More farm-fresh fun in North Carolina

Just follow this sign for the annual Piedmont Farm Tour

These signs dotted the countryside

While we don’t suggest that mere mortals try this, Wessel and I managed to visit 10 farms in five hours during the 14th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour in central North Carolina. That’s because we’re seasoned pros. When you’re researching a farm-travel guidebook, it’s all about chop-chopping (time, not vegetables). While I can’t stop and smell the radishes, I hope my research and Wessel’s photos will lead others to go on more leisurely farm visits. Here’s his collection from the Piedmont tour, with captions and everything.

Albino bunny was baffled by all the visitors

One of the angora rabbits at Avillion Farm

What I loved most about the farm tour, other than the awesome farms and the hordes of curious visitors, was that the route was laid out for me instead of me having to spend a day with Google maps to come up with my own. (Love Google maps, though!) If only every NC region had a farm tour and I could follow their routes! (Many more do now, including mountain regions and individual counties, such as Franklin and Jackson, to name a couple.)

Visitors tour at the Winery at Iron Gate Farm

Visitors tour vineyards at Iron Gate Farm

Like the gardens you’ll see in this yearly event, the Piedmont Farm Tour keeps growing and growing. Co-sponsored by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market  in Carrboro, the tour started in 1995 with less than a dozen farms. Now about 40 dot the self-guided route. This year some 3,000 families visited them. That’s a lot of farm fans. A few locations received 1,000 or so guests. Whoa!

The CFSA bills the weekend as “the nation’s largest farm tour,” and while there’s no national accounting of farm tours, their claim is quite credible. Tours include a mix of sustainable produce farms, those with humanely-raised animals, nurseries, vineyards, and educational agriculture projects. This year more than 150 volunteers helped the farmers, who stay busy chatting up visitors. While some of the farms on the tour are always open to the public, this is a chance to view others that typically aren’t. It’s also an excellent way to show kids where their food (and sometimes clothing) comes from, and if you pack a cooler, you can bring some home and cook it up for dinner.

Farmer Roland Walters models this year's farm tour T-shirt

Farmer Roland Walters sports tour T-shirt

Several farmers and volunteers were sporting this year’s awesome farm tour T-shirt, on a dark background emblazoned with bright orange carrots, 100% cotton. Not just any cotton, natch, but organic! Not just organic, but local (!), from TS Designs in Burlington. I haven’t told those guys how much I’ve taken a cotton to them, but they’ll absolutely be in the book. So will nine of the 10 farms I visited on Sunday. So will CFSA and Weaver Street Market, which is selling those awesome T-shirts for $18. As of April 28, they had plenty. Hey, could you reserve a medium for me?

Thanks from the bottom of our sustainable hearts to all the volunteers, farmers, organizers, and fans who made last weekend a smashing success!

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5 Responses to “More farm-fresh fun in North Carolina”

  1. didaniel Says:

    A reader emailed this comment to me. I’ll reply below.

    Loved your blog with pictures of the tour, but please know that the T-shirts are NOT ORGANIC this year. Yes, they are local, but MONSANTO GMO cotton. Check out the http://www.cottonofthecarolinas.com website under farm where they tell all. Most of us thought they were organic because tsdesigns has always done organic, but not this time. So I hope that you will correct the misinformation on your blog. It is sad, I know, I emailed them my dissapointment.
    Natalie Sadler

  2. didaniel Says:

    OK, first, my apologies for misleading folks. And, dang, I really hate being wrong. But I absolutely was. TS Designs *usually* makes organic cotton tees. Now they’re onto this local thing. Here’s what they say on their website: “Due to climate and market restrictions, as of this writing (February 2009), the cotton used in the CotC project is grown from conventional, Monsanto Roundup Ready cotton seed. However, we have a goal of continuous improvement, and will work to improve the environmental footprint of our harvest every year.”

    Now if this were from your average company, I”d say, yeah, right. But I know enough about TS to know they mean it. Their owners have been on a sustainable path for years. And while I hope they achieve that healthy blend of organic and local, I do still loudly applaud them for showing that a T-shirt can be grown, produced, and sold, all in North Carolina.

  3. Eric Henry Says:

    I love the conversations about Cotton of the Carolinas, it proves to me that sustainability is not a black and white subject. We see sustainability as a journey not a destination. Organic cotton is very important to us, but so is local. We also have to be aware of the transportation and social impact of our t-shirts, not just what it is made of. This “dirt to shirt” t-shirt has a 750 mile footprint while some t-shirts today can be over 15,000 miles. We are completely transparent on both the cotton we use, and also the people behind making it, check out http://www.cottonofthecarolinas.com/harvest08.html. I cannot think of another apparel brand that practices this level of transparency. We believe as a starting point the only way to get to local organic cotton is to work with what the farmer is already growing. North Carolina is the 4th largest producer of cotton in the US and if CotC can be a successful brand then we will have a strong voice at the table of conventional cotton.

    Eric Henry
    President
    T.S. Designs, Inc.

    • didaniel Says:

      Eric, thanks for commenting here. I’m totally with you. Actually this comes up a lot with the book I’m writing on farms in NC. While I’m not including industrial farms in my travel guidebook (can you imagine a tour at Smithfield? No thanks), I’m certainly not EX-cluding mom-and-pop conventional farms. Everything is a tradeoff. We all have our personal interests, and mine is land and community preservation. I think you and I have a lot in common with that. We could go on and on, and have, and will again. I love the conversations too!

  4. vermontfeature Says:

    Thanks for your post. I think Vermonters could learn something from the farm tour you have designed here.

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