Category Archives: Blog

Welcome to the New Year!

2015 is off to a great start people. Just for your laughing pleasure, and enlightenment… I present, “MY DAY.”

Up at 6:00 am for a three hour drive to pick up feed and talk with my supplier. Back at home around 11:00, and 15 baby pigs are rooting the back yard (this is the normal part of the day because they can run through the standard sized mesh of the fence when they’re less than two months old).

Unloaded the feed, and started feeding everyone. Shoo’ed the baby pigs back to the mama’s. Get them all back into the pasture and fed, go to the shop to put up some feed, turn around and there’s five of the full size pigs looking at me at the door of the shop. Walk them back into the pasture with some buckets of feed and painful coercion. Locate the gaping hole in part of the fence and repair.
Back up to take care of chickens and coming out of their feed shed, I’m met with the mama pig (Dixie) and all 15 babies looking at me through the feed shed door with an expression on Dixie’s face resembling, “Good morning farmer Rob, welcome back!” More bucket wrangling and coercion. More fence checks. Found the problem and repaired accordingly.

So now, I go to get the truck that we use for hauling livestock with the trailer, and the battery is dead. Jump it off, and we’re headed to the trailer to hitch up. AT THIS POINT, ALL 35 OF THE PIGS ARE IN A DIFFERENT PASTURE. I open the gates to bring the trailer into the EMPTY pasture to load the pigs and I see all 35 of them cresting the hill in full speed towards me and the open gate. I rush to the gate to shut it real quick and the gate falls off the hinges. By the time the gate is back in operation, my position has been compromised by a pork assault and three full sized pigs are running out the gate opening. Gate is now shut and I don’t care that three are out because I’m knee deep in mud, sweaty on a 40 degree day, and I now have the two most tame pigs nipping at the back of my legs. Run back out of the pasture for more buckets of treats and engage in more bucket warfare/coercion to get the pigs back in and away from the truck so I can park the trailer in the correct spot to load them.

AT THIS POINT, ALL OF THE PIGS ARE OCCUPIED WITH THEIR TUBS FULL OF PIGGY TREATS. Unhitch said trailer and off I go. Now I’m stuck in the pasture and 4×4 doesn’t want to cooperate. I’m now engaged in truck coercion. 4×4 finally goes in gear and I’m finally rolling. Truck is in front of the gate to leave the pasture, and I perform a quick spot check to see where all the pigs are, and they’re still completely and intently occupied and astonished by the piggy crack that their noses are buried in. Opening the gate, and Huston, you are a go for launch out of the pasture. Hop in the truck put it in drive and I’m moving. Get out of the truck to shut the gate, and Houston we have a problem.

AT THIS POINT, ALL 35 PIGS ARE AT THE GATE OPENING STARING AT ME WITH AN EXPRESSION OF, “Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do ya?” that is straight out of the Clint Eastwood movie. I bolt for the gates and they bolt forward like an offensive line at the super bowl. Get the gates shut and Dixie is out with four others running away from me like, “woooo hoooo!!!” Now I’m back to bucket warfare and full blown pig wrangling in the mud. Dixie senses that I’ve had enough and goes back in towards the piggy crack I’ve poured and the other four follow suit after some pig dancing as I like to call it.

AT THIS POINT, ALL OF THE PIGS ARE IN THE PASTURE AND CONTENT, THE TRAILER IS READY, AND THE GATES ARE SHUT. Head up to the house and pull off my muddy boots then go in for a delicious (and in my opinion WELL EARNED) beverage. Head back outside to go pick some collards to get ready for supper and as I come into the back yard, up under the rabbit hutch is two full sized pigs rooting in the ground. They looked at me; I looked at them. The music from the old western movie, “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” began to play and a tumbleweed rolled between us bouncing while being pushed by the wind. I drew first and shooed them back to the pasture only to find them hit the part of the fence that I think is solid and they pull the poles out of the ground going under it.
So I don my mud boots, head to the fencing supplies, and away I go starting at one corner and refusing to quit until I’m all the way back to where I started. Half way through planting new poles in the ground to fix ANY vulnerable spot in the fence where they may be able to go under it, the pole installation tool breaks in half. The rest of the poles had to be beaten in with a hammer and the only one I can find is one that looks like it came out of a Bob the Builder toy tool set.

As the sun set and I finished pounding poles in with a wiffle ball bat of a hammer, I walk past my pigs. It was like something out of a paranormal movie where they were lined up in an almost perfect line. Staring at me. No, correction, GLARING at me in a “Children of the Corn” kind of way. “Happy New Year you spoiled freaking pigs,” I say as I walk by, and Porky, Dixie, and Suzi Q all three smiled I swear it on my life.

Today was my first full day back to working as normal on the farm since my surgery. Today is also the first day of 2015. I hope y’all enjoyed reading about my day! Happy New Year everyone. The pigs sure are having a good one.

Lard!

Hey folks, it’s Robert. Let’s talk about fat and lard.

When I speak to people at farmers’ markets about fatback and lard, I either get one of two looks as a response. 1: A look of confusion, or 2: (the more common look) is that of terror and/or disgust followed by a look of, “why am I talking to this guy about fatback.” We have all been trained that fats are bad for us. Lately, science has proven something that our great grandparents already knew, that it’s actually good for us only if it is consumed correctly.

My grandmother knew what lard was. She knew that it was what made everything the greatest food to put on her table, and she knew that lard was the secret ingredient to anything to make foods better.

Today, we have plenty of options for healthier oils to add to cook with, but only one takes the cake (literally, lard makes cakes amazing). From sautéed asparagus to fried chicken to steamed zucchini, lard will change your life.

When we processed a hog not long ago, we got a ton of it so we decided to try and make some lard like our grandparents used to. We thought, “pig fat… it won’t make that big of a difference.” When we ate the first thing we cooked with it (sautéed green beans with the left over cracklings in it) it made them amazing. We literally sent heavenly praise to the great fatback in the sky.

Ourselves, like many of you, were always jumping to the next healthiest oil that would come out to cook with because we had been trained to run away from fat. Fat begets fat, right? NAY! After a little bit of research on Google, pasture raised pigs like the ones we raise produce a fat that, when rendered into lard, can actually reduce harmful cholesterol, reduce the chance of heart disease, and produce many other wonderful health benefits. My cholesterol has dropped 100 points in the past year. Who could have imagined that, being I’ve only eaten pasture raised meats with all of the fat that I could put on my plate because it’s so good? I surely didn’t. I highly suggest that you do your own homework, and when you’re done, come see us for a seriously cheap secret weapon for your arsenal of cooking products.

It’s so easy, even I could do it. Buy about 2 & 1/2 lbs of fatback from a pastured pork producer; I prefer you buy it from me, but I only have the best pork ever. If it’s not me, at least visit the farm you’re buying from and see pigs being pigs in a pasture or wooded lot rooting around and then you’ll know you’re getting the good stuff. You can cut small chunks (1/2 inch squares or so) with the skin, but trim away any meat, and it will still render down. Doing it this way will leave you with, “cracklings,” when it’s done and those go great in some greens, salads, or sautéed vegetables later or you could use them for snacking or dog treats if you’re not a fan of them. Place these small chunks of fat and skin into a pot (or crock pot) with 1/4-1/2 cup of water to keep the fat from burning and cook on medium-low heat until they’re melted stirring occasionally. The water will evaporate. The rule of thumb is when the cracklings finally sink to the bottom of the pot, it’s done because they float throughout the process. Don’t let the cracklings start to burn (turn dark brown) as they will make your lard smell like cracklings and it won’t be clear after burning them. Let it cool down a little and pour through cheesecloth to strain out meat pieces or cracklings, then pour the refined lard into a mason jar. Seal your mason jar with a lid and refrigerate or freeze and your lard will solidify. Use your new found glorious oil replacement in any recipe that needs oil by scooping out spoonfuls when needed.

That’s it! I promise you will love it, and you will definitely be the envy of your next food event.

Year One Has Passed and We Thank You

So we are now in our 2nd year. It seems like it was a lifetime ago that we started this business. So much has changed in one short year. Our production has doubled, and we are now working on tripling our chicken and pork. Turkey has increased as well for this year. As we move farther into production of our products, we are constantly working to bring prices down. We feel as though we have done well with the chicken prices, now it’s time for the pork, and hopefully by the holidays, turkey. Our main goal is to provide our products at affordable prices because we believe that everyone should be able to eat good foods.

It has already been such a wild ride getting to meet so many of you wonderful people in our area.  To hear your stories of how food alone has changed something in your life or someone’s life close to you makes what we do all the while. I even found out the other day that my cholesterol has dropped almost 100 points since making the switch to eating purely our own foods. Some of your stories are quite amazing however. One lady told me how food, and nothing else, helped turn her child’s autism around. Some folks have told me that many of their ailments have disappeared by switching to organics and pasture raised meats when conventional medicine only masked their problems. Some have learned about how we raise our animals and will only buy meat from us when they were formerly vegetarians and vegans.

As we move through our 2nd year, it’s quite amazing to me where we are at. We are about to be some of the only folks on this side of the state that have chickens due to one of two local chicken processors shutting down. Being that we process our own poultry here on the farm, that places us in quite a unique position now. We really hate to see that some of our comrades in the war on big corporate adulterated food with mysteriously untested ingredients are becoming victims of, “big chicken,” putting the little guy in a stranglehold yet again. In our first year of business, we have learned that when it comes to having a business geared toward good foods, there isn’t much support from government for this movement. Instead, it’s quite the opposite due to big foods being scared that we might take away their business. Yet, we prevail.

Now that we have learned how to make chickens affordable, learned how to make our pasture raised pork the most delicious pork ever, we embark into more aspects of being meat farmers. We are taking aim at grants that will provide for our cattle and sheep. When we can start to deliver beef, we will know we have made it with our business. For now though, we are focusing on our new mushrooms and furthering our vegetable capabilities. No one told us that we would be constantly challenged when trying to grow things, but we are doing well with the learning curve I believe.

We would like to thank each of you for your support over the past year. You are the reason that we keep pushing this business forward. We enjoy providing great products to wonderful people, and we are glad that you like what we provide. Once again, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

What are you eating?

Probably the largest problem that consumers today have when it comes to buying food is trying to decipher what all of the labels mean. USDA Organic, GMO-Free, Pasture-Raised, Cage Free, 100% Vegetarian Fed, etc. are all tactics meant to plant a specific image in your mind about what it is that you’re buying. Some of these are terms that we currently use, but the shoe fits for our operation, and unlike many other places, you’re welcome to come and inspect what you buy from us and demand that I show you what it is that our animals eat. Even fewer farmers will be glad to show you that.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, pay attention to the pictures above produce, meats, etc. and take notice how they show beautiful farms like the one we have. They aren’t showing you CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) which are places where conventional meats are raised in confines in which they literally stand in, breathe, and ingest their own feces for the majority of their life. This, in turn, is what you buy at the grocery store, and the problems with many food-borne illnesses today spawn from these very operations and fecal contamination reaching the processing facilities where they’re butchered. They want you to believe that all chickens are free-range (where they go wherever they please and eat what chickens eat) and all cows are pasture-raised and 100% grass fed. All of this is so far from the truth that if you saw where the grocers get their meat from, you most likely would never go back again.

Did you know that Cage Free can still come from a large chicken house with thousands of chickens compacted with the only requirement being that they aren’t in individual cages? Did you know that there are three levels of organic certification, which means that unless you know what you’re buying and/or it says clearly 100% organic, it may be, “sort of” organic. In my opinion, what’s the point?

You are the ultimate person who makes the decision as to what it is that you and your family eats. My solution to you in untangling all of the verbiage surrounding food today is for you to leave the grocery store and go meet your farmer. Your farmer is in the business of knowing what they are supplying. If you don’t if they’re carrying what it is you want, ask them. What is GMO, are your vegetables organic, what does your animals eat? If someone claims organic standards, simply ask them to prove it. If they truly are, they won’t mind.

To educate yourself on terms used, do an internet search for, “Food Glossary,” or, “Food marketing terms.” Learn for yourself, because if you ask someone, they most likely won’t know the solid answer. Find farmers in your area, and buy directly from them once you have established that their standards are like your own. Lastly, enjoy what you’re eating because you’ve done your homework and you know that the foods on your table are good for your family.

Thanks for reading,

Robert

Veterans in Agriculture

Recently, Robert has been asked to help many business entities with getting veterans integrated into the farming scene. Here is a speech that he gave recently to help folks understand how to cater to veterans.

Hello everyone. My name is Robert Elliott, and I run Cypress Hall Farms.

Our farm has been pretty conventional over the last 60 years until I decided that it was time for me to become a farmer. Since that day, I haven’t had a question about what I should be doing with my life. Today, I am a farmer veteran. I provide pasture raised meats directly to consumers and my business is constantly growing. I also volunteer my time by working with Kavita Koppa with the Farmer-Veteran Network, and I heavily support Wounded Warrior Project by hosting hunting activities several times a year for vets in that program.

I’m a US Marine who served 5 years active duty in many places of the world. I was also a contractor for the Marine Corps for 10 years at Cherry Point NC until government cuts caused the loss of many jobs (one of them being mine). In 2011 I found myself laid off with no job prospects and nothing left to do but move home into my family’s plantation house that was previously occupied by the great men and women of my family for two centuries. While I served my country, my aunt built an empire in the meat goat industry. She had over 1000 meat goats roaming our land when a long battle with breast cancer ensued. Eventually all of the livestock, equipment, and some of the land was sold. Still today the majority of our land is leased out. My family knows what it’s like to lose everything.  They have even gone as far as trying to talk me out of farming when I returned home because they don’t want to see me endure the same hardships they have seen.

I never thought that I would be a farmer. I chose the Marine Corps over farming because I thought it would be easier. In some ways it was. Today, I still don’t consider myself much of a farmer. To me, a farmer has massive tractors, tons of equipment, and a beautiful home with many employees. It has mainly been my wife and I working without any equipment other than some hand tools and a very used, abused, and borrowed 970 John Deere tractor at times. The biggest thing I’ve learned in farming so far is that I can build something out of almost nothing. Piece by piece and dollar by dollar, I’ve built a good start to a business that I hope to see prosper over the next few years. Being a veteran, I don’t mind putting in the manual labor required to farm sustainably.

What I want to talk about today is the needs of veterans based on my own experiences. Please bear in mind that these are merely my own opinions and suggestions about things. I’ve provided you with a sheet of suggestions that you may find useful in your journey to help the men and women who have given so much to this country and are choosing to do so once again as farmers. I highly encourage you all to ask other veterans what they need if you ever get the chance. Being that most of you here may not be veterans, please let me paint a picture in your mind.

If you could, imagine yourself at 18 years old where you have three options. 1. You can go to college if your family or student assistance can make it affordable. 2. You can try your hand at looking for a job around home. Or 3. You could join the military. I know all of you in this room come from different backgrounds, so picture this… You join the military coming out of a home that is or isn’t one of agriculture. The military disciplines you and turns you into a new human being capable of taking care of anything that ever comes in front of you. You can move mountains with the motivation and discipline that the military has instilled in you. This is what you are like coming out of basic training or boot camp as we like to call it. You’re then transferred to a school to learn your job in the military. Whether it’s being an infantryman or a desk clerk, you learn. You’re then transferred to your first duty station where you perform that job. You may go to war, you may fight, you may be wounded mentally or physically, and you may die for something that you may not even fully comprehend, but this is what you signed up for. You may serve your entire enlistment here in the US where you never see any aspect of combat. All kinds of veterans come from all kinds of scenarios in service, but the basic military man or woman is built regardless of their service experience.

In the military everything is taken care of for you. Your pay, your food, your housing is all part of that experience. If you need help with a loan, insurance, veteran issues, housing, child care, health care, etc. there is someone in the military on almost every base doing a job that will help you with exactly that. There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. For any problem, question, or concern, you can find an answer. You are frequently required to go through credit and financial counseling that instructs you on the matters of finance. One on one counseling sessions help you to understand how to carefully budget your money and spend it wisely, and how to save some money in the event that something should ever come up. Remember that even though you are very disciplined, you are still a kid in many aspects, so spending wisely isn’t a very strong suit for you at this point.

After a few quick years, you’re done with your enlistment. You can either sign up for another tour or get out of the service altogether. Now let’s think about what happens when you get out. You get a class that teaches you how to deal with the VA, how to write your resume and tailor it to what exactly you did in the military and how to apply that in the civilian world and look for jobs. You finish your check out process. Finally, you get a thank you and a bus ticket home if needed. From there, you’re a veteran with a million directions to go. College, unemployment, or a job usually happens from here. Some get out and have plenty of options or have their next life ready to go. However, it seems that today most get out and are still trying to figure out where they’re going to go being that there isn’t a multitude of jobs specific to veterans and their specialized skills like there was when I got out of the Marine Corps.

Some veterans get out and have some issues from wartime. Some are disabled and some even have mental issues from experiences they’ve encountered. Most of us will encounter some kind of difficulty when transitioning back into civilian life simply because we are so used to the military lifestyle and the differences that life holds. Many of these men and women are starting to find serenity on the farm. Farming is therapeutic to a lot of us. Some of us simply can’t relate to the civilian world anymore which makes a farm a wonderful place for us. I could even see farming being a way to end the homeless and jobless veteran problem in this country.

When I eventually moved home, I finished up an Associate’s Degree in Science and transferred to NCSU. I was studying for my Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering degree when I really started thinking about where I was going to be a few years from now. I really couldn’t see myself in a cubicle in a building somewhere drafting up god knows what for god knows who. While I was in college, we had bought some chickens and some books on raising them, one of them being Pastured Poultry Profit$ by Joel Salatin. While I was reading this book it dawned on me that, “Hey! I can do this. This can’t be that hard.” Well for the most part it hasn’t been. But in some ways it has.

I remember at the end of my first semester at State thinking about that book and wondering where it could take me. Certainly I didn’t think it would bring me here today speaking about veterans and farming. I definitely didn’t realize that it was going to lead me into a farm life providing many quality meats to people all while causing an obsession to take our farm further. With almost zero knowledge of farming, I left college and took to the field.

I’m very fortunate in the fact that my family has land for me to work on. Most people wanting to get into farming don’t have that luxury. Even fewer veterans do. I can’t imagine the hurdle that this challenge alone would pose. Many of you have heard that the median age of farmers today is 65. Many of these farmers don’t have someone to pass their farms to and I believe that this is a problem in America today. The farms of America are diminishing more and more. Before being asked to speak here today, the biggest question I had in all of my farmer veteran work was how to link veterans to older, retiring farmers. How do we find the great men and women who don’t have someone to pass the farms to? When I started writing what I wanted to discuss with you folks, it dawned on me! FARM BUREAU AND FARM CREDIT KNOWS WHO THEY ARE!!! You are the missing link that can bring this all together. We’ll get the veterans, you get the farmers and we will all meet in the middle to make the US the greatest agricultural country in the world for many years to come.

Who’s going to tackle the farms of tomorrow? That’s easy. Veterans. We’re perfect for it. We’re already adapted to the climate and the outdoors. We get up early. We have a work ethic that ensures that we will work until the job is done (something that is seriously missing in many other young people today). We may not know how. We may not know where to start. We don’t know how to fund that operation. Hell, most of us don’t even know what a tractor does. But if you ask the majority of my brothers and sisters to do something, by god they will get it done one way or another. That’s what makes us unique, and that’s where you folks come in.

When I decided to start farming, I went and saw Martha Mobley, my county Cooperative Extension Agent. Without her, I would still be trying to figure it all out. People like Martha make getting into farming possible with their extensive knowledge of who knows what, who funds what, what should I be doing, what are the trends, and where can I get the things I need to start this enterprise. With people like her, the folks at RAFI, CFSA, and other organizations geared toward farming all teamed up with veterans, the sky is the limit for agriculture in the US.

Since I’ve been farming, my business has been growing. Eggs and chicken paid for turkeys and pigs who paid for rabbits, ducks, and now mushrooms. Hopefully all of these things will start to pay for lamb and cattle in some time. The biggest difficulty I’ve had in all of my endeavors has been the almighty dollar that is so desperately needed for barn repairs, equipment purchases, livestock purchases, feed purchases, new fences, new trucks… The list could go on forever. For every dollar made to this day, we’ve probably spent two trying to get things going. I’ve sold everything that I’ve had to pay for all of the start-up costs and there still wasn’t enough money. I chose to start small and grow slow without the assistance of loans. The RAFI grant that I received is doing a tremendous amount of good for my business by providing me with all new and improved equipment and even a shelter for us to process chickens, turkeys, and ducks.

I really couldn’t imagine trying to do conventional farming today without the assistance of loans, grants, and cost shares. To a veteran without land, there would have to be a lot of help coming into the farming scene today and I hope to see our country take a kind view toward veterans taking to the field and do everything we can to help them do that.

The rest of my difficulties lay solely with the operations related to being a farmer. Growing up on a farm only gave me basic knowledge of general farming related equipment and procedures. In the military there are standard operating procedures and manuals for everything that you could ever encounter. In farming, there isn’t a manual for pretty much anything besides new tractors. The majority of what I know today is thanks to many days and nights of research that my wife and I have been through. From what I’ve noticed though, books and articles will only take you half of the way. Everything else is learned through practical experience by getting out there and doing the work. A farming mentor could be a huge benefit to anyone wanting to come into this business. I believe that internships where farmers train new farmers in all of the aspects of their operation would be detrimental to keeping our farms alive. New farmer veterans get all of the experience they are going to need while the older, wiser farmers get some of the best farm help they could ever ask for, and possibly, someone to take over the farm when the time comes to lease, sell, or give the farms to the next generations.

With the growth of the local food industry and the interest in agriculture alone in NC, more veteran minded organizations will definitely emerge. The Farmer-Veteran Network has been born here and will flourish as the word spreads about us. Veterans tend to stick together, and once a network has been established, we will connect with it. Something taught to us in the military is, “take care of your own.” Many continue to do that today.

I’ve met many people in the past couple of years as a farmer-veteran-foodie-salesman-advocate-producer-buyer-seller-etc that talk the talk, but when it comes time to put the work in, they’re not there. Just as many people coming into this business are getting out because the pay doesn’t meet the work. We lack the people needed to continue agriculture and revitalize the entire system. Veterans fill that void. We don’t mind putting in the long hours and doing whatever we have to do to make things work. We can accomplish anything if we’re given the tools and support we need. Not many other demographic groups of people can claim that. With that said, I thank you all for inviting me here today, and I encourage you to ask a veteran what you can do to help the men and women who are serving our country for a second time as farmers.

We’ve been busy!

Well folks, the website isn’t quite done yet, but it’s almost there. We have been quite busy. Our first chickens have made it through processing, and came out looking beautiful.

If you haven’t seen a 7 pound dressed chicken in your life, you should come out and marvel at these. I don’t think I’ve ever seen dressed chickens this large. We ordered shrink bags to package the chickens in and they turned out to be a little small for the size we have. As a matter of fact, everything is a little small to accommodate these chickens. Some of the processing equipment that we built had to be resized for these guys.

After our first attempt at processing was the taste test. Unbelievable taste to say the least. Who could have imagined that eating something this wholesome and healthy could be so delicious? We thoroughly believe in our product now, and we know you will too. Any time in life that we have started a project, we’re always a little unsure how exactly it would turn out. This time we can say that it came out with flying colors (no pun intended).

Now, it’s time to order more chickens and get ready for the next batch. While we wait for them to come in, we must turn our attention to our heirloom veggies and get them from the grow house to the garden.

We are also pleased to announce that we are working toward getting our rabbit processing inspection completed. We should be providing quality rabbit meat from our already busy breeding stock within the next few months, so anyone interested may wish to go ahead and pre-order as there will be a limited supply in the first batch that we do.

Summer is looking delicious! Come out and see what we’re doing. We love to have friends with us for a glass of tea on the front porch while watching the cows in the pasture. With that said… We will be having beef on the menu coming very soon!