May 18, 2014

Grass Farming at Many Fold Farm

As we passed the sign for Many Fold Farm, Tom, my partner in crime, asked me if they raise sheep there. How could he possibly have guessed that? It turns out that a "fold" is another word for a sheep paddock. It came from Middle English. But both Tom and our host, Rebecca Williams, were English majors. And Rebecca knows Middle English. She is a Middle English scholar turned farmer.

Rebecca has a way with words. I met her in front of a large observation window looking in on a modern, artisanal cheese processing facility. 

As she puts it, "Cheese-making is the most lucrative way to turn grass into money." 
And, long-term, that is what she and her husband, Ross, have set their sights on. Short-term, they find eggs to be a quick money-maker.

Rebecca and Ross's holistic take on environmental stewardship has led to their current setup. They use rotational grazing for their 200 sheep. Each day, they fence in a new grazing area. The chickens follow the sheep. When the chickens arrive, the pasture is a nice height for them. The chickens scatter the sheep manure adding a little of their own. The pasture then sits for about a month, when it is ready to be used again. With the addition of animal manure, the grass grows denser and healthier than before. Rebecca and Ross are practicing regenerative agriculture; their soil is growing richer over time, without synthetic fertilizers or herbicides.

According to recent research, grass-fed animals produce more nutritious eggs, meat, and cheese. More specifically, compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and goats has less total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. It also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).

Grass is the primary food for all the animals on the farm. The eggs and meat raised here are Certified Naturally Grown. However, when needed, their chickens get 100% organic supplemental soy feed. And when needed, their sheep get antibiotics. There is a parasitic worm in the Southeastern U.S. that can kill a sheep in 2 days. According to Rebecca, medicine is absolutely necessary to fight this parasite. Until the medicine is flushed from their system, a sheep will be milked, but their milk will be thrown away. Rebecca and Ross have committed to treating their animals humanely and giving them top-notch nutrition, while producing healthy food that tastes great. It's a bit of a balancing act.

Raising pastured animals at Many Fold Farm is a far cry from the factory farming system that produces the bulk of the meat, eggs, and dairy you'll find at the supermarket. Standard CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) facilities stress and abuse animals and workers, produce concentrated wastes, and make excessive use of hormones and antibiotics. But they also provide cheap food. Are consumers willing to pay $8 for a dozen eggs for better health and nutrition, a reduction in harmful waste, and healthier soil? That is the proposition that Many Fold Farm is putting forward. Although $8 for a dozen eggs sounds outrageous, you can make a meal from two eggs for $1.50.

You can find Many Fold Farm's eggs, lamb, and five types of French-style sheep's cheese in the metro Atlanta area:
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