Gilcrest Natural Farm – Amy Foster

subject: Livestock

Amy Foster discusses her twelve years as a livestock farmer and co-owner of Gilcrest Natural Farm in Iron Station, North Carolina. Mrs. Foster expresses her desire to control her food and develop her land as factors that led her to become a full time farmer. She explains why she chose cattle and chickens and describes the methods she uses to raise her animals naturally. Other topics include the usefulness of the Internet and North Carolina State University resources, pros and cons of urban development, farming as a business, and the importance of educating consumers.

Amy Foster was a 53-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place at Gilcrest Natural Farm in Iron Station, North Carolina. She was born in Hastings, Minnesota in 1965. She received her BA from Hamline University and her MBA from St. Thomas University, both in St. Paul, Minnesota and was employed as a business analyst and farmer.

Tape Log

0:00:25Getting into farming
0:01:38Choosing livestock farming
0:02:37Learning curve into farming
0:03:59NC State Extension courses and assistance
0:06:02Certifications (GAP and Organic)
0:08:28Organic methods
0:09:08Naming the farm
0:09:40Choosing which livestock to raise
0:11:14Slaughtering and processing
0:13:53Partner organizations
0:14:42Labor on the farm
0:16:47Livestock vs. vegetable farming
0:17:51Working with NC Farm School
0:18:28Profitability of vegetables
0:19:47Internet and social media
0:25:32Neighbors and urban development
0:30:05Average day on the farm
0:32:36Feeding the animals
0:33:46Chickens and grit
0:36:00Challenges as a woman farmer
0:38:18Employment prior to farming
0:39:08Farming as a business
0:40:40Shift to farming
0:42:08Decision to farm
0:45:20Future of the farm
0:48:23Difficulty of getting into farming
0:49:19Importance of educating consumers



>> Sarah: All right, today is April 24th 2019, we are in Iron Station, North Carolina at Gilcrest Natural Farm. My name is Sarah Wyles and I am interviewing Emmy Foster.

>> Emily: Hi Sarah.

>> Sarah: Hi, so Emmy, how did you get into farming?

>> Emily: We were living on the lake, and not using it, and decided we would rather have open space than being on neighborhood.


So we started looking for land, and found our farm and moved here.

>> Sarah: Which lake?

>> Emily: Lake Norman.

>> Sarah: Okay.

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: So it wasn’t that big of a move?

>> Emily: No, we were still in the same school district and everything.

>> Sarah: Okay, what made you choose to do farming?


Was it just a matter of you had the land and you were already farming near Lake Norman, or you chose to move here to specifically to farm?

>> Emily: The farming kinda blossomed as an after effect, we wanted more space and we wanted to use the land to grow something.


We didn’t know exactly what we were gonna do when we got here. We’ve always been backyard gardeners. We wanted a little more control over our food supply. We’ve been shopping with local farmers for several years and wanted to try our hand at it a little bit too. So we started small and now we’re not small any more.


>> Sarah: Yeah, so what made you go from vegetable gardening to livestock?

>> Emily: Well, we started out getting 25 hands in and started raising our own eggs and selling the surplus and I’ve always wanted cattle. So we got two cows, two bulls actually, and fenced in a small portion of the acreage.


And things just kept growing from there as we started going to the farmers’ market and we saw there was demand, things just kept growing each year. Plus, my kids were getting older and going to elementary school, so I had more time to devote to the farm. But yet I wanted a flexible schedule so I could be quote-unquote the stay at home mom.


But yet still generate a little income and and have something to do during the day.

>> Sarah: So how much of a learning curve was that?

>> Emily: Luckily, it was a gentle learning curve because we knew a lot of farmers in the area that we’ve been shopping with. They were very kind with their advice and and methodologies that people shared a lot with us.


YouTube is an invaluable resource to learn how to farm, as well as we relied on our local extension office a lot. That when they offered classes, we would attend, just calling them with questions, they would come out and help us so they were a great resource.

>> Sarah: Can you talk a little more about that, the extension courses?


>> Emily: Yeah, I guess, Gaston County, Laura Warden specifically, offered a lot of small farm-orientated courses. And we took a lot of courses about things that we’re not doing, we learned about sheep and goats and different livestock species. But it also included information on taxation and how to handle regulations and things like that.


That extension really gave us what we needed for a well rounded farm. That we went looking for answers that they were able to answer any question we had. So we’ve always relied on extension and even today, I volunteer with them and still call and ask questions [LAUGH]. But their courses were very valuable and even, I think it was about five, six years ago we went to NC State Farm School.


We’ve been in operation for a while. But we really needed to check our profitability, our direction, our marketing. And the farm school course is more designed for people starting out. But it adapted for us to make it valuable to kinda check in with our operation and make our plans.


We’ve always had a business plan which they advocate you have but it really helped us update it and modernize it for where we wanted to go.

>> Sarah: So what regulations do you come under?

>> Emily: Being a livestock producer, we have to have a meat handler’s license to sell meat to the public, and we are inspected for that annually.


Phillip showed up a couple weeks ago and they check your freezers, and your refrigeration, and temperatures and labeling.

>> Emily: That is our main inspection. There’s other things we fall under as far as we’re in the present value use program for taxation that we have to comply with that and do some filing.


The FSA, we have to do some filing each year. But because we’re not GAP certified or we haven’t sought organic certification and other things, our level of inspection is fairly minimal.

>> Sarah: Okay, do you fall under the Food Safety Modernization Safety Act at all?

>> Emily: They have not communicated to us that we need to do anything at this point in time.


I expect something eventually will come up with that.

>> Sarah: Is there a reason you’re not GAP or organic certified, or was it just not worth the time and effort?

>> Emily: They don’t have a lot of GAP certification for livestock, it’s mostly focused on vegetables, I took a course at extension [LAUGH].


Talked about what you would have to do, there are certain things that make it not worthwhile for us that we’d have to adapt and change so many of our structures. And this goes with organic certification. We’d have to make so many changes that it really wouldn’t pay off.


We use organic methods. We don’t wanna be chemical-driven or conventional, but we’re not certified. Ultimately, we see the consumer as our ultimate inspector. If they wanna see what’s going on, we invite anybody to come and look.

>> Sarah: So what are those organic methods for livestock farming?

>> Emily: We would have to do the birthing on our farm and right now, I work with four of our neighbors to buy their milk cows and we raise them out here.


We don’t really have enough space to operate a cow calf operation that could be profitable which is something I learned in farm school. [LAUGH] That helped crunch the numbers to see, could we do our own and really, the answer on paper was no. So that’s prohibitive for the beef as well as we would have to locate organically certified hay and organically certified feed.


There’s no organic feed producer nearby. We’d have to have it shipped in, and the cost is prohibitive again. Same with the chicken feed, there’s no one producing it locally, so it’s a barrier to entry for organics for us. There’s a lot of things in our equipment we’d have to change that we view some treated lumber for fence post, they don’t necessarily like that.


If your wire isn’t coated, they don’t like that. So to retrofit the farm to be truly organically certified. It just doesn’t make sense financially, and we’re not spring chickens any more. So [LAUGH] the amount of labor involved is kind of prohibitive for where we’re at right now too.


>> Sarah: So what methods do you employ on the farm? I know the animal’s are free-range and-

>> Emily: Yeah, the animals get to do what they’re meant to do. We don’t use any man-made chemicals. But we use our own chicken manure that’s aged to fertilize. We don’t vaccinate the cattle, we don’t give them hormones or antibiotics, same with the chickens.


If you don’t need a chemical, why would you use it? We operate pretty naturally and hence the name of the farm, Gilcrest Natural Farm.

>> Sarah: Where does the name come from?

>> Emily: My husband’s name is Gil. And long ago I said, if we ever have a mountain house or a beach house, we should name it Gilcrest.


And it just wasn’t gonna happen. So I’m like, let’s use it for the farm. And we put the natural in there to kinda communicate what we’re about. And it’s also hard to use the word natural in labeling. So if we put in the farm name, it communicated for us what we wanted it to do.


So that’s how we named our farm.

>> Sarah: So how did you choose which animals that you were going to raise? I know you said you always really wanted to raise cattle, and I guess chickens are sort of an easy start. But why not like pork or sheep?

>> Emily: Yeah, well chickens are kinda the gateway to farming.


They’re lower investment, good turnover, that you always have a product whether it be eggs or meat. Cattle we chose because we did have that much acreage and in order to keep up with keeping it maintained and keeping it in the program, cattle made sense because they took up a lot of space.


We rejected pigs just because it’s a third system. Each species needs its own watering system and its own fencing system, and I’ve always said two hands, two species. With juggling family and the farm and everything else, two is enough. So if we ever did do something, I’m still interested in goats.


So I’ll never say never, but for right now, two is the right number of species for us.

>> Sarah: I guess if you have all your land devoted to the cattle, you can simply add more cattle cuz the system’s already in place for them.

>> Emily: Right, and we’ve ramped up and down over the years.


We’ve had as few as 12 head and we’ve gone up to 36. 36 was too hard on our pastures, so 20 is kind of our sweet spot.

>> Sarah: Okay.

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: And where is the meat, where are the animals slaughtered to process for the meat? Cuz I know you sell the meat yourself.


>> Emily: Right, we go to the farmers market to sell our meat. And chickens you can do yourself on the farm, or you can take them to a processor. We’ve processed on the farm in the past. Right now, we might do a little on farm this year. But primarily, we use a USDA inspected facility in Kingstree, South Carolina.


And we transport our birds down there, they do the dirty work, and then we pick them up in pretty plastic packages and bring them back. For the cattle, we use Cruise Meats over in Concord, and have for a long time. They’re really a partner in our operation. In a given year, we’ll slaughter anywhere from 12 to 18 head, depending on demand and when everybody’s ready to go.


So they’ve been instrumental for us in helping us process our beef.

>> Sarah: Okay, so it’s even the slaughtering and processing is pretty localized?

>> Emily: We try to be. We used to have a chicken processor that was closer to us, but unfortunately they closed. So it’s a hike to South Carolina, but for the amount of chicken we need to raise, we needed to do larger batches and doing it ourselves completely, we just couldn’t handle it.


>> Sarah: So where all do you distribute, I know you’re at the Davidson Farmers Market, do you do any other markets?

>> Emily: Yeah, we go to the Charlotte Regional Market every Saturday, that’s down off Billy Graham Parkway, by the airport. Every now and then, we’ll sell to a chef.


It’s not a main part of our business, but we’re happy to work with chefs. And organic marketplace in Gastonia sells our meats too.

>> Sarah: Are you partnered with any wholesalers?

>> Emily: No we have never really embraced the wholesale market because our chicken suppl is seasonal. They aren’t really party to that, they want a constant supply.


And for beef, because of our limitations on how many we can do here, everything we’re raising, we’re selling at retail. So wholesale just doesn’t really make sense at this point. If we wanted to stop the farmer’s market someday, then we could look at that.

>> Sarah: What other organizations are you partnered with?


I know a lot of farmers work with the Piedmont Culinary Guild. But it sounds more like you sell specifically to chefs.

>> Emily: Yeah, I need to become a member of the Piedmont Culinary Guild, [LAUGH] frankly. We’ve been members of Slow Food in the past, but I guess we’ve let that lapse.


The Carolina Farms Steward Association, remember.

>> Emily: And I think that’s about it right now.

>> Emily: There is a lot of groups you can join and pay dues to, but from a time and money stand point we haven’t really looked into a lot of those.

>> Sarah: So running the farm, obviously it’s you and your husband, and you mentioned your husband is inside, is he doing sort of the paperwork aspect of it?


>> Emily: He works full time off the farm.

>> Sarah: Okay.

>> Emily: So he works for one of the big banks in town, and when he’s done at the end of the day he will help out, which is wonderful. My main job is at the farm, but I also work off the farm too.


So we hire contractors to help us when we need a little extra labor right now. Two wonderful men are up staining our barn for us. It’s a big job that we don’t have the equipment for, so oftentimes we’ll hire someone to help us do things that it just doesn’t make sense to do ourselves.


We have two boys who are teenagers now, and they’re a great help. It’s their part-time job, so we are happy to have their help and we pretty much get by with that.

>> Sarah: Okay, so you just hire in people when you need them? Like mostly local?

>> Emily: Yeah, like we need to do some roadwork.


I’ll probably seek out somebody to help with that. The winter was rough with all the rains, we’ve got some ruts we need to correct and move the water where we want it to go. So when we don’t have the equipment or the labor then I’m out looking for help.


>> Sarah: You don’t have any full time employees helping you with necessarily cattle or the chickens, it’s more of just tasks on the farm, to upkeep the farm as a whole.

>> Emily: Right.

>> Sarah: Okay.

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: It’s interesting cuz I’ve been talking mostly to vegetable farmers who of course are having to constantly be in the field, to constantly look after the crops.


So I guess if you let the cattle and the chickens do as they please to some extent, you don’t have to constantly be watching them.

>> Emily: No, our days are full. There’s always more you can do. You always have a to-do list on the farm, and I think that’s part of why we shied away from vegetables a little bit, that we just do them as a supplement when we have time.


The animals look at you and make noise, so they get your first attention. I’ve tried doing larger scale vegetable in the past but I ended up dropping it to focus on the animals. Even one of our extension agents said it’s rare to see somebody successful doing livestock and vegetables at a substantial scale, which made me feel better because I felt like I was failing at vegetables.



Even this year with the wet spring, I didn’t take the time to get the garden ready because it was too wet. And it was harder to do the chores out in the field because it was so wet and it sucked up all my time. It’s always a balance.


You monitor and adjust, like with anything in life.

>> Sarah: So what do you do off the farm? Do you have a part-time job?

>> Emily: I have a part-time job with NC State, with the farm school as a matter of fact.

>> Sarah: Do you teach, or are you a mentor?


>> Emily: I’ve been a mentor with them. And right now I’m working on creating budgets for farm school for different farm crops, as well as some case studies.

>> Sarah: Oka, cool, but do you that mostly from home?

>> Emily: Yes, a lot of what I can do from home or over the phone, every now and then I have to travel to interview farmers.


Not unlike this. But it’s been very interesting. And a lot of it focused on vegetables. So if we ever do get into vegetables it’s probably changing the way I would do it.

>> Sarah: How would you do vegetables?

>> Emily: Well, I guess I’ve learned which vegetables are profitable and which are not doing the budgets.


And what scales affect what crops. You look at sweet corn, in a small amount, it’s not profitable. But if you scale up, there is a place for profit. If you look at the profit per square foot that you’re planting, it’s very small for sweetcorn compared to some things, say like salad mix.


So it’s really opened my eyes from the vegetable standpoint of where to put your labor and what kind of dollars you might get back from it. We’ve done that study for ourselves with our livestock, and I know exactly how much a chicken cost from birth to slaughter. And what effects our ratios, what makes it more profitable or less profitable, same for the cattle.


So it’s interesting to see the vegetable side of it, but I’m enjoying the job.

>> Sarah: Nice.

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: So yo you mentioned that you, yeah, that bee is stuck.

>> Emily: [LAUGH]

>> Sarah: It’s having a hard time. So you mentioned earlier that you learned a lot from YouTube, just sort of I assume little how-to videos, like how do I fix this post, or whatnot.


How useful is the Internet, in general as a farmer?

>> Emily: It’s a tool that I wouldn’t wanna be without. I’ve been members of different forums over the years, to look up,, my chicken has this weird thing on its leg, what could it be? The books aren’t always as descriptive as a picture.


The picture is worth a thousand words. And for researching new equipment, it’s really been essential to do make or buy decisions. Do I want to buy this chicken coop, or make one myself? And just people are so willing to share ideas, it’s really handy to look at five ways of fencing to know what’s gonna be right for your land and your soil.


So I really enjoy doing research on the web. I probably do too much sometimes, but it’s there, so you get sucked into that rabbit hole sometimes, but no, I like farming with the web. I’ve got a lot of books. But I haven’t bought a book for probably two or three years, but I just really have gone to relying on the web.


>> Sarah: What about social media to connect with customers? I know you have a Facebook and a newsletter.

>> Emily: Yeah, we do a weekly newsletter we have for years, just about what’s going on at the farm because it’s a glimpse of life that most people aren’t familiar with anymore.


People are so far removed from farms that back in the day, either you lived in a farming community or your grandparents had a farm, or somebody had a farm. And that’s not the case anymore, so our weekly newsletter helps communicate that to people. We have a webpage, we do Facebook, and we post the newsletter on Facebook each week, and I just started doing Instagram, so it’s fun to have some followers and see their comments.


That’s probably enough social media for me right now though, cuz it’s time consuming, and it takes away from the work.

>> Sarah: What kind of comments do you get?

>> Emily: Well, I guess I post the happy positive things, so I get happy positive comments back. When we got baby chicks, I showed them racing around and they were all chasing each other and they were going to the right.


So I commented that they don’t know about NASCAR [LAUGH] because they all go to the left, but it’s fun to just put up the fun pictures of what’s going on.

>> Sarah: Do you get pushback for only putting up sort of the good when things are going well?

>> Emily: I haven’t on Instagram, in the newsletter I’m pretty forward about what really goes on day-to-day.


If something happens that’s not sunny, that’s the reality of farming and that’s what I wanna communicate to people. If we’ve had flooding issues, we talk about flooding Issues. If we had a predator attack, we talk about the predator attack. And we also talk about what we’re gonna do different to prevent it next time.


So it’s a great tool to really communicate our day-to-day life.

>> Sarah: Do you have a lot of predator attacks?

>> Emily: Not so much anymore. Raccoons have probably been our biggest problem over the year with the chickens. We found electricity really works well for them. And we protect all of our chicken coops and chicken tractors with hot wire at night, and that kind of solved that problem.


We went to that especially after the year of the skunk. A little bevy of skunks found us and that was a bad year, cuz not only do you have To clean up after the predators leave, it smelled awful [LAUGH]. But we have coyote, fox, weasels, owls, hawks, you name it.


But I guess over the years we just get strategic that if we see too many hawks around our chickens, we’ll bring the cattle up closer and the motion of the cattle deters the hawks. If you call in crows with a crow caller in the spring, they will nest and crows keep foxes away because they chase them, they try and play with them.


So trying to find ways to make mother nature work for us has really helped our predator issue.

>> Sarah: So it sounds like the predators are mostly after the chicken, not the cattle.

>> Emily: Yeah, because we don’t do the birthing here, we don’t have a lot of the issues that you get with having small cows around.


So by the time they come to us, they are about 6 months old and 500 pounds and the coyotes don’t mess with them.

>> Sarah: I’m from up north, so I think of predators as bears and mountain lions.

>> Emily: Luckily, knock wood, we don’t have that yet. But there have been bear sightings last year around here, but we didn’t have any sign of the bears.


That would be bad. But there’s other farms with cow-calf operations around us, so I think they would favor them instead of us. We’ll see.

>> Sarah: So you have a lot of farming neighbors?

>> Emily: We do. Luckily development is really booming in this area but there’s some old time farmers who are gonna be here as long as we are.


And in fact there are a lot of the people I get my calves from. So then I work with four of our neighbors to get our calves.

>> Sarah: How is development affecting your operation? Because I mean I had to drive through a development to get here.

>> Emily: That used to be a hay field when we moved here, and it’s been a change because even though they move in to near existing farms, people don’t really know what to expect anymore as far as the noises and the smells.


And the kind of traffic we generate versus being in an urban neighborhood, which for the most part is where most of the folks come from.

>> Emily: And their understanding of country and a farmer’s understanding of country are sometimes two different things. The county helps us work with that, because we’re part of the present value used program, when somebody buys property near a farm, they receive a letter saying, realize you’re moving next to a farm.


It has farm noises and farm smells. Animals have sex outside. If this is upsetting to you, this is your notification that it’s going to happen. And people have complained. The county folks come out, okay, hey, how you doing? Cuz I’ve participated on committees with most of them so I know all the people in the county regulatory agencies, and yeah, heard you had some chicken noise.


I’m like, yeah, [LAUGH] chickens make noise. Unfortunately they have to come out,

>> Emily: Whenever somebody files a complaint they have to come out and investigate, but it’s tampered down since the neighborhood’s filled up and people are used to it now. The one thing we were hoping we wouldn’t get, and the developer of course promised us we wouldn’t get, is increased runoff.


That we’ve dealt with a lot more water anderosion problems since the neighborhood went up than we were told we would have to. And now it’s a done deal, there’s nothing we can do. So the neighborhood is kinda bittersweet, it did give us much better access to our farm that we have a paved road connected to our gravel road.


We used to have to travel through another farmer’s farm where we had an easement and it was just kind of a dirt road, and it would wash out. So there are benefits. Some of the people have purchased things from us over the years, so it’s not all bad.


Development brings customers. There’s a couple developments, large developments, a couple miles from us that are going up. With the change in how retail business is done, I’m planning on doing deliveries to their neighbourhoods when they get built up. Amazon has kind of spoiled us that everything should come to our door again.


So why not meat and eggs that instead of hiring somebody to do with third market to try and expand our base, I’ve got a third market in my backyard because people are coming to me.

>> Sarah: So if you consider doing a foreign stand and having just the locals comes to pick things up or-


>> Emily: We can do that a little bit, we’re not zoned for a farm stand where we can have regular hours and days, and all that. If somebody wants to come see the farm and buy something while they’re here as a portion of agro-tourism, that’s allowed. So I’ve got some folks who’d like to do that.


In fact I think I’ve had two groups come this week because it’s spring break in our county, and so that’s nice. But I don’t really want a farm stand anyway because it would interrupt what I’m doing every day. So not knowing when people are coming wouldn’t really work with trying to get chores done.


Some things you can’t stop in the middle of.

>> Sarah: What does a average day look like for you?

>> Emily: I guess during the school year get everybody up and out of the house and have a cup of coffee or two [LAUGH].

I usually plan my week on Sunday and get it all written down.


I’m a list maker. So grab my list, head to the barn, and start feeding the barn cats and check the freezers. I have a very set routine for about the first hour of things that I do and check. One thing that we’ve just put in, I’ve got automatic chicken doors that raise and lower with the sunlight.


So I don’t have to let the chickens out everyday anymore. But I still don’t trust them so I’m checking [LAUGH] to make sure they’re open everyday. Although this morning I realized I might have to adjust them a little bit, they’re opening earlier than normal. And I saw some feathers on the ground, I’m like, I don’t know if somebody got carried off, but maybe I wanna open them a little later because the hawks eat breakfast before I let my girls out.


And so that’s part of my morning routine, is just kinda check on everybody, monitor everything, count noses, whatever the case may be. And then after that there’s always a project going on, or six and you gotta feed everybody every day. So most of the activity right now, because it’s cooler, I plan for the end of the day and when my husband’s done, that we can do a lot of things together.


I’ve got this frozen shoulder right now, so I need help lifting. When it gets hotter, I’ll try and get everything knocked out in the morning before it gets hot. The animals are happier to move and be fed in the morning too, so you just kinda adapt seasonally. As to what’s going on, the Summer time, usually one of the boys will come help me.


Now that they’re driving now, they’ll probably get jobs off the farm and I won’t have as much help, so we’ll see. And then end of the day you do another go round to make sure everybody’s okay, tuck everybody in, hook up wires where they need to be, hook up so everybody’s safe, hard task.


>> Sarah: How many times do you actively feed the animals cuz I know obviously, they have a reason as well?

>> Emily: I try and keep it everybody on a 24-hour schedule, just for ease of labor, that we scale up or scale down our systems so we only have to actually be hands on with them once a day, so it seems to work pretty well.


>> Sarah: So they get a nice breakfast, and then they-

>> Emily: Yeah, depending if it’s, right now, everybody gets fed around four to five o’clock, but in the heat that’ll move to eight o clock, and everybody just adapts. But in Summer time the chickens drink more water cuz it’s hot, so we scale up the amount of water we have and how many gallons they have available to them.


And in cooler months, they might be able to make it on five gallons a day, so it just kind of depends what they need to make it that 24 hours. But I guess I always go through and do a check at the opposite time of day because you don’t know when water’s gonna leak or something is just gonna be off.


>> Sarah: Or somebody tips a bowl or-

>> Emily: Right, yeah.

>> Sarah: So I saw a picture in one of your newsletters of a chicken and a, was it an oyster shell, bath?

>> Emily: Yes.

>> Sarah: Can you explain what that is?

>> Emily: I had just filled this tub with oyster shells, and we feed our chickens oyster shells, just free choice to help with the grit they need as well as supply them with calcium to make sure their egg shells are nice and hard.


And she just decided she was queen of the roost and hopped in, took a dust bath, flapped her wings up, and got all that dust under her feathers, and she just sat there and pecked at any of the other girls that came around. [LAUGH] So it was one of those picturesque moments that I like to try and capture.


>> Sarah: Where do you get the oyster shells?

>> Emily: Our feed company actually has them, or you can go to any farm store, like Tractor Supply or Southern States, and get them. They come in a 50 pound bag and they’re just crushed oyster shells, bite sized for chicken.

>> Sarah: All right, just part of chicken feed in general.


>> Emily: Yeah, they get a little bit of grit just from when they peck around on the ground, but that this just kind of serves multiple purposes and-

>> Sarah: What is grit?

>> Emily: Grit is just any small stone or a seed casing or something that’s not readily digestible. They will hold that in their crop, so, as they eat other food The crop’s like a big muscle gizzard people might call it, and it just helps grinds up the food before it goes into the rest of their digestive system.


>> Sarah: So it’s kind of like a tumbler almost inside?

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: Okay.

>> Emily: Our stomach contracts a little bit to massage the food and break it down, this is our stomach on steroids.

>> Sarah: All right.

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: So now I know what a gizzard is for the first time in my life.


>> Emily: Actually the gizzard is a separate piece, the crop and the gizzard are not quite the same thing. But most people think the gizzard is the crop, but they both do similar things.

>> Sarah: So it sounds like you really do a lot of, you’re the farm manager, essentially?


>> Emily: Yes, I wear many hats. [LAUGH]

>> Sarah: Have there been any issues you’ve faced, as a woman, managing your farm?

>> Emily: Earlier on, I think I faced more than I do now because I was a little green and didn’t know things that you walk into the cattlemen’s meeting or something.


And first it’s called the cattlemen’s meeting, and you’re the only woman in the room. So it’s cute, you’re not necessarily treated as a professional right away. But over the years as you get to know people, and you become part of the farming community, those issues melted away. Going for a loan for our barn, we’re both co-owners of the farm, my husband and I, so we go together but when they address questions they ask my husband, and knows 95% of what I know that goes on in the farm.


But it just, as a liberated woman it grates on you to not be 100% of who you are and taken for 100% of your value, you get used to it, I suppose. It’s part of an evolving role for women to be farm owners, and I don’t let it bother me.


There’s a lot of better things to worry about in the world, so it’s all right.

>> Sarah: Yeah I’ve talked to some other, again, vegetable farmers and there’s that initial sort of wet behind the ears, I don’t know what I’m doing, but then once you start knowing what you’re doing, people are like, well, you know what you’re talking about, so-


>> Emily: Right, yeah, and I guess it would be like that for anybody, once you can walk the walk and talk the talk. If you were 22 years old, regardless of if you’re male or female, you’d probably get the same look, you have to grow into your role.

>> Sarah: So what did you do before became sort of a full time farmer I know you said you have an MBA.


>> Emily: Right I was an IT geek a business analyst but,

>> Emily: I worked for large corporations, developing software systems, writing documentation, training, the whole software development life cycle, which has really helped me in farming, actually. Our farming’s pretty much been Six Sigma-ed, and [LAUGH] I know how much everything costs, and how to budget, and how to price, and that you wouldn’t think an MBA and farming go together but it really has for me anyway, that I’ve been able to use my education to create a better more efficient farm.


>> Sarah: That’s something that kind of struck me is how much farming is essentially just a business, we think of farming as, something our grandparents did for subsistence, and you know, then they just sold the rest.

>> Emily: Right.

>> Sarah: But now people running it like the business, they would look at the market, what’s the hole in the market, what can we fill?


>> Emily: Well, and how do I save money on my costs? I did a time study one year and I recorded how much time I was spending on each activity, and it really changed the way we brood our chickens. I discovered I was spending a lot of time there, and I wasn’t getting a lot of profit out of my activities.


So what could I do differently to minimize that time and maximize the longevity of the chicks and the health of the chicks during that time, and it changed a lot of our method I need to do it again because, there’s always room for improvement, just the little addition of the chicken doors that we used to pay our kids a buck every night to go close the chicken doors.


So there’s $365 and a chicken door costs, $200, so in two years that paid for and little did I know my husband up the rate $2 a day. Well these are already paid for [LAUGH] so it’s come in handy for a lot of different things.

>> Sarah: So because you started it sounds like you kind of gradually shifted towards farming, there was an update, you know, you just suddenly quit working as IT and suddenly was, I’m making my money of chickens now.


>> Emily: No, it was very gradual, when our kids were born, we decided that one of us should stay home and nurture and be a full time parent, so that was me. And when we moved to the land, we started the vegetable garden and little by little, just to see what we could fit into our life without upending our life.


We did a little try before you buy and I went to work for another farmer at the farmer’s market every Saturday to see, are the boys all gonna survive okay on their own without me for six hours? They did just fine, [LAUGH] so it was very gradual and the nice thing about farming is it’s scalable.


You can scale up or scale back, we tried doing three markets and hiring somebody for two years, and we decided no, the third market wasn’t very profitable, it just stretched us too thin, it was too complicated. So now we’re back to two markets, and I like sleeping in that extra half hour on Saturday morning instead of four thirty, I can get up at five, so yeah.


>> Sarah: So what sort of drew you to farming, did you come from a farming background, like your parents or grandparents or?

>> Emily: No one’s lived on a farm in my family since my great-grandparents. I grew up in a farming community, and I loved to go out to my farming friends’ houses because it was just different and more fun climbing on the hay, and if they had horses and seeing the animals.


But no, it was really control over our food supply that really led us to do more besides the backyard garden, that we wanted to be able to subsist for ourselves, we’re kind of homesteaders in a way. And then when we were growing too much and the demand was there, I’m like well this is kind of a built-in job.


And that’s when we tried, you know, working at farmers market and so I figured if we want to eat this way, certainly there’s other people. And we’re doing this in 2007, 2008 when the market was going up and then tanking. And we figured, well if we could make it through 2008 and people are still buying our food, we’ve got something here, we just kept refining our methods and learning more all the time.


And so gradually, over time, everything just keeps growing.

>> Sarah: So who between you and your husband, who sort of led the way towards farming was it a joint effort, was it you?

>> Emily: That’s pretty much my fault, [LAUGH] but we did have a joint interest in using our land, making it be productive, trying to improve the quality of the land, create something sustainable.


The last time this land has been farmed was back in the 40s and it was cotton farming. So when we were cutting down trees and putting up fences it was really very much a joint effort, because I might be really good at planning but the muscles was more my husbands’, and what man doesn’t like driving a tractor?


So [LAUGH] it really has been a complement to both of our lives, I would say, yeah.

>> Sarah: So when did you move? I know you said that this farm was started around 2008.

>> Emily: 2007, we started selling to the public and we moved on to the land in 2006.


>> Sarah: Okay, so when did you sort of move out of the city towards Lake Norman.

>> Emily: Let’s see, we moved in Lake Norman in 2001, yeah, we built a house and,

>> Emily: And we enjoyed it, there was nothing wrong with it, just our preferences kinda changed, yeah. We wanted to have more space and be a little more natural.


>> Sarah: So what do you see as the future of your farm, do you see it as a business, handing it down to your sons, or maybe selling it off at some point or?

>> Emily: Right now, as teenagers our sons have worked hard and are not interested in farming as a career which is fine.


At their age I wasn’t interested in farming as a career either, so like any good business plan we ever exit strategy that, if we get to the point where we’re too infirm to run it ourselves anymore, we can lease the land, we can sell, we can put it in a conservation program.


We don’t have any development options because of our access, the road is too narrow, so making a housing development out of it is not an option which suits us fine. We wouldn’t want to see that happen to our farm, so we’ve got options. We’ll see what happens, we’ve got a good 20 or 30 years, and the children and all, go through their personal midlife crises and maybe then they wanna come back, and so we’re keeping our options open, but it’s good to know what your options are.


>> Sarah: But for now you’re gonna stay here, you’re not looking to like add more land or?

>> Emily: No, we’ve considered that in the past, there’s nothing for sale adjacent to us and when you do the numbers to travel to another location to tend cattle every day, it didn’t really make sense because it’s more time invested in the operation and then you’ve got more to market.


When we went to farm school that we decided, you know if we got bigger we’d have to hire employees, and it would really change the scale of our farm that we needed to look inward at our efficiencies and improve that instead of growing, physically, so we opted not to become the super farmers.


>> Sarah: So it sort of just mastering what you have and making it as efficient as possible?

>> Emily: Correct.

>> Sarah: Gotcha, I guess that makes it easier for you as an individual to manage it?

>> Emily: It does, but some days it’s a little daunting to wake up and know your to do list is longer than you can physically accomplish, but you just choose your priorities and if you need help, you hire help.


You choose what you’re good at, to do yourself and hire out other things or sometimes things just go undone. You choose what’s on fire and try and prevent fires, not literal fires, we’re not burning anything, [LAUGH] but that you just do the preventative maintenance so you don’t have these crises, we’ve learned that the hard way.


>> Sarah: Well is there anything that you wanted to talk about that I didn’t ask you?

>> Emily: I guess I would like to talk about the future of farming a little more.

>> Sarah: Sure please.

>> Emily: That it’s hard, it’s difficult for new people to get into farming. We were lucky that we had assets and we were of an age where we had money to invest in our farm.


The young people that have the passion and desire to farm today are having a difficult time, there’s organizations to help with grants and loans, a lot more than when we started. Just to find land for some people is so difficult, but it would be nice, going forward, if it got easier and easier for people to farm.


And I guess I would also mention the consumer end too. The more people understand about what it takes to get food to the farmer’s market, and why small farmers are important in our economy, the better they’re gonna understand why they’re paying what they’re paying for their food and understand what the quality is, and the freshness, and the economical models that go with it.


That I like seeing all the education, including your project, about how food gets to the table, and I think it’s important to keep having that discussion, so thank you for getting this.

>> Sarah: Yeah, thank you.

>> Emily: Yeah.

>> Sarah: Well, unless you have anything else, I think that’s a good way to wrap it up.


>> Emily: I would agree.

>> Sarah: All right.

>> Emily: Thank you Sara.

>> Sarah: Thank you.

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