by Amy Moxley, CFSA Member
It’s been almost four years since I first met Sallie, “the Chicken Lady.” It was an overcast and muggy July day in 2011 when I walked the two blocks from my downtown apartment to the Hub City Farmers’ Market. Amidst the checkered tablecloths and collard greens and thick southern accents popped a bold red head of hair over a face graced with a pair of funky glasses and an infectious grin.
Although I have come to adore the South Carolina way of life, at the time I was a brand new transplant and desperate for a connection to home. That conversation with Sallie Hambright-Belue, of Thicketty Mountain Farms in Cowpens, launched me into a local food infatuation from which I have never recovered. I bought my first whole chicken and the next day followed her directions for how to clean, prepare, and roast it. (I even filmed myself!) I return to the market each week to talk with Sallie and buy my weekly supply of meat and produce. Sallie continues to be a friend and a mentor in all that is wonderful about local, healthy and delicious!
What Sallie Has Taught Me
“It is very important that land is developed in a thoughtful and intelligent way. I believe we have to leave the earth better than how we found it,” Sallie told me. For her, sustainability comes down to that connection between people and the place they call home.
“I see the land as a kind of older parent or grandparent that needs to be looked after. It has sustained us and supported us, watched us grow up, and now it’s our turn to be the caregivers.”
For Sallie, caring for the land is connected to caring for the community as well. Their customers are their best friends and they believe that strong, healthy community relationships, contributing to the local economy, and providing nutritious, chemical-free food is important to creating a world they want their son, Everette, and all children, to grow up in. It’s a legacy they want to leave for future generations.
Organic and sustainable, and the ethical treatment of animals, are not just words or slogans for Sallie and Brent. These values are embedded in their way of life and in all of their practices on the farm. Eric Solderhelm, CFSA Organic Production Coordinator, is currently consulting with them to complete the process for Organic Certification.
“Somewhere along the way, people became convinced that what was most important was that food should be cheap and convenient instead of highly nutritious, chemical-free, and grown locally and sustainably,” Sallie says. “Eating is the most important thing we do every day! The food we eat affects everything about our lives from our own health to the health of the earth.”
The Next Generation of Farmers
Although Sallie and Brent both come from farming families, their journey into sustainable agriculture was not direct. Sallie has a graduate degree in architecture from Yale University and was working in New York City when she began to consider the impact of landscapes on the environment. Brent is a musician and after college at Winthrop University, worked selling musical instruments. They had known each other since they were 12 but once they started dating in 2010, farming seemed like what they were meant to do together.
Brent’s family history was in conventional farming and he admits he didn’t know anything about organic and sustainable farming. They joke that in the beginning Sallie was going to make Brent farm with mules and horses. “Next thing I know you’re going to be talking about me not having a tractor,” Brent recalls saying. Now Brent is the one talking about using a horse or mule instead of a tractor and he even built his own row crimper (see photo) which is quite a feat!
The farm, now in its fifth year, is in Cowpens, SC and includes several sites. Their family farmhouse sits on about four acres of land and includes vegetables, a greenhouse, fruit trees, and chickens. On an additional 35 acres on the other side of Thicketty Mountain they raise free-range chickens pastured hogs, and cattle. They hope to expand this part of the farm eventually.
All of their produce is organically grown from non-GMO, organic seeds and includes over 35 vegetables including beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, collards, lettuces, microgreens, mustard greens, radishes, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and watermelon. They also sell pasture-raised chicken and grass-fed beef, and plan to add pastured pork this coming year.
The CFSA network of fellow farmers, along with the Sustainable Ag Conference and workshops, has helped them learn about mob grazing cattle, raising heritage breed chickens, and building rich, healthy soil through incorporating no-till methods, cover cropping, mulching, intensive planting, and beneficial insects/pollinator habitat planting. “We have goals each year but it’s a process,” says Sallie. “We don’t have it all figured out, we just start somewhere and keep getting better and better.”
Sallie and Brent market their goods almost exclusively direct-to-consumer at the farm, through their CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture), and at the Hub City and TD Downtown Greenville Farmers’ Markets. The Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery also carries their pastured meats and organic produce.
Find them at www.thickettymountainfarms.com.
– Amy Moxley is the Produce Manager for Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery in Greenville, South Carolina. Amy is a member of CFSA and a staunch advocate for local food and farmers.