Kornerstone Farms

How a family in pursuit of healthy food grew into a burgeoning farm business feeding their community in the Upstate

by Leah Joyner, CFSA’s Education Coordinator 

Kornerstone Farm

The Kornerstone Farm Family
Photo submitted by Chris Kaiser

Kornerstone Farms is founded on family. Jason and Chris Kaiser, along with their nine children, work together on just a few acres to raise pigs, chickens, dairy goats, grass-fed cattle, quail, honey bees, and heirloom vegetables. What began as a mission to eat better as a family turned into an adventure in farming, food, and community.

 

Jason and Chris relocated the family from their home in South Florida to South Carolina in 2011. A few years before making the big move they started to value eating better as a family. They found it was hard to find products that were GMO-free and organic, and the raw milk and cheeses they were looking for, so they joined a co-op with other families in their area who were looking for similar products. At the time, the Kaisers were living in a townhome with not much of a yard. Gardening and farming opportunities were extremely limited, but Jason and Chris knew that they wanted to dig deeper.

 

So they started reading everything they could find about starting a farm. Jason recalls that Joel Salatin’s books had a big impact on their decision to get into farming because of his message to just start small and grow into the farm naturally. So, armed with some crucial knowledge from their research and a healthy appetite for homegrown food, they moved the whole family to the Upstate of South Carolina and started renting an acre of farmland.

 

Kornerstone Farm

The Kaiser kids all help out around the farm. Here’s Christian weeding cucumbers.                      Photo submitted by Chris Kaiser

That’s right – this growing family farm started with just ONE acre. They decided to get started by providing their family with eggs, so they tracked down some used chicken on their local Craigslist. After a while, and some success (and some very tasty eggs), the next step was to try growing meat birds for their own consumption. With meat and egg providing regular protein sources, the next step was milk goats. With all of this expansion, the Kaisers decided it was time to buy their own place in Woodruff. They settled on 6 acre parcel of land with a little wiggle room to grow by borrowing additional acreage from neighbors. With more land available, the farm took off. These days Kornerstone Farms is now home to about 150 laying hens, 400 meat birds, and 100 turkeys, plus various numbers pigs, beef cattle, dairy goats, and honey bees. According the Chris, one of the major takeaways from Kornerstone Farms is the story of starting small and scaling up smartly. “The point is – you don’t need 20 acres to start a farm. Start where you are, backyard chickens and eggs. Work with what you have. This is all happened over a period of time, and we are very much still a small farm.”

 

Graycie, Ellie & Maddison prep the baby heritage turkeys for their new homes in the brooder that day. Their daily job is to check the feed and water for these birds. Photo submitted by Chris Kaiser

Graycie, Ellie & Maddison prep the baby heritage turkeys for their new homes in the brooder that day. Their daily job is to check the feed and water for these birds.

To keep Kornerstone farm growing, the Kaiser kids (the oldest is 19 and the youngest is 1) are a huge part of the farm. From weeding cucumbers, to milking goats and feeding chickens they all have their own jobs. In addition to caring for the birds when they are young, the kids also monitor food and water supplies, and help out with the processing. Most of the kids are homeschooled at the farm where coursework is focused on responsibility and producing food. Chris and Jason’s vision is to establish a successful, sustainable, multi-generational farm. Their values are strongly rooted in faith, family, community, and stewardship. The Kaisers strive to be “good stewards of what God has given us.” They can already see their goals growing to fruition: several of their children have expressed interest in wanting to continue to farm, grow food, and lead self-sustaining lifestyles.

 

Chris and Jason with their turkeys ready for sale. Every aspect of production happens on the farm.

Chris and Jason with their turkeys ready for sale. Every aspect of production happens on the farm.

One of the family’s biggest long term goals is to grow the business to a place that can financially enable Chris to work full-time on the farm. In the meantime, he continues to fulfill his passion for education through his off- farm job as a teacher and coach. The family’s passion for knowledge sharing is also showcased through their annual participation in the Upstate Farm Tour. The 2016 Upstate farm tour will be held June 18th & 19th. During the farm tour visitors can milk a goat, walk through the garden, see that the orchard trees and fruit bushes are starting to produce fruit, watch the pigs root, and learn about how the laying hens are rotated through the property in their egg mobiles. Take a hayride to see the meat birds in their different growing stages at various parts of the farm. At Kornerstone Farms every stage of development from the brooder to the processing happens on the farm. Chris says “It’s important for people to learn about the difference between meat birds and laying hens.” Farm tour visitors will enjoy meeting the Kaiser kids during the farm tour while they host the guided tours.

 

Chris recalls participating in the Upstate Farm tour as a visitor when the family first relocated to SC. “One of the first things that we did we moved here was to visit as many farms as we possibly could. The farm tour provided us with a way to connect with as many farms as possible in two days. The great thing is that you can connect with those farmers on the tour and then they can help to introduce to other farmers they know.” Chris still remembers the influential tour that Steve Ellis at Bethel Trails Farm gave years ago on the Upstate Farm tour. Chris says, “Seeing how [Steve] did things and how open and honest and available for everyone he was just blew me away. Steve said ‘anytime you want to come here, come see me.’ And it wasn’t just him – the other farmers said, ‘hey anytime you have questions just let us know. Come out.’ And we feel the same way about Kornerstone Farms. We want people to ask us questions and we want to share our knowledge.”

 

Kornerstone Farm (1)

Nathan tending to the freedom ranger meat birds. Photo by Chris Kaiser.

For Chris, one of the most important aspects of opening the farm gates during the Upstate Farm Tour is to help educate consumers about why prices for locally grown, GMO-free, and organic foods can be a bit higher than what you might find in your typical grocers aisles. He believes that “The farm tours allow people to dig in, and learn that the farmer is charging what is necessary in order to make a profit.” Things like GMO-free feed can be costly but feeding their animals the way that they feed themselves is important to the Kaisers.

 

Through opening their farm gates and welcoming visitors, the Kaiser Family hopes to inspire others to consider becoming stewards of the land by growing their own food. “The reality is that there are not enough farmers. Even though we are so new to do this I would share anything with everybody. The goal is really just for more and more people to produce their own food…That’s why I love to see people cultivating even just a quarter of an acre. Everyone is capable of doing something. Everyone can take a part of some aspect of the food movement.

 

Find Kornerstone Farm products at the Taylors farmers market, The Grain Loft, and Swamp Rabbit Cafe and at their blog and Facebook page. And, don’t forget to bring a cooler on the Upstate Farm Tour so you can stock up on goodies during your visit!

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!

"Mushrooms everywhere!" – A Visit to Mushroom Mountain

“Mushrooms everywhere!” – A Visit to Mushroom Mountain

by Jennifer Sparks

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Mushroom Mountain on the Upstate Farm Tour, June 2-3, 2012! 

 

Tucked away just a short distance off Highway 123 in Liberty, South Carolina, a local mushroom farm has a big story to tell. Off a small side street, it sits back from the road and is easily missed the first time, but with one quick turnaround I found it and received a very warm welcome, both from the owners and one of the friendliest dogs on earth, appropriately named Enoki. Sitting down to a shaded picnic table with fresh cold watermelon slices and local blueberries, I was told the story behind this unique experiment that the owner and farmer/scientist believes can heal a plethora of human and environmental ills. The operation is Mushroom Mountain and the farmer/scientist is Tradd Cotter, who got his start in his late teens when his mother suggested he go to work on a local mushroom farm on John’s Island, SC. From the beginning, he was hooked and has been studying the art of identifying and cultivating mushrooms for over 15 years, spending the last 3 years building up his farm on its current site. The property includes “the world’s first interpretive mushroom farm” complete with walking trails, composting, and “mycogardening” demonstration areas, all of which we toured together and he described each in promising and expert detail.

After getting a general lay of the land and initial understanding of the purpose of each area, we were off for a walk in the woods. The first stop was the chicken house, which is an old shed retrofitted to hold a few layers, as well as a dozen or so young chicks, all happily resting in the shade on their bed of straw and fungi. This is where I started to think we’d see some form of fungi on nearly every square foot of this place, and I wasn’t far from the truth. Tradd informed me how the fungi spores mixed into the bedding act as a natural composter for the chicken waste and form a wonderfully symbiotic relationship to keep the environment clean and healthy. I have to admit, it’s one of only two chicken houses I’ve ever seen that had no unusual smell, so it must be working!

Next we were led along a few small trails where several varieties of ‘mushroom nurseries’ grow and demonstrate a half dozen or so different cultivation methods. We saw Chicken of the Woods and King Stropharia among other more recognizable names. Despite the near 100 degree heat that day, the woods were a bit cooler and obviously provide an ideal environment for warm weather mushrooms, just needing regular heavy watering. For this Tradd and his partner Olga bring out an actual baby swimming pool, fill it with water and throw the logs in to soak for 12 – 24 hours. Mushroom spawn need to breathe, so any longer would risk suffocating them.

Here’s how it works, give or take a few details depending on the cultivation method being used: they pick up unwanted pieces of freshly cut deciduous softwoods, different mushroom varieties require specific types of wood; the logs are cut to desired length, again according to the desired method, and given a good initial soak in plain water. Then, ¼ – ½ inch holes are drilled all around the log, evenly spaced, and then plugged with the spawn (developed in the farm’s registered, Class 1, Low Biosafety Hazard lab). After that, the holes are covered with wax to keep out any pests or unwanted material. The spawn grow and feed on the log until it becomes completely ‘colonized’, and since they need to fruit in order to keep alive, that’s when the mushrooms pop out. One harvest is called a ‘flush’ and many varieties flush a couple to half a dozen times per season. The yield is partially dependent on the diameter of the log and roughly equals to one year of production per 1 inch in diameter, with the optimal average being 4-5 years. If the logs start drying out, the process slows down, but only prolonged direct sunlight can kill the spawn.

Passing by what looked suspiciously like a garden gone completely wild, we made it over to one of two greenhouses kept at a comfortably cooler temperature for optimal growth of the more sensitive tropical varieties of oyster mushrooms. These fungi were growing out of buckets, 10 ft long skinny hanging bags and smaller bags of sawdust all piled up and sitting on the floor. This is one of the farm’s sources of income. Tradd sells the mushrooms to several local restaurants, including American Grocery and High Cotton in Greenville, and The Blue Heron in Clemson.

After 90 minutes of learning just the tip of the iceberg about some of the projects he has going on and plans to do in the future, we headed back to the picnic table and were presented with a couple of unexpected treats, including a mushroom flour made from dried mushrooms, which I’m told is excellent as a coating for whitefish and scallops, and local honey infused with the flour that is supposed to hold medicial properties. The honey has a distinctive, woodsy, caramel flavor.

That summed up the tour and I had to be going, but I definitely plan to keep up with what’s happening at this not-so-little mycological melange in Liberty, SC. And you should too!

Tradd and Olga provide workshops and consult numerous hobby growers and commercial farms in the Southeast. Mushroom Mountain’s laboratory has the capability to produce and supply customized spawn to growers in any quantity, while ensuring optimal mushroom culture viability. Tradd has collaborated as a chief investigator with Georgia Tech on a USDA grant proposal to study the effects of mushroom mycelium to promote the metabolism of high-oil content algae for the use in the production of biofuels. His goals are to develop environmentally sensitive farming practices for future generations, coupling sustainability with an economically viable model for mushroom farms at home and worldwide.

> Learn more and shop online at www.mushroommountain.com.

A Visit to Gibson Farms

A Visit to Gibson Farms

by Janette Wesley, Slow Food Upstate

Editor’s Note: Visit Leland, Big Boy, Boss Lady, and all the other characters at Gibson Farms on the CFSA Upstate Farm Tour, June 2-3. Don’t forget to bring your coolers to take home some delectable beef!

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 of the 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 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 a 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 certifed 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 the consumer 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 Activist of the Year.
> www.slowfoodupstate.com
> www.earthmarkets.net