March 5, 2015

Dicy McCullough: A contented day down on the farm

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Amy Hoffner was a student of mine at Mt Ulla Elementary School and graduated from West Rowan with my oldest daughter, Kristin, in 2002. I had the privilege of visiting with Amy and her family this past weekend on their organic dairy farm at the end of Kerr Mill Road. Their farm was on the Know Your Farms tour that took place Sept. 17 and 18. It was an awesome experience with hayrides and burgers fresh off the grille made by chef Cassie Parsons and the Harvest Moon Grille. Cassie said, “People don’t realize the impact locally grown food has on the economy. There is a need for creative marketing like tours to get people in touch with their food source.”
The Hoffners are dedicated to keeping their farm organic and environmentally friendly.
“Land has to be free of chemicals for at least three years before the process of becoming certified organic can begin,” said Buddy Hoffner, Amy’s father.
In other words, nothing can be sprayed. Since nothing can be sprayed to control harmful bugs and pests, these problems must be controlled in a natural way. Sometimes this may mean a little extra work and being creative, but the Hoffners believe it’s worth the extra effort. They grow all kinds of plants and flowers to attract insects that eat harmful bugs. Even something as simple as planting marigolds is a useful tool. The fly population is kept down by encouraging predator wasps to populate. The cows especially appreciate this effort because the predator wasps enjoy eating flies which normally disturb the cows.
The Hoffners are always looking for ways to improve their farm and received a grant this past spring to purchase a hoop house to extend their growing season to three seasons. A hoop house looks similar to a greenhouse but depends on passive heat from the sun to keep the ground warm. Tomatoes, watermelon, corn and sunflowers are still being produced, with the Hoffners having plans to plant a ground cover this winter. Amy said they are still learning and experimenting with what works best.
Walking among the rows of tomatoes in the hoop house, I stopped and admired a bird’s nest between the leaves of a tomato plant. Baby birds in the nest didn’t seem to mind I was looking at them. Connie Hoffner said, “Those birds are nice and fat, so it seems mama bird hasn’t had any trouble finding juicy worms for them to eat.” Connie plans to put up a sign in the tomato patch that says, “Caution, baby birds sleeping.”
As we walked back through the rows of tomatoes, I could see Owen Hoffner playing in the dirt. Owen is the 2-year old grandson of Buddy and Connie. He was driving his tractors and making little roads, perfectly content, not minding that his hands and feet were covered in the rich dirt of his grandma and grandpa’s farm. This brought up the discussion that children often don’t know where their food comes from, and that tours such as Know Your Farms help with making that “farm-to-fork” connection. Children taking a tour may even find an added bonus of getting dirty.
I was absolutely at peace standing in the front yard of the Hoffner home surrounded by the farm. As far as I could see there was pastureland and dairy cows grazing or lying down to rest. The green pastures were trimmed in a backdrop of a Carolina blue sky and almost seemed to say “slow down and enjoy.”
If the peace and contentment this picture produced could be bottled, I dare say farmers would be rich. Then again, I doubt they really care if they are rich. They just want a fair chance at making a living for their families, like everyone else. With creative ideas such as organic farming, hoop houses and farm tours, they have a much better chance of achieving that goal and the future of farming looks a little brighter
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Dicy McCullough is a children’s author who lives in Rowan County. Contact her at 704-278-4377 or her website, dicymcculloughbooks.com.

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