Farm2Home 2015 – Big D Ranch in Center Ridge, Ark.

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Farm2HomeLogoThis is the third in a series on Farm2Home 2015. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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Meet the DeSalvo family of Big D Ranch in Center Ridge: Phillip, Benjamin, Isabella and Beth. (Photo courtesy of Beth DeSalvo.)

When Beth DeSalvo quit her job at Petit Jean Meats in 2012 and began working on her family’s cattle ranch full time, she soon realized that she needed to go whole hog (whole cow?) in promoting the operation.

Her departure from the “corporate world” left the family with no other income source but cattle and hay, so making sure that folks knew about Big D Ranch – the place her husband’s family has called home for five generations – was going to become a part-time job in itself. (That’s in addition to the other tasks, such as keeping the books and helping out in whatever other ways she’s needed.)

A busy mom of two, she knew that if she wanted to help sustain the family’s income, she would have to take time out of all the things that go into cattle ranching and be available to educate people, show them around and talk up the virtues of locally grown, pastured beef, and of farming and ranching in general.

With all the nitty-gritty of running a cattle ranch, how does she have time for the “marketing and promotion” part of the job?

“You make time,” she said at the recent Farm2Home event at Moss Mountain Farm west of Little Rock. It’s just what local ranchers and growers have to do to raise awareness of their products. No Sam Elliott voice-overs or James Garner promos – she and her family just get out there and talk to people face to face.

And they do a great job: I stood at her table at Farm2Home, chatted with Beth and her daughter, 9-year-old-Isabella, and got a taste of what beef is supposed to taste like.

As Isabella speared a piece of grilled beef on a toothpick for me, Beth and I talked, and the conversation was as delicious as the beef.

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Center Ridge, Ark., population 388 (as of 2010 census).
Center Ridge, Ark., population 388 (as of 2010 census).

When you engage with someone who is as passionate as Beth is about her “job,” you lose track of time. This matriarch of the 2012 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year (which also includes Phillip’s dad, Tony) takes her role so seriously that she travels from the ranch in Center Ridge, Ark., to farmers markets and events such as Farm2Home as an evangelist for the virtues of buying locally grown, healthful foods.

“I believe by buying local you are commending your local farmers and ranchers on what they do every day,” she said in answer to my follow-up questions after Farm2Home. “Farmers and ranchers work hard to provide food for consumers, and it is very rewarding to be able share that with our neighbors.”

I asked Beth why she wanted to participate in Farm2Home.

I think it is very important to get out to tell our story. I feel that consumers want to know where their food comes from, and we the farmers and ranchers want the consumers to feel safe about what we provide for their families. The best way to do that is let people know what you are doing and how you do it.”

It’s so important to the DeSalvos that they take their beef outside the local area on weekends to sell and promote. Look for them at the Conway Farmers Market at the Antioch Baptist Church and at the Argenta Farmers Market in downtown North Little Rock. (The Argenta market is where I used to do my “shop local” socializing when Bruce and I lived in North Little Rock. I miss it!)

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Ben and Isabella DeSalvo at the Argenta Farmers Market in downtown North Little Rock, Ark. (Photo courtesy of Beth DeSalvo.)

As Phillip and Beth raise the sixth generation at Big D, they support Ben (age 11) and Isabella’s participation in the Nemo Vista Pioneers 4-H Club, and Beth says the family is “very active” at the county fair. That’s evident by the photos she emailed me (I didn’t use them all). Phillip and Beth are active members in the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and no doubt their children are future members of those organizations.

Both kiddos know how to win prizes at the county fair. Take a look:

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Ben and his heifer Big Momma took Reserve Grand Champion honors last year at the Conway County Fair. (Photo courtesy of Beth DeSalvo.)
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Isabella and Betsy took home Pee Wee Showmanship honors at last year’s county fair, and Izzy also won Grand Champion with her turkeys. (Photo courtesy of Beth DeSalvo.)

Arkansas is fortunate to have folks like Tony, Phillip and Beth DeSalvo, who are raising their young’uns to know the value of hard work and the importance of supporting your neighbors as they work hard, too. They’re the ones who feed us, my friends. Or at least they should be.

As often as you can, buy local. You’ll be helping your neighbors and yourself. (And try some beef from the DeSalvos. It’s “The Better Beef to Eat!”)

All right, one last picture. This image makes me think of a photo in one of the Pioneer Woman’s cookbooks. I bet Beth DeSalvo swoons every time she looks at this picture of her man and her boy walking hand-in-hand on their family’s land.

Ladies, wouldn’t you?

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(Photo courtesy of Beth DeSalvo.)

Big D Ranch
173 Miller Ln.
Center Ridge, AR 72027 (northern Conway County)
(501) 208-6120 (Beth’s cell)
Website: Bigdranch.net
Twitter: @bigdranch1
Facebook: Big D Ranch or Beth Rohlman DeSalvo
Instagram: BIG_D_RANCH

Stay tuned for Part 4 next Friday. Meanwhile, I’d like to publish a healthful recipe for Monday’s post. Suggestions?

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Farm2Home 2015 – P. Allen Smith

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Farm2HomeLogoThis is the second in a series on Farm2Home 2015. Read Part 1 here.

When Allen Smith was 10, he earned a blue ribbon for a hen he showed at the county fair. This is not surprising, given his family heritage of farming and livestock and poultry raising.

A few decades later, if you called him “the crazy chicken man,” you might not be far off (sorry, Allen). With his first hen – not the white silkie that won the blue ribbon but a brown Leghorn that young Allen had to chase down on Main Street – he began a love affair with growing and preserving poultry breeds that has only become stronger with time.

Known for his design, cooking and gardening expertise, Allen (better known as P. Allen Smith) has grown a multimedia empire right along with those chickens he’s so fond of. (Eat your heart out, Martha.) He houses his fine-feathered hens in a structure of his own design, dubbed the Poultry Palace.

This “crazy chicken man” is crazy like a fox, though.

His knowledge of poultry breeds rivals that of anyone I’ve ever met. I might be able to find some PhD fellow with a more formal poultry pedigree, but I would have to search far. And I have a feeling that pedigreed poultry professor would be much less endearing, much less engaging, much less in love with the birds, and probably a lot boring.

Allen Smith is not boring.

When you’re passionate about a subject, your enthusiasm is infectious.

At the recent Farm2Home event at Allen’s Moss Mountain Farm outside Little Rock, Ark., I and 29 other bloggers were treated to a tour of his house and the grounds, including Poultryville, where he houses – you guessed it – poultry.

Allen’s love of this particular subject stems from his combined love of history, genetics and conservation. Cases in point:

  • Ask him about any of our country’s founding founders, and he’s sure to have a story for you. His knowledge is not based on “factoids” found by Googling but by a love of history he acquired from his family.
  • He created the Heritage Poultry Conservancy, which exists to preserve and support “all threatened breeds and strains of domestic poultry through the encouragement of education, stewardship and good breeding practices,” according to the website. I could spend hours on this website reading all the “breed profiles” – which include photos and extensive histories of the breeds, complete with bibliographies – and “ask the expert” articles and other information.
  • He designed and built a little village for his birds on Moss Mountain Farm. Listening to him talk about the birds at Poultryville – and watching as he shows them off – well, it’s just … poultry in motion. (I know: Groan. Sorry.)

But seriously, the man knows poultry.

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If I had been taking notes instead of worrying about how much juice was left in my phone battery, I would’ve heard Allen tell what kind of chicken this is.

And he wants others to know about it, too. As we tromped along through Poultryville, he offered bits of information, trivial and non. I wish I could remember what Mediterranean princess he referenced in relation to the design of the Poultry Palace. She visited because she was interested in heritage poultry and had heard about Moss Mountain Farm.

I’ve used most of my allotted words here (y’all know I limit my word count, right? 🙂 ) talking about poultry, because, seriously, visiting Poultryville and hearing this man wax poetic about chickens, French geese, swans and all that – and to see them up close and personal – makes me love them, too! If you visited, you would be the same way.

C’mon. Take a gander at these photos from Allen’s blog and tell me you wouldn’t love to hang out with some of these crazy chicks. Seriously.

OK, so.

Besides poultry, horses, dogs (the farm dog and a Scottish terrier that Allen was dog-sitting for friends), sheep and some cute baby goats, we were treated to:

  • A beautiful house. Allen bought the farm (literally) about 10 years ago and built this gorgeously appointed Greek Revival-style house seven years ago. He said he wanted it to look like it belonged on the beautiful farm of 600 or so acres (give or take, with the whims of the Arkansas River, which was flooded when we visited). Y’all, there is no way to show you all the pictures I took, even with dying batteries.
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The Garden Home at Moss Mountain Farm is a Greek Revival-style house on about 600 acres along the Arkansas River.
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The man decorates with books. This is my kinda house.

My friends, there were books EVERYWHERE. I asked Allen whether he’d read all of them. “Every one. Cover to cover,” he deadpanned. It took me a second to be sure he was joking.

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A view from the kitchen.
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The all-white kitchen appointed with white hydrangeas (and orange-clad blogger chicks).
  • Gardens: vegetables, flowers, trees, grasses. I had so many photos of flowers and veggies to choose from, I had trouble deciding. I’m giving you but a taste. (And if my camera battery hadn’t died before noon and my phone battery hadn’t died by 3:30 p.m., Lord, have mercy, I would have had even more pics!)
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As we approached the vegetable gardens, Allen offered to let us pull weeds for him. (I’m pretty sure he was joking, although: FREE HELP. But do you see any weeds?)
GardenOutsideHouse_PAllenSmith
I don’t know my flowers as well as I used to, but I think this is some type of sunflower. Anyone?
  • A pond with swans, frogs and at least one snake (viewed after my camera battery died, and it’s too bad because the swans were really cute – one of them talked to me!).

I wasn’t going to post this pic of Duncan (the visiting dog), but, as you know, I’m a dog person and can’t resist a good dog picture, especially when the pooch is doing something cute.

Duncan
Duncan wasn’t playing hard to get; I think he’s just weird, like my doggie who likes to sleep under her bed.
  • Views of the Arkansas River.
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A view of the flooded, muddy Arkansas River from Moss Mountain Farm’s sleeping porch. You get a glimpse of one of the gardens, too.
  • Food, glorious food! Everything was delicious and beautiful, and here’s my lunch. (I missed the beautiful watermelon breakfast snack that everyone else had earlier because I was busy talking to farmers outside and didn’t hear the bell; see previous post.)
Lunch_PAllenSmith
If you visit Moss Mountain Farm, they’ll feed you meals from Allen’s latest cookbook, Seasonal Recipes from the Garden.
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As you can see, the dessert (pecan cookie with strawberry-cobbler-type filling) was delicious! (I did leave some of the garnish.) And you may wonder how I managed to get two glasses of iced tea, with endless refills. I’ll never tell!
  • Bloggers. Thirty of us. Here are a few.
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Wouldn’t you want to hang out with these chicks (and a couple of blogger dudes)?
  • Farmers. This is what Farm2Home was all about, ya’ll. Stay tuned, because I have more farmers for ya, but you’ll have to wait until next week. This is a series, remember?

But Farm2Home is not the only event on Moss Mountain Farm’s calendar. This beautiful place is host to classes, workshops, tours, parties, weddings and other events. Allen also “trials” specimens for seed and plant companies that sell their fare at garden centers around the country. And he shoots his TV shows there.

If you view this video from Allen’s website, you will want to make a reservation right now to visit Moss Mountain Farm. Unless you’re totally crazy.

Next week: Farm2Home 2015 – Big D Ranch in Center Ridge, Ark.

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Farm2Home 2015: Overview

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Farm2HomeLogoThis is the first in a series on Farm2Home 2015.
ArrivalAtMMF060215_lightened
I’m here!

I pulled up to Moss Mountain Farm on a sunny morning last week practically giddy with anticipation. I was going to get to:

  • Spend the day with 29 other Arkansas bloggers, most of whom I hadn’t seen since a retreat in September.
  • Meet lots of Arkansas growers and producers – the heroes of this event I was arriving for.
  • Spend the day with P. Allen Smith, whom I’ve long admired for his gardening expertise, design skills and reputation for Southern hospitality. He and his staff were the ones who pulled this day together (in conjunction with Arkansas Grown, Arkansas Made, Farm Credit and the Arkansas Agriculture Department) and invited us all to the farm.
  • Spend most of the day outdoors.
  • Wear a cute T-shirt. 🙂
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Fellow blogger Jodi Coffee (in hat) being interviewed by P. Allen Smith staff. (They talked to all of us on camera.)

The event? Farm2Home 2015, which brings together bloggers and farmers for a day of networking, fellowshipping, eating (one of the best parts) and brainstorming.

And, boy, did we network, fellowship, eat and brainstorm.

In fact, I was so busy networking, fellowshipping and eating (sampling fermented jalapenos and cabbage, spiced pecans, elk and venison jerky, grass-fed beef, frozen fruit pops, popcorn laced with spice blends, you name it) that I missed the clanging of the bell calling us into the barn, where our host welcomed the bloggers to his farm and laid out the day.

Oops.

It’s not like me to be the one breaking schedule, ignoring protocol and being truant.

I guess I was having a little too much fun talking to the farmers, trying lotions, smelling soaps, chatting about the no-sugar-added jelly (delicious), seeing the twin baby goats, peppering the farmers with questions (“How do you process your sunflower oil?” “What gives the watermelon-scented soap its color?” “Did you design your own packaging?”) and having a generally fantastic morning in the sunshine to be aware of such trivial matters as clanging bells and schedules.

Just a few of the delicious-smelling soaps at Farm2Home 2015. I loaded up (= bought way too many).
Just a few of the delicious-smelling soaps at Farm2Home 2015. I loaded up (= bought way too many).

I came home with a bunch of loot.

Even so, I didn’t make it home with my bag of jellies. 🙁 (I only realized that sad fact as I was writing this.)

At Farm2Home, we chatted and sampled, took a “bio break” (visited the potty, for you city slickers), chatted some more, then went inside for a panel discussion with four of the farmers.

Yes, more chatting. (The panel discussions made up the aforementioned “brainstorming,” although the talk was heavy on education, enlightenment and empathy.)

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Allen (left) and the bloggers listen to Mark Morgan, Beth DeSalvo, Jeffery Hall and Chuck McCool, aka the event’s Arkansas Grown panel.

What are the challenges of growing/distributing/marketing your crop or livestock? What do you want people to understand about what you do? Where do we go to learn more? How can we teach others?

We all know that, despite modern conveniences, farming still has a bucket-load of challenges, many of which are out of the farmers’ and ranchers’ control. (This season’s extremely wet weather springs to mind.) They have to concern themselves not only with the actual growing, harvesting and processing of their fare (plenty can go wrong there) but with government regulations, distribution, marketing, budgeting, lack of awareness, apathy, consumer education and a host of other areas that we can begin to grasp only by walking a mile in their muck boots.

This is where the bloggers came in: Our objective at Farm2Home was to understand small (as opposed to industrial) farming as best we could without actually driving up to one of their farms on a John Deere.

Not that we wouldn’t be welcomed if we did.

In fact, one of the panelists, Beth DeSalvo of Big D Ranch in Center Ridge, said she welcomes visitors who want to learn about ranching.

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More on Big D Ranch of Center Ridge in a future post.

How does she find time to show people around while also doing the work required to run a cattle ranch?

“You make time,” she said. Beth considers marketing and awareness-raising part of her job description. This is why she was on hand at Farm2Home.

The ranch is her family’s sole source of income, and when someone tells you that, you want to do everything you can to spread the word – to make sure that this fifth generation of ranchers won’t be the last in the family to live and serve and raise cattle on that ranch. To make sure it’s still around for the next five generations.

And you only know – and care this much – by listening to their stories.

As Beth and her daughter, Isabella, offered me samples of their delicious grass-fed beef, Beth told a bit of her family’s story before I had to move on. I’ve never ranched cattle (or anything, actually), so her story is compelling, and I’ll share it with you in a post later this month.

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Each blogger had a one-on-one photo shoot with Allen.

Amid all the chit-chatting, sample-chomping, lotion-rubbing, photo-opping and quote-tweeting, we managed to tour Allen’s house, eat lunch, sit down for a panel discussion with the “makers” (those who handcraft products out of their farms’ bounty) and tour the Moss Mountain Farm gardens (lots of them) and Poultryville. (More on Allen’s house and his interest in poultry in next week’s post).

One of my favorite parts of the afternoon discussion included a couple of women involved with alleviating hunger in Arkansas. I can’t wait to tell you about what I learned from them (also in a future post). As they explained the Arkansas Gleaning Project, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz.

Hey, I’m jumping ahead. Be sure to tune in next week for more, but here’s a sneak peek.

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5 reasons to buy local

You’re helping your neighbors. Some farmers have an income outside of their crop or livestock, and some don’t. Either way, farming is a challenge.

You’re helping yourself. When your food dollar stays within your locality, you’re cutting out the middle man. It creates a ripple effect, which helps the bottom line of your city, your county and your state. That translates to savings for you.

It’s fresher and tastes better. There is nothing like having an omelet made with farm-fresh eggs and a little spinach, vine-ripened tomato and cheese from your neighbor’s dairy (or whatever fresh vegetables you can think of!). No Pop-Tarts for this gal!

It fosters a sense of community. The farmers market is full of folks just like you. I love visiting my local farmers market. I get to chat up the growers, sample delicious foods, maybe try something new, and sometimes even watch a demonstration (cooking, cheese making, rug-making, painting). Heck, last Saturday we were serenaded by two little girls singing karaoke. And I love knowing where my food comes from!

It helps cut down on fuel consumption and, thus, air pollution because the food has to travel fewer miles to get to your plate. It reduces our carbon footprint. Less pollution = happier lungs.

What are some reasons you can think of to buy local and/or organic? Leave a comment sharing your ideas.

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Next week: Farm2Home 2015 P. Allen Smith.

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