise once a year. The turkeys are vastly superior to their fowl (foul) counterparts, the chickens. They are intelligent, they are great foragers and every time we move their pen they rush into the new grass to delve for bugs, berries and seeds. They make strange clicking and barking noises that morph into full blown gobbling as they mature (actually only the males gobble). Every time we drive up with feed, they rush to the fence barking excitedly, and mill around as we empty the feed into troughs. They are not so interested in the grain as they are in us and the noise we make driving up. Walker, Zach, and I have contemplated the idea that maybe the reaction is a form of protection. If any predator approached the pen only to find 380 barking turkeys advancing on them, it might just make them forget their hunger. In fact, one day a few weeks ago, someone forgot to turn on the electric fence that encompasses our turkey house. When one of the fall interns, showed up with the feed, the turkeys were so excited that they rushed her and, finding no significant deterrent, knocked down the fence and chased the poor girl back down the hill! They’re not even fully mature birds yet.

Young turkeys attacking the comfrey that grows in the orchard.

Here’s to wattles and snoods,

Sweetbread

Fall Field Trips

Hickory Nut Gap will host school field trips throughout the fall season. Tuesday through Friday there are two time slots; 9-10:30 or 10:30-12, for classes to come out and learn about the farm. We can accommodate groups of any age group or size. The cost is only $5 per student and chaperone and no cost for teachers. Call 628-1027 or email Ann Araps at [email protected] to set up a time and date for a class to come out.

Curriculum for these trips may vary based on the size and grade level involved. The kids will have an opportunity to learn about a variety of farm animals and plants; from calves and baby chicks, to apples and blueberries. Students will also get to sample some of the apple varieties that we have available. After the farmer lead portion of the field trip, classes will have access to one of our picnic areas for lunch and then are welcome to stay and enjoy the other activities on the farm like the corn maze and the nature trail.

ASAP Farm Tours

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project Farm Tours –  are happening September 21st and 22nd. Hickory Nut Gap will be one stop along the way. Don’t miss your chance to get a full tour of the farm from Owner, Jamie Ager. Tours will be going on all afternoon from 1pm until 5pm. The day’s festivities will also include free samples of some of our beef, pork, and chicken products, and the opportunity to shop in the farmstore after the tour. Cost for the ASAP farm tours is $25 per carload for the entire weekend. If you wish to access Hickory Nut Gap admission areas after the tour we are still charging regular admission for access to the rest of the farm activities.

If you’ve never been on a Hickory Nut Gap tour before, you’ll learn a little history, a little biology, and a whole lot about cows. You’ll get the full scoop on how we run our farm and what we’re passionate about. You will also have a chance to ask any questions you may have about our meat and our farming practices.  Tours will last roughly 45 minutes and you should be sure to bring close-toed shoes and comfortable walking attire. The Local Joint, a down home Fairview eatery, will be selling hot meals for those who fancy a bit to eat as well.  

Visit the Farm this Fall

Bring the whole family out to the farm for a day and enjoy all your favorite Ag-tivities along with a bunch of new additions this year like the giant culvert slides and the kiddy-cart. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for kids on weekends and $1 off those prices during the week. Whether you want to spend an hour, or the whole afternoon tromping around the farm, we like to let all our visitors get in touch with their inner kid. Farm hours run from 9 am to 6 pm 7 days a week.

Come play on the hay pile, or ride the trikes through the barn, pet the baby calves and watch the piglets and turkeys root through their pens, take a short hike on our nature trail and learn the names of some of the native plants, stumble your way through the corn maze, or visit the U-pick pumpkin patch. On the weekends we have pony rides available. There will also be food trucks serving up a variety of tasty meals for weekend visitors. There is no place like the farm to be a kid, to romp and let loose the worries of a busy life. Come on out and see for yourself!

Slowing Down

I’ve had the strongest craving recently for applesauce. There’s something about the pure, unsweetened stuff that I just can’t get enough of. The fall may be the busiest season on the farm, but we still get a few chances to check the pace and enjoy a leisurely morning now and again. With another big farm wedding on Saturday (my cousin Elspeth Hamilton and her fiancé Gabe hosted yet another beautiful ceremony and rockin’ reception at the Sherrills Inn on Saturday), I took a few hours in the morning to remember some of the flavors of fall.

My Girlfriend, Asia, and I went out and picked a few HNGF organic apples early, while the dew was still thick in the orchard clover. We grabbed some Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and several Cortlands for good flavor variety. The organic apples may not look nice, they  may have a few spots and bumps and blemishes, they may resemble the apples you see on abandoned old trees beside the road, but they taste fantastic! I’m partial to the Cortlands for baking because they are a well balanced mix of tart and sweetness, and because my mom always used them. The Goldens are especially good this time of year when they hold just a hint of tang and haven’t yet gotten the mushy texture that they’ll develop later in the season. The Jonathans are especially juicy and add a nice red color in baking.

We spent the morning dicing apples, making tea, and whipping up some good lard and butter biscuits. We boiled our apples a bit longer than the normal sauce maker might (I like my apple sauce thick, more akin to the consistency of apple butter) and pressed them in to a bowl with the saucer. A little cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground clove and we had ourselves a breakfast.

I think I like fall for its color, for the nice weather, for its holidays. I like fall because the sky seems a little bluer, I like the crunchy sound of fallen leaves and the clear, crisp nights that hint of winter. I like fall a lot, but I LOVE APPLES! Apple pie, sauce, butter, tarts, strudel, german apple pancakes, baked apple, apples with pork, cabbage apple salad, or just plain apples!

It’s a shameless plug but; come out to the farm and get started on your fall cooking. There’s no better time now that we’re open until 6pm everyday! You can visit our facebook page to see what apple varieties are available and other cool events going on at the farm.

Fall On the Way!?

It’s hard to believe that fall is nearly upon us. For some reason I don’t feel like summer ever really hit. I suppose there were some hot days, but I just don’t remember enduring very many of those muggy, scorching afternoons that often characterize summer here in Fairview. Heck, I think I only got sunburnt twice this year, and that’s saying something for a pale guy like me. I’m not implying that I mind. The cool weather has been great, but it’s hard to imagine that summer is really nearing completion.

Here on the farm we’re gearing up for the fall season; always busy one for us. We’ve been clearing out the big old dairy barn and rebuilding the baby animal pens. We’ve got baby calves, turkeys, piglets, and goats moved into their new homes. The apples, what crop we have, are ripening in the orchard, and we’ve picked a few bushels of organic Jonagolds, Golden Delicious, and Cortlands to sell at the store. Organic apples may not look as nice as their conventional counterparts, but they sure taste great, especially the Jonagolds, I’m a big fan! I’ve spent so much time in the orchard this spring watching and spraying and hoping and praying, that now it is almost painful for me to discard any of the blemished and scabby apples. Most of those will go to making cider, but some are too far gone even for that. In those cases I find myself eating all the parts that are still good and making myself sick from too much apple. I think I’ve eaten the equivalent of ten or twelve apples during the past few days.

The pumpkin patch is looking a little rough for all the rain, but still struggling along. We’ve also been working on a History Timeline of Hickory Nut Gap that will go up in our education barn for this fall season.The first weekend in September has traditionally been our opening for the fall season and that was this past weekend, so that means the fall season is open! In addition to apples, and baby animals,  we have all kinds of attractions this year. The Corn Maze, the Trike Track, new giant slides, a barrel train for the youngsters… Hickory Nut Gap Farm is the place to be this Fall season! Our farmstore is also open seven days a week from 9am to 6pm. Those will be our new hours all the way through October.

I hope to see you at the Farm! Sweetbread

Go on, eat that bacon.

Summer is a great time for bacon lovers. I think I mainly say that because I LOVE BLTs. I suppose that bacon tastes nice all year round, but nothing beats farm fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and crunchy bacon on good hearty bread. Add a little avocado in there, ooh, you’re set. I know I’m not alone in this desire (we’ll steer clear of the term fetish, even if it is more accurate), because every summer I witness the trends. As soon as the farmers at the tailgate markets start whipping out those luscious ripe tomatoes, people line up at our booth for bacon. I’ve even gotten a few harsh words and angry glares from those customers with heavier addictions who show up too late for our last pack of smoked and sliced pork belly.

But lets be real. Bacon is always enticing. Listening to that popping sizzle and catching the scent of smoky, salty, succulence, your mouth can’t help but start to water. I bet you’re getting a hankering for bacon just reading this post! If that’s you, then you’re in luck. BaconFest, Asheville’s hog celebration, is coming up on August 31st. If you’re into weird bacon themed desserts, bacon flavored drinks, or just the plain unadulterated stuff itself, this is the event for you. Presented by 105.9 the Mountain, and hosted by Highland Brewing Company, the festival will include music, tastings, and lots and lots of bacon! For more info click here. We will have a booth at the festival where you can buy our fresh and smoked bacon as well as some other tasty pork products from the farm.

Of course, if you can’t make it to baconfest, you can still get our bacon, both smoked and fresh, at the farmstore and at our tailgate market locations (North Asheville, Asheville City Market, and West Asheville Market).

Happy Frying!

Sweetbread

Telling Stories

 

I love stories. There is nothing so pleasurable as hearing a great story told well. Growing up on the farm, I heard lots of tales about old characters and personalities who worked here over the years. My dad has an incredible knack for remembering the names and details from events that happened around the farm. Not only the things he lived through, but also the ones he heard his parents talk about from before his time. I love listening to him recount those tales in his precise, nostalgic manner. In a sense, stories are how we understand a thing, how we relate to it. They can be our most rudimentary method of communication or our most nuanced. To me, good stories beg to be told. They whisper in breathily in my ear until I can bring them out into the light. I’ve come across some great stories in my search for information about the history of the farm. They are most just fun little tales about living and working on a farm in Appalachia. I thought it might be fun to share some of them. I hope you enjoy!

Elizabeth McClure taking a ride with Aunt Freddie and Aunt Bessie in the Hudson while John Shorter takes the wheel.

When Jim and Elizabeth (my great grandparents) first came to Fairview, they made the drive from Asheville in their new Hudson Automobile. Unfortunately the flooding that had wracked Fairview in the spring also left the little country road impassible for some time. The newlyweds soon learned the dangers of traveling through the country in a city rig, when their shiny new Hudson got mired in heavy mud. John Shorter, an employee at Hickory Nut, and a fellow who would prove to be one of the most devoted and reliable workers for the McClures, had to come with his team of oxen to haul the young pair up the mountain. Upon learning that Mr. McClure was a minister, John Shorter informed him that the names of his animals were ‘Red’ and ‘Brown’, but only because he thought that a stoutly religious man might be offended at their real names: ‘Hell’ and ‘Fire’.

Jamie McClure, Jim and Elizabeth’s first child, was fascinated by many of the farm animals and took great interest in the tasks of the farmers. Once, when he was playing with the sheep, one of the rams butted him so hard it knocked him off his feet. While he was trying to ‘soothe’ that one with his miniature watering can, another ram came up from behind and butted him over again. He pretty quickly learned to keep a wary eye out while walking through the sheep herd and always carried some sort of protection.

Apple picking with the boys. Young Jamie McClure is the second from the left.

Jamie also became very interested in the mystery of chicken eggs. Unlike most children, he didn’t simply ask where an egg comes from, instead he decided to experiment. He ventured down to the chicken house and, finding and unusually docile rooster, he imagined he had tamed it. He snuck the bird into the house and hid it in his closet for several nights. One morning the animal started crowing at six a.m. and woke up the entire household. Jamie had tried to get his rooster to lay and egg for breakfast by prodding it with a stick. He was confused when it failed to produce anything but the loud squawking noises. Afterwards, demoralized by his failure to see scientific results, he bowed to necessity and asked his father, “why don’t roosters have egging powers?”