By Kristen Pope
Warm weather and sunshine made for the perfect Earth Day weekend, and many Carrboro and Chapel Hill residents celebrated by spending a day out on the farm.
The 12th annual Piedmont Farm Tour gave local residents a chance to enjoy the beautiful weekend by getting out in the country and getting a hands-on look at the beauty and power of nature.
Thirty-four local farms opened their gates on April 21 and 22 to teach visitors about sustainable farming and where their food comes from.
Sponsored by Weaver Street Market and the nonprofit organization Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Farm Tour has become an Earth Day tradition for many and is one of the CFSA’s biggest fundraisers.
Visitors could pay admission at each farm or buy a “Support Local Farmers” button that served as admission for the entire tour. Farm Tour maps, which were available at many locations in Carrboro and surrounding areas, guided visitors in planning their routes during the tour.
Amy Eller, director of communications for the CFSA, said the tour typically draws about 2,000 visitors.
The Carrboro Commons also went on the tour, visiting two of the farms closest to Carrboro.
The first stop was Genesis Farm, located off of Jo Mac Road just west of Carrboro. It is idyllic, with a white farm house, gardens and rolling fields leading to a pond and a small barnyard. Just being there makes you want to “taste and feel the rhythms of nature,” as the farm’s motto says.
“Numerical cows” guided visitors around the farm with stops at a number of stations, including the farm’s three gardens (“Papa Bear,” “Mama Bear” and “Baby Bear”) and the corral. At each stop, signs explained farming methods, processes, tools and history to visitors.
Trudy Matheny has owned the farm since 1996, after renting the land for three years.
At the time, she was teaching full-time and was unable to do much with the farm, she said. She took “the leap of faith” to teach part-time and focus more on the farm. Now, after teaching part-time at Wake Technical Community College, Elon University and North Carolina Central University, Matheny works full-time on the farm.
Concerned about the lack of Ag education among young children, Matheny said she decided to buy the farm.
“The students I was teaching in college did not know where their food came from,” she said. “The focus is an educational farm.”
This year was Genesis Farm’s third year on the tour, but it educates year-round. Its main purpose is a field-trip destination for elementary schools. Matheny said she likes to offer agricultural classes that teach children about farming and to give them time for “unstructured play” in the fields on the farm.
“The thing I love to see at the Farm Tour is seeing kids running down that hill,” she said, pointing to a green field next to a pond, perfect for “free-form” recreation.
She said she tries to work with each grade-level’s curriculum to make the farm field trips relevant. For example, she said third graders learn about soil, so she tries to let them feel and experience the types of soil on the farm.
“My favorite thing is balancing the agriculture part with wildlife and natural history,” she said.
This weekend was no exception to Matheny’s passion for educating. Children, some decked out in cowboy hats and boots for the occasion, waited patiently for Matheny to give them permission to go in and pet Molly and Patches, a donkey and a horse.
One of these children was 7-year-old Olivia Garcia, clad in pink from head to toe, with a pink cowboy hat and tiara and pink cowboy boots.
Olivia, who just moved to North Carolina from Miami and attends McDougle Elementary School, said she liked attending the Farm Tour.
This was her first official Farm Tour, but her grandfather owns two acres of land, her mother said. Olivia excitedly chimed in, adding that he grows “peaches, peas, apples” and also has a broken swing.
The most common sight was children like Olivia and young families, though the tour drew a diverse crowd of people, from students to older couples.
Matheny said owning the farm has taught her to appreciate and pay attention to nature more.
“The crows tell me when there’s a predator (nearby),” she said. “You become more aware.”
Chapel Hill Creamery
The next stop for the Commons was Chapel Hill Creamery, near Hackney Road, also west of Carrboro. The gravel road leading to the farm was lined with cars sporting “support local farmers” bumper stickers and volunteers directing large groups of people toward the cow pastures and barn.
The Creamery, owned by Portia McKnight and Flo Hawley, specializes in farmhouse cheese. According to the tour, true farmhouse cheese is cheese in which both the milk and the cheese are produced on the farm. Chapel Hill Creamery describes the process as “from grass to cows to milk to cheese.”
The tour at the Chapel Hill Creamery was self-guided, with a hayride-like shuttle available to transport visitors past fields of cattle to the farm’s milking parlor and cheese house.
Visitors could tour the milking area, where someone explained the milking process. They could also look into the cheese making room, as well as sample and buy the farm’s homemade cheese.
The Creamery milks cows twice a day, rotating them to a new, nutrition-filled section of the pasture after each milking. The owners also make cheese five days a week.
Chapel Hill Creamery sells cheese at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, the Durham Farmers’ Market and the Raleigh Moore Square Farmers’ market, as well as at a few local stores.
Though the farm is mainly a dairy farm, a small loop brought visitors to a pig pen, where muddy pigs lie lazily in the shade to cool themselves.
According to the tour, pigs help get rid of whey, a byproduct of cheese-making. Whey holds valuable nutrients for pigs, and feeding pigs whey produces premium pork that is sold in fine restaurants.
Paula Craige, a friend of Hawley’s from a health food restaurant in Durham, said she had wanted to check out the farm for a while.
She had been on the Farm Tour once before and said she appreciated the community of people concerned about the environment.
With her was a friend visiting from out of town and several children who she said were interested in the animals.
“It’s such a beautiful day,” she said. “…What a wealth in nature we have.”