In the ten-plus years that they’ve been farming on Dimmocks Mill Road in Hillsborough, Richard Holcomb and Jamie DeMent have built quite an establishment. Their fifty-five acres contain impressive rows of every vegetable imaginable, woodlands filled with hogs, mobile chicken coops, a barn, and a sawmill that turns trees from the farm into lumber for building. At the bottom of the yard, the Eno River twists along between the edge of the pasture and a forest, heading toward the swimming hole where sits the landmark “Coon Rock.”
This season  the pasture contains some goats, but soon it may have a cover crop or a garden: Coon Rock Farm is a well-integrated system where animals are rotated through with vegetables, grazing on the remains of crops and rejuvenating the soil without synthetic fertilizers. A flock of egg-laying chickens migrates from one field to the next with their coops, set on old tobacco trailers; nearby are the meat chickens. One pen in the woods has baby pigs, while another has the larger hogs; meat goats, sheep, and cattle are elsewhere on the farm.
A pair of turkeys is in the barn temporarily, producing the eggs that will be hatched for Thanksgiving turkeys. Free roaming ducks watch from the rafters. There are even “American silver fox” rabbits in hutches—the breed was popular for meat at the turn of the century, but soon lost out to white rabbits, whose meat tasted about the same and whose fur could be dyed to any color desired. Now there are less than 1000 of the silver fox rabbits left.
Thanks to the popularity of locally grown food and our area’s winter farmers’ markets, many farmers are extending growing seasons with hoop houses and transplants. Coon Rock Farm is no exception. Two hoop houses contain rows of lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, and turnips. Trays of transplants have just been moved out of the aisles and planted. (The transplants don’t just give farmers a head start, they make some crops possible: if farmers waited to plant broccoli seeds in the ground, for example, the broccoli wouldn’t be ready before the first ninety degree day, which kills the plants.) When this round of vegetables is done, the hoop houses will be done for the summer; with their sides rolled up, they’ll be shelters for the turkeys
Richard and Jamie strive to do everything sustainably. The rotations of plants and animals on the land enable them to farm without synthetic fertilizers. They have a root cellar for storage that doesn’t use power. They use biodegradable burlap coffee bags from local roasters as mulch, and as a result have to irrigate very little. And they have the largest compost pile I’ve seen.
Visit Coon Rock Farm on the Farm Tour and see the gardens and animals for yourself. Coon Rock Farm sells at several area farmers’ markets and through a CSA. They also sell to many local restaurants. Visit their website at http://www.coonrockfarm.com/.