Wilkerson Farms is located in Willow Springs, NC and is owned and run by Chris Wilkerson. His family has been on the land since the 1800s and his grandparents and father raised cattle as well. After serving as a Marine, Chris moved back to the farm in 1995 and began working full time. This was when he began his farming endeavor, starting out with one or two cows and slowly building from there. He sells at the Holly Springs Farmers Market and just recently joined the Saturday Market at Rebus Works in the Boylan Heights neighborhood of Raleigh. Chris has one employee currently named Adeline, who I met with to learn more about their practices.
Wilkerson Farms raises Black Angus crossed with Hereford Cattle, Tamworth and Hampshire pigs, goats, and sheep (the goats and sheep are more like pets than anything else). The Angus Cattle are grass-fed and grain-finished. This means that for the majority of their life they eat grass straight from the pasture and the final few weeks they eat grain that Chris gets from a local mill. The reasoning behind grass-fed grain-finished is that the grain adds a marbling to the meat that is closer to the texture and flavor that customers are accustomed to. Completely grass-fed beef has a very different flavor and texture, so cooking it can be a huge learning curve; Chris wanted to make this an easier transition for his customers while continuing to be all natural. Finally, they work with a local butcher in Siler City, so when you eat their meat you can be sure that not one step of the process has traveled very far. This is their first crop of
pastured pork, so they’re learning and growing the herd this year. In February Wilkerson Farms will be the home to many calves, piglets, kids, and lambs–don’t worry they’ve already promised to send us multiple pictures! They sit on 100 acres and are about to move both the cows and pigs to new areas in the pasture. They are building an insulated hut for the pigs because piglets need more protection from the elements than the calves. Last year the calves came during the ice storm (of course) so they had to pull a horse trailer out into the field for the calves to find shelter and warmth. The calves all curled up in the horse trailer to keep warm and all of them survived! So right now they’re playing the waiting game until all the babies come, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a ton of work in the meantime. Managing and feeding their animals is hard work and time consuming, especially when they have pregnant mamas, and as Adeline said, “the babies won’t come between 8 and 5”.
An interesting aspect of Wilkerson Farms is that their farmland butts up against subdivisions on most sides and more development is on the way. This was the first thing I noticed as I was driving in–you go through wide rolling farmland, then hit subdivisions, and right in the middle is the farm. At first it does not seem ideal to have a farm surrounded by development, not to mention the growing problem of the loss of farmland in NC. But the more Adeline and I spoke about it she unveiled a beautiful aspect of such a set up: it brings a customer base they would not have otherwise. The people who live in those subdivisions can literally walk down the road to buy their meat; and our developed world has begun to come full circle and brought us back to an aspect of our roots that has been lost–the farmer who is also our neighbor. Of course, this is not without it challenges. Most people were not raised on or around farms, so there is a learning curve for surrounding residents. Adeline told the story of a time when a dog got into the pasture and then a little boy went in after him, which normally would be fine, but this time the bull was in the pasture. No one was hurt, but they had to go and get the boy and the dog out of the pasture and away from the bull. Wilkerson Farms gets to inadvertently participate in educating customers and neighbors about farming just by existing so close by. They are open on the farm every Saturday from 9-12 when the market isn’t open and on Fridays during market hours during the summer months for customers to come and buy directly from them. They hope to continue to be involved in education and would like to do more farm tours, but that will come with time. Small-scale farming is very labor intensive and with only one full-time employee they have to slowly build up their growth and their goals. When I asked Adeline what was the most rewarding aspect of farming to her she responded by saying: “I enjoy everything: interacting with the animals and with the customers. It is important to keep the North Carolina farming tradition alive…seeing family farms coming back is so rewarding.” Wilkerson Farms is actively involved in keeping this tradition alive and when you buy meat from them, you are too.