During the last weekend of April, 19 active brothers and one alumni brother of the North Carolina Chapter visited six farm enterprises and one university facility to learn about agriculture in the mountainous region of western North Carolina.
At the Mitchem Farm in Vale, NC, the brothers learned how crop and livestock production on a family farm has changed over many decades and how the use of technology has improved farm productivity. They also learned how artificial reproduction techniques have improved the genetic quality of the farm’s commercial and show Hereford cattle operations. A discussion of the role of H2A migrant labor in the production of blackberries on the farm was also held. The farm is home to chapter scribe Regan Mitchem and her parents -- alumni brothers Wayne Mitchem and Dr. Crystal Kirby-Mitchem.
While in Vale, the brothers also toured four chicken houses holding a total of 40,000 commercial broiler breeders that produce 32,000 eggs per day at Houser Farms.
A tour of Knob Creek Orchards, Farms, and Creamery in Lawndale, NC, helped the brothers understand large-scale production of strawberries, blackberries, peaches, and apples and how an on-farm store helps the enterprise capture “value-added” revenue through the sale of jams, jellies, pies, and ice cream produced on-site.
The Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center, jointly operated by North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, was the next stop. The center’s executive director, alumni brother Jeff Chandler, described the facility’s research into the production of tomatoes, apples, hops, peaches, corn, and ornamental plants and its extension outreach efforts.
At the world-famous Biltmore Estate, home to America’s largest residence, brothers witnessed a self-sustainable “farm to table” system that allows the estate to raise or grow most of the food served in its restaurants. Popular features of the visit included a 600-head herd of Angus cattle, a sounder of pasture-raised Berkshire hogs, and a flock of White Dorper sheep. Brothers also toured the estate’s vineyard and winery and learned how the sale of wine helps support the operation of the expansive and varied estate.
Upon returning to Vale, the focus on wine continued at WoodMill Winery – the sixth largest winery in North Carolina with more than 100,000 bottles sold annually. Production of wine from blackberries, blueberries, and muscadine and scuppernong grapes was discussed.
The final stop was S&L Dairy -- also in Vale and owned by alumni brother Andrew Lail. The dairy milks more than 200 Holstein cows daily. Modern milk production, collection, storage, and transportation methods were highlighted.