We have a very diverse farming enterprise with a focus on raising grass-fed beef, pastured/ forested pork, and pastured poultry. Beyond growing meat we have a laying hen operation in addition to a certified organic apple orchard. In 2010 we began implementing a u-pick berry operation. The success of our agricultural production has allowed us to foster a growing agritourism business that peaks during the fall season. We offer family oriented entertainment such as pony rides, cider making, a corn maze, and a pumpkin patch all at and around our farm store.
The farm store on the property is where we sell all of the Hickory Nut Gap products in addition to many other offerings from local farmers and craftsmen. We sell at three tailgate markets in the Asheville area, and 2011 marks the first year of our Hickory Nut Gap Meats CSA. In addition to direct marketing, we have had growing success in our wholesale market. We supply Earth Fare and GreenLife grocery stores with our meats. We also maintain accounts with about 20 restaurants in the Asheville area.
There is a ton of history on our farm, both family history and otherwise. The family acquired the land in 1916 and now we’re seeing a 5th generation beginning to dig their roots into this same earth. In 2008, with the help of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and others, we were able to put 290 acres into a conservation easement. That guarantees that the property we farm today – leased from the family – will always be dedicated to agricultural production and ecological conservation. This land sits a stone’s throw away from the eastern continental divide, which places us in a unique geographic location, adding to the intrinsic value of Hickory Nut Gap Farm.
Raising grass-fed beef in a rotational grazing system gives the farmer an opportunity to manage his pasture using little or no inputs. Proper management techniques such as being careful to avoid over-grazing a pasture will allow the forage species to grow back readily while providing a significant amount of organic matter to your soil as the roots die back below ground. We also pasture our chickens in the same fields as our cattle. By moving the chickens every day we give them the opportunity to clean up and spread out the manure from the cattle. A particular benefit to the chickens is that they eat a lot of insects out of the fields, including many pest species and their larvae. We have also been using goats to help us eliminate some invasive plant species. In multiple places on our farm multi-flora rose, privet, and brambles have taken over parts of the pasture, and giving the goats access to the foliage of these invasive plants has nearly eliminated their ability to photosynthesize. Slowly but surely we’ve been able to reclaim some of our pasture that had been taken over. Managing the apple orchards organically has helped us to maintain our commitment to ecological sensitivity, and we are looking into getting the berries certified organic as well.
It has become commonplace at Hickory Nut Gap to work closely with our surrounding ecosystem. There are many soil and water conservation measures in place on our farm, and we have worked closely with different agencies to maintain and grow the wild areas in order to support the wild species of our area. In 2001, we were awarded a River Friendly Farmer designation and have fenced the cattle out of all of the streams on the farm. By viewing the farm as an integral part of the greater ecosystem, we use the fields to increase the overall biodiversity in our little part of God’s creation. The above mentioned conservation easement is a singular example of our commitment to the western North Carolina ecosystem. Importantly, we are committed to providing a variety of local foods to the consumers of Western North Carolina, which in turn has a positive effect on the greater ecology of the United States as whole.
At Hickory Nut Gap we have tried to find a balance between 21st century progressive agriculture and traditional agricultural values and techniques. We have a very diverse farm business, and we have seen our successes multiply over the past ten years. Our ability to maintain this diversity is at the heart of our success. We raise multiple kinds of meat products, and we are adding perennial fruit production to complement our meat sales. We sell wholesale to both restaurants and grocery stores in addition to having a solid base of retail sales. We are able to communicate with our retail customers face to face at farmer’s markets or our farm store in addition to contacting the greater community via social networking sites and our farm website. As was mentioned, the agritourism side of the enterprise has allowed consumers to associate a place and many faces with the products behind the Hickory Nut Gap name, and that has proven to be a very positive step for our business. Beyond our commitment to growing our business we also are very supportive of other agricultural producers of our region. We have seen that support reciprocated in many ways, and we are committed to fostering as many relationships as possible – which will lead to continued growth for us alongside of the growth of the southern Appalachian agricultural community.
Our biggest challenge is being an innovating producer and marketer in a fairly new field of agriculture in our region and the learning curve that is associated with it. This in addition to the trials and tribulations of a life in farming makes our job as business owners, marketers, managers, stewards of the land, and family members ever more challenging.
Our goal is to create a sustainable lifestyle for our family and our employees through producing food that is good for all aspects of life. We strive to balance our time between serving our wholesale, retail, and on farm customers. To us, sustainability goes beyond being just a buzz word. We intend to create a situation that allows for many future generations to farm this same land without having to overcome problematic situations left behind by our farming practices. This also allows us to maintain our competitive edge in the marketplace as a premium grassfed and pastured based animal produce, build relationships with other farmers and build the agricultural economy of our region by being stewards of our family, land, and heritage.