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A Tale of Two Farmers: The Small Farm Revolution in North Carolina

By Lily Shaw | July 16, 2015 | Explore NC

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I’m not a morning person, but the animals sure are. Running a farm takes a lot of effort, but many (dirt-smudged) hands make for light work.

My mom, Marisa Shaw, and our neighbor, Burta Boysen, are the main farmers at Little Peep Farms in Chapel Hill, NC. My brother, my dad, and I help out when we can.

A Day in My Work Shoes

Chanticler, our rooster, greets me with a loud crow as I let him and his hens out of the coop. Water, check. Grain, check. Eggs, collected.

The meat chickens rush past when I open their door, their soft feathers tickling my legs. Water, check. Grain, check. Heat lamp, off. How did the chicks get out again? 10, 20, 30 chicks, check.

The ducks are easy, waddling past me when I open their door. Water, check. Grain, check.

Tulip wasn't always so big. Image: Lily Shaw
Tulip wasn’t always so big. Image: Lily Shaw

By now, I can hear the sheep “baaa-ing” from the other side of the farm. I “baa” back to them, my voice a practiced imitation of their rough call. I open their door and they amble out, casting a wary eye at the nearby horses. Water, check.

With a new layer of dirt added to my shoes, I head back to my house. I’m done with chores-for the morning. Later tonight, I’ll go back out to herd, chase, and corral everyone back into their respective homes.

Why Do Small Farms Matter in North Carolina

You deserve to know where your food comes from and our animals deserve the best of care. That’s our guiding principle at Little Peep Farms and it’s the central idea of a growing number of small, independent food producers in our state.

The Farm-to-Fork movement connects local farmers to local restaurants and stores. They aim to provide more nutritious, better quality foods while promoting regional economies. Eating food from local farms rather than commercial operations is heathier and better for our state’s economy. It’s also less damaging to our environment.

When I eat at our house, I don’t have to wonder about the history of what’s on my plate- I could easily point out the log my chicken was roosting on just the day before. I know exactly where my potato was yanked from the ground and, more importantly, I know when that happened.

Think of the last meal you ate. Do you have any idea where that food came from? Do you know how far it traveled before it landed on your plate? Do you know if it was frozen, and for how long?

Small Farms, Big Facts

Mom with Lala. Image: Lily Shaw
Mom with Lala. Image: Lily Shaw
  • 40% of the world’s population is small farmers.
  • 36% of USA farms are classified as small farms
  • 60% of farms generate less than $10,000/year

Small farms are on the rise in the United States, and they are banding together. By networking, small farms can increase their success by sharing techniques, being supportive and collaborative, and organizing farmer markets.

A Little Beginning: From Vermont to North Carolina

Farming is big part of our family history. My mom grew up running wild on her family farm in Howells, New York. She found solace in the peaceful, predictable environment.

My mom has an affinity for training anything. What began with her childhood pet goose, Esmeralda, evolved into training our whole farm. She knows how to make the daily chores easier. With a simple call or handful of feed, the poultry scramble into their house for the night (“here, chick chick”), the sheep march into their stall (just shake the feed scooper), and the horses appear from the back of the fields (“baby Icelaaandics”).

Many years, and two kids later, my mom talked my dad, “the great indoorsman,” into moving to rural Rupert, Vermont to return to her dream of farming. And it was there, on the top of our mountain, that she hatched Little Peep Farms, my childhood home.

But farming in the cold, rocky North isn’t easy. Drawn by the allure of warmer weather, plentiful farmland, and southern charm, we moved to Chapel Hill, NC. The landscape wasn’t the only thing that changed. After years of working independently, we settled into co-farming with our neighbor, Burta Boysen.

What is co-farming?

Co-farming is when two or more farmers pool their resources in order to increase their success. It’s a great idea for small farms that might need some extra support. Some farms will simply share their produce or tips, while others, like Little Peep Farms, shares land and daily chores.

Meet the Farmers

Take Action, Locally

Show your support by buying local; try your closest farmers market. Small, independent grocery stores are also a great source (I love Weaver Street Market). You can even keep an eye out for “locally grown” signs in the super market.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could start a community garden like Eliza Bordley. It’s one of the best and most rewarding ways to know exactly where your food is coming from.

Want to learn more? Contact Little Peep Farms