Greenhouses and pastures
From picture-perfect lilies to snorting, muddied hogs, Durham County farms opened their doors Saturday for the first day of the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour.
The 8th annual tour, which links 27 farms in the region as far west as Moncure and as far east as Louisburg, is organized by the nonprofit Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
Under gray clouds, families explored the pastures of Green Button Farm off North Roxboro Road in Bahama to find free-range, gobbling turkeys and pens of young chickens peeping under heat lamps.
Pigs yawned, lying in the mud at Green Button as visitors watched from the other side of the fence. The roaming, fuzzy creatures stood in their water bins, taking slow drinks, and others scratched their ears on their metal feeding bins.
The pigs also are free-range, a point of pride for Green Button, and the plump ones will be delivered to local restaurants or divvied out to customers through their community supported agriculture program as bacon and chops. Some of the hogs are even fed an acorn diet, giving the meat a unique, tender taste.
“They’re so happy out here,” said Ian McGibney, a 20-year-old N.C. State sophomore in the Agricultural Institute program. He said he could never work in an office – He stood in the dark mud in his galoshes, among the flies, as a few pigs idled up to him, looking up at him with inquisitive stares.
In the farm fields, where turkeys roamed and communicated in sharp gobbles, Wendy Diaz and her family stopped to marvel at the hogs. They had come from a Durham School of the Arts track meet that morning, and they wanted to see where their vegetables and meats were coming from.
Diaz said they are members of Green Button’s community supported agriculture program, where they receive a bundle of fresh, local food a week from the farm for a fee. They’ve recently been cooking with fresh, crisp sweet potatoes, radishes and kale.
“You’re so close to the rural,” Diaz said of Durham. “It’s how people ate their food not too long ago.”
At the end of the Green Button tour, coolers were lined up with bacon, hot dogs, roasts, chops and sausage for sale, as well as eggs for $5 a dozen.
Alicia Butler, who grew up in Charlotte and Emerald Isle and now co-owns Green Button, said she and her husband, a financial adviser turned farmer, are environmentalists living off the land.
They’re in their mid-thirties, and the idea to start a farm came from the desire to feed their children fresh food. A one-acre garden and 25 chickens soon turned into 40 acres and a 2-year-old success story, and their three young boys run wild in the pasture.
They now have around 200 people signed up in their CSA program and 12 to 15 restaurants that they serve. Guglhupf restaurant, for example, makes its own bratwurst from Green Button’s pigs.
“I want people to really understand where their food is coming from,” Butler said. “I went on this tour four years ago so I could learn to farm, and I’m hoping we’re getting those people, too.”
An 8-minute drive away, Sarah & Michael’s Farm on Snow Hill Road had its greenhouses open for tours.
Michael Turner, 46, was originally a political science major at Boston College, but a summer job at a plant nursery altered his career path.
Where his greenhouses now stand, packed with aisles of green stems and closed flower buds, used to be a cleared, green field, he said, where he’d plant sunflowers, zinnias and celosias during the warmer months.
But lilies were the big seller. Turner was drawn to the way they’re produced, with special care and specific temperatures. Now, he offers Oriental lilies, which have the fragrance, to Asiatic lilies, which have the bright color, the deep yellows and oranges.
“They’re beautiful, they’re fun,” Turner said. “They call it the queen of cut flowers.”
The farm sells its lilies to grocery stores and florists from Winston-Salem to Raleigh, and the staff times it perfectly so the flowers are shipped before they even crack open and bloom.
They’ll “pasteurize” the soil by steaming it, removing weeds and potential disease. The finished bulbs are thrown into a compost heap, and the old soil is mixed with new soil made from coconut pith delivered from Sri Lanka and India.
In all, it takes about four months to go from planted bulb to Whole Foods bouquet.
“It’s the most fun I have,” Turner said about showing people around his greenhouses. “They’re always amazed at how much that goes into making this flower.
“You have to do all this to make this one stem of lily.”
The tour continues Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. Visit www.carolinafarmstewards.org for more information.