Massey Creek Farms is built upon the shoulders of my Scots-Irish ancestors, the hardscrabble, independent farmers who settled the Piedmont of North Carolina. When my forefathers came to Rockingham County, then known as Anson, they found a fertile, densely forested wilderness that with hard work could provide their families with food, shelter and a modest living. However, the abundance of land and the lack of more advanced conservation methods led to the “mining” of the soil’s inherent fertility. My generation, despite being armed with what appeared to be the best education and practices, has found many of these methods unsustainable and harmful to ourselves and the land.
I came out of college with a degree and a dream to be the largest farmer in Rockingham County, and hogs would be the ticket. Securing a contract to raise pigs for Cargill and the money to build a “facility” was easy enough, but living within the restrictions of indentured servitude that comes with debt and contract production proved less attractive after the bait was swallowed. The answer, of course, was to get bigger: more debt, more pigs, more servitude. Debt ensures that the contractor can be “managed” regardless of his independent nature.
With the hogs came a byproduct—lagoon effluent, hog waste. Luckily, the acreage was adequate to handle the waste, but looking back, “handle” was not the right word. Our soil, our land, our home were being pushed to the brink in a grass monoculture that served more as a sponge than a living, breathing, healthy environment. This was not a soil that could sustain our family or the biodiversity on top of and beneath the soil surface.
Acquired as “lawn mowers” for the hog facility, our flock of Katahdin sheep had lurked on the periphery of the hog factory from the beginning. With a heritage breed, 100 percent grass-fed, we had the beginnings of what would become a new Massey Creek Farms. As the last of the 1,300 sows that had once occupied the concrete and steel of the now-empty hog factory were sold, we kept a few pigs that would be moved to pastures and become founding partners in our new model of pasture-raised meats. I will never forget the day they walked into the sun and onto grass, leaving the world of confinement behind. The running, tumbling, cavorting and, yes, fun, were the first of many signs we were doing the right thing. Temple Grandin is correct in saying,
“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.”
As part of our rebirth, we began building mobile henhouses, as pasture-raised eggs would be the cash flow engine to propel us forward as we built a new farm and pursued, for the first time, customers who would be the end users of our products. Customers? Of all the changes we were making, the idea of selling face to face was terrifying to me. I had no idea I could sell at all, much less sell well enough to make this a success. However, necessity being the mother of invention, and with the help of a great wife and marketer, we were off and running. Along the way we added Thanksgiving turkeys and duck eggs to the mix and now sell to many well-known restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores alongside our faithful market customers. We built relationships. Customers became friends.
As we have grown, we have learned that the measure of our progress toward a symbiotic relationship with our land and away from the parasitic ways of the factory is more about the health of our soil and less about our stack of dollars. In the past five years, no hog waste, chemicals or commercial fertilizer have been used on any of our soils. We have applied lime as needed and continue this practice. The health of our soil is measured in the number of worm castings. Its health is measured in the dung beetle population that continues to grow. Soil health is more than numbers on a report. Soil health is the way it smells and feels in your hand.
We have grown to become a profitable farm, well on our way to demonstrating to the many naysayers who doubted that sustainable methods could be more than a hobby. Massey Creek Farms, employing the “obsolete ideas” of diversified livestock production based on healthy soils growing mixed grasses, legumes and forbs along with strategic use of forest mast and animal tillage, is a testament to the inspiration of Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms. Massey Creek Farms is marrying profitability, conservation and continuity to show that sustainability can be practiced on a scale that can truly support a multigenerational family, the land and community in a way that will leave our little corner of the world better than we found it.
To implement our next phase, we are looking to fund increased production of eggs, turkeys and lambs and the addition of broiler chickens. Phase 1 primarily consists of additional housing and stock. Housing additions consist of less capital-intensive “chicken tractors” for broilers and laying hens and continued conversion of old barns for turkey sheds and sheep shelters.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can help or invest with Massey Creek Farms, get in touch with Garland McCollum at firstname.lastname@example.org.Register Now