“Know your farmer,” is what the kids are all saying these days, right?*
When it comes to Pecan Point Farm in Hurtsboro, Alabama, we’ve known farmers George Rogers and Becky Ward-Rogers, for years. They’re the folks who supply downtown Columbus with wafting scents of homemade granola, samples of pancakes and possibly the best yogurt you’ve ever tasted. So yeah, we knew the farmers. But we didn’t know the farm.
We decided to change that last weekend, at their semi-annual farm tour. Here’s some of what we saw and learned.
When they purchased the 160 acres, a decade ago, it was a tired, derelict pecan orchard. The oldest trees, planted circa World War II, were struggling because in harvesting the surrounding hay, the previous owner had been robbing them of needed nitrogen. George and Becky wanted to harvest pecans and make yogurt with milk from a milk cow. Sounds like a modest goal, but it turned into a complete circle-of-life farm, with meat cows, chickens, honeybees, ducks, a creamery and roasting center for oats.
What happened to spur all that?
It started with the grass. They chose clover as a great source of nutrients for the soil.
“This is part of next year’s nitrogen,” George said, tromping through the knee-high vegetation.
Bees were a natural addition, as they pollinate the clover. That the hives also produce honey was just a nice byproduct, for them. They have 25 hives.
They could mow the clover, of course. Or they could let other creatures do the work for them. Enter the beef herd.
The cattle eat some of the grass and trample the rest, keeping the height manageable. The cows — mostly red angus — also produce manure, which is another great additive to the soil. The Rogers rotate the fields where the herd grazes, giving fields 60 days rest between visits.
The Rogers have been asked why they don’t grow hay, which they could bale and sell instead, but “This forage is worth more to us as next year’s nitrogen source,” George said.
Where there’s cow poop, though, there’s the potential for flies. And that led them to their next addition.
“The chickens are here to scratch out a lot of that cow manure,” George said.
They’re also egg layers, but all of their birds are multi-taskers, expected to get out and rid the grounds of vermin. If the hens seem content to sit in the coops all day? “Those end up in the stockpot,” Becky said.
They added two Great Pyrenees — that’s Lily in the photo — to keep the coyotes (that’s “kye-OATS,” to hear George say it) away from the chickens.
The chickens are fed non-GMO feed only, as are the milk cows, which, I promise I’ll get to in a minute. The non-GMO feed is a decision made for ethical reasons, but not the particular reasons you might assume. There’s a lot of talk about the cons of livestock, or people, consuming GMO-based products — which you should research and make your own decision on, like Neil Young. For the record, George doesn’t have a public opinion about all that. But the producers of non-GMO products are most often working small tracts of land.
“They’re small farmers, like us,” he said. “It’s important for us to support those small growers.”
And it’s undeniably a selling point to consumers who are after their yogurt or milk.
The four milk cows are kept separate from the meat cows, and the milking facility looks and smells clean. The stack of inspection reports with scores all between 98 and 100 is impressively thick.
“We’re only in the milk business because we want quality milk for our yogurt,” he said, of which they produce 15 gallons a day.
And that’s Pecan Point Farm, in a nutshell, so to speak. (Point of fact: They raise hogs, too, but all the hogs were
slaughtered gone on our tour date, so nothing to report there.) The farm hosts two open-house tours a year, so look for one in the fall. The tours are free, but you’ll need a reservation.
And if you’re at the Saturday farmer’s market in downtown Columbus, swing by their booth for a taste of the fantastic cool, creamy, tangy yogurt you can possibly put in your body, or the granola made with their pecans. And tell ’em thanks for understanding the crucial overlapping cycles between earth, animal and belly.
And tell ’em thanks for feeding us.
* Assuming the kids are hipsters, that is.