by Cindy Flowers, CFSA Intern
The Farm in Silk Hope
From the road at Okfuskee Farm, you see a modest farm house, a packing shed, a double green house, a freshly planted shade house and grass growing across gradually terraced fields dotted with young trees. What you may not see, at least not from a passing glance, are the animals Okfuskee Farms is known for–their sheep and pigs.
You’ll have to spot them among the dense grass, where young farmers, Bobby and Bronwyn Tucker have put them out to graze intensively, methodically moving them around the property. The Tuckers see the livestock and the crops at Ofkuskee as tools in the farm’s holistic soil management plan, and, second to that, as part of the farm’s offerings.
This was not always the case. Bobby started farming this 20-acre plot of land in 2008 using permaculture and sustainable practices to raise mostly pigs and market crops. Even though he was using sustainable farming techniques, the long, hard hours had Bobby close to a burnout when Bronwyn came into the picture. She brought the idea that their quality of life should be part of Ofuskee’s well-defined farm vision even if maxium output was not achieved. These days Bobby and Bronwyn focus more on producing lamb and less on growing crops which gives them a better work life balance.
“Being a happy, financially solvent family farm seems like a great mission,” she adds.
Okfusksee Farm’s Holistic Management as Innovation
Holistic Management is not a new concept but, as Bronwyn explains, it has become the “planning and decision making framework that guides both our farm and personal lives.” Their holistic plan has helped “simplify and connect major ecosystem processes with the tools of grazing, animal impact, rest and human creativity, all while minimizing the use of technology.”
Today, the farm implements simple, low-impact technology: specialty hand tools for digging, pruning and grafting; no-till planters; a wood chipper; a flail mower; portable electric fencing; and GIS and CAD for planning and designing grazing and planting patterns and well as computer based record keeping.
Bobby and Bronwyn think about farming at Okfuskee farms as “building an ecosystem above and below the soil.” “In our climate,” the Tuckers explain, “we can often get away with a ‘less is more’ approach to land management.”
As a part of their Holistic Management plan, the farm boasts native fruit and nut trees, planted alongside berries, and standing over lower-lying native plants like yarrow and dandelion, chosen for their climate-specific hardiness and planted with the curve of the land in a Keyline design to optimize water retention. The over 400 woody plants have been selected based on what would be optimal for the soil and climate.
“Holistic management helps us effectively make decisions as a family across the spectrum of social, environmental and financial perspectives,“ said Bobby.
Some of these plants aren’t for the market either, but grown for the livestock to graze. The rest, especially the onions and greens grown year around in the greenhouse, are for the market.
Farmer as Activist for Small Farms
Okfuskee Farm has been lucky to take advantage of government grant programs, like the New/Beginning Farmer Cost Sharing grant through NRCS’s EQIP program to install a solar well and water distribution system. This system allowed the farm to optimize livestock and crop rotation, capitalizing on their Holistic Management plan with a deep focus on efficiency and conservation. “The payback from this investment is immeasurable.”
Because of his experiences as a new farmer, including his experience with government grant programs, Bobby participated alongside 30 other farmers in a “fly in” trip to DC to lobby on behalf of small-scale farmers. Bobby said he “was able to personally attest to the first-hand benefits provided to our farm through programs supported in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (CFSA is a partner) bills as well as discuss the challenges faced as a new farmer.”
The trip was sponsored by NSAC with travel assistance from the policy wing of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Bobby advocated for the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act.
Bobby positively recalls his experience meeting with Representatives, and now focuses his activism toward the local level of government. He is pursuing a Holistic Management Certificate in hopes that he and Bronwyn can consult beginning farmers on land, soil and water management. “We want to pioneer new ideas for both preserving and helping to improve the viability of farms in our community.”
Where can you find Okfuskee Farm Products?
Okfuskee Farms participates in a multi-farm CSA, sells their produce to Terrastay, a local farm aggregator, and sells their meat directly to Rose’s Meat Market, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe and Sethi’s Restaurant. Okfuskee Farms also hopes to supply lamb to First Hand Foods, a North Carolina pasture-raised meat distributor, in the coming season.
What will you see on the tour?
Follow @OkfuskeeFarm on Instagram and Facebook for an exclusive preview since this is the farm’s maiden year on the Piedmont Farm Tour, April 22-23 from 2-6PM. The farm has a walkable gravel drive that makes for easy viewing of all the farm has to offer, including:
An active double green house with rain water retention system,
A newly planted shade house,
Momma pigs and piglets (yes, PIGLETS!),
Holistic farm tools like a no-till planter, prepping roller and a three point hitch wood chipper that is used for agroforestry management and mushroom production,
An old Ford Tractor,
Water retention pond,
Make sure to look down at the grass! You won’t see any sheep here. The sheep grow on a neighboring 20-acre pasture and are finished on the farm’s fields. The first round of sheep will move onto the farm’s fields in the summer.
Okfuskee Farms is one of 7 new farms on the 2017 Piedmont Farm Tour. The 2017 #Piedmontfarmtour is April 22-23 from 2-6pm, advance tickets are $30 per car for all farms, all weekend; day of registration is $35. Click here to see the full brochure.
Cindy Flowers, former Marketing Director at Deep Roots Market in Greensboro, is a graduate student in the NC A&T School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and intern for the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour. She has a certificate in Sustainable Livestock Management from CCCC and is a long time advocate for sustainable farming, small producers and North Carolina’s local foods system.