While we're visiting the family farms around the Triangle during the sixth annual Piedmont Farm Tour this weekend, many of us will be thinking about the farmers of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe, who have been so tragically impacted by the epidemics of mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. More than a million cattle, sheep and pigs have been slaughtered this spring in an effort to contain the highly contagious afflictions. Whole dairy herds have been completely wiped out.
No cases of these diseases have been reported in the United States, and that's great, says Muffin Brosig of Maple View Farm & Milk Company in Chapel Hill. One single case in this area would immediately condemn every herd, Brosig says. Maple View Farm will be closed during the farm tour, since foot-and-mouth is so contagious that it can come in on the soles of visitors' shoes, and can even be carried, and transmitted airborne, by humans. "There is so much international travel in this area," says Brosig, "that we can't take the chance. One case in Chatham County would mean disaster for all the farms in the region." Maple View will keep its new ice cream store open at the corner of Rocky Ridge and Dairyland roads. Anybody who is a fan of their luscious milk and cream should make a beeline for the Country Store on farm tour weekend.
Even though we won't be petting any of Maple View Farm's lovely dairy cattle this year, the farm tour offers an opportunity to visit with lots of other animals. The tour sponsor, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), encourages visits with local livestock, but not if you've been out of the country during the past 60 days. If you have, please don't visit Celebrity Dairy, Cud-Zu Goat Farm, McAdams Farm, Spence's Farm, Merriweather Farm, New Hope Farm or Nu Horizons Farm.
But if you've been a stay-at-home for the past two months, you'll be welcome at Spence's Farm, a visitor-friendly place between Carrboro and Hillsborough. In addition to after-school and summer programs for kids, Spence Dickinson offers woodworking and riding programs. He has 18 animals, including ponies, a donkey, a mule, chickens, goats, llamas, pot-bellied pigs, geese and turkeys. Among his horses are several Morgans, the only breed native to North America, Dickinson says.
Morgan Horses, first developed by Vermont schoolteacher Justin Morgan, are considered unique, smart and powerful. They're good for working, riding, plowing and pulling a carriage, and are dependable and friendly family horses, Dickinson says. In his riding program, Dickinson uses horses to teach about relationships. "When you get on a horse's back, you're not a human anymore," he says, "you're a human with powerful legs. You're stronger and faster. You can dominate a horse, but you can also build a partnership. We use horses to teach kids about trust, about how to be friends with things that are bigger than they are."
At Nu Horizons Farm just south of Pittsboro, you'll have the rare chance to see a herd of water buffalo. Leigh and Susan Loraine have five buffalo, and you might be lucky enough to see a sixth: One of the herd is pregnant. The Loraines are beginning a cheese dairy and with the help of the water buffalo, they'll be making buffalo mozzarella in the near future, along with cheese and butter from their Jersey dairy cows. They also raise pigs, chickens and beef without using animal byproducts, hormones or antibiotics.
"We'll have our country market open for the tour," says Susan Loraine, "with all our meats for sale, produce from our organic market gardens, Amish quilts, jams and jellies. We'll also be serving sandwiches, pies and cookies, and there's a nice place to picnic."
Boot Hill Farm, just east of Saxapahaw, is a fourth-generation, 100-year-old family farm, and Tim Zachary says his family has been in the area since 1695. The Zacharys are raising Welsh ponies for sale, lease and lessons. For the farm tour, you can view the spread from a rolling hay wagon. Zachary will be showing his collection of Indian artifacts--arrowheads, grinding stones, tomahawks and drills that have turned up in his fields during many years of plowing. Local members of the Occaneechi tribe have surveyed his collection and assess some of the pieces at 15,000 years old, says Zachary. The family has an authentic log house with two riding rings, a children's playground with tree house, zip line and merry-go-round, and miles of cross-country trails.
Finnabar Farm, just down the road from Maple View Dairy on Dodson's Crossroads, will show some spotted Chincoteague ponies, brought from Chincoteague Island off the Delmarva Peninsula by A Thousand Welcomes Farm in Chapel Hill. Pat Kiffney's students will do horse-care demonstrations for farm-tour visitors, including halter training of the Chincoteagues, and they will lead nature walks to nearby Watery Fork.
Kiffney is also pony-sitting for Brownie, a friend's "mountainy" pony, as the short, thick work horses are called in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. "She looks like a Tootsie Roll," says Kiffney. "These are old-timey ponies who might have originally been Shetlands or Hackneys. Kids used to ride them to school."
Kiffney will also admit visitors to her children's Green Pony Garden, especially designed "for somebody who's 6," and her Garden Shed Garden, a demonstration plot for her ideas about "growing stuff that's good to eat, smells good, flavors your food well, and is pretty to look at." The Garden Shed Garden, designed to attract customers to Kiffney's garden-design business, combines organic vegetables, trees, ornamentals and water features "that won't break the bank."
Spring lambs and kids will be on view at Merriweather Farm near Eli Whitney. Mary Ann Pagano will guide you through the flock and describe the farm's production of milk, mohair and wool for her soap, yarn and felt products.
Celebrity Goat Dairy in Silk Hope is the perfect site for your picnic this year, and if you didn't bring one, you can buy one from Britt and Fleming Pfann at their bed-and-breakfast inn. They have 70 goats (with "celebrity" names) producing milk for that award-winning goat cheese you've been enjoying from the local farmers and gourmet markets.
Animals are interesting, but don't neglect the tour's vegetable farms, like Perry-Winkle Farm on White Cross Road, operated by Mike Perry and Cathy Jones, popular sellers at the Carrboro and Fearrington farmers markets, and the perennial favorite, Sustenance Farm in Bear Creek, where Harvey and Nancy Harman can demonstrate some very imaginative organic farming strategies.
The sixth annual Piedmont Farm Tour is set for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22. This year's tour offers 26 tours for $25 per car (or $5 per car per farm). The tour is sponsored every year by CFSA, in partnership with Weaver Street Market and The Independent, to raise awareness of local farms and their importance to the beauty and rural character of the Triangle region. CFSA stresses the value of local food systems, integral to achieving long-term socio-economic sustainability.
Tour maps and brochures are available at local farmers markets, specialty food stores and restaurants, such as Weaver Street Market, Durham Food Co-op, Wellspring, Fowler's, Pittsboro General Store and LU-E-G's Restaurant. To take the tour, fill up your car and use the map to pick a route through the surrounding countryside. You can buy your ticket (a "Support Your Local Farms" button) at the first farm you visit, or buy one in advance at the participating markets at a $5 savings. For more information, call (919) 542-2402 or visit www.carolinafarmstewards.org.