Life in the Foothills is full of little ironies and odd juxtapositions.
One of them is surely the cheek-by-jowl presence in Landrum, within a quarter mile radius, of two major chain supermarkets and Emilie Frohlich’s and Wayne Atkins’ High Farms. Strolling the aisles of the chain markets offers a view of nothing more striking than cardboard and plastic shrink-wrap amid the occasional whiff of scented detergents or popcorn from the movie rental counter. Ambling around High Farms’ 150 acres just on the other side of a copse of pine trees is a decidedly different experience. On a brilliant late summer day, goldenrod nods in a gentle pasture breeze and blue-tinged hills rise in the distance; and there is the earthy scent of livestock and the rich smell of the soil.
High Farms was there long before the chain stores came to Landrum, and Emilie and Wayne are intent on its future growth through a program of sustainable agriculture producing meats, poultry and produce for the growing locavore movement. “My grandfather bought the property back in the 1950s, and raised a herd of cows here,” Emilie says during a tour of the farm.
A little more than two years ago, the couple, both artists, decided to decamp from Brooklyn for a more rural life. They’d been thinking about making a move for years and became obsessed with agricultural study — the time finally seemed right to make the leap. “The farm wasn’t really being utilized, and after long consideration we decided that it was a great opportunity to build up something from the family farm that would be really useful. I grew up here, so I guess farming is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Emilie says. Even their big city friends were supportive (one of their Brooklyn pals joined them for three months as they were just getting started). “Most were really into the idea, there is actually a pretty big local food scene over there,” Wayne says.
They came well prepared for the effort ahead. Emilie and Wayne both grew up in the country and they did their research. “We picked a lot of brains,” Wayne says as he steers a golf cart along a wooded path toward a vast meadow in one corner of the property. “The land had been maintained through the years, pastures kept mowed and all that, but the big challenge was getting the farm infrastructure in place.” Brooding houses for chicks, coops for the adult fowl, wallows and feed stations for pigs, water lines and fencing — all had to be either restored or built from scratch.
The arrival of the golf cart stirred up a flurry of activity in the meadow. A large flock of free-ranging Kentucky Bourbon Red turkeys, an heirloom breed with reddish brown and white feathers, clucked and flapped around the cart, the males challenging each other in full plumage. “Kentucky Bourbon Reds are famous for great flavor, and they’re a very hardy outdoor breed,” Emilie says. “They eat lots of grass and acorns, and the weeds they consume actually help the soil regenerate with native grass.” The turkeys are also fed a supplementary diet of locally produced hormone-free vegetarian feed, as well as organic spent brewers grain from a local brewery. Mingled in with the turkeys were some of the Poulet Rouge chickens from the flock that inhabits the pasture’s coop, another heirloom breed allowed to wander freely and indulge their natural instincts.
Other meadow denizens were more inquisitive. Two Berkshire sows along with a group of energetic piglets, also allowed to range and root freely through High Farms’ woods and fields, grunted and poked their muddy snouts at the visitors in a friendly way, as if in welcome. The huge boar and patriarch of the clan was lolling nearby in muddy, cool splendor. The herd provides bacon, sausage, chops and spare ribs, among other offerings and are part of a “High Farms Meat Box” that customers can subscribe to as part of High Farms’ Community Supported Agriculture initiative. “We currently supply a few restaurants in Hendersonville and Asheville, too, but with our expenses for feed and for humane processing, it can sometimes be difficult to meet their price point because of our small size,” Wayne says. “Our plan is to open an on-farm, farm-to-table restaurant in which all meat and most of the produce are grown sustainably at High Farms.” For now, customers seek out High Farms at community markets or visit its website to place their orders. Even better, visits to the farm are welcome. Emilie and Wayne also help train others interested in sustainable practices through an intern program.
“It’s pretty much all day, every day,” Emilie says as she and Wayne set about rounding up a gaggle of chicks who had worked their way underneath the wire netting of a kind of half-way house for young fowl, a stop after they leave the brooding house and before they join the flock in the meadow to wander at will. In the pasture across the road, a dozen or so cows, Angus and Devon grass-fed crosses, looked on, placid and peaceful.