The Big Oak Farms has been in the Smith family for the past 200 years. Michael grew up around farming and took over the family farm in the 1980s where he mostly raises cows and pigs. In the 2000s he switched from selling live cattle to selling his own beef and pork products at local farmers markets. Mike and his wife, Dawn, were the initial organizers of the Conover Farmers’ Market and Dawn directed the market until 2018.
|0:01:04||History of Big Oak Farm and farmers’ markets|
|0:01:57||Growing up with farming and taking over the family farm|
|0:02:59||Typical day on the farm and balancing two jobs|
|0:04:58||Acreage between all of the farms and their use|
|0:05:42||Increasing demand at farmers’ markets|
|0:06:20||The “Cul-de-Sac Moms”: key to success and demise|
|0:07:14||The collapse of civilization and what to do about it|
|0:09:07||Approach to change, handling cattle, and grazing techniques|
|0:13:34||North Carolina State, government agencies, and the internet|
|0:15:24||Challenges with the soil|
|0:16:23||Challenges with the weather and the 2007 Drought|
|0:19:32||Distribution at the farmers’ markets|
|0:20:51||Entering the farmers’ market economy and fears|
|0:23:55||Organic farming, consumer concerns vs. practicality|
|0:28:03||Misconceptions of modern farming and the GMO controversy|
|0:30:48||“No-Till” Farming and soil conservation|
|0:32:30||Research and Information vs. Misinformation|
|0:34:33||Local farming community, big farms, and small farms|
|0:38:23||Open community and farming organizations|
|0:39:30||Know Your Farms, LLC|
|0:41:24||Farming is hard, dirty, non-stop, and filled with adversity|
|0:44:09||Smaller farms equal smaller profits|
|0:44:35||(Pause in Recording) Granddaughter triggered car alarm|
|0:44:36||Grandchildren growing up on the farm|
|0:45:16||Lack of interest among the youth for farming|
|0:47:01||The lost art of feeding ourselves|
|0:48:37||“Feeding yourself is the most intimate thing…”|
|0:50:25||The cost of buying imported food and embracing technology|
|0:53:15||End of Interview|
>> Tom Grover: We are recording. So my name is Tom Grover. This interview is part of the Queen’s Garden Oral Histories of the Piedmont Food Shed, an oral history project conducted by graduate students from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region.
Today’s date is Wednesday, April 17th 2019. And I’m with Mike Smith at Big Oak Farm in Kannapolis North Carolina. Mike would you please introduce yourself and include the year and place you were born.
>> Mike Smith: Okay, my name’s Mike Smith, the name of my farm is Big Oak Farm.
And I was born in Cabarrus County in Concord, and I am 60 years old, so I was born in 1959.
>> Tom Grover: Okay, what is the Big Oak Farm, and what do you produce on it?
>> Mike Smith: Well, Big Oak Farm is a beef and pork operation, this farm has been in my family close to 200 years now.
We’ve been producing agricultural products In this area for they long and us have raised beef cattle since probably back in the mid 80s by myself on this farm. About ten or eleven years ago, some folks talked me in to, instead of selling live cattle on the hoof, we started selling meat at farmers markets and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.
>> Tom Grover: So, you’ve been a full time farmer since the 80’s or sis you start before that?
>> Mike Smith: I farmed off and on my whole life when I was going to school. I’ve got two degrees in wood products technology, and I went to a community college up in the western part of North Carolina.
When I was up there, find barely to back up just because I enjoy farming. They not only lined just the lease was lined. Then when the educational opportunities were gone and some job opportunities in this area present themselves came back here I was gone for 11 years. And came back here.
My grandfather’s health was not good. My dad really had no interest in doing anything with the farm and so after my grandfather passed away, I made the decision to convert this into a beef cattle operation and that’s what we’ve been ever since.
>> Tom Grover: Can you describe a typical day on the farm?
>> Mike Smith: It varies greatly depending on what needs to be done and what time of year it is.
>> Mike Smith: And this is not my full-time job. I own a company called the Mold Hunter. We go in and do water damage restoration and we also clean up mold after water damage.
That’s really my full time job. This, the farm and was more or less a hobby. I tell people it’s my golf game but because the demand, it’s become more of a full time job. I’m very fortunate that I’ve got people that work for me at the company that allow me the opportunities to come out here when I need to and do different things.
But different times of year we may be applying fertilizers or earlier this week I was dragging down manure piles to help distribute the manure around in the pastures. All winter we’re feeding hay to the cattle cuz we’ve not any grass for them so we’re distributing hay to the various pastures I have, Laced in around here and in about probably three maybe four weeks weather dependent, we’re gonna start making hay again for storage for next year so that’ll carry me through, just making hay alone will carry me through.
Till well after memorial day and it’s kind of just a cyclical thing where depending on time of the year as to what we do but I mean, today is very typical. It’s a beautiful day out here to just get out and enjoy what God has put out here for us to see.
>> Tom Grover: How many acres are we looking at here?
>> Mike Smith: We own 60 here and of that 60 about 25 is pastured, the rest is wooded and then of the other farms that I lease, there’s about, in total 300 acres and above. Half of that is passed there on the other half is hay production.
I have got 150 of each.
>> Tom Grover: I did check your website and it suggest that you are still interested in growing and that if people had extra acreage to contact you, are you still looking?
>> Mike Smith: Yeah.
>> Tom Grover: Okay.
>> Mike Smith: You know the demand is there, that’s been probably one of the most eye opening things to me is when I started doing this in particular we The Davison Farmers’ Market is our best market, got a lot of people.
The community folks there in Davison support the market really well, and they come out every weekend and buy our products. It’s a year-round market for us, and in the winter time, we only go every other week. But it’s still a good market for us. And,
>> Mike Smith: I have been shocked at the demand for our products that’s out there.
And I tell people this all the time, the cul de sac moms are our success. Because those are the people that are buying our products, that are concerned about providing good food for their children, good healthy food for their children. But those same moms are the ones that are gonna put us out of business because once you put a cul-de-sac on what used to be a farm, it ain’t going back to a farm.
And some research that I did several years ago said North Carolina leads the nation in the decline of farming that they estimate over 4000 farms a year in North Carolina are taken over by development. And to me, that’s sad. I see it as a lost art, and to get on the soap box a little bit, which I do often, the demise of civilization as we know it is going to be that we can’t feed ourselves
>> Mike Smith: The world’s population is supposed to increase by 2 billion people in the next 25 years. And it’s not like there’s vast regions of untapped farmland in the world available to be able to grow food to feed these people. So we’ve got to embrace technology. We’ve got to look at our farming practices and try to make improvements so that we can produce More with layers, and that’s really what we’re doing.
I can remember on this same land my grandfather was very proud, and I can remember him going to anybody that would listen to him and brag that he was able to get 50 bushels of corn per acre, all right? On the same ground, you can now produce over 200 bushels of corn per acre.
That’s a huge increase in production on the same amount of land. So how do we get there? Technologies, farming practices, genetic improvements in seeds, the climate hadn’t changed, the land hadn’t changed, some fertilizers have changed some. But those are things that we’ve got to embrace to be able to feed this world.
>> Tom Grover: So besides these changes, have there been other changes you’ve noticed or,
>> Tom Grover: Things that have made you change your operations in any way?
>> Mike Smith: I’m a creature of habit, but I do recognize the need for change in different areas. I’m a conservative person as well, so any changes that I make are gonna be subtle and minute.
And I’m kind of old school too, if ain’t broke don’t fix it. But, a few things that we’ve done as I’ve gotten older and maybe not as not flee the fat as I used to be, handling cattle, it’s not like they’re not payits. You can’t go out and call on them and they’ll all come running up to you.
And you can say okay you jump on the trailer and you stand over here and wait. I mean there’s some physical activity that has to occur to get all that done. And so to do that my handling facilities had to improve. And we’ve employed with this handling pen out here, we’ve employed some practices by Temple Grandin, who was a professor at Colorado State I believe.
But she’s autistic and she has utilized autism to develop handling facilities for cattle. And basically, what she has determined is that cattle move much better in an arc as opposed to a straight line? Because they sense if they’re moving in an art that they’re going back to where they came from, and where they came from.
I want and they’re bothering them so it’s a safe place. Cattle are flight or flight animals, and so the handling pen that we have here, it moves the animals in an arc. I mean, it’s not like they gonna landed and just go through there, but they do move much better in an arc than they do in a straight line.
Another thing that I’ve done out here say in the last ten years that has made a huge improvement, and I do it on some other farms too, but we do fairly intensive rotational grazing. And if anything my stocking densities on this land have increased over the last ten years.
Typically I’m feeding hay out here because I’ve run out of grass normally around labor day. For the last four years now, I hadn’t started feeding hay until the first or second week in January. So that’s over three months of not having the feed hay because I’ve got grass out here.
And the only reason I’ve been able to do that is with intensive grazing. And all that means is you can see it out in this pasture. You can see those little stubs out there, and you can see where the grass is taller beyond it. I only give them access to a certain amount of grass at a time.
And then once they eat that down, I move that fence out a little bit farther. I went to a forage conference several years ago put on by NC State University, and they were telling us that as much as 40% of your forage gets walked down by the cattle because they’re just out walking around trying to find the lushest, greenest sweetest tasting grasses,.
And when they’re doing that they’re walking on other grasses and trampling it down and in hot weather grass doesn’t like that, it kills it. So that’s been a huge improvement at this farm and other farms that we lease too. It’s a really extending the grazing period, and I think we’re producing bigger better cattle now as a result of it.
>> Tom Grover: Speaking of empty state, are they or any of the local government agencies have you found them to be pretty helpful or otherwise?
>> Mike Smith: They’re helpful with questions and trying to get answers to different things. But I have to say,
>> Mike Smith: Prior to the Internet, they were much more,
>> Mike Smith: Valuable to farmers. Then maybe after the Internet because now there’s just so much information on the Internet, rather than like calling an extension agent and asking them questions. They’re gonna do unless they have a specific knowledge base of whatever you’re asking them, they’re gonna basically do the same thing you do.
They’re gonna get on the Internet and try to find the answers to your questions. And this way it’s not that I’m trying to circumvent anybody or anything, but this way, it’s just so much easier for me in a timely matter because I can do it from my phone.
And if I got a question about something, I can almost get instantaneous answer out here. So, it’s not that I don’t utilize them because I do attend various seminars and things that I put on by the state in the county. And go to things that are done by NC State, and different places that I go, you see their presence there.
But probably the Internet is one of the most helpful tools for information that I use now.
>> Tom Grover: Okay, are there any particular challenges or benefits to farming in this region?
>> Mike Smith: It’s not that we have poor soil quality here, but there are definitely other regions in the country that have better soil quality than we do.
>> Mike Smith: So pH is kinda hard to keep in the soil around here so you have to use lime quite often, to keep your soil pH up to where it will grow good grass.
>> Tom Grover: Is that because of the clay?
>> Mike Smith: I’m not an agronomist, so I’m not gonna say you act like what causes it, I just know it costs a lot of money, but.
>> Tom Grover: [LAUGH]
>> Mike Smith: And in talking to other people in different areas, a lot of things that we have to do, they don’t have to do quite as much. But one of the biggest challenges that we have and everybody in the world that farms has, this a problem is the weather.
So one thing that we can’t control and the last drought period that we had was in 07. And as a result, now if I may don’t produce enough hay, I can go to any of my neighbor farmers and ask them if they’ve got hay. And buy additional hay from them to get me through the winter.
But in 07, all the neighbor farmers were in the same boat I was in. They didn’t have any hay either, and I wound up because of the drought. I went down to South Georgia and made like seven trips down there. Almost into Florida just to haul very poor quality expensive hay up here to be able to get me through the winter.
I had my cattle looked terrible, because they didn’t have anything to eat. So I had to sell some of them so that I could make what I had go further, and it was a very, very tough year. And I asked my grandfather prior to his death when I was considering just converting this whole farm into a cattle operation.
You gotta have food and water for them, and a little bit of shelter, but not much. I was concerned about water, and on the back side of the property we’ve got some springs back there that I wanted to utilize. And those springs give us a year round supply of fresh water, even in the winter time they don’t freeze up.
So I asked my grandfather, prior to his passing, [COUGH] Had he ever known those springs to dry up? Did I need to be concerned about that or try to seek additional water sources? [COUGH] And he was 83, and he said, not in my lifetime. Well they dried up in 2001 and they dried up in 2007 and they came back both times.
So in my life time I’ve seen them dry up twice, excuse me.
>> Tom Grover: No, I know there’s a lot of pollen in the air.
>> Mike Smith: Yeah.
>> Tom Grover: What are you largest expenses? And what do you do to kind of mitigate them?
>> Mike Smith: For me, processing is a big expense, and the other biggest expense that I have is fertilization.
[NOISE] Other than that I mean I don’t really have any labor that helps me do anything. So I don’t have any labor cost, [COUGH] Fuel I mean my tractor that I run is pretty fuel efficient. I mean it does burnt fuel, but it’s not like an exorbitant amount.
So those are really two big expenses that I have. [COUGH]
>> Tom Grover: Okay, let’s switch over to actual distribution. You said that you’re involved with the Davidson Farmer’s Market, are there any others?
>> Mike Smith: Can over farmers market, we did do some other farmers markets over the years but for any number of reasons we just decided not to do them.
And one of the biggest reasons is I was having trouble getting my cows big enough, which I still am. Before I take them to the processor and I’ve had to self impose demand restrictions by reducing the markets that we go to. So I’ve got more time to get my stuff bigger.
>> Tom Grover: Where is your processor located?
>> Mike Smith: My beef processor is maize meat in Taylor’s Ville and my wife’s uncle has opened up a processing facility at his farm. And its USDA inspected for the pigs, and it’s in Lake Lower.
>> Tom Grover: Are the, is the beef USD inspected as well?
>> Mike Smith: Uh-huh, yeah, yeah.
>> Tom Grover: So how did you first gain access to the farmer’s markets? Did you just reach our to them or were you invited?
>> Mike Smith: The Davison farmer’s market started in 07 which was a drought year and we did, we were invited. We did go over, and visit the market.
And I knew right away that there was no way I could support that market with our product at that time. Because it was a drought year, my cattle were in poor shape, and I didn’t have enough of them. So we waited until 08 to start doing farmer’s markets, and the demand has been incredible, and growing ever since.
My fear when I started doing farmer’s markets was, in particular Davidson. That customer base was going to have very high demands, and be very quality oriented. Which, that’s what I want to produce is a quality product. But when you process a cow, normally you’re gonna have at least 70% of that cow is gonna come back as ground beef.
And only about 10 to 11% of it are grilling steaks. Well people with disposable income probably eat more steaks than they do hamburgers. So in my mind I was envisioning a freezer full of ground beef. And those stakes it’s been the exact opposite, I have probably taken in the last five years.
I bet I have a 100 cattle to be processed and say grind the whole thing up. Because the demand for ground beef has just been so great not that there is not a demand for steak. But there’s just a bigger demand for ground beef. And it’s good because of the biggest majority of your cut is ground beef, so works out well.
>> Tom Grover: But that kind of surprised you.
>> Mike Smith: It shocked me, it shocked me. I had no idea that, that would be the way it worked out, and same thing with the pigs. I thought that pork chops were going to be the product of demand. But our ground products, ground pork and our various sausages that we carry, that’s 60, 70, 80% of the cut when you process a pig.
And it’s a good thing because that’s where the demand is. We’ve got a lot of people buy our ground pork products.
>> Tom Grover: Are you? Let me rephrase this here.
>> Tom Grover: You spoke briefly about the organic movement, okay, and was that a concern as well when you were looking into these farmers markets?
Or was that something you were prepared to handle?
>> Mike Smith: At the time to me organic was kinda it was unknown to me. I didn’t know what kind of demand there was, I didn’t know what the requirements were, for me to be organic. So it really wasn’t a big concern, but as I started going to the markets and talking to a lot of people.
Very interestingly, the very last question, and people asked me a lot of questions at the market. The very last question I get asked is, how much is it? And today still that it astounds me that people aren’t as concerned about cost as they are about quality. How the animals have been treated, and what their putting in their families’ bodies, and I applaud people for that.
That’s what they need to be doing, they need to be asking those questions. But early on, there were a lot of questions about organic. And I had to do some research to find out what the whole organic thing meant to me. And the thing that I found out was, I’m gonna have to have a vet that comes to my property every year, to inspect the wellness of the herd.
I ain’t had a vet out here in probably 15 to 20 years. I don’t need that additional expense, just to satisfy putting a name on my product.
>> Mike Smith: The other thing that I found out was all of my treated posts would have to come out. And I would have to put in posts that are not treated, so they’re gonna rot.
I would have to take down all my zinc-coated wiring, replace it with wire that will rust. And this farm’s been in my family for close to 200 years, and so we know a little bit about being sustainable in farming. And to me those are not sustainable practices, so I just decided not to pursue being organic, and since
>> Mike Smith: But Davidson in particular, there were a number of organic producers there early on. But now there’s not a single organic producer at the Davidson market. It’s a label that gets put on your product that satisfy somebody’s perception and somebody’s demand. That really doesn’t know a lot about farming, or enough about farming.
Because in my opinion, I won’t say it’s not a sustainable practice, but it’s definitely not a practical practice. And to be organic, and I’ve been to a number of organic farms. And most of them just kind of look like a weed patch and it’s not just something that you can be very productive at.
Yeah, you can get a lot more money for your product, but you’re not gonna be able to produce as much per acre. As you can using modern farming practices and taking advantages of opportunities and technologies. That are out there to where you can get more off your land.
>> Tom Grover: Do you feel there’s a misconception about modern farming, like the connotation behind it?
>> Mike Smith: I do, and this is probably the biggest bugaboo that I run into at the farmers’ market, and it’s the GMO thing. I grow grass here, there’s not a GMO grass out there except for alfalfa.
They have Roundup Ready alfalfa, but other than that, there’s not a GMO grass out there. So people’s concern is, if you feed the animals any type of grain, because you got Roundup Ready soybean. So they’re a GMO product, then you’ve got corn that’s a GMO product.
>> Mike Smith: Finding non-GMO feedstocks for animals is very difficult, it’s expensive.
>> Mike Smith: Everything that I sell, primarily because of customer demand, is grass-fed, grass-finished. I personally prefer to have a little bit of grain that runs through my animals towards the end. Provides a little more of a fattier product, it gets get you a little more marble, it gets you a lot better flavor.
And in talking with some of the research people, in particular at NC State. It does not adversely affect a lot of the health benefits that you get from grass-fed. Like your Omega-3s and fatty acids that are imparted as being grass-fed. As long it’s something that you do in the finishing stage, there’s really no negative impact on your end product.
So the whole GMO thing is something that I think is gonna kinda go along with organic. It’s gonna probably fall by the wayside over a period of time. To me, the advantages of GMO products far outweigh the disadvantages at this point in time and so far as what I know.
Because there’s really not substantiated data that supports anything that’s been genetically modified as being bad for your health. But I look at things like No-till Farming back in the 30s and 40s, when all the ground was tilled or plowed. And then planted, in particular out in the Midwest, and in this area too.
The big concern was not the only wind erosion, but rain erosion as well. And by utilizing No-Till practices, those concerns have all but gone away. This farm, back in the early days was a cotton farm, this is highly erodible soil out here. And as it was farmed and as it was plowed and tilled even with a horse.
There are some gullies on the backside of the property back here that are probably 60 feet deep. And I’ve had Soil and Water Conservation people from Cabarrus County come out. And tell me these are some of the deepest gulleys they’ve seen in Cabarrus County. But those gulleys because, now With no till farming practices, we’re not turning the ground, it’s not eroding anymore.
You’ve got grasses and things that help hold the soil in place and don’t let it either wash away or blow away and to me that’s huge. Because what gets eroded away is your topsoil, that’s the most fertile part of your ground you wanna keep it in place. So that’s kind of my soap box spin on the whole GMO thing.
>> Tom Grover: You’ve mentioned research and doing reading a lot of reports a couple of times. And so I’m just wondering how often you try to do that? And do you have a particular source that you like to follow up on?
>> Mike Smith: It’s not like I go home every night and try to research something because I don’t have time for it.
But if I have a question about something I do try to get answers to it fairly quickly. And one of the things that I’m finding now and pretty much the Internet is or talking to other farmers or occasionally talking to like the extension people or NC State. [COUGH]
>> Mike Smith: The Internet has almost got too much information now, and a lot of it’s conflicting information. So as a consumer of that information, when you look at it and you’re dissecting it, you’ve gotta try to determine well, who’s right? And you gotta qualify, it’s almost like you’ve got to do your research on the background of the information before your make a decision sometimes.
And to me that’s cumbersome and it’s needless.
>> Mike Smith: My dad always said, and he sort of said it tongue-in-cheek, but my dad always said that piece of paper will lay there and you can write anything you want to on it. And that’s how I think people are taking advantage of that now and they shouldn’t.
>> Tom Grover: Mm.
>> Mike Smith: Misinformation is too abundant.
>> Tom Grover: How would you describe the local farming community, are you a tight bunch or everyone’s just kind of doing their own thing?
>> Mike Smith: It’s a little of both.
>> Mike Smith: In this area, in particular, most of the farmers are small farmers. You got a couple of big guys out there but,
>> Mike Smith: At various events or times of the year we all can communicate with each other and ask questions of each other. The thing that [COUGH] I see it as a negative but a positive to me but farming community’s getting older. I did a research thing last week with a lady from the USDA.
And it was basically she was coming in, trying to gather information for the USDA to help with farm bill and allocation. I don’t get a nickle of money, I’m not subsidized any at all. That’s one of the big differences I see between big farms and small farms. Small farms are subsidized, excuse me, big farms are subsidized, small farms are not.
>> Mike Smith: When you go out and you see all these great big green tractors and green combines, I’m not saying these guys don’t work hard because they do, but they’re subsidized heavily. And they’re not in it alone because the people that make that green equipment they make sure that they get paid for it.
And the best cash cow is the government, just being honest.
>> Tom Grover: No.
>> Tom Grover: I actually passed a large hay operation on the way over here. To me it was large, I’d not seen any hay operation that expansive before. So I was like wow, [LAUGH] I didn’t know this was out this way.
>> Mike Smith: Were they already making hay?
>> Tom Grover: No it was just there, I just saw the sign to their farm and what they did. But it was just acres of hay.
>> Mike Smith: Yeah.
>> Tom Grover: But it just surprised me how large it was. And then I thought, well I don’t know if I’d be the one that wants to go around cutting that up or bailing it.
>> Mike Smith: Well, I’ve got a, I use a Discbine mower to mow hay with. And I can mow at a rate as long as the ground is not too rough and doesn’t have a lot of terraces in it. I can mow at a rate of about nine acres an hour is kind of what I can mow with a single machine.
>> Mike Smith: Normally I try to mow it one day, tedder it, which is scatter it out to allow it to dry, and then rake it and bail it the next day. And you gotta have some heat in the ground and some heat in the air, in particular at night time to be able to get it that dry that quick.
I suspect this year, with the amount of rain that we’ve had and how wet everything is right now that there’s gonna be a lot of sap in the grass. So it’s probably gonna take it a little bit longer this spring, in particular, to dry out, or cure down before you can bale it.
>> Tom Grover: Now, do you belong to any farming organizations, or associations?
>> Mike Smith: I don’t. I’ve attended some Cattlemen’s Association meetings, which are very good. There’s a lot of information. You get to meet a lot of people, and I’m not a big networking person, but you do have networking opportunities to talk to people.
>> Mike Smith: People are kind of like me, the farmers that are there, they’re an open book. If you’ve got a question they seem pretty willing to discuss it with you or help you out if they can and that’s nice. But I’m really not a member of any kind of organization or anything.
It’s not that I don’t see the value to it. It’s,
>> Mike Smith: If I’m gonna support something or be a part of something like that, I wanna be able to give it my best. And I just don’t have enough time to give it my best, so I hadn’t joined any organization.
>> Tom Grover: I saw on your website,
>> Tom Grover: Know Your Farms LLC?
>> Mike Smith: Mm-hm.
>> Tom Grover: That’s the first time I’d heard of them. Are you able to tell me just briefly who they are?
>> Mike Smith: They’re an organization that’s actually gone by the wayside. They, at their inception, Their whole thing was to not only introduce people, but connect families to farms in the local area and they did great.
We had farm tours out here, and we’re not really set up to do farm tours, like some of these places are. That have got nice wagons, or covered areas and facilities for people, we just don’t have all of those things. But one day on the Know Your Farms thing we had 370 people that came out here.
And walked around and looked around, and I thought it was great. I mean I sold product to them, we had samples of food. I think I had a brisket one time, and maybe some burgers one time, and sausage one time. We just had different things for people to try, and
>> Mike Smith: I’m not real sure, I think the people that kind of found it and established Know Your Farms. Moved away, moved to another part of the state, and the people that took it over. Didn’t have the same drive and enthusiasm, and it just fell apart. But it was a good thing when it was going.
>> Tom Grover: So just a few more questions here. The first, is there an aspect of farming that people wouldn’t consider or it’s misunderstood?
>> Mike Smith: I think the aspect of farming that people wouldn’t consider, is it’s not a real clean job. It’s a difficult job.
>> Mike Smith: I’m not gonna say that it’s not fun, but you’ve gotta be willing to not only take some risk.
But you’ve gotta deal with a lot adversity. I don’t know that the generations that are coming along, are well-versed at that, or willing to accept it.
>> Mike Smith: As an example, back when we were getting so much rain. I mean nobody has driven through this fence out here in 180 years, and in this last six months, it’s happened twice.
But I get a phone call from the highway patrol saying somebody driven through the fence, the fence is down. Cows are anxious because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And when you create a hundred foot or two hundred foot opening in your fence.
One person, the cows aren’t going to respect the blue light and the badge out there from the guy. He can stand up and say, wow, wow, you won’t do. So I’ve got to get people mobilized in the middle of the night, when it’s pouring down rain. To come out here and keep the cows in place, so that they’re not out in the road.
And it’s never a bright sunny day. It’s always a terrible time when somebody runs into the fence. And it does happen more often than I’d like to think about. I leased a farm out here on Tuckaseegee Road from a farmer that’s gotten too old. And I got it about three weeks ago, and he made the comment to me when I got it.
He said, well, they paved the road now, so people are gonna be going faster and not paying attention. So they’re going to drive through the fence more often.
>> Mike Smith: So that’s kinda the downside to it. Another downside to it is, you’re not gonna make a lot of money at it if you’re a small farmer.
There’s some economies of scale, but also there’s subsidy opportunities when you get big enough. That a small guy like me just doesn’t have those opportunities. So we’re not gonna make as much money as the big guys do, work just as hard and maybe harder. [SOUND] That’s the thing about farming, that I enjoy is, like bringing the grand kids out here.
And just letting them run around, and do whatever they wanna do and and they love being outside.
>> Mike Smith: The amount of time that so many kids spend with a screen in front of their face. Man, I just love to see them out here, not doing that and just doing stuff we used to do.
Getting out here and figuring things out, and discovering things. And running around and getting healthy, it’s just fantastic.
>> Tom Grover: You had a previous interview where the individual mentioned a younger generation not picking up the reins. And he was preparing his sons to take over his farm. But in general his observations were, that there’s just a whole generation that’s missing from farming.
And I was wondering if you feel the same way, or you feel different about it?
>> Mike Smith: No, I couldn’t agree more, I have two sons and I’ve got five grandsons. And I’m not sexist, you don’t have to be a guy to be a farmer, but,
>> Mike Smith: I don’t think any of them are gonna pick it up and do anything with it.
And so what’s gonna happen to this place when I’m not able to get out here and keep it going anymore. I hope I don’t see it in my lifetime, but there will probably be houses out here. I talked to a lot of people and share conversations and concerns similar to what you and I have had today.
And you would think that if there was any interest, somebody’s mom or dad would say. Well, let’s bring Johnny out there and let him learn what you do. That didn’t happen, so it’s like a lot of things
>> Mike Smith: That are lost arts, I’ve cured some hams for over a year, and last night I was slicing them to make prosciutto and country ham.
But just the ability to cure a ham and feed yourself, it’s definitely a lost art.
>> Mike Smith: I’m certain that if anything happens, some sort of catastrophe, or something. The electrical grid goes down, the Internet goes away, or a foreign country attacks us, or anything like that. I can feed myself and my family.
>> Mike Smith: Disasters and things like that we’ve seen a couple of them but it’s very isolated, it’s very short term. Now if you’re in they’re impacted by it, it may not be short term. If you can’t go buy gasoline and food at the grocery store and things like that, for a couple of weeks, but,
>> Mike Smith: It definitely could happen. And I don’t know, it would be widespread panic if there was a disaster that took a lot of these creature comforts away from the population because they don’t have a clue how to feed themselves. And [COUGH] I heard a gal from California, she’s a local chef now, and we were doing a talk together to some school kids in a classroom one time.
And she said something that was very profound, and I’ve used it a lot. She said that feeding yourself is the most intimate thing that you do with your body and you have to do it three times a day. So why don’t you do it right?
>> Mike Smith: And I like that.
I mean it’s just a very no nonsense, common sense thing that people need to consider. When we talk to school kids, we like to talk to, in particular, elementary school kids, because we feel like we can make the biggest impact with them.
>> Mike Smith: But I always tell them get in the kitchen, help mom and dad prepare a meal if they even prepare a meal or they’re going out to eat somewhere.
Help them prepare a meal and when you make a food decision, to put something in your mouth. If you’ve got to open a box, or a can, or a jar, or a bag, that’s probably not a good food decision. But if you’ve got to take it, and either slice it, or chop it up, or something like that, that’s a much better food decision for you and for your family.
>> Mike Smith: Hopefully, it makes a difference to some of these people.
>> Tom Grover: I hope so, too.
>> Tom Grover: So are there any questions you think I should have asked? Or is there anything else you’d like to add?
>> Mike Smith: One other profound statement, and it was actually North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture.
We went to some sort of event that he was there and he was giving a speech, Steve Troxler. [COUGH] And he said that if you think buying gas from a foreign country is expensive, wait till you have to buy food from a foreign country. So I thought that was extremely profound and that’s some stuff we gotta start thinking about as a country.
>> Mike Smith: Some of the time you can’t have your cake and eat it too, you gotta make some decisions. Those decisions may be tough. But I still go back to what I said earlier, I mean, we have got to embrace technology and improve on farming practices because farmers are having to do more with less.
We’ve gotta feed more people with less land. And that’s just the reality that we’re in right now.
>> Mike Smith: I don’t think in my lifetime I’ll see houses torn down or roads torn up so that we can grow food in those areas. But I think in my children or grandchildren’s lifetime they’ll see that happen.
>> Tom Grover: So the reverse of what’s happening now.
>> Mike Smith: Yeah, got to, you got to feed people.
>> Tom Grover: Yeah, I was just thinking when you’re saying that at that stage things are in a world of hurt.
>> Mike Smith: Yeah, I mean, but when it comes to that point, it’s gonna almost be too late.
>> Tom Grover: Scary stuff.
>> Mike Smith: It is scary stuff. And who the heck are you gonna find that can do this? That can plant a seed and nurture and watch it grow.
>> Mike Smith: I don’t know.
>> Tom Grover: Well I appreciate the time and the talk.
>> Mike Smith: Thank for your interest in trying to further what we do, I appreciate it.
>> Tom Grover: Absolutely, absolutely.