Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Featuring Master of Kung Moo: Dan Moore of Ninja Cow Farm

by Taylor Fish, Wake County Farm Bureau, member of the Capital Area Food Network Farm Advocacy Circle

Ninja-Cow

New residents to the Triangle area are often surprised to learn that Wake County, a mostly urban community, is home to over 750 farms and contains around 530,000 acres of farmland. The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is hoping to introduce you to a few of the sustainable, local farms in Wake County on their Eastern Triangle Farm Tour September 23-24, 2017 from 1-5PM. Reserve your tickets here.

One farm on the tour you do not want to miss is Ninja Cow Farm. Located just 15 minutes from downtown Raleigh, it’s easy to miss the entrance to this farm hidden off Old Stage Road. Driving up this country lane you will find yourself teleported to a small farm oasis in the heart of Wake County.  You will learn how owner/operator Dan Moore uses his proximity to the city to his advantage in this sprawling urban county. Moore, the self-proclaimed “hippie farmer” will share the many environmentally friendly practices on his farm – from rotational cattle grazing to eliminating food waste. I can almost guarantee you have not visited a farm like it in North Carolina. There is also no other farm in NC that has a name quite like Ninja Cow, the story is very much worth the read.

Ninja Cow

Dan Moore’s family moved to this plot of land in 1980, it was then that he started learning about farming. Growing up in Garner, NC, dreams of the future never included life on the farm. After working 20 years in corporate America, Moore saw an opportunity to farm full time in 2015 and traded his old career for a more family oriented business. Farming is in Moore’s blood. Before relocating to Garner, his family had been farming in Flat River, NC dating back to 1793. He and his wife decided it was important to eat healthy food and wanted a sustainable product they were happy feeding their family of five. Moore claims that his “number one customer is still his wife.” Now Ninja Cow Farm has turned into a popular attraction for those truly interested in knowing where their food comes from. Unlike many farmers who choose to have multiple outlets to sell their product, 95% of sales are directly to his consumers from a small store open at Ninja Cow Farm Wednesdays and Fridays 2-6pm and Saturdays 8-5pm.

Ninja CowNinja Cow Farm offers a very unique meat product. His animals have a diet unlike the any other. In an effort to supply his animals with the best feed available and reduce food waste, Moore feeds his animals left-over produce from the Raleigh Farmers Market. Many customers have become regulars because there really isn’t another meat like it available on the market. His top sellers fluctuate between the beef and pork. Most often it is beef and his ribeyes are all presale. There are only 24 ribeyes per cow; so many times you will find a waiting list for that superior cut of meat.

Moore’s favorite product from his farm is his Boston Butt Steaks. Ironically, the way he discovered them was by mistake. Moore had ordered a Boston Butt from the butcher but when he received it, it was not cut the way he had requested. Moore stuffed it in the back of his freezer and had almost forgotten about it until his wife cooked them one night just like a pork chop. Come to find out, they are tender like a porterhouse or ribeye, had great marbling, and seemed to resemble a steak…Moore ate it up, licked the bone, and then ate the kid’s unfinished portions. They became his favorite cut sold at the farm.

It is no secret that farming comes with a lot of challenges. Every operation is different, and you can learn from those trials over time. After talking with Dan Moore about his operation and what challenges he faces he states, “I have been blessed with good people working here.” With any business employing the right people makes all the difference. Luckily, he has retained almost everyone that he has hired over the years.

Ninja Cow logoMoore’s biggest challenge continues to be marketing and learning how to bring more customers in, because once they are hooked on his product customer retention is easy. His second daily challenge is production. Moore’s production method is different than all others. He cannot call upon an expert from NCSU about his feed, because no one knows how to get cows to eat onions, carrots, and bananas like Dan Moore does. Many of his practices result from trial and error, and this can be very expensive. There is little to no research on the way he has chosen to care for his animals. For example, he learned that certain produce will make the cows bloat after having to perform an emergency surgery at 6 am. While managing life on a farm, there will always be something that you are recovering from or constantly improving.

What advice would Dan Moore give to new farmers? Financial planning is a must before starting any operation. Moore listened to a presentation last fall at the CFSA’s Sustainable Ag Conference, by Scott Marlow from RAFI titled “Why Farms Fail:” the answer is poor financial planning. Moore claims that it should be required before opening an operation to attend a farming “How to not go bankrupt” seminar. It is important to know your numbers, your expenses, to set your prices, and research the market.

What are attendees of the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour going to love seeing on Ninja Cow Farm? Many attendees will be impressed by the personal attention you receive when visiting Ninja Cow. Everyone who works on the farm lives on the property and has a direct connection to the farm. Especially in small groups, the customer service and time spent with employees will be the most valuable.  As stated many times above, this is not your typical farm. Set aside a few hours to get to know Dan Moore and his family at Ninja Cow Farms.

 

Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Sept. 23-24, 2017
Visit Ninja Cow Farm and other amazing sustainable farms on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, happening Sept. 23-24, 2017 from 1-5 PM. Plan your tour route and buy your carpass today! CFSA members save $5 on advance tickets! 

Buy Now

Hayrides and Horses at Hilltop Farms

by Janie Hynson, member of the Capital Area Food Network Farm Advocacy Circle

Hill Top Farm Photo by Mary Kay Flick

Hill Top Farm
Photo by Mary Kay Flick

Down a beautiful road in Willow Springs, you’ll find Hilltop Farms, run by Fred and Virginia Miller. Virginia was born and raised on this land, which used to be family-owned JC Rowland Farm, and many of their family members still live close by. As a 44-acre certified organic farm, Hilltop Farms is committed to using no chemicals on their crops and only uses non-genetically-modified (GMO) seeds. I talked with Fred about how they got into farming and what they hope to share with visitors during the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 23-24 from 1-5PM.

 

How did you get into farming?

In 1999, Fred read an article in the News and Observer about organic farming and community supported agriculture (CSAs). At that time, there were only about seven CSAs in North Carolina. The article inspired Fred to leave his job working in corporate sales to begin farming. In his first year, his CSA had two members. In the second year, membership rose to seven then 16 in the third year. When Fred became a member of CFSA in 2002 and was also featured in another N&O article about CSAs around the same time, his CSA grew from 16 to 84 members in one month!

 

Number of years farming?

Fred Miller, Hilltop Farms.

Fred Miller shows off his organic fields on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour in 2010. Photo by Addie Ladner.

Fred has been farming for seventeen years and full time since 2002. He primarily runs the produce side of the farm, while Virginia manages their eight-stall horse barn.

 

Most unique product/top seller?

Hilltop Farms’ top seller is tomatoes though Fred says they are not easy to grow! Their most unique product is organic strawberries. Since 2004, Hilltop Farms has been the first and only certified organic farm in Wake County, so this makes the farm very unique and a must-see on the tour.

 

Where you can buy

Hilltop Farms sells their produce at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers’ Market, Apex Farmers’ Market, and through their CSA. They also have an on-farm produce stand, though it’s not open this summer.

 

What advice would you offer new farmers?

Before getting into farming, Fred recommends that new farmers get experience working on someone else’s farm.

 

What are people going to love seeing on your farm?

HillTop-Farm---Hayride

Photo by Addie Ladner

When you come for the farm tour, be sure to check out the organic fields at Hilltop Farms. They’ll be offering hayrides about every half hour, which will take you by the fields. Visit the horse barn to see the horses up close and learn about them from Virginia. You can also feed the goats and say “hi!” to the chickens, if they’re not hiding!

 

What do you love about farming?

Fred considers himself very lucky to have the opportunity to have a job he loves. Farming motivates him to get up every morning and to feel that he has accomplished something every day.

 

What have been your biggest challenges?

It’s important to remember that the produce in the grocery store or at the market is the very best that a farm has to offer. What customers don’t see is all the hard work that goes into produce which never makes it to a market. Just because it may not be pretty enough or ends up in the compost, a lot of work is put into growing every fruit or vegetable on a farm.

 

Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Sept. 23-24, 2017
Visit Hilltop Farm and other amazing sustainable farms on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, happening Sept. 23-24, 2017 from 1-5 PM. Plan your tour route and buy your carpass today! CFSA members save $5 on advance tickets! 

Buy Now

Saving the Delaware Chicken and Other Rare Breeds at Chickcharney Farm

by Emily Mueller, Wake County CES

Chickcharney Chicken Coop

Dr. Julie inspects her flock at Chickcharney Farm in Wake Forest, NC. Photo by Emily Mueller

How it all got started…

Walking from one vivacious, active pen to next, it is hard to imagine how Dr. Julie Gauthier, owner of Chickcharney Farm, initially got started over eight years ago. Driving up to the farm entrance, I didn’t find any showy marketing signs, nor any of Hansel’s or Gretel’s breadcrumbs to lead the way. Just a few acres of green pasture with a variety of poultry herds healthily grazing within electrically fenced-in custom-built “mobile homes.” Not many people get the chance to see this beautiful farm in Wake County, but, you’ll be able to visit on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 23-24, 2017 from 1-5 PM!

Being a single-person farm operation, Dr. Julie quickly guided us into what was happening at the farm. As she introduced me to the individual poultry breeds, I asked how she got interested in raising birds. It was clear that Dr. Julie strived to farm with a purpose; and that purpose, she later explained, is driven by a strong commitment to conservation. Growing up on small suburban lot in Michigan, she and her family raised much of their own food, growing organic vegetables and raising domestic animals for either meat or eggs. Looking back, Dr. Julie reflected that her concept of conservation farming didn’t come to fruition until she peered at some “old” heritage livestock breeds depicted within the pages of a picturesque coffee-table book that attracted her eye during her tenure at the College of Veterinary Medicine of Michigan State University (MSU). From there, more than eight years ago, Dr. Julie began nurturing her agricultural skills – raising micro-greens, growing mushrooms, and raising heritage poultry and thus, Chickcharney Farm was born.

 

What is “Chick-Charming” about Chickcharney

Chickcharney--goats

Photo by Emily Mueller

Heritage preservation. More than eight years ago, Dr. Julie began raising Delaware chickens as an effort to conserve this rare breed from the brink of extinction. Since then, she has taken on multiple other breeds categorized, beginning with most endangered criterion first, as “critical”, “threatened”, “watch”, “recovering” or  “study” on the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. Currently, the farm raises Delaware chickens (Watch), Magpie ducks (Threatened), Saxony ducks (Threatened), Pilgrim geese (Threatened), Narragansett turkeys (Watch), Beltsville Small White turkeys (Critical), dark Cornish chickens (Watch), Delaware blue hen (beyond ‘Critical’), Aylesbury ducks (Critical), and Myotonic fainting goats (Recovering). More information about these breeds can be found on the Chickcharney Farm or Livestock Conservancy websites.

Providing alternatives to the standard commercial poultry fare. Simply put, Dr. Julie states, “I like choices” when it comes to food. She then explains in detail the importance of these heritage breeds and how they all “play their part in the food system.” Many folks ask her why the traditional breeds are so expensive and the reasons are many. First of all, they are not a “food for the masses,” meaning that it will take longer for these birds to put on weight than the average commercial hybrid type. These breeds are meant to naturally forage in pasture and they gradually increase in size, which provides a better flavor and more interesting culinary qualities than industrial breeds. Furthermore, the heritage breeds are selectively bred, which means that Dr. Julie selects the best performers within each generation to pass on their genetic traits to future progeny. Such selective breeding in few generations can quickly lead to top-performing herds that are best-adapted for their local environment.

Chickcharney coops

Photo by Emily Mueller

Minimal environmental impact. Dr. Julie continues to follow the sustainable principles she learned in childhood. Contrary to many commercial poultry standards, Dr. Julie does not use medicated animal feed for her birds but allows them to naturally graze on what they were originally bred to eat. This allows the animals to naturally build up their immunity to local diseases and infectious pests. Those that naturally succumb to infection or are not ideal representatives of the breed are culled out of the breeding population. Heightened sanitation is required to maintain healthy animals in this system. Such a management system is more labor-intensive but helps build up a hardier breeding stock that becomes better adapted to overcome adverse local conditions.

 

A constant roller coaster ride for any resident farmer…

Photo by Emily Mueller.

Photo by Emily Mueller.

When I asked Dr. Julie what her main challenge was in maintaining the farm, she quickly answered (in a particularly disgruntled expression), “PREDATORS.” She always tells any poultry enthusiast to invest in electric fencing – it is well worth it. It was a hard-learned lesson that she wished she had learned years before. She also brought on board Louis, a guard donkey, who is a fierce deterrent of ground predators. In addition to Louis, Pilgrim Geese are additional herd guardians that help protect the birds against aerial predators: hawks and owls.

On a good note, Dr. Julie is known for her quality breeds and word-of-mouth marketing has led to increased sales over the years to buyers from many states. The initial threatened breed that the farm began rearing, the Delaware chicken, has since moved off the “threatened” list and is currently under “watch,” indicating a significant increase in numbers in recent years. Dr. Julie got a sparkle in her eye as she told me, then smiled as said, “I’d like to think that Chickcharney Farm contributed to that rise [in the Delaware chicken population].”

 

Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Sept. 23-24, 2017
Visit Chickcharney Farm and other amazing sustainable farms on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, happening Sept. 23-24, 2017 from 1-5 PM. Plan your tour route and buy your carpass today! CFSA members save $5 on advance tickets! 

Buy Now

Resources:

Current Conservation Priority List of Poultry Breeds, the Livestock Conservancy; https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/conservation-priority-list

Raising Chickens – Breeds to Consider, P. Allen Smith Home Garden; http://pallensmith.com/2016/02/11/raising-chickens-breeds-to-consider/

The American Poultry Association; http://www.amerpoultryassn.com

The Virtual Grange and Growing Farmers Initiative, http://www.virtualgrange.org/about/

Chickcharney folklore, http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2014/07/cryptids-of-the-caribbean-part-2-the-bahamas/

5 Things Your Farmer Wants You to Know about Good Food

by guest blogger, Russ Vollmer, Vollmer Farm

Surprises are a regular occurrence for farm families, as you all know very well. As farmers we embrace all of it, the good and not-so-good surprises that flavor our days doing what we love to do.

Russ Vollmer

1. Good food starts with a promise and shared values

Good food starts with a promise woven with many threads of trust. The small family farms featured on the upcoming Eastern Triangle Farm Tour are very diverse in what we grow. One thing we all have in common is a motivation to share our stories, our farms, and our passion for good food with customers seeking a relationship built on trust.

Tomato greenhouse at Vollmer Farm

2. Consumers value good food (turns out – a lot!)

More and more people are buying organic products. According to the Organic Trade Associations 2015 Organic Industry Survey, 51% of families are buying more organic products than a year ago. I was surprised when I read this stat, and I wanted to know why. Why are a majority of families in the United States buying more organic products than a year ago despite the fact that conventional products are cheaper? I believe this is happening due to a shift in consumers’ minds about value.

U-Pick pumpkins at Vollmer Farm

3. Good food’s value is not just the product but the experience

I want to share with you some ways we increase value at Vollmer Farm. I plant a two-acre field of U-Pick pumpkins behind our farm market. About ten dressed up scarecrows (adult- and kid-sized!) dot our U-Pick pumpkin field, ready to pose for a Halloween picture. I cut paths in the field to make it easy for families to walk around pulling a little red wagon to collect their pumpkins. The experience begins as soon as our customers (kids) enter the field. The search is on for their perfect pumpkin. For some, perfect means a small pumpkin; for others, it’s a big pumpkin or a weird-looking pumpkin. My customers value the family memories being created in that moment, and not just the pumpkin. In a similar way, lots of people value the farmers’ market or farm tour experience – it’s a chance to meet the folks growing the good food that we share as a family.

Vollmer Certified Organic

4. There are reasons good food might be more expensive (but I think knowledge creates understanding which also increases value)

Good food can be more expensive to grow. According to the Organic Trade Association, Certified Organic farmers have access to 25 synthetic active pest control products while over 900 are registered for use in conventional farming by the Environmental Protection Agency. Certified Organic ranchers have access to 22 synthetic livestock health treatments while over 550 synthetic active ingredients are approved by the Food and Drug Administration in conventional animal drug products. The Certified Organic farmer and rancher have a much smaller toolbox to work with for fighting weeds, insects, and diseases. This reality for me means I have to spend a lot of money on labor to pull the weeds instead of spraying herbicides, prune the disease out instead of spraying fungicides, and searching for insect eggs to remove before they hatch and begin to feed on my plants. Organic food can cost more because hands and eyes are working all the time to protect and grow the good quality food our customers want and deserve. Knowledge creates understanding which I believe increases the value of our products.

Strawberry season

5. Farmers value relationships just as much as consumers

On a final note, my Dad, Farmer John was all about building a relationship between our farm and the customers who visit and buy our products. Relationships have value and that value is leading the growth in organic agriculture for good food. Not Surprising.

 

Vollmer Farm in Bunn, NC, is a 5th generation family farm which grows Certified Organic fruits and vegetables. The farm is open in spring and summer for berry U-Pick. In October the farm opens for agritourism on the weekends.

We hope we can meet you and start that relationship soon! Vollmer Farms is one of 26 sustainable farms on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, September 19 – 20. Visit our online home at www.vollmerfarm.com.

 

 

5 Things Your Protein Farmer Wants You to Know about Pasture-raised Food

by guest blogger, Samantha Gasson, Bull City Farm 

You can visit Bull City Farm and 25 other amazing sustainable farms on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 19-20.  Buy your tickets today!

1. Pasture raised meats help save, and improve, farmland.
Farming of any type helps preserve farmland and open spaces. We’re obviously a bit biased but we feel strongly that there is something about open space that resonates in the hearts of most people. In an urban county like ours (Durham), it is even more crucial to ensure as much land as possible remains undeveloped. Whether it’s row crops, pasture or tobacco, as long as there is money to be made farming, there will be someone willing to get their hands dirty, provided they can afford to get started. Commodity farming can be profitable on large tracts of land, but going forward it’s the niche farmer who’s going to make the difference in urban counties like our own. Those of us selling directly to the consumer have the potential to start cheap and earn more per acre, which allows us to farm on a scale that works for us. It provides the flexibility to raise animals in a way that we feel good about and in a way that we feel is better for the environment.

Pigs acting like pigs at Bull City Farm

2. Pasture raised meats are better for you.
If you’ve ever bought grass-fed meats you’ve probably heard from your farmer about the health benefits of grass-fed versus feed-lot finishing. The health benefits are real and well documented (here, for instance), but even if you aren’t willing to delve into the world of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid understand this: grass-fed meats tend to be leaner and therefore lower in calories. Eat the same quantity of grass-fed meat next year versus last year’s grain fed and if your consumption is about the national average you’ll lose a few pounds.

What about the animals that can’t be grass-fed? Animals like chickens and hogs need more than a grass diet but still benefit hugely from the added sunlight, fresh air and forages available on pasture. A chicken given the opportunity to snack on grass and bugs has beautiful orange-yolk eggs rich in beta-carotene. Hogs (particularly the heritage breeds) grown slowly on pasture produce a leaner cut of meat that carries with it the flavor of how and where they were grown. Did we mention the flavor? There’s more to your health than just the physical.

Heritage breed sheep at Bull City Farm

3. Pasture raised meats are a good alternative for people concerned about animal welfare.
Your local farmers take their jobs as stewards of the land and their animals very seriously. They have to if they want to stay in business because it matters to you. As an educated consumer it’s good to ask your farmer how they raise their animals. Have they gone to the effort of obtaining a 3rd party audit like Animal Welfare Approved to document their commitment to their animal’s wellbeing? How do they handle winter weather, the summer sun (ask about the weather, we dare you) or stressful times like the end of life or birth?  On our farm, for instance, we leave our lambs with their mothers until well after (they should be) weaning, we don’t use artificial lighting to keep our chickens laying through the winter so they get the winter break nature intended and our pigs are never ringed allowing them to root freely.

We treat our animals with the respect they deserve and when it’s time for the end of their lives, we make the transition as stress-free as possible. It’s important to the quality of the finished product (stress is not good for flavor) but it’s also important to acknowledge why they are here for us to enjoy. We owe their existence to the generations of people who bred them for the purpose to which they are put. Without this purpose they would never have been born. It is a heritage and tradition that demands respect. The animals deserve respect.

Educating youngsters on the farm

4. Pasture raised meats preserve heritage breeds and the history of animal production.
One of the things we enjoy most is looking back to the wisdom of our forefathers for insight into what might work best for us today. We like to think we’re on the cutting edge of old technology. The niche protein farmer has a different agenda than the commercial one; we want the animal that does the best on grass or the hog that gains weight on pasture with minimal input. We want the hen that would rather chase bugs than eat pellets yet remains productive.

Over time we have gravitated towards breeds that are little changed by the demands of modern agriculture.  Heritage breeds. They are a testament to the resourcefulness of our ancestors and very well suited to the fiscal demands of small scale farming in the modern world. Full circle.

Pasture-raised sheep at Bull City Farm

5. Pasture raised meats are well worth the extra cost.  
It’s more expensive to raise animals the way we do. We don’t buy feed by the rail car or process thousands of animals per year. Land is expensive around here. The efficiencies of mass production are always going to remain beyond our reach. We’re OK with that. It’s not who we are. Our goal is to produce good food that we want to eat. We started out growing for our family and realized there were enough likeminded folks out there to make a go of it. Maybe feed a few people. Good food raised right. We think it’s worth it.

 

Bull City Farm is located in Northern Durham County where they raise kids, cows, sheep, laying hens and ducks plus hogs, all on pasture. Their commitment to the land and their animals is what drives them as they continue to improve their approach to small scale farming and production.

Architectural Trees: From Psychology to Nursery

Architectural Trees: From Psychology to Nursery
By Lesley Lammers 

(On my romp around the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour during one of this growing season’s most beautiful days yet, I came across three farms that particularly caught my local farm-loving eye. Part 3 of 3.)

Art and trees. Photo by Lesley Lammers.

Approaching Architectural Trees amidst a quiet, windy, pine-laden Bahama road, you come upon a huge sculpture akin to an old tractor implement — my first indication that this was not your typical nursery.  The more I chatted with owner John Monroe, the more it became clear that like Samantha Gasson, he had been dreaming of running a nursery from a young age.  “Since I was a kid, I did nursery drawings with price tags on the plants and everything.”  He bought what was once the Betsy and Amed Tilley farm, a historic tobacco farm with bucolic barns that John has renovated and turned into an office and plant show rooms.

Architectural Trees. Photo by Lesley Lammers.

Trained as a psychologist, John admits it was a difficult career change, but one that was well worth it.  Somehow he managed to work both as a psychologist and a nursery owner for seven years before ultimately working the nursery full-time.  He fondly recalls that when he finally made the big identity switch, “this peace came over me.”

 

Architectural Trees sells specialty, rare, unusual trees of every kind, from pitcher plants to Japanese maples.  Walking around the nursery at certain points felt like walking through a Dr. Seuss book, with so many strange and enchanting cultivars of trees and shrubs I had never seen before.  This is indeed intentional, as John describes the vision for the nursery as an artist would describe his paintings, “I saw the intrinsic value in making something beautiful, plus I wanted to get my hands dirty.”
Not only are the trees rare, but the resident pets as well, which includes two peacocks who roost on the farmhouse roof.  Be sure to come for a visit this coming summer when their hundreds of blueberry plants are fruiting!

 

 

 

How to Take the Tour

Load up a car with your friends and family, choose the farms you’d like to visit (using the Google map or brochure below!), and discover the farms of the Eastern Triangle!

The tour is self-guided and farms and sites are located throughout the Eastern Triangle in Wake, Durham, Granville, Franklin and Person counties. Visit any farm in any order.  This year we have 26 farms on the tour, including 5 new farms and 5 meal stops!

Don’t forget to bring a cooler so that you can take home some of the farm fresh products for sale at many of the farms.

Remember, the tour is RAIN OR SHINE!

Learn More