As we enter the week of Thanksgiving, one thing we are extremely thankful for at Joyce Farms is the growing community of chefs, food and agriculture industry professionals, and consumers who are increasingly eager to learn about our mission and practices and how they promote animal welfare, regeneration of soil and ecosystems, and more flavorful and nutritious food.
Last month, we brought some of that growing community together for a series of four farm tour events. We welcomed chefs and culinary professionals from all around the country, and we were thrilled to find that they were just as eager to learn about what we do as we were to show them!
Our goal was to provide an educational experience on the importance of genetics, animal welfare, and regenerative farming as it relates to the flavor and quality of meat and poultry, and the effect different farming methods have on our environment.
Here's how it went...
Part 1: Bridge Club Dinners
Each farm tour was preceded with a dinner event the evening before, at Chef Ashley Christensen's Bridge Club in Raleigh.
The Bridge Club loft was a perfect backdrop for getting to know our guests better and enjoying a truly memorable meal of Joyce Farms products, expertly prepared by Chef Ashley and her team.
Appetizers included picnic-style Poulet Rouge™ chicken with hot honey, Poulet Rouge™ chicken liver mousse, bison tenderloin tartare, deviled egg topped fried green tomatoes, and Poole's pimento cheese with saltines.
And while it doesn't look like it so far, we did more than eat and drink during our Bridge Club events! Before the meal, our guest saw a special screening of A Regenerative Secret, a recently released mini-documentary project that Joyce Farms sponsored and that features our Chief Ranching Officer Dr. Allen Williams along with Finian Makepeace of Kiss the Ground.
After each evening's dinner, we talked more with the groups about our mission and products, our unique heritage breeds, and our regenerative agriculture practices. We told our guests about the things they would see an experience on the farms the following day, including the recent damage from Hurricane Florence, which hit only two weeks before our first tour.
We prepared our guests to see real, working farms - not "show farms" like some producers use to put their best foot forward (and to hide their worst). We believe in full transparency, and in showing our customers the real story, including successes and challenges. Mother Nature can be unfair, and as farmers and producers, we have to learn to deal with, and recover from, those times. It was unfortunate that the pork farm was heavily flooded with rainfall from Hurricane Florence, and a lot of our pastures were damaged. Rather than canceling our tours, we chose to view the storm damage as a great opportunity to share more information about our regenerative farming practices and how they are helping the farm to recover more quickly.
Part 2: Days On The Farm
Our farm days were full ones with plenty to see and learn. We covered topics like animal genetics, soil biology, and regenerative agriculture, to name a few.
Each farm day started with a visit to Dark Branch Farms, owned and operated by our farm partner Adam Grady. Adam and his family primarily raise the Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs for our Heritage Pork, but the farm is also home to some of our Aberdeen Angus cattle. Our tour guests learned about the history and characteristics of these two old-world breeds, and how we are helping to revive heritage breeds like the Old Spot from endangerment or extinction.
Next, Allen Williams gave a powerful in-field lesson about regenerative agriculture practices and their potential to transform not just the food industry, but our environment overall. He spoke about desertification and the unhealthy state of most of the world's soil. He stressed the importance of healthy soil as a fertile growing environment for flavorful, nutrient-dense food for livestock and for us. With help from Adam Grady, he used real examples from the Heritage Pork farm to cover key regenerative principles like no tilling or chemical use, planting cover crops, and integrating livestock with planned grazing techniques to restore the health of the soil.
The regenerative lesson continued with a Rainfall Simulator demonstration led by a representative from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Our guests saw how different kinds of land and grazing management affect soil health. For this powerful demonstration, samples of soil are used from different pastures that have been managed in different ways - some with degenerative practices like tilling or chemical use, others were managed using regenerative practices like livestock integration and rotational grazing without tilling or use of chemicals. These samples are placed in trays side to side under an overhead sprinkler, with clear buckets underneath.
When the demonstration begins, the overhead sprinkler simulates a rainstorm. When the water hits the soil, the samples that have been subjected to degenerative management produce much more runoff into the buckets below, indicating the soil is unhealthy and has poor water infiltration. This runoff causes erosion and carries away nutrients and sediment with it. The samples from pastures with regenerative methods in place are able to take in more water, which decreases runoff.
After the rainfall simulator, our guests had plenty of time to "digest" what they learned and ask questions while enjoying a Pig Pickin' on the farm! For all of our farm tour lunches, we teamed up with Original Grills in Raleigh, and they did an outstanding job cooking up one of our Old Spot hogs with all the fixins.
Coming to the farms, seeing our practices, meeting the farmers, and hearing our story first hand is the very best way to get to know our company and understand the care that goes into our products. Thank you to all of our farm tour guests - it was truly an honor to host such passionate and talented groups chefs and culinary professionals!
Another big thank you to the following groups and individuals who helped make our fall farm tours a success!