by Janette Wesley, Slow Food Upstate
It was a bucolic winter day, with cerulean blue skies laced in high white clouds, waves of purple mountains in the background. Gibson Farms’ 180-acres of green rolling hills topped with black and white-faced Angus cattle looked like brides and a groom on a verdant half moon cake.
We watched as a big red one strolled by or a creamy white one glimmered in the bright February sun. The visit restored the slow in “Slow Food” – a peaceful and stimulating experience.
Flashback to my youth: “RUN!!!” She screamed at me, and I ran! We knew we shouldn’t be there, but we did it anyway. We climbed through the fence into the forbidden zone ofthe cow pasture, not realizing that sometimes there was also a big feisty bull with the cows. My cousin, Lou Ann, and I spent the summer on her grandma’s farm in Ohio, a foreign planet for twelve year olds growing up in the 1970’s. We gathered eggs from the hens and watched women iron aprons and pillow cases in the kitchen. We perched on silvery stools like princesses, eating fresh eggs, biscuits and bacon.
Cattle are still strangers to me; I see them regularly on my plate, but when Leland Gibson asked me to climb through the fence to cow-land again, I had reservations. They made sounds like tubas warming up for the high school band and tossed their boulder-sized heads with strings of grass hanging like spaghetti from their muzzles. The shadow of doubt melted away with Leland nearby, and I almost understood why in India cattle are considered sacred, a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance – a full Earthly life. He didn’t just talk to his friends, Big Boy the Bull and his Boss Lady, he scratched their backs and rubbed their heads, and I trusted I was safe in Gibson’s green pastures.
Without a doubt, Leland’s father built the farmer into Leland throughout his life, and still does so, stopping over and checking on the property everyday. Leland is a fourth generation farmer. Since 1955, the Gibson’s have raised their animals humanely on pasture. “I firmly believe this is the right way to raise animals and raise healthy food. Not just for the health of the animals, but also the people who consume them,“ said Leland.
Nurturing the Land and Water
“Green” describes Leland to a T. He is the recent winner of the S. C. Cattleman’s Association and Beef Council’s award for environmental conservation stewardship – yet he passed the credit to his dad’s work for the last twelve years. Leland Gibson protected the streams on his property from effluvial excremental drainage, an act swimmers, fishermen and visitors to Lake Hartwell, the Seneca or Tugaloo River or other waterways downstream much appreciate. But Leland has even greener goals in mind. He told me that he wants his farm to be “off the grid” by 2014, and plans to install geo-thermal system for heating, a wood burning boiler for hot water, and solar panels for the cooling of the farm house and electricity to pump well water to the cattle.
Yet, the green also referred to the “other” farm products: the Coastal Bermuda, Rye, Fescue and Lakota Brome grasses, and how they were maintained with techniques like impact grazing on one field and rotational grazing on another. Leland often moves fences so the cattle eat fresh healthy grass. This reduces the chances of parasites developing, and therefore the need for medication, and has allowed for a chemical-free, naturally well fertilized emerald glowing grass. As the first certified organic and animal welfare approved beef producer in S.C., Leland does not apply antibiotics, steroids or hormones.
The lucky customers who buy from Gibson Farms at the Clemson Area Food Exchange, The Clemson Area Farmers’ Market, the Easley Farmers’ Market, The Downtown Greenville Market, and online shoppers at the Northeast Georgia Locally Grown site enjoy great tasting, all-natural Angus.
I can tell you from experience that it’s a melt-in-your-mouth beef eater’s treat that couldn’t be topped if their Scottish ancestors came back to Westminster themselves.
The Gibson Farms is exactly what the Earth Market Greenville seeks to find – a truly sustainable farm, that works in harmony with the Earth, does not destroy water, land or air, gives animals the dignity they deserve, and takes personal responsibility for their work – Good in taste; Clean for the environment, and at a Fair price to theconsumer and the farmer. Our visit proved successful, and Leland will present his beef at the Earth Market Greenville at the end of North Main and Rutherford Rd. beginning May 17 and every third Thursday afternoon through September.
Janette W. Wesley is the Chapter Leader of Slow Food Upstate, home of the first and only USA Earth Market, certified by Slow Food International’s Foundation for Biodiversity. She is CFSA’s 2011 Activist of the Year.
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