On February 2nd, 2018, Takahiro Omori and Dave Walker of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture interviewed Melinda Brown from Never Ending Farm in Vilas, NC.
Takahiro: Why do you come to work everyday?
Melinda: Well, haha, I come to work every day because the animals really rely on me to feed and water them. And, I do enjoy working with the animals. I like staying at home and interacting with them.
Takahiro: What do you grow?
Melinda: I grow all my own vegetables. I process and can everything, so I pretty much raise almost all my own food.
And then I farrow pigs, raise a lot of pork, and feeder pigs for some of the local people. I have a couple of cattle, that I basically just raise for my own personally use. The vegetables that I grow are basically beets, beans, and potatoes. I pickle some of the vegetables like beets and green beans, and I can all my potatoes, including sweet potatoes.
My root cellar doesn’t accommodate root crops, and I’m not a big fan of soft potatoes. They’re all just growing sprouts on them through the winter, so I just can everything. A lot of people haven’t heard of canning potatoes. Probably about 30 years ago, I dug my potatoes too early. Some old man told me, “Those won’t keep ya know?” So, I found a recipe to can them. Now, I just always can them. It takes time to do that, but you can make a lot of food from them. When people come over for dinner, you can just whip out a can and have some mash potatoes in no time. You can come over to my house anytime and we’ll be eating first class with 10 jars of them. It's almost like fast food, but it's good food. [Laughter]
Takahiro: How long have you been growing?
Melinda: I’ve been up here around Boone since ‘93. I had a couple of acres when I was down in Florida. It’s been a few years. I lived in Florida and always kept a couple cows. The very first pig I’ve ever had— it’s a bit of a story. I had a landscape business down there, I used to always buy fuel from this guy from this Union 76 gas station. And one morning, he called, and he said, “You gotta’ come down here. Somebody put a pig in my gas station.” And I just moved east of town, and I had a couple acres you know. I never had any pigs, but I always had a couple of cows out there and I had some turkeys and chickens and some pheasants.
So, I rush in there, and sure enough somebody had taken this wild hog—'cause in Florida they have a lot of wild hogs they’re just out in the woods, they’re just black wild hogs. They’ll get big, but they just have razor black hair on them and they just did it for a joke—they just stuck this pig in this guy’s gas station. So, we caught it, and it wasn’t really big. It was maybe just 150 pounds or so. We got this hog, and we took it out to my house. It was a girl pig. We rigged up this place in my barn out of pallets and made this little fenced in area. And we were going to butcher it. It was just that I was just a little busy with my business, and we just didn’t do it, and then didn’t do it, and then didn’t do it. About a month and half to two months later, I go out one morning, well she had had babies. But, she was a wild hog.
Around Christmas time, I took one of the babies and gave it back to the guy. And they kept the pig in the house for about three months and it was just a pet pig. I can't remember what its name was, but one day—they become great house pets because they can learn to use the litter box—she became mischievous. They’ll just dig at your house plants. They’re like a mischievous puppy that hasn’t been trained. I mean pigs are great house pets.
They brought her out there to my farm with a little white pillow. I remember she was white. The wild hog was black but for some reason she must have been crossed up or something. She brought the little pig out there and introduced her back to the other pigs. I raised it up and butchered her. I took them the box of meat and everything. It was pretty funny. That was my first pig, my wild hog. From there, I just got into raising better quality pigs. When I was in Florida I pretty much raised white pigs cause it’s hot down there. You really wanna’ stay more towards white pigs.
Takahiro: How many acres do you grow on?
Melinda: I have about 10 acres. I moved up here in 1993 and I left for few years. The property that I live on, was kind of unmaintained for a few years and over growing. Now that I’ve come back, I have gotten rid my goats, because they just don’t commingle with pigs really well. And I really like to focus on my pigs. We used to have 50 acres, a partner and I, then we split up, and I ended up with 10 acres. About 6 years ago when I came back, I was just living in my motor home, traveling around. I came back and started building a structure to live in. It’s kind of a barn that I converted to a house.
Takahiro: Are there challenges, experiences and opportunities as a (female) farmer?
Melinda: I was really grateful to get this grant from Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, but I had written another grant for another group. I was kinda disappointed because I’d spent a lot of time doing that, and I’m not a good grant writer, my goodness when they read mine I’m sure it’s like no other because it’s very simple. They had over 40 grants that they gave out of like 90 something. And, I didn’t even fall into that category, you know? I felt bad because I do contribute to the community. If it’s really truly about time to build our core and our community... And I know I’m a woman, I’m freaking 60 and I got what I got which is scratching by, a little pig farmer. It just felt bad that I didn’t get into that almost 50 percent.
It was discouraging to me because I had been to the workshops and I had learned so much about the pastures and it was...you know, when some people write grants they’ll write this grant and that grant the same. You know? So, we’ll just take this or that one. Well, I spent a bunch of time writing two grants. And this project over there with them with all the stuff that I had learned at meat conferences, all about improving my pastures. It’s a totally different project. So, it was little discouraging.
And then, that makes me think, “What am I doing?” You know? Maybe I’m not that big of an asset in the community. I am to the point that it helps you, I know. You know, I look at myself and I'm a little woman farmer. But, what I do with the pigs helps Dave (Walker of Daffodil Spring Farm) and for Andy and Holly (at Against the Grain Farm). They farm, and it’s huge part of their income to pay the mortgage. It is important to Dave to make money on his pigs and it’s not so much a hobby.
Dave: It helps them sell the other crops.
Melinda: Yeah it does. There is whole big chain…
Dave: What you do is important.
Melinda: But as far as the mentor thing goes, I don’t know, I guess, there’s been important people in my life. Maybe not just on farming, but I think anybody with any knowledge is mentor to me because it’s something that I can learn from them. You know? So as far as having some, you know really, really, really, cool person in my life, I mean, I meet cool people all the time.
I pick up little bit of pieces from a lot of people. I mean I can be at the feed store… the other day I hung out there for three hours, you know? We were just chitchatting. But you know, you get little bit of pieces of information. And, the stuff you can learn from old timers. You don’t even need to know them. So, is he a mentor? Not really. Did I gain some knowledge from that man? I sure did and it’s priceless. So in a sense it’s kind of a mentor. You just have to listen. And, I’m thankful that I don’t have to get back to work or something; I can hang out and chitchat for a while.
Dave: What do you want to do with the future of your farm, like, where do you see it in two or three years?
Melinda: Well, I’d really like to see having a little bit of a farm hand. I would like to have somebody at the farm that wanted to learn… and I would like to think that I can, you know, still maintain having 6 or 7 sows. And I would like to be able to get into more AI, being able to really keep track and having babies.
But I think in the future, I’m going to have to be able to improve my pastures. I can still put lime down. I did that last time that I got a grant from Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. I think I put down 5 to 6 tons of lime. It was a lot of work because my property is so steep. It’s all by hand. And maybe I need to learn to ask for help more because people will step up. You know just have a day, we’re gonna grab a bag of lime and start walking because it’s just a walking.
And I’m thankful that I have a lot of patience and I know that it’s not gonna get done immediately. So it did take me awhile. I mean you could take a few days to put down a ton of lime. But it just needs a lot more. It just needs a lot more and this winter, you know, winter could be discouraging with the mud and more mud. With as much mud that is out there, I just really have feeling that I’m gonna have to improve the pastures next year, but seed and everything is just so expensive.
Dave: Where do you see the local food movement going? Like, in two to the three years, what do you think? Like, we have the Food Hub, we didn’t have the Food Hub two years ago… you know? And now we have it.
Melinda: Yeah, I think the Food Hub, I mean, now that I’ve gotten more involved with that, and I tell people about it all the time, it’s amazing how many people don’t know about the Food Hub. I think that’s a great resource.
Dave: Do you think more people would be buying, you know, pork at restaurants and other places?
Melinda: I think some of that is cost. You know, because there’s a handful of restaurants here in town that are buying meat, but it’s a matter of producing that pork to where they can afford it. That’s the problem because that trickles right down to the consumer. So do you wanna spend six dollars for your hamburger or do you wanna spend ten or twelve to support the local farmer?
Well, people have standards on what their time is worth, which I’ve learned that at the workshops. You always figure that out in your budget, but it’s a huge part of your budget. One thing I learned in one of the workshops, as well, is convenience. Somebody doesn’t wanna go and buy a pork roast and go home and cook it. Have you got this pork roast that’s already cooked, they’re all about it. They are going to take it home and have a BBQ party.
But, we’ve got a generation of people coming up that’s not into cooking. They don’t want to cook. I mean I worked at a butcher shop and I watched people come in. If you say braise something. That’s just searing something in a pan, for god’s sake. They don’t even know what you mean. You know, or say crock pot? Throw it in a freaking crock pot? They’re 40 years old and they don’t even have a crock pot. Lord, that’s the easiest way to cook in the world. But… People don’t wanna cook anymore. [Laughter]
People like convenience. It’s just, for some reason, they’ll come to town and go to the grocery store where they could go the other way and go the any fielder’s produce stand. You know, it’s pretty incredible. And one of my renters, they had little gardens like, fine, y’all can have little gardens, it’s no problem at all. But by the end of the summer though, she was like, "God that was so much work, you know, I don’t we’re gonna do that again next year, you know?" It’s like, yeah, it does take an effort.
Dave: Yeah, it really does.
Melinda: I think people live beyond their budget and so people have to really be committed to their job. So you have to go work everyday and so… I had a guy one time, that was living in my tiny house and he was working for the one of the neighboring farms. So it was like, well you can stay my farm and when I leave, you can take care mine animals.
Well, he moved in, and he was a great worker over at the neighbor’s farm. They had a bunches of pigs and I thought this is great, this is gonna work out really cool. Well, after a couple of weeks, it’s like what’s up man, you know? He goes “When I come home at 5 o’clock, I’m exhausted.” I was like, “You’d better pick a different career.” Because farming doesn’t end at 5. It just does not. You know, it might be full speed ahead at 11 o’clock, when the goat’s stuck in a tree. You know, you always have to listen, and they’re like babies in the field. You know, you always have to listen for your baby. It just doesn’t end.
But I’d like to see if all the grocery stores close down and then watch what people do. I really encourage people to farm, that’s why I’d love for people to come see my house. During the Farm Tour, as much as a pain in the as at that is, there is always a few people that want to learn. But whether or not they really put forth and do it. Because you know when you start, having to get soil and do the seeds and weed and it’s a lot of hard work.
Dave: Well… I’m glad that you do it.
Melinda: Thanks Dave. [Laughter]
BRWIA PROFILE PROJECT
Each month we do our best to profile a Woman in Agriculture in our region. These women are diverse - they have come from a variety of backgrounds and include farmers, homesteaders, and activists. They exemplify the multitude of ways women are working to connect with and change our food system.
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The BRWIA Profiles evolved out of the Female Farmer Profiles which can be found archived HERE.