One hundred years ago, before fast transportation, cold storage, and modern grocery stores, farmers grew not one commodity crop but a little of everything. Even a dairy farm had a garden and a few pigs and chickens. At Woodcrest Farm in western Orange County, Chris and Allan Green run a family farm in the traditional sense. They raise a little bit of a lot of things: Jersey cows and alpine goats for dairy; Dexter cattle for grass-fed beef; free-range chickens for eggs and sometimes meat; American chinchilla rabbits for meat; and their newest venture, pigeons. They also have gardens, ducks, a mule, a draft horse, and an intern who wants to stock the pond with catch-your-own catfish. “Part of what we’re trying to do here is model the family farm,” says Chris.
Their farm mirrors the roots of the land on which they live. The 1880s farmhouse near the intersection of Dairyland and Orange Grove Roads has always housed a farm family. When the Greens bought the house in 1993, they had to renovate but kept the original beadboard and matched the house with the addition they built. “We have a sense of the tradition that we’ve inherited and have tried to keep the house reasonably consistent,” says Allan. Many of their neighbors still farm or are descendants of the earlier residents.
Woodcrest Farm began at a different site in 1971. “We were accumulating a lot of children,” says Chris. “I was at home, and we adopted some kids, we started taking foster children, and I was thinking, What can I do with all these kids that would be good for them? And we already had a garden and a rabbit or two, and I just felt like the wisest thing to do was to expand what I was doing, it would be good for them…. This was before the time when people had started taking about therapeutic farms, but it was, I could see it was really a good idea.”
On three acres in the Hudson Valley, Chris and her children started the Woodcrest Rabbitry after a friend gave them a pregnant rabbit. They raised hundreds of rabbits and started a 4H club. “Culturally, in this country, rabbit is the Easter bunny and Thumper,” Chris says. “In Europe, rabbit is preferred to chicken because it’s leaner, there’s a whole lot more meat.” Their Italian-American neighbors were eager to buy their rabbit meat. They bartered the rabbit manure for fruit from a neighboring orchard, which they canned and pickled. Then one boy wanted to raise ducks for eggs. Then another wanted a goat for milk. Their vegetable garden got bigger and bigger. Each time they moved, they lived somewhere with more land.
Most recently, Allan’s job with IBM sent him on assignment to North Carolina, and they decided to stay and bought the old farmstead and some beef cows and goats, focusing on breeds that do well on pasture. When Allan retired, he made the decision to focus on farming instead of keeping up with the newest technology, and they invested their savings in their farm, adding some dairy cows. Their intent was always to farm, not to run a guest house. They took on interns and WOOFers from across the world. They also decided not to sell at markets but to sell from the farm and use word-of-mouth advertising. Because they don’t have large quantities of each item, this works well, although if an intern were interested in learning about selling at market, they’d be happy to have him or her do it.
The Greens also teach skills like canning, cheese making, blacksmithing, and sewing. Chris’s home dairying class teaches what it means to own a cow or goat for milking and attracts people who are interested in homesteading. Learning a skill like this is not difficult, says Chris. But Allan adds that the lifestyle is; there is a lot of romance surrounding farming—being connected to the ground, growing and harvesting your own food—and it’s justified. “But, like the romance in a marriage, when the kids come, and you’re doing diapers, and the plumbing breaks… you realize there’s a lot of work. It’s 24-7. Those cows need to be milked twice a day, through ice storms, hurricanes, drought. They need to be kept healthy. Dairying is hard work. Organic produce is such hard work. I mean, it’s so much easier to put pre-emergent weed killer on the ground.”
Be sure to visit Woodcrest Farm on the Piedmont Farm Tour. You can walk down the lane between the pastures and see the cows, goats, chickens, pigeons, ducks, rabbits, horse, mule, and the farm’s herding dogs. Kids can climb “Mount Wood” and crawl through the Elf Tree. There’ll be plenty to see and learn.
Visit Woodcrest Farm online and read about their upcoming classes at woodcrestfarmnc.com. Watch a video of our visit below and see more photos on Pinterest.