Innovative farm thrives
If you drive out to Cane Creek Farm in Snow Camp, N.C., you’ll be immediately puzzled.
When you see the brochures or ask other farmers about the place, they talk about the pasture-raised livestock and heirloom vegetables, and they might even mention that part of the acreage is in a conservation easement. This will make you think the farm is like most niche farms these days in this type of production — small.
But as you head up the path, you realize that is an incorrect assumption. The place is huge by the standard most folks are accustomed to in this area of production. You’ll also notice that the pigs, chickens, and even the cows look a little different. They are different. They are not breeds you’re accustomed to seeing in the state. The names of some of these breeds are difficult to pronounce or spell.
• Cane Creek Farm is serving a niche meat market with a large-scale operation.
• The farm uses niche breeds that work well with foraging.
• Operators are open to customers who want to see how their food is raised.
You might not even be sure where you are, because the name Cane Creek also shares billing with Braeburn Farm.
“Cane Creek Farm is the label I established, mostly with pasture-raised pork,” says co-owner Eliza MacLean. “And Braeburn Farm offered grass-fed beef and is the physical site that has been here for years, under my partner Charles Sydnor. It needed a marketing arm, and provided a much larger acreage. Everything is now marketed under one name.”
The farm is just under 500 acres. The 300-cattle herd is being transitioned from Angus to New Zealand Red Devon. Red Devons have a short, wide frame and work well with rotational grazing. They can gain weight solely on grass, and do well in the North Carolina heat. There are more than 200 pigs, mostly Ossabaw Island hogs, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Farmer’s Hybrid — and even their own cross of Ossabaw and Farmer’s Hybrid called “Cross-a-baw.”
Each of the breeds carry specific traits; some do well for barbecue, others for high-end hams. Some have better maternal instincts. Around 300 heritage-breed chickens provide eggs in many colors. There are 200 turkeys and 50 ducks, as well as 50 meat goats. All the animals are pasture-raised.
MacLean comes to farming from an interesting background — wildlife toxicology, veterinary medicine and wildlife rehabilitation — not your usual farm resume.
“I had two small children and a desire to stay home and do something different with them. I have a great combination of things in my background; our environment is impacted by large-scale farming as much as anything else,” MacLean says. “I wanted to show that there is an alternative, and to try to instill a desire in people to try it. Undoubtedly, though, the jury is still out on whether it can be profitable.”
Less than 2 acres of the farm is dedicated to produce, but Cane Creek Farms offers variety; garlic, onions, tomatoes, watermelons, greens, peppers, collards and kale are all part of the fare. Just like the pastureland, no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used on the crops — even the farm vehicles run on used vegetable oil. A small CSA (community-supported agriculture marketing arrangement) provides vegetables, along with the farm’s sought-after eggs.
In addition to the CSA, Cane Creek Farms sells at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, Greensboro Curb Market, Saxapahaw River Mill and off the farm at its store. Local co-ops and grocery stores, as well as about 20 restaurants in the Triangle and Triad areas, are served, but no products are shipped.
“We don’t ship,” MacLean says. “We want people to come to us. We want people to support their local markets.”
Brantley writes from Nash County, N.C.
This article published in the February, 2010 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.