Organic and Sustainable Farming
By Caroline DiGrande
Dawnbreaker Farms is a family-owned farm in Hurdle Mills, North Carolina that raises cows, chickens, pigs, and ducks for meat. The farm provides many purchasing options like CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which is similar to a subscription service, wholesale, and can be found at farmers’ markets on weekends and various retail locations. The farm has been in business for 9 years, and I had the pleasure of receiving a tour from owner and farmer, Ben Grimes. The chickens at Dawnbreaker Farms are pasture raised with a supplementary grain-ration and have
mobile fences so they can graze different parts of the land over time. Grimes explained that this is a compromise needed in order to make income to support the farm and his family. In one area where he feeds the chickens a commercial breed grain diet, he raises them in pasture, so the rotational grazing benefits the land. The same goes for cows, where their waste serves as an excellent fertilizer to the land with which they feed. Grimes emphasized that this rotational grazing style mimics natural systems where herds of cattle or other animals have naturally participated in this relationship with the land for ages. The grass and other plants they feed upon are all endemic to the land as well.
Curious about existing opinions around cows producing greenhouse gases and those who cut animal meat out of their diets for environmental purposes, I asked Grimes his opinion about raising cattle and combating climate change. He responded saying, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how”, emphasizing that the problem with the meat industry is not as much the animals being raised but the methods being put into play to feed and manage them on large scales. He says, “Cows can turn grass into healthy, delicious meat while enhancing the environment” and voices that animals will play an integral role in rebuilding our ecosystems and reestablishing ecological function. A key question to ask in any type of farming, whether it's producing a monocrop like soybeans or raising chickens for meat, is “how is the land being regenerated?”
A quick walk down the road from the main farmland, we visited pigs being raised within a fenced forest area, trotting about. Grimes explained that pigs are extremely destructive to their environment, as they dig-up soil and leave holes in the land. Raising pigs in the woods will help with land resiliency because
they will not destroy the trees that have existed for years compared to annihilating a pasture within a short span of time, and while they will kill many plant species, the endemic pioneer species of trees will survive and come back.
Rounding out the tour, Grimes discussed the significance of knowing the species and populations of different endemic plants that exist on the property and how certain plants serve as indicators for soil quality over time. For example, the existence of sedges on the farm indicate low organic matter in the soil around those plants, and over time Grimes has seen a drastic decrease in sedges in and around grazing areas because of nutrient deposits in the soil from the animals. Allowing indigenous plants to grow in pastures also supports flood control, a key climate change adaptive management strategy.
Individual indigenous plants can tell a story that reveals information about the land as a whole and what it needs to be resilient and reinvent itself. Dawnbreaker Farms is proud of their transparency policy that allows any curious patron to pay them a
visit and ask about their methods. To learn more about Dawnbreaker Farms, visit their website here!