As a general rule, I think I read too much environmentalist propaganda. This has led me to envision all farms as huge corporations that rape the land, abuse the animals, and try to raise food in the same manner that you would operate a factory. (Not just any factory, but those sweatshop-kind that hire children to work 14 hour days in 120 degree heat.)
Even “organic” or “natural” farms make me leery. (Read my earlier post about why I don’t usually buy organic.) It’s hard not to feel like these are folks who are just trying to cash in on a craze without truly caring about the principles and ideals behind it. Every once in a while, you meet someone who truly cares and is the opposite of this, but it seems to be quite rare.
You know when you meet one of these authentic farmers, because it is like a breath of fresh air. So it was a few weeks ago when I met the kind folks at Pike Valley Farm.
Any farm that must be reached by driving down this lovely lane, must be a good thing:
Winston & Teresa Pike own this little piece of farming heaven. I’ll admit, they look really normal to be sustainable farmers. I guess the few such farmers I’ve met so far have usually fallen pretty squarely in the hippie category. Not the Pikes, as there seemed to be no Birkenstocks or VW vans in sight. I nabbed this picture from their website so you can see what I’m talking about:
Mr. Pike got his start in the corporate world then took the leap into full time farming to be at home more with his family. This leads me to a million questions: how do you go from suit and tie to riding a tractor? More importantly, how do you go from suit and tie to riding a tractor successfully? We’ve all read the books about folks who sink their retirements into farms and then sort of drown in the work of it all, their peaceful dream of farming shattered by the reality of the work.
This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Pikes, who have been in the game for quite a few years now. They sell their organic, pasture-raised beef, pork, and poultry to an assortment of restaurants, groceries, and buying clubs. I think I may know the secret to their success: Teresa. She is the sales/marketing department, and I have a feeling that she does a great job at it. She managed to sell me in the few hours I was there, at least!
The land is beautiful, dotted with chicory. It’s hard to imagine that there are people who look at this kind of scenery every day as part of their “work.”
The Pike Valley turkeys, happily awaiting their chance to be on your Thanksgiving table:
I once knew someone who occasionally worked at a chicken “farm” (a term I use very loosely). Before entering the chicken houses, which were simply warehouses stuffed to overflowing with chickens, he had to strip off his clothes, shower, and dress in coveralls. When he left the facility, he had to shower again before returning to his normal clothes. No visitors were allowed. (Who would want to visit if you had to do all those steps to go in anyway?) These policies had to be in place to protect you as well as the chickens. So many living things crammed into such a small, unsanitary space is like a breeding ground for sickness and disease.
The Pike Valley chicken operation is, well… quite a bit different:
Their layers were happy and friendly and completely devoid of the stress. We were able to go inside the fence, inside the coop, and pet as many chickens as our hearts desired!
(Yep, the kids loved getting to see all the chickens!)
I think I should also take a moment to mention the Pike Valley apprentices who joined us for the farm tour with their new baby in tow!
The Pike Valley cows are Belted Galloways. The cows are 100% grass fed, and rotated using a methodology popularized by Joel Salatin. On the day of our visit, we could barely see the cows, as they were deep in fields that looked very natural.
We are so used to seeing cows on perfect green fields that I think we often forget that it takes a lot of chemical input to achieve that look. These cows aren’t grazing on land doused with RoundUp or anything else. Just cows in their natural environment, as they should be raised.
The Pikes also pasture-raise pork, although the little piggies were sleeping when we came for a visit.
Sometimes it is hard to understand why organic or pasture-raised products are so much more expensive. If you’ve watched a documentary like Food, Inc. and then toured a farm like the Pikes, I think it will become clear. It requires more land and more labor to raise animals naturally. By not implementing the factory ideal to farming, a sustainable farm cannot turn over a huge number of animals to get their profit. They simply must make more per head to create any sort of profit margin. (Not to mention that they create a better, more flavorful product, which is worth more in any market.)
Graciously, the Pikes host monthly free farm tours. The tours are conducted as a hay ride and are very informative. (Your kids will love it!) The next tour is scheduled for August 20th at 10 am. Check out the farm Facebook page and register for the tour so you don’t miss your spot!