From Weddings to Goat Yoga, It Has Gotten More Complicated to Do Agritourism on North Carolina Farms

By Rochelle Sparko, CFSA Policy Director

In July 2017, Governor Cooper signed into law the Farm Act of 2017. With support from NCDA and Farm Bureau, Senate Bill 615 moved through the Senate and House with relative ease. One provision has captured the attention of small scale farms and beginning farmers. Section 8 of the Farm Act of 2017 restricts the ability of beginning farmers and small scale producers to engage in some types of agritourism on their farms.

In Section I, I take a look at the state of the law prior to July 2017. Section II describes the circumstances that led NCDA and Farm Bureau to engage in a concerted effort to change the law. In Section III, you will learn what’s changed as a result of the Farm Act of 2017. Finally, in Section IV, I offer farmers actions they can take if their farm enterprise is or will be adversely affected by the change in the law.

I. What WAS the law?

The state of North Carolina authorizes local government to enact zoning ordinances. See NC General Statute Section 153A-340. Zoning ordinances set some limits on how property owners may use their land. These ordinances cover property use issues ranging from how close construction can get to the property line, to what kinds of uses happen in particular areas to keep the heavy industrial activity separate from the community swimming pool. Zoning rules also require that people purchase permits in order to build on their property.

A number of years ago, North Carolina decided that farms would NOT be required to comply with zoning ordinances when constructing structures for use in farm operations. This makes it less expensive and less time consuming for a farmer to, say, build a barn for her cattle, a washing and packing shed for his vegetables, or a storage building for their tools.

The state law said that there were five ways that counties could  determine whether a piece of land was a farm, and therefore could use the exemption from zoning law. (1) a farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue; (2) a copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land; (3) a copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; (4) a forest management plan; or (5) a Farm Identification Number issued by FSA.

As more and more people are interested in having farm experiences, some farmers have used this exemption to build structures on their farms for agritourism: a shop or stand from which to sell their products, a dining space and commercial kitchen for hosting on-farm events like weddings, dinners or corporate retreats, a heated space where people can drink cocoa after time spent in a corn maze.

II. Why did public and private agricultural entities lobby for changes to the law?

A couple of conflicts between rural communities and new land owners led to an effort to make the zoning exemption for farms more restrictive. Because there is money to be made from holding events on farms, investors have purchased farmland and constructed expensive venues designed to host weddings or other events. New landowners have relied on one of the exemptions to zoning law, specifically that the land purchased came with a farm identification number issued by the FSA, to construct these venues without complying with local zoning ordinances.

Rural neighbors of these new venues complained that these new venues were being treated as farms despite engaging in very little agriculture because they were able to purchase land that already had an FSA number from a prior owner’s use. The Department of Agriculture heard these concerns, and pressed for a change to the zoning exemption law in an effort to restrict or eliminate use of the exemption by landowners who are not primarily farmers.

III. What is the law now?

The General Assembly passed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017(Farm Act of 2017) and it was signed by Governor Cooper on July 12, 2017. As soon as the governor signed the bill, the North Carolina law about which farms are exempt from local zoning ordinances changed.

The Farm Act of 2017 limits the ways that farmers can prove that they are operating bona fide farms in order to qualify for the exemption from zoning ordinances. From July 12, 2017 onward, if a farmer wants to construct a farm building on their property, they can no longer use an FSA number as evidence that they are operating a bona fide farm. Farmers are still able to use the other four methods of proof to prove that they are bona fide farms when building buildings for agricultural purposes other than agritourism. As a quick reminder, the four remaining ways to prove a farm is bona fide:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
  3. A copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; or
  4. A forest management plan.

The General Assembly narrowed even further which farms can construct buildings for the purpose of agritourism. Only those farms that meet one of two criteria may construct such structures without complying with zoning laws. Those criteria require that the farmer show the county:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
Note that North Carolina law has restricted access to the farm sales tax exemption number to farms grossing over $10,000 since 2014. This means that beginning farmers and farmers who have years with low yield due to adverse weather, illness of the farmer, etc. will not be able to use method #1. Also worth keeping in mind is that present use valuation is only available to farms with at least five acres in horticultural production or ten acres in row crop production, making it impossible for many farms in the state to access the present use valuation program. Thus, a large number of farmers will be barred from using the exemption method #2.

The Farm Act of 2017 defines agritourism as, “any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-you-own activities, or natural activities and attractions.” Further, “(a) building or structure used for agritourism includes any building or structure used for public or private events, including, but not limited to, weddings, receptions, meetings, demonstrations of farm activities, meals, and other events that are taking place on the farm because of its farm or rural setting.”

The Farm Act of 2017 addresses what happens should a farm with a sales tax exemption or a present use property valuation build a structure for agritourism and then, within three years of the construction, no longer qualifies for either the sales tax exemption or the present use valuation. At that time, the structure will become subject to the applicable zoning and development regulation ordinances adopted by the county. CFSA expects that the farms most likely to be harmed by this provision will be farms that do not qualify for present use valuation (smaller than 5 acres in production) who experience one or two years with less than $10,000 in income. These farms will be subject to this “clawback” provision in the law, and will, at a time when money is tight, be forced to bring these farm structures into compliance with local zoning ordinances.

CFSA does not know how individual counties will enforce this new law. We have been told by sources at NCDA that structures used both for agritourism AND other agricultural purposes should be considered an agricultural rather than agritourism use, but the law does not clearly state this.

IV. What can I do if the new law is hurting my business?

If your farm business will be hurt by the changes in the law, there are several things you can do. You should call the NC Department of Agriculture and let staff there know what’s happening to your business. Phone calls to NCDA are what put this issue on the Department’s radar in the first place; they should be made aware if the changes they asked for are hurting farmers.

You should also contact both your state senator and representative and let them know that this new law is adversely impacting your business. Tell them that you’d like to see the General Assembly make some changes to the new law in 2018 to help protect farms like yours.

Go to your county Farm Bureau’s policy meeting this fall and make sure to support changes to Farm Bureau’s policy book that will enable farms like yours to get the zoning exemption. Without this change, it is likely that Farm Bureau will continue to support the new law that limit which farms get state support and which don’t.

Let CFSA know how the new law affects your farm. Email CFSA’s Policy Director, Rochelle Sparko, at rochelle@carolinafarmstewards.org or call or text her at 919-410-7645. CFSA needs stories from farmers to convince the General Assembly to make changes to the new law. If you don’t tell us what’s happening on your farm, there’s nothing CFSA will be able to do to try and change this law.

Choose Your Own Adventure on the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour

PFT 2017 Collage

 

You’ve got a map, a ticket (good for a whole carload of people), a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to get a little dirty and the whole weekend ahead of you.

 

Sounds like the setup for one of those Chose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s, right? Well, kind of. There’s definitely adventure and you’re in control of your route, but instead of chasing mythical creatures, you’ve got the opportunity to get up-close and personal with 35 sustainable farms in the Triangle area on the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour, 2-6 p.m. April 22-23.

 

The family-friendly (and budget-friendly) two-day event features farms spread across Alamance, Chatham, Orange, and Person counties. The tour really does have something for everyone. Just a small sampling of the things you’ll have the chance to experience: sheep; buffalo; ducks; pasture-raised cattle; vegetables; and solar power and hydroponics in action. Each farm showcases innovative tools for farming sustainably with respect for the natural environment and animal welfare. At each farm, you’ll find a variety of farmer-led and self-guided tour options.

 

Get up close and personal with the baby goats at Celebrity Dairy

Get up close and personal with the baby goats at Celebrity Dairy

 

Choose your route to see a variety of farms across the region!

PFT 2017 Kick Off FarmsGet an early start with SEVEN Kick off Farms!

You’ve asked for longer tours and we are delivering! A select group of farms will open their gates early — starting at noon on both days. At these seven farms only (indicated by stars on the interactive map) you can get a jump start on your farm tour adventure. The extra hours add another layer of excitement to the day, depending on where you chose to start. Please remember, only these special farms will be open early so please wait to visit all other farms until the tour officially begins at 2pm.

 

Plan your Farm Tour Route!

To maximize farm touring time and minimize driving, we suggest picking a favorite farm per day as a starting point and choosing 2-3 other great farms nearby. There are about 60 miles between the northernmost and southernmost farms, so try to choose farms within about 15-20 minutes of each other. Check out the list of farms below, follow the link to their website or Facebook page, and plan your route based on their locations. Once you factor in driving time, you’ll likely need to budget 1-1.5 hours per farm. Plan to visit 3-4 farms per day

Dreaming up your perfect farm tour adventure? Start by picking out your number one, MUST SEE farm, and then choose 2-3 nearby farms for variety. Add a Kick-off Farm in the mix so you can to start your day early!

 

Farm Tour GuideThe guide has all the information you’ll need: a full description of each farm and their products; which farms hold more appeal for children; which are offering snacks or lunch (for an additional fee); and where you’ll find restrooms. In your Farm Tour Guide, you’ll find the farm tour map has been drawn across three regions: Farm Tour North, Farm Tour Central, and Farm Tour South.

 

Google Map: Use the interactive google map to plan your self-paced tour. Farm Tour regions are color coded on the google map: Farm Tour North Farms have green icons,  Farm Tour Central Farms have yellow icons, Farm Tour South farms have red icons.

 

There’s no rule that says you must stay within the color coded groups; you can visit ANY farm in ANY order! Your car pass gives your group access to all 35 farms on both tour days.

 

Farm Tour North

Stoney Mountain Farm

Stoney Mountain Farm

 

Find the Farm Tour North map on page 5 of your printed guide, or check out the GREEN farms on the google map. For a sample route on the Farm Tour North Map, you might start your day at a kick-off farm (Stoney Mountain Farm OR Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm), head to a nearby produce farm for an early afternoon tour (Nourishing Acres), take a break and grab a snack at a diversified farm with animals AND veggies (Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm), and finish off with a trip to Open Door Farm to pack the cooler with microgreens to then head home and whip up a farm tour inspired dinner for the family. Mix and match your own adventure trail from the farms in this region below! 

 

 

Farm Tour Central 

Plow Girl Farm

Plow Girl Farm

 

Find the Farm Tour Central map on page 8 of your printed guide, or check out the YELLOW farms on the google map. Kick off farms in this region include Minka Farm, Woodcrest Farm, AND Peaceful River Farm. For a sample route in the Farm Tour Central area, we’d start out with a kick-off farm at 12, and then choose 2-3 nearby farms to get a variety of farm tour fun in at a diverse selection of farms. For example, if you wanted to see the adorable barn animals and orchards at Minka Farm, you could start your tour at this kick off farm at 12 and still have time to visit neighbor farm, Fickle Creek Farm (chickens, shep, lams, cows and pigs) for a late lunch of grass-fed beef hotdogs or Polish sausage. From there, head down the road to Dancing Pines Farm to see their year-round produce production in hoop houses, or a bit farther to visit Rocky Run Farm (chickens and intensive vegetable and fruit production) or, in the opposite direction, to Woodcrest Farm (grass-fed beef, pork, dairy cattle, chickens and produce, plus a super cool blacksmith shop and if you’re still hungry: farm-raised BBQ plates!). Finish up your day at RambleRill Farm and bring home farm-fresh products from their new farm store. 

 

Farm Tour South

Reverence Farm

Reverence Farms

 

Find the Farm Tour South map on page 13 of your printed guide, or check out the RED farms on the google map. Okay, the Farm tour South region is ACTION PACKED!!! Luckily there are TWO kick off farms – Reverence Farms and Braeburn Farm – where you can get started early and then work your way through the Southern farm tour region at your leisure. Consider spending one day visiting Pittsboro Farms, one day visiting Saxapahaw farms, and/or a day visiting Snow Camp/Siler City Farms. The Snow Camp and Siler City Farms would also make great additions to a selection of 2 or 3 farms in either the Pittsboro OR Saxapahaw Area. 

The farm tour is an incredible opportunity to see where your food comes from, to meet your local farmer and see first-hand how they grow and raise sustainable crops and livestock.

 

So gather your group, plan your adventure trail and don’t forget to pack a cooler (to store the produce, eggs, cheese, meat, and other farm products). We can’t wait to see you at the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour.

 

Tour tickets purchased in advance are $30 per car for all farms, all weekend. Become a CFSA member and you’ll save $5 more on advance tickets! Tour is rain or shine.

Buy-Now

 

 

Day-of tickets are $35 (available at the first farm you visit). Or, visit Weaver Street Markets in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough or one of our many other ticket locations across the Triangle to pick up your printed guide and buy your car pass!

The event is co-sponsored by CFSA and Weaver Street Market, an essential partner in building the Piedmont Farm Tour into a Triangle institution over the past more than 20 years. Tour proceeds support the work of CFSA.

Agritourism in Colombia: Field Notes from a Farmer2Farmer Mission in the Meta Region

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Part One in a series of three installments of field notes from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Education Coordinator, Leah Joyner. Tapped for her expertise in agritourism and farm tour development, Leah was asked to participate in a volunteer agritourism assignment to Colombia through the Farmer2Farmer program. To connect with the work Leah does at CFSA, check out the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 17-18! The tour features 25 farms in the Triangle area, so get your car pass, choose some farms to visit, and get to know your local farmers!

The sun beating down at the foot of the Sierra De La Macarena Mountains, I asked the farmer – “Why do you want agritourism?” Without missing a beat he replied, “Because I want the world to know who Colombian farmers really are.”

There seems to be a global misperception of the Colombian people. In the weeks leading up to my trip I was constantly asked, “You mean, you’re going to Colombia THE COUNTRY? Aren’t you worried about the drug trade? What about being kidnapped!?” To be sure, the country has had a violent history: any colombian my age (late twenties) will tell you that they have never known peace in their lifetime. Actually, there is not a period that a Colombian under the age of 60 could recall that violence did not tear through the country. As a long period of civil war, guerilla conflict, and narcos drug cartel violence appears to draw to a close, peace seems to be on its way to Colombia.

As they look forward to the first period of peace in over 50 years, tourism is emerging as a powerful tool to change perceptions and generate positive change. This campesino was not the only Colombian who would share a passionate vision to change the global perception that Colombians, especially in rural areas, mostly belong to rebel groups and subsist on growing coca. During a two-week volunteer assignment through the Farmer2Farmer program, a collaboration between Purdue University, VEGA, and USAID in the region of Meta, I met an inspiring group of farmers laying the groundwork to implement tourism as a part of their mission to show the world who they are: passionate, genuine and welcoming people, growing food for their families and working hard to preserve the environment through sustainability.

The following blog includes excerpts of field notes from the trip broken out into in a three-part series: introduction and backstory of the region, notes from field visits to farmers and ecotourism sites, and a conclusion with recommendations for continued sustainable tourism development.

May 31st – 2016

Have been in Colombia for two days. The flight into Bogotá was my first solo international trek. For some seriously misguided reason, I expected that at least a few of the customs agents would speak English. Navigating my way through the airport was interesting to say the least… I should really have studied a little more Spanish before this trip. There was nothing like a noisy, street-facing room in the nation’s hectic capital to remind me how much I love my quiet riverside apartment in Alamance County. Luckily, we were headed out of the city at 9am the day after arrival. I met my colleague, Dr. Jonathon Day, in the lobby of the Hotel Estelar and within minutes we were in the car with a driver from the Purdue University Farmer2Farmer program. Since our driver didn’t speak English it was a good time to catch up, talk about our objectives for the trip and exchange what little bit of info we had on the assignment and general area to which we were travelling. The steep road to our destination took us about 6000 feet closer to sea level. The scenery reminded me vaguely of Western NC – driving over the viaduct bridges, passing those familiar (yet somehow still very unnerving) ‘falling rock’ signs, cattle grazing on the slopes by the road, and fog lifting off the mountains to reveal breathtaking scenery. Aside from the drastically different climate, extreme disregard for traffic patterns, and unique flora and fauna, the roadside view of armed soldiers clenching AK’s was certainly one of the more marked differences. We were headed to the Meta region of Colombia, one of the more heavily affected post-conflict regions at the heart of the country which remains occupied by paramilitary groups.

We arrived to Villavicencio, a large city home to the Universidad de los Llanos (University of the Plains). Bustling and big on nightlife (so we were told…), dubbed Villavo for short. After checking into our hotel we headed to the university to check in with the Farmer2Farmer team there. It was drizzling outside as we settled into a small classroom, gathered around a map of the region to discuss what our travel plans would be over the next two weeks. Here, I was served my first cup of tinto, and what a sweet treat it was. Colombians take their coffee weak (well, compared to the sludge I brew at home), in small servings and heavily sweetened with a delicious substance called ‘panella’. Our translator Monica tells us the word she uses to describe this dark brown, rich flavoring is cane sugar brick. Seems pretty on point to me. As I sipped the tinto and listened to the backstory of the region I was captivated by the passion and drive of the F2F team at the university. It’s clear that they are accomplishing a great deal, and having a positive and lasting impact on their community.

Professor Constanza identifying mushrooms in the rainforest

Professor Constanza identifying mushrooms in the rainforest

Professor Constanza, an agronomic engineer, shared with us her expertise on the biodiversity of the region, and the critical need for tourism to develop sustainably in order to preserve the unique aspects of the environment. Her office walls were plastered with pictures of the diverse creatures and plants that comprise the ecosystem. She explained the fragility of the environment, which we would experience first hand over the rest of our journey. Jorge, the F2F program coordinator, told us about the many projects that are planned for the region. His job demands knowledge on a wide expanse of topics, as they have brought in international consultants to share tutorials ranging from healthy food preparation, to aged cheese making, permaculture, seed saving, soil preservation, foraged foods, and much more.

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Jorge, the F2F program coordinator

As they explained the vision for rural development I couldn’t help but draw connections to North Carolina. They detailed a lack of access to healthy foods in rural areas, the desire for diverse income streams through tourism development, the willingness of the farmers to work together and their desire to support each other for the good of not only their own farms but for the benefit of the community as a whole. Often, no matter how far away you travel from home you can’t help but see similarities. These farmers are in the beginning stages of forming an association of producers, which called to mind the stories I’ve heard from CFSA’s members when our organization began thirty seven years ago out of similar desires to share knowledge and grow healthy, organic foods. Having recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Piedmont Farm Tour I couldn’t help but imagine the conversations that the founding members of our farm tours must have had, and wonder what similarities would resonate with the Colombian farmers’ own desire to use tourism to create personal connections with consumers.

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Compromiso de Todos, a symbol we saw painted frequently in public areas as reminder that the compromise for peace ‘is for all of us’

During our debriefing we learned that there are already several regional tourism strategies in place. The region has carved out several distinct tourism experiences including the ‘cowboys and sunsets’ trail, ‘the salt route’, ‘the magic of the landscape’, and finally ‘the gateway to the Sierra de la Macarena’. This fourth traill, the newest to be developed, was the reason for our mission. As access to the area begins to open in light of the pending peace treaty this trail is beginning to take shape. They explained that the local culture is rich and diverse. During the rise of coca plantations people from all over Colombia resettled to the region resulting in a blending of cultures, food, and art from all areas of the country. They explained that the building of a new road to the area was a part of a larger strategy to reclaim the area from the coca culture. The goal for tourism is to rebrand the idea of the region as too dangerous. It seems that in the plans to develop this gateway to the Sierra route, many of the villages and farmers were left out of the fold. It is their intention to brand themselves as the key to the beautiful mountain region of the Macarena. The communities that we would visit are the doorway to the beauties within the park. However, much of the park has been occupied by guerillas and cartels for the past 50 years. Much of the lands within the park were clear cut in order to grow coca, and even now that the peace agreements are underway between President Santos and the FARC, the park remains a point of contention. As a condition of the peace agreement, the guerillas have maintained that they should reserve access to the land. Upon relaying this message to us, our translator was nearly brought to tears to hear this news. Shortly following my return, the treaty was signed in Havana under these conditions. Although she was saddened that some of these pristine ecosystems would not be recovered, she recalls the long history of violence that has torn through the country and believes that no matter what, the pursuit of peace must be the driving factor.

As we would hear from the community members again and again, they want to use tourism as a tool to change perceptions around the coca culture of the region.

Even within Colombia, there is a perception that Meta is a hub of coca production. Yet in reality, the farmers are producing a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products for export into cities like Bogota. As we’ve seen in the United States, a demand for healthy organic food is growing. The farmers see this burgeoning demand as an opportunity to welcome their urban consumers to travel to the region, visit the farms, and get in touch with the realities of growing food. Considering that facilitating personal connections between producers and consumers is the cornerstone to much of the work we do at CFSA, and the driving factor behind our regional farm tours, I was excited to get to work. Here’s what we learned in our debrief:

  • What’s being produced: citrus, dairy, and beef are the main crops.

  • There is a range of experience in tourism among the farms we would visit; some are already offering tourism opportunities while others are in the beginning stages of developing what type of tourism experience they would like to offer.

  • In other areas of the country tourism has developed in a way that has exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment. It will be imperative to develop management strategies that honor the triple bottom line of sustainability – people, planet, and profit.

By the conclusion of the meeting we had a better idea of how the mission would be organized. Early the next morning we would travel to San Juan de Arama, one of the oldest townships in the region. We would meet with the farmers and tourism operators of the area and hear from them what their vision for tourism development. Dr. Day and I were to give introductory presentations on concepts of sustainable tourism, ecotourism, and agritourism and receive presentations from representatives with the National Office of Social Prosperity, the mayor of San Juan De Arama, and the National Park Office. After the initial meetings, we would visit several potential agritourism and ecotourism sites across the region selected by the community members. Let the adventure begin!

Part Two – Read about Leah’s field notes from visits to agritourism and ecotourism sites from June 1st – June 6th, 2016.

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Upstate Farm Tour Adventures: Part 2

by guest blogger, Liene Kukainis, of the Femme au foyer blog 

We discovered Saturday evening after a full afternoon of the 9th annual Upstate Farm Tour that my four boys were all farmed out. Luckily, Mikus recuperated by Sunday afternoon, otherwise I would have had a lonely second day exploring the farms down around Lake Hartwell. As much as I enjoy solitary time, the farm tour was really more enjoyable with children. Not only do I consider it important for them to know and understand where the food we eat comes from, but visiting working farms is educational and exciting.  If it weren’t for all the hours spent in the car on Saturday I would have insisted they all accompany me on Sunday, as there were plenty of unique stops awaiting us that afternoon.

 

Our first stop was a new stop on the tour, Berry Acres in Anderson. Formerly Hardy Berry Farm, Berry Acres has been producing berries for 30 years. You-pick was closed with all the farm tour traffic and as the season is still young, but we were able to get a taste of the berries with a stop in the farm store after our tour. Being one of the first visitors of the day had its advantages: there were only a few cartons of blueberries available as they have only just started ripening, but we got our share! We also bought a container of giant, luscious blackberries, and not surprisingly both were empty not long after returning home. Berry Acres also have strawberries and honey, although strawberry season is definitely over for the year.

 

The meal stop on this year’s tour was at Forx Farm. I was intending to stop there anyhow for the artisan gouda cheese, but the Friends Farm & Catering’s food truck there sealed the deal. We joined the farm’s cheese-making tour with best intentions, but somewhere in the middle of learning about the processes of turning raw milk into curds, whey and eventually cheese we ran out of patience, and following on the heels of a certain three year old, I headed out of the cheese room. Forx Farms buys fresh, raw cow milk from nearby Southern Oaks Jersey Farm & Creamery and has the resulting gouda for sale, but they also keep bee hives. We bought some of the Lubsen honey and a thick block of gouda while admiring the beautiful beeswax candles, and then were treated to a view of honey bees turning nectar into honey at the farm’s observation hive.

 

The Friends Farm & Catering food truck menu was hard to resist, with several “Things” catching my eye including the “Veggie Thing”, “Chicken Thing” and “Fish Thing,” in addition to the iced tea sweetened with Upstate honey. However, we settled with a “Cheese Thing” made with Forx gouda, which we enjoyed under the beautiful large oaks, enjoying the breeze and buzzing bees. Possibly Anderson’s first “farm to table” business, Friends Farm & Catering have thirty years of experience under their belts (aprons), and place priority on sustainable, local and safe agricultural practices.

 

I was excited to visit Split Creek Farm, a goat dairy and cheese maker north of Lake Hartwell. Mikus met the goats but had most fun exploring the grounds, being as there were several interesting tucked-away corners with cool stuff to look at and fun things to spot throughout the garden. We caught a bit of the talk in the milking parlor, but soon stepped out to taste a few of their cheeses. Although we came home with the pesto goat cheese log, the garden garlic goat cheese spread and a bit of homemade fudge, I thought everything I tasted was delicious: the fromage blanc, the marinated feta, the various flavored chevres… Split Creek is also a source for raw milk, crème fraiche, ricotta and yogurt, non-food items including owner Patricia Bell’s folk art and local products from nearby farms such as eggs, honey, grits, corn meal & rice.

With Mikus in a great mood and a quick look at the clock I decided to include Lucky Acres Farm on the day’s itinerary, a bit of a backtrack to Townville. It’s fortunate that we made the side trip to see the alpaca farm as this was our favorite stop on the entire tour! Highlights included petting the gentle creatures as we learned about raising them, meeting a few miniature silky “fainting goats” (and seeing why they are called that!) and taking home some alpaca fleece, fantastically soft and nicknamed by Mikus mākonīša gabals (a piece of a cloud). Despite the heat we remained engaged and interested, and were rewarded with cold lemonade and homemade cookies; the alpacas aren’t the only lucky ones on Lucky Acres Farm!

 

The next stop along Lake Hartwell was the Seneca Treehouse Project. On my radar for some time due to the sustainability and permaculture principles at the base of this 3-year old community project, we had not been able to visit or participate in any of the learning/building sessions due to distance. However, today was the perfect day for a visit and we got the full tour! One of the current owners guided us through the swales composing the gardens and orchard, to the Earthbag Dome – a fantastic example of low-impact construction using readily available materials. He explained the next phase of the project, a water catchment system/swimming pool/fish hatchery before leading us to the poultry pastures and on-site lumber mill. Hands-down the winner of favorite place on the entire two-day tour however, was the treehouse itself. Built into a giant beech with a view over Lake Hartwell, the treehouse is connected to the main house via hanging walkway. Complete with a sleeping loft, writing nook and enough space to hang out, I think Lauris and Mikus would be content to live there for the summer!

 

I hated to tear Mikus away, but it was time to head towards Greenville to meet the rest of the boys for dinner. As it was on the way, we hazarded one more stop – the Clemson University Student Organic Farm. We made it with only 20 minutes left in the tour, but this also means we had the guides to ourselves. The farm encompasses five acres, which are dedicated to intensive production of seasonal produce, herbs and flowers. With passive solar greenhouses, hydronic heating systems, reflecting fish ponds and rainwater harvesting, the farm is a model of sufficient and sustainable farming. With tour hours coming quickly to a close we asked to fish for minnows; the mosquito-eating fish can be caught with a large net system (and then returned to their home). Our guide then took us into one of the greenhouses to show off the prawn pond, and after catching and inspecting a few freshwater prawns we headed back to the coolers to pick out some peaches and plums to take home. Mikus must have impressed him with his fishing technique (or we gained his compassion by stepping into one of the water gardens and a fire ant mound) because we were allowed to pick enough blueberries for the car ride home – though they only lasted as long as one tired little boy managed to keep his eyes open.

 

Want to read more of Liene and her boys’ adventures?  Check out her blog and her Facebook and Twitter pages!

Upstate Farm Tour

Thank you for 10 amazing years of the Upstate Farm Tour.

Unfortunately, due to funding constraints, we cannot host the tour this year. We will be posting fun agritourism events from our member farms around the region on our events calendar. You can also keep up-to-date on CFSA’s work in South Carolina by checking out our Food SystemsFarm Services, and Policy team pages.

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!

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Register

Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Tickets

Advance tickets are $30 per car for ALL farms, ALL weekend.

Register in Advance and Save $5.

CFSA Members save $5 in advance when they register online. JOIN TODAY!

Day of registration is $35.

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