Pasture Walk at Triple B
When I arrived at Triple B Farm in northern Granville County, there was a large turkey eyeballing his reflection in the bumper of a pick-up truck. He would look and then duck, thinking that he had just seen another turkey. I laughed to myself thinking, not the smartest animals on the planet are they? The reason for my visit to Triple B Farm, owned by long-time farmer, Bailey Newton, was to participate in a pasture walk. This one was sponsored by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) of NC State University and NC A&T State University, an organization that is focused on helping develop farms which are environmentally sustainable. People had come from all around the Triangle area to see how Bailey Newton is raising poultry, pigs, and cattle using sustainable practices.
Now before I go into some of the details of his operation, I want to say that the first thing I noticed about this farm was the smell. Not the kind of smell one might expect. This farm had a sweet, fresh smell of the great outdoors, which is odd since in plain view there are dozens of animals that produce waste, an odor which usually causes my nose to curl up at the end. The way the animals are raised in a pasture setting, with plenty of room to graze, the amount of waste they produce is simply absorbed into the land, creating an efficient and inexpensive fertilizer.
A few years ago, I met Bailey at the local farmers’ market, purchased some chicken and eggs from him, so when CEFS sponsored the walk at Triple B right in my own backyard, so to speak, I jumped at the chance. When I arrived, there was a small crowd gathering behind the house, and I recognized one of my son’s soccer teammates, Brandon Williamson, standing beside Bailey. Other than that, I didn’t know a soul. Yet it didn’t take long before people starting introducing themselves, and I felt right at home. I have to say that farmers are a nice lot. Maybe it’s all that fresh air they get.
Bailey first showed us his poultry, the chickens he raises for meat. These chickens are housed in moveable “condos” which allow them to peck the ground for insects and grass. The chicken houses are moved twice a day, so that the chickens have access to fresh grass and a new supply of insects. Back when I was a young teen, my parents took me to a chicken farm owned by one of the major producers of chickens in the country. The thing I remember most was the smell, the overwhelming odor of ammonia. I also remember the way the chickens behaved, fighting and pecking at each other. Bailey’s chickens sat in groups, much like ladies at a quilting bee, and clucked softly, a stark contrast to the factory chickens.
As Bailey talked, some of the “free range” hens he raises for egg production walked up to the group, seemingly curious about all the fuss. They followed as we moved over to the “Biddy Bus,” an old school bus that Bailey uses to raise his new chicks. Not one to miss telling a good story, Bailey said he had bought the bus and ripped out all the seats to haul hogs to market years ago when his farm housed thousands of pigs. Once, he put the seats back in, and he and a bunch of friends rode together to the State Fair; the story ends with someone tossing out a cigarette which ended up in the back, setting a bale of hay and, ultimately, the bus on fire. Now the bus has been retired from the road and is the perfect place for his new hatchlings after they arrive in the mail.
After leaving the new arrivals, we head out into the pasture to meet some of the cattle he raises for beef. The animals we encounter are a handsome bunch, a creamy chocolate color, which are lazily chewing their cuds and curiously watching us watching them. If I reduce the scene so far at Triple B to one word, it would be “relaxed.” We stop so that Bailey can explain how he rotates the cows, pigs, and chickens throughout the year from one pasture to another. It is late in the afternoon, the sun is beginning its descent, and a cooler breeze moves across the field. Looking around at the natural beauty of the countryside, I deeply breathe in the early evening air.
By this time, I have met a few new friends, including Leigh Humphries, Bailey’s adult daughter, who has me in stitches with her quick wit, which she obviously inherited from her father. We are walking up to the pasture that houses the pigs when Bailey mentions that he once raised three thousand pigs at a time on this same farm, pointing to the pig barns, but after Leigh grew up and moved away he got out of the business. Quick as a whip she replies, “Yeah, after his labor left!”
This summer’s drought has been hard on farmers, including Bailey Newton, who had to start feeding his cattle hay in August, something he normally doesn’t do until January. Yet to look at this farm, with green and lush pastures, placid animals grazing contentedly, the drought is not obvious to the naked eye. Right before we reach the pasture with pigs, we stop to visit the laying hens. This is the first truly free range operation I have seen. All around us, spread out over the pasture are beautiful crimson plumed hens, softly clucking. We look at the hen house, and nesting boxes, and like a child at Christmas, I can’t wait to find a freshly laid egg. Bailey opens the door that covers the nests. One hen is still sitting. I wait to see if she is laying an egg, but someone reaches in, and she is sitting on two eggs, one the shade of powder blue and the other the color of café au lait. Bailey’s young right hand man, Brandon, shows me an egg that has a double yolk, and holds it up to a normal egg, half its size.
We mosey over to the pig pasture. Pigs are famous for being dirty, hence the saying, “dirty as a pig,” but they are not as dirty, translate smelly and nasty, as they are muddy. Pigs love mud, and right there in the pasture they have dug a hole the size of a hot tub, but instead of steaming water, it is full of squishy, cool, sweet smelling, red mud, and the pigs are covered in it. Not a pretty sight, since pigs aren’t the prettiest animals. They start out OK as piglets; but the pig’s story is sort of the ugly duckling in reverse. Then Brandon walks to the end of the adjoining pasture and rounds up the piglets, which come running in our direction, swerving back and forth in fits and spurts like a hive of bees. The size of Arnold the pig on Green Acres, they are cute compared to their two-hundred and fifty pound aunts and uncles.
Our last stop is the old pig barn, which now serves as a processing room for the fresh chicken Bailey takes to the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. I guess this serene and bucolic walk has come to the real purpose for the tour, food. Farmers who raise animals for food never mix up their motives. Two important rules, never name an animal that will eventually end up on someone’s plate, and if you like meat, you can’t be opposed to an animal dying so you can have it. You cannot have your Arnold and eat him too. Leigh, who has been cracking one liners all evening, responds when a guest points to two boxes holding a total of a dozen hens and asks if they are waiting for tomorrow morning’s processing by saying dryly, “Yeah, it’s their Green Mile.”
That is where the tour ends, but dinner is waiting for us at the Bullock Fire Station. There we join to eat and give thanks for the food that Bailey has so carefully raised. Baked chicken, roast pork and barbeque beef are served with sides of green beans, boiled potatoes, squash casserole, and pear salad. Sweet tea washes it all down, and there are slices of homemade cake for dessert, all lovingly prepared by Bailey’s close friend, Phyllis Blackwell. As we eat and talk about the delicious food and share our hopes that more of our foods will come from local sources like Triple B Farm, a near full moon rises higher in the evening sky. We say “until next time” and good-bye, which echo into the chilly night, and I am left with a feeling that tells me all is well in the world when we choose to live deliberately. As I walk to my car, I say a little thank you to farmers like Bailey Newton, who are dedicated to raising good food in ways that are in balance with the natural world. I take in one more deep breath of that cool country air and climb into my car for the short drive home.
Note: For information on purchasing meats from Triple B Farm contact Bailey Newton at (919) 691-0013. For more information on the Center for Environmental Farming Systems visit http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/ . Deby Jizi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copy write 2008 Deby Jizi – all rights reserved.