You’ve probably driven or biked past Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm hundreds of times. Just north of Carrboro, it’s located at that spot where Hillsborough Road comes to a “T” intersection, and you’re faced not with houses or new apartments or the entrance to yet another shopping center, but with a wide green field bordered by thick forest. On summer mornings you might catch the Canadian geese before they head off for the day; and on a lucky day in the fall you can watch the baler making its rounds.
The Hogans’ land, which originally stretched north as far as New Hope Church Road, has been farmed since the 1750’s, growing just about everything but tobacco. The family watched the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill grow from their inceptions; when the area’s first public rural electrification program began, bringing power from UNC to Calvander, the Hogans cut the cedar posts for the project from their land.
Now the farm is smaller, 180 acres centered around a yellow 1840 farmhouse on the east side of Old 86; the farm’s cattle are located in several satellite fields around the county. The green field I’ve admired for so long is planted with a cover crop for the winter; in the summer, it grows wheat that’s sold for bread flour or for livestock feed, depending on the quality of the crop.
For the past 70 years, the Hogans were dairy farmers, selling their milk in bulk to large-scale companies. In the late nineties, Rob and Ann Hogan decided they wanted to do something more local and community oriented, and something that would give their sons the opportunity to stay on the farm, which was impossible with dairy farming. They evolved from a dairy farm to selling grass-fed beef, packaged under their own label and sold from coolers in the “meat house” in their backyard. In addition to the wheat, they harvest straw for landscaping, firewood, and horse hay, if there’s enough rain for it.
Customers stop by the farm, marked with an unobtrusive “For Sale: Grass Fed Beef” sign, on Fridays and Saturdays to buy beef. It doesn’t get more local than that! Parents often bring their children, Rob tells me, telling them, “We’re going to the farm to get our dinner.” The kids love to look around, and they especially love to visit Rameses.
If you’ve ever been to a UNC football game, you know who Rameses is: not the goofy costumed UNC mascot running around the sidelines, consorting with the cheerleaders and shaking his fists at the crowd, but the actual wooly ram with Carolina blue horns, standing calmly on his leash, waiting to be petted by dozens of children. For 84 years, the Hogans have been the caretakers of the live mascot, a horned Dorset sheep who lives in a grassy field behind their barn. In addition to the football games, Rameses attends the Christmas parade and other social events.
As we head behind the barn, Rob tells me that Rameses the XVII will be retiring this year after five years of service, and his son Rameses the XVIII will takeover. Rob calls to the sheep, and they trot out from the bushes and come to us at the fence. Rob pets Rameses the XVIII as he describes them; he’s been petting Rameses’s face since he was a lamb, getting him used to it so he won’t mind the crowds of fans. While Rob’s talking, Rameses the XVII stands quietly nearby; then he backs up to the fence and begins to scratch his butt from side to side on the stiff wires.
After meeting the Rameses-es, I’m taken to meet some of the cattle, grazing off Homestead Road. Traditional meat growers pack young cattle off to a feedlot, to fatten them up as quickly as possible; the Hogans keep theirs until it’s time to slaughter them. The demand became larger than they could supply, so they’ve increased their herds by partnering with other farmers around the county who have the space, and who can benefit from the work of raising the cattle while following the Hogans’ instructions to maintain the quality of the meat.
Finally, we go to see the cows and calves, and Gilbert the bull, in the green field where Highway 54 meets West Main Street. I’ve always wondered about these cows and watched them as I biked past. Now I’m standing on the inside, gazing with a cow’s eye view out at the Food Lion in Carrboro Plaza. The pastoral scene is so beautiful, however, that the Food Lion soon shrinks into nothingness. Brown and white cows surround the pickup truck, the bravest sticking their noses into the open windows. Some of them moo at us; others turn away and go back to grazing. Calves stumble after their mothers; Gilbert watches with a wary eye. The rumble of traffic on the highway becomes a gentle buzz, all I can hear is mooing and chewing and birds calling. If the Hogans ever get tired of grass-fed beef, they can open a Live-With-the-Cows Bed and Breakfast.
To celebrate their new local outlook, the Hogans decided to be on the Farm Tour for the first time this year. Stop by to meet them, to see some farm equipment like their “drill” seeder, which plants seeds through the last crop’s stubble, saving fuel and time and protecting the ground from erosion, and to visit Rameses. You’ll still appreciate their wide green fields when you pass by, no longer as an anomaly but as part of a working, local farm.