Danélle Cutting: Farm School field trips are fascinating

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2016

I usually say that I have one of the best jobs because I get the best of both worlds — I get to work with local farmers and local food. This week was a wonderful example of just that, and I was even able to share it with some local food enthusiasts. Of course, I am talking about the Southern Piedmont NC Farm School.

This was the second field trip that the students of the 2016 Southern Piedmont NC Farm School have attended, and I have to say that each field trip gets better and better. This month, we toured Mecklenburg County. Many of my readers will probably question if Mecklenburg has any farms left. To those, I am writing this as my rebuttal.

Our tour started off at Renfrow Hardware, located at 188 N. Trade St., Matthews. Yes, I know I am starting my testimony with a hardware store but this is one to really check out. They have three historic buildings in downtown Matthews that make up this one hardware store. They also have just about anything you can imagine.

What I appreciated most was that they still provided lots of seeds, plants, tools, fertilizers and even some organic options for the homeowner and grower. They also provide numerous local items. They definitely know how to market and have plenty of educational signs throughout the store to help guide and educate their customers.

My favorite sign said, “98% of their keyblanks are manufactured in Rocky Mount, NC.” Pretty cool, huh? Now, back to my farm topic. The hardware store even has a farm located just a few blocks from the store.

The family runs the hardware store and farm; the farm produces honey, cut flowers, vegetables and they are stewards of the land. Renfrow Farm also has a produce box that customers can buy so they have delicious veggies on a weekly basis. One of the things I enjoyed most was seeing how they incorporate cover crops that are beneficial to their bees — they had about 50 bee hives on the 9-acre farm.

For lunch, we were provided a royal treat. Your Mom’s Donuts, located at 11025 Monroe Road, Matthews, helped cater our local food inspired meal. Benjamin and Courtney Frye have an awesome donut shop that supports local farmers, but they also helped create the perfect local food meal for some hungry farmers. They helped prepare pork carnitas tacos from Wild Turkey Farms, topped with a cilantro slaw and a sweet potato salad. For dessert, we had the most massive cinnamon bun that was to die for. Everything was phenomenal, and I couldn’t finish everything. If you are in or around Matthews, this shop definitely deserves a visit.

Our last stop for the tour was Astor Farms, where they produce tilapia. This was a great tour to see how industrial buildings are transformed into fish farms. Visiting any of these fish farms is like visiting something from outer space. There is so much technology and equipment that they use on a daily basis; it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

One of the pieces of trivia that has stuck with me from the tour is that they feed 20 tons of feed per month to the tilapia. That is crazy to think about.

Astor Farms had a great tour and also showed how farmers have to be aware of biosecurity and protecting their animals. Everyone had to step in chlorine baths and sanitize their hands. We were not allowed to take photos due to their trademark secrets. Even though I was bummed about not taking photos, the tour was a great opportunity. I am hoping to see their new endeavors in the future.

If you would like to learn more about the locations and topics discussed in this article, visit the links below or call your local Cooperative Extension agent, Danélle Cutting, at 704-216-8970.

NC Farm School program visit: https://ncfarmschool.ces.ncsu.edu/.

Renfrow Hardware:


Renfrow Farm:


Your Mom’s Donuts:


Astor Farms: