Sidle up to a farmers market on a summer Saturday and you’re spoiled for choice between tables piled high with brightly colored produce, fresh cuts of meat, loaves of bread and gorgeous flowers. In fact, at some stands you can barely see the smiling faces of the farmers themselves behind the bounty.
And of course, come late autumn, all of the farmers pack up their booths and head south to kick up their feet and sip rum punch, right? Not so fast.
While this time of year we average folk head inside, bundle up and hibernate, some of the most grueling work is just about to begin for the people who produce our food 24/7/365, especially those who raise livestock. Winter can be extremely brutal according to Travis Hood of Lexington’s Hood’s Heritage Hogs, supplier of Red Wattle pork to local chefs Derek dos Anjos (The Anchor-OTR), Danny Combs (Sotto) and Stephen Williams (Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar).
“The last two winters have been exceptionally tough,” he says. “The simple task of feeding and watering the hogs is tripled. Water lines freeze, so water has to be bucketed to the pastures multiple times per day.”
And contrary to popular belief, not all baby animals are born in the spring. Hood spends a great deal of his time making sure that each mama pig and her new litter of winter piglets are comfy and warm by bedding them down four times a week with fresh, clean hay.
In fact, there really is no down time for farmers. Whether the product is animals or crops, there is always something that needs to be planned for, fixed or tended to. Kate Cook is the garden manager of Carriage House Farm, a four-acre zero-spray market garden in North Bend. “We do some season extension (growing cold-hardy crops with the aid of simple protective structures),” Cook says, “but mostly I use this ‘down time’ to do my planning and paperwork for the year. This is when I meet up with the chefs that I work with to discuss the upcoming season and do as much continuing education as I can.”
Farmer Billy Webb of Sheltowee Farm in Bath County, Ky., is able to produce gourmet mushrooms — mainly oyster, shiitakes and lion’s mane — year-round inside by growing them on blocks of sawdust as opposed to logs out in the woods. Webb produces mushrooms for, as he puts it, many of the “white tablecloth” restaurants in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati. As for this time of year, winter just presents the extra challenge of keeping things warm, he says.
“Most people have no idea the stress surrounding farming,” he says. “You can have a good year and then you can have several bad years. We try our best, but there are so many factors that influence production. Telling a customer you do not have their order is the worst.”
Gretchen Vaughn grows fruits and vegetables organically on Greensleeves Farm in Alexandria, Ky. The produce is sold through the farm’s community supported agriculture program (CSA) and both the Fort Thomas and Covington farmers markets. Vaughn spends the winter cleaning and organizing her shop and tools, planning crop rotation and farm strategies, and visiting the greenhouse to see the growing plants.
Regardless of the work, Hood, of Hood’s Heritage Hogs, is quick to note the perks of farming. “I get to spend some days at home and get the family involved,” he says. “I mean, I cut down trees with my mother-in-law, dig potatoes with my wife and feed hogs with my son and daughter. Why doesn’t everyone farm?”
Where to Find the Farms’ Goods
Carriage House Farm: Products/produce are available at the Wyoming farmers market (winter market is pre-order) and Northside farmers market (4-7 p.m. Wednesdays at North Presbyterian Church on Hamilton Avenue). Honey, grains, pollen, dried herbs and specialty canned items are available at the Hyde Park winter market (10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays at Clark Montessori). Honey and pollen are available through Green BEAN Delivery and at Whole Foods. carriagehousefarmllc.com.
Greensleeves Farm: Sign up for the farm’s CSA ($260-$780) on their website and receive a weekly share of Greensleeves’ harvest May-October. Produce is also featured at restaurants like Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar. greensleevesfarm.com.
Hood’s Heritage Hogs: Find Hood’s Red Wattle pork year-round at the Lexington farmers market or dine locally at The Rookwood, The Anchor-OTR, Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar, Sotto, Metropole or Maribelle’s eat + drink. hoodsheritagehogs.com.
Sheltowee Farms mushrooms: Available at Whole Foods. sheltoweemushrooms.com. ©