Four Principles for Farming & Life

by Stephanie Campbell, Outreach Coordinator

wil-moore-farm---family

The value of local and sustainable agriculture was evident everywhere in my visit with Keith and Robin Willoughby at Wil-Moore Farm in Lugoff, SC. “The word agri-culture,” Keith explained, “is a compound word which includes an understanding of the necessity of community and culture built around our food. Industrial agri-business,” Keith points out, “strips out the culture and the community.”

Keith and Robin, with their four children, have developed a diversified poultry and livestock farm which integrates making a living from their farm enterprises with contributing to their community.

I saw this lived out in countless ways in my short visit, including in rescheduling so that Keith could speak to the SC legislative sub-committee regarding a proposed bill and so that he could participate in the funeral of a community member. It was clear that community is a high priority in everything these farmers do.

 

Four Principles for Farming and Life

wil-moore-farm---cows

An emphasis on what is good for the community is one of the four principles the Willoughby family lives by. They explained that everything they do, the decisions they make, and how they farm must be good for:

  • the animals,
  • the land and the environment,
  • the farmer,
  • and the community

Tough decisions must be made at times and idealism can’t always be achieved, but these four principles must not be compromised.

One example Keith shared was their change from the idealistic image of totally free-range chickens to the necessity of using chicken tractors. The predator pressure on their farm was so high, and making such a negative impact on the chickens, that the decision was made to switch to chicken tractors. This practice, however, still had to align with their four principles.

wil-moore-farm---hen-mobile

The chicken tractors are spacious and on-pasture, safe from predators, and are moved at least twice a week, giving the chickens access to fresh grass and insects, keeping them off of their own excrement, and breaking the parasite cycles. The land and environment are cared for as the chicken litter is spread naturally and they share the pastures with the cows, sheep and hogs. The grass feeds the animals and the animals feed the grass. And the community has access to high quality, nutrient-dense, delicious eggs and meat.

 

The Challenges of Farming

The 165 acre Wil-Moore Farm has been in Robin’s family for three generations of farmers, but when her father passed away in 2002, he might have been the end of the line. However, the Willoughby’s had become increasingly aware of the link between nutrition and health as well as the negative effects of the industrial food system.

Their oldest daughter, Bethany, suffered from advanced eczema which conventional medicine had not been able to treat effectively. As they learned more about the benefits of pasture-raised meats and nutrient-dense, organic vegetables, they began to consider farming the family land themselves.

“We love the lifestyle, we love the food and the land, we love what it teaches our kids, and we love the interaction with customers and our community.”

“We were smart enough to know how stupid we were,” says Robin. They began reading everything they could about farming and began visiting farms. They quickly list off a string of farmers who have helped them, sharing information and best practices, mentoring and encouragement.

Red Fern Farm in Gray Court, SC told them about CFSA in January of 2003 and they have been active members ever since, benefiting from technical assistance for farm services as well as becoming involved in farm policy issues in SC and as part of the CFSA network of farm members.

wil-moore-farm---calf

They began Wil-Moore Farm in 2003 by continuing to raise the cattle already on the land and added poultry, both eggs and meat, for a quicker cash-flow. In order to provide more income stability through a diversity of sources, they now also raise sheep, hogs and turkeys, in addition to the cattle and chickens.

Wil-Moore Farm sells to area restaurants and local stores and at the Rosewood, Soda City and Kershaw County Farmers’ Markets. They collaborate with a few trusted, like-minded farms in the area to better serve their customers and distribute their products. Together with these farms (Ovis Hill Farm, Hill Creek Farm, David White, Keegan-Filion Farm, and Happy Cow Creamery) they are able to provide the variety of products and convenience customers want.

Another challenge has been the need for family health insurance, so Keith still works an off farm, part-time job with his church. Keith’s open-heart surgery in 2011 underscores how essential health insurance is for farming families.

Weather events are a constant threat for farmers and although they were not directly impacted by the recent flooding in SC, their sales were impacted as the community recovers. Drought this past summer means they were only able to produce half the hay they need this winter.

 

The Community Responds to a Barn Fire

When their barn burned down on February 6, 2011, the farm would have gone under but the principle of serving the good of the community turned around and the community rallied to serve the farm. Eric and Robbie McClam of City Roots Farm (Columbia, SC) led the way and other farmers, customers, restaurants and community members raised funds and even volunteered on the farm. One of those volunteers became an intern, and later farm staff, and another has started his own farm from the experience he gained. The farm was the first beneficiary of the Columbia Mardi Gras Festival.

“Fire changed the way we do everything,” Keith notes. “We replaced the barn with a metal barn and we use 8’ metal circular water troughs for brooding out the chicks.” Other safety practices were instituted but what didn’t change, and was only reaffirmed and enhanced, was the sense of community the farm is built on.

 

Continuing to Farm

wil-moore-farm---julianna with the lambs

“It’s not easy to make a living on the farm” Keith shares, “and every year we evaluate and consider how to continue.” He explains that the biggest challenge is market forces which expect cheap food and the dilemma of pricing the true cost of food.

“We have the best customers in the world, though,” Robin is quick to point out. And they are hopeful that more and more consumers are becoming aware of where their food comes from and the health and environmental issues related to farming.

As their two oldest children will be off in college and careers this year, and their trusted farmhand moves on to start his own farm, Keith and Robin are again evaluating what to do next. “In farming, every year is different,” says Keith, “and nothing stays the same.”

“With all of these challenges, why do you stay in farming?” I ask. They chuckle and shake their heads, but then they smile as they explain.

“We love the lifestyle, we love the food and the land, we love what it teaches our kids, and we love the interaction with customers and our community.”

To learn more about Wil-Moore Farms, visit their website!

 

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