As I pulled off Kerr Mill Road, Amy and her dad, Alan “Buddy,” welcomed me with big grins to Hoffner Organic Farms. Their farmstead was bustling on the warm Sunday afternoon in March, and immediately I knew that this operation is a family affair.
The land, just off Highway 150 near Sloan Park in Rowan County, has been in the Hoffner family since 1956. Amy’s grandparents were conventional dairy farmers, and her father and brother, Chris, continue to raise dairy cows on the 400 acres. The farm has been organic for about six years, with a three year transition period from conventional farming.
The cattle are just part of the Hoffner’s life and work. Buddy also grows barley, wheat, corn, and other grains, mostly as organic feed for their herd. Recently, he has provided barley to malters for use in locally crafted North Carolina beer.
Amy, who is finishing up a masters degree in crop science at N.C. State University, is also experimenting with vegetables, thanks in part to a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has allowed the farm to build a hoop house (pictured below, but check out the happy cows playing in the compost pile in the background!)
The first stop on my tour was through the greenhouse where she has kale, broccoli, squash, lettuces and other cold weather plants just starting to grow.
She has plans for tomatoes, corn, green beans, basil, and more to all be planted in her newly-turned acre and a half garden. The produce, like her brother’s cattle and her dad’s crops, will be organic. Amy hopes to work with farmers markets, in addition to the Bread Riot cooperative and local restaurants.
The Hoffners acknowledge running an organic farm can be very labor intensive because of the one-on-one time needed to care for the crops and animals instead of just spraying fertilizer and pesticide or injecting hormones and medicine to control production.
With the organic certification come standards the farm must follow, such as what types of manure can be used for fertilizer and how long fields can be bare.
Speaking of the fields and pastures, we hopped on the Kubota and headed out to the pasture that will transform for a special event on May 20: Riot in the Pasture, the second annual local food extravaganza put on by the Bread Riot. Fannie, Amy’s 10 year-old farm buddy who follows her everywhere, was peeking over the back for the ride.
Not only does the organic farm support sustainable agriculture with methods such as cover crops, rotational grazing, and drip irrigation, the family clearly values the natural resources around them.
Tickets for Riot in the Pasture go on sale soon, and one thing Amy says you simply cannotmiss are the calves! In fact, a little girl happened to be hanging out in the pasture on my visit. The calves spend a few days with mom and then move to protected hutches where they are bottle fed with milk from the herd.
Chris has about 100 acres for the grazing stock, and they milk around 100 heifers a year. Their herd includes Holstein, the black and white and red and and white cattle, as well as Jersey cows, who provide the higher butter fat milk and protein.
Amy and her family hope that visitors to the farm will learn a little about where their milk and food come from, but also have an enjoyable farm experience with family and friends.
She looks forward to talking with visitors about the benefits of being organic, the importance of local food, and continuing the farm practice her family has established.
I spent an hour on the farm last Sunday, but I could have spent the entire afternoon enjoying the beautiful wide open spaces and talking with such an energetic local farmer. Luckily I can do just that on May 20. Check out Hoffner Organic Farms on Facebook and the Bread Riot’s website for details about Riot in the Pasture.