brackenbrae.jpgBracken Brae Farm
By Cat Moleski, Features Editor
When I first arrived at Bracken Brae Farm, I was curious about the vast open, flat space it occupied until owners Claude Hughes and Linda Sakiewicz told me that it had been a grass airstrip. After it became a farm, they would often see planes circling the field, looking to land. For the past twenty years, flocks of Barbados Blackbelly sheep have kept the fields neatly trimmed. Claude used to raise the Blackbelly sheep, until three years ago when he and Linda decided to shift their focus to herbs and eggs. Now they keep a small flock of sheep and one donkey as pets.

Claude, Linda, and Gavin, their youngest son, walked me through the herb garden. Linda has her garden laid out in raised beds, with lots of room to expand. All the herbs are grown organically with no pesticides or synthetic fertilizer. The compost for the garden is made on the farm from vegetable matter from the garden, wood chips, and chicken manure. This month you’ll find thyme, sage, chives, oregano, rosemary, and mint at both Weaver Street Market stores. Look for basil, dill, and lemon grass in June and July.

The chickens roam the pasture freely, containing themselves only to lay their eggs or at night when they return to the old airplane hanger to roost. Although the building is small by airplane hanger standards, it is large and airy by chicken coop standards. Strategically placed ladders and roosting racks easily accommodate the flock of 150 hens and 7 roosters. The latest batch of chicks has its own enclosure inside the hanger from which the young can venture out at their own pace as they learn to mix with the larger flock. Most chickens lay about an egg a day, and Linda collects between 8 and 12 dozen eggs daily. She doesn’t keep track of which hens are laying and which have grown too old. All the hens will live on the farm for the natural length of their lives.

What’s different about these eggs? The chickens feed themselves primarily on what they find in the pasture. By law Linda must size and grade her eggs. In order for her eggs to meet the standards of a “large” egg, they must weight at least 2 ounces. The law allows her to include eggs larger than 2 ounces but not smaller. Most of her cartons contain eggs that would not only meet the weight standards for large, but also extra large and even jumbo. The eggs are gathered by hand every day and are taken to the Southern Village Weaver Street Market twice a week. . Linda washes all the eggs in a dilute solution of bleach as advised by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and hand dries them before refrigeration. Their egg cartons are made of recycled material and can be returned to Weaver Street for the farm to reuse. A big airy coop, and access to pasture with lots of sun keeps the flock healthy. Linda’s chickens haven’t had any problems with pests or diseases.. They have a variety of breeds of hens that lay mostly brown eggs and one breed, the Araucana, which lays smoky blue eggs. She does not force laying with artificial light, so the number of eggs drops off in the winter making these local eggs from pastured poultry a seasonal specialty. Pick up some at Weaver Street Market in Southern Village for a true farm fresh egg experience.

Like many of our local farmers, Claude and Linda use adult Maremma dogs and several Maremma puppies “in training” to protect the chickens. Maremmas have been bred in Italy for centuries to protect flocks of sheep. The puppies already weigh 70 pounds at seven months. They were far too friendly with me, a stranger, but are learning to chase hawks from the sky. No one will arrive unannounced, as demonstrated by the dogs that started barking as a car approached down the driveway. The donkey joined in with a raspy bray making sure we all turned to see the car. I thought that was how the farm came to be named Bracken Brae Farm. But Bracken is a type of fern that Claude found in their woods and also grows in his ancestral Scotland; Brae is the Scottish word for hill. So the farm name translates to Fern Hill.

Look for Bracken Brae Farm fresh herbs at both our Weaver Street Market stores, and their local pastured poultry eggs at our Southern Village store. As Linda and Claude grow their egg production, we hope to have their eggs at both stores soon.