Siler City Snapshot
By Emily Murrill (2022)
Despite only taking up six square miles, Siler City is a mid-sized North Carolina town with approximately 7,700 residents. Like many small towns in North Carolina, Siler City started out as a plantation farm in the mid 1700s but was officially incorporated in 1887. The town is located in the western part of Chatham County, and Highway 64 passes through the town’s 11th Street.
In recent years, poultry processing has become the primary industry in Siler City. This has resulted in a 90% increase in population between 1990 and 2016. Another result of the growing industry is the annual Spring Chicken Festival that the town is now known for. Siler City is also known for its murals down Main Street.
Siler City Farmers Market
By Grace Elkus and Brynna Bantley (2014)
The Siler City Farmer’s Market is more than just a produce stand. It’s a community of local farmers and craftspeople, all eager to share their handcrafted products and personal stories with any passerby. Small though it may be, the farmers market is vital to the town of Siler City.
Many of the vendors are family-run businesses, including Lindley Farms Creamery. Casey Campbell, who was selling the creamery’s products at the farmer’s market, is the fourth generation of the farm, which has been around since the 1930s. Originally just a milk farm, the family opened up the creamery side two years ago in and now sells cheddar, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, along with a variety of cheese spreads, seasonal ice creams, and their well-known and innovative fresh mozzarella cheesecakes. “It was an accident,” Campbell said of the cheesecakes. “We tried to make cheese and it flopped, so my mom put eggs and stuff in it and baked it. It came out really good.”
The process is now perfected. Fresh whole milk is taken from the farm’s 150 Guernsey and Holstein cows and is then pasteurized in the farm facility, which turns it into mozzarella cheese curds. The curds are mixed with a few ingredients, baked in the oven, and glazed with a “special” sour cream topping.
The creamery is owned by two sisters, Janice Lindley and Ann Campbell. The dairy and farming is managed by Lindley and her nephew, J.B., and the creamery is operated by Campbell and her daughter Casey. Whether the business will continue to stay in the family, however, is up in the air. Casey said she isn’t sure whether she will take over the business, because although she feels confident with the creamery work, she is less familiar with her aunt’s side of the business. “I pull the cheese, and help pasteurize the milk, and then package and label everything,” she said. “But I really don’t know that much about the farming side.”
Campbell’s brother has already made a decision not to be involved in the family business, choosing to pursue a pharmaceutical career instead. He did, however, contribute to the slogan, ‘From Moo to You’. “He’s so uncreative, and when he said that, we were like, ‘actually, that’s pretty good!’” Campbell said.
Campbell’s favorite product is the pumpkin cheesecake, which is only sold in autumn. Other seasonal products include a Key Lime cheesecake in the spring and German Chocolate, Caramel, and Molasses cheesecakes for the winter holidays. The creamery, which is located in Snowcamp, is about a 15-minute drive from Siler City. Although none of the products are sold in grocery stores, they can be found at local farmers markets, and orders can be placed and picked up at the farm.
While we were chatting with Casey about our project and the reason for which we were interviewing her, she pointed in the direction of another tent and said, “That’s the guy you really want to talk to.”
So while Campbell brainstormed cheesecake flavors, we found Tom Mastej of Silk Hope Organic Produce sitting close by under his own tent, brainstorming something else entirely.
His tent was plush with various types, sizes, and colors of vegetables, many of which were tomatoes. “I just took three pounds of these tomatoes, put them in a five gallon pail, added two cups of honey and water, and six months from now I’m gonna have tomato wine,” he said. “And if I wait a year, it’ll be even better.” We found this innovative, crazy endeavor to perfectly reflect his personality.
Mastej, whose unofficial slogan is, ‘If it’s not fun, I don’t do it,’ has owned and operated Silk Hope for 12 years. Apart from two guys who he says ‘are a bastard to work for,’ Mastej runs the farm all by himself. Born and raised in New Jersey, he said he moved down to North Carolina “to live.”
“The city, you live there all your life, you’re there, you think it’s fine,” he explained. “But after you move away, you go up and visit and you’re driving along the Jersey Turnpike and you wonder, ya know, I need a gas mask, how did I live here?”
His desire for the slower, simpler pace of the south is evident. His reasons for moving down here seem to be rooted in this yearning for small town America, and anyone who understands this endeavor as financially motivated is poorly mistaken. “You ever hear the story of the farmer who became a millionaire?,” he asked. “He started with two million and now he’s got one? Well, it’s true.” But this sad fortune does not deter Mastej, nor does it dampen his spirits. He’s not in it for the money — it’s his passion for how food is grown, prepared, and consumed that keeps him in the business.
What’s more, his passion has given way to knowledge and advice. He advises everyone to eat their vegetables raw, to never eat anything that has been genetically modified, and, above all, don’t put anything in the microwave. “Might as well just kill yourself,” he said, “because that’s what you’re doing.”
So if microwaving is killing us, what’s curing us? Mastej has an answer to this as well: “Garlic spikes,” he said. “Nowadays, the ways the laws are, everything’s becoming so draconian that you’d be arrested for saying this and saying that. But I’m gonna tell you anyways. For thousands of years,” he said as he holds up long, thin green blades, “these have kept the doctors out of business.” He hands us each a piece to try and, after biting off a small taste, we would have warded away any vampires to say the least. Garlic spikes are the cuttings from garlic bulbs and can be used to season just about anything, including soups and stir-fry.
Manej is a charming, personable, and vibrant individual who exemplifies the character of all the vendors at the market. Their love of food, local goods, and conversing with people keeps them coming back every Saturday.