by Laura Johnson
Faith Mountain Farm is all about family. With eight children now ranging in age from 2 to 22, James and Shannon Wilkes moved to their farm in Creston eight years ago. “We thought this would be a great environment to raise them and to teach them responsibility and how to live life,” James said.
The farm has grown gradually, their business development paralleling the growth of their kids. “I only grow as fast as my children grow,” James smiled. They started out with bees, laying hens and some produce that James remembered growing as a kid – potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins. The soil was rich and produced easily.
A spirit of curiosity and creativity fueled them on, blurring lines between family, business, education and farming. They farm the creek bottom of their 65 mostly wooded acres, and in addition to their chickens (eggs and meat) and bees (75-100 colonies), they now often keep pastured pigs and grow a variety of produce – sprouting at the time of my visit in May were horseradish, garlic, zucchini, radishes, kale, sunflowers and fruit trees. At times they’ve also gotten into shitake mushrooms, firewood and medicinal herbs, gathered from the surrounding woods.
"If you live on a piece of dirt, there's dirt. Plant a seed."
Their products can be found at the Watauga Farmers Market and many local restaurants and businesses, things like meat and eggs, produce, sunflowers, honey and baked goods. Their daughter Margaret, 22, heads up the home-based bakery, Little Red Hen Bakery, with the help of Shannon and other family members. Fresh cinnamon rolls, cookies, cakes and muffins are just a few of her specialties.
The Wilkes philosophy is rooted in their faith. James said his role is to assist in the natural cycles, helping things to grow and flourish. “My job as a farmer is to facilitate that process in a responsible way,” he said. “Being a good steward of the land and these gifts that the Lord’s given us…My children likewise are a gift and a blessing to us, so this was a great environment to help those blessings grow and develop and mature. Those two work very well together.”
James’s philosophy extends to encompass diversity and creativity. “It’s an ongoing fluid environment,” he laughed. “We’re not insulated from problems, you have to be creative. If something doesn’t work it’s not like, 'Oh well we’ll just call off the day!' You have to deal with it the best you can. So I think that fosters a resilience and a problem-solving skill set.”
Always trying different things, being observant and developing new specialties has allowed Faith Mountain Farm to thrive. And with eight kids who are all encouraged to find their own niche and develop their unique talents, Faith Mountain can’t help but be a diverse farm. “They’re created certain ways, with different gifts,” James said proudly. “You can put things in front of them and try things out, give them opportunities and see what they go towards.”
James said that the High Country Farm Tour is about enhancing their business, but more than that, it’s about connecting with customers and strengthening relationships. Awareness and education are key, he said. “I think it enhances the whole local food movement. All the farms that are on the tour are benefiting everybody in some respect.
“It raises awareness, whether it’s your farm or somebody else’s; people are understanding that there are real people out there who are pouring their life into carrying these products,” James said. “And everybody oughta be growing something, I think! If you live on a piece of dirt, there’s dirt, plant a seed. It’s something everybody can do.”
by Laura Johnson
Elizabeth West and Lisa Redman of Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm are true activists. While in one sense they’ve “retreated” from mainstream society to their off-the-grid permaculture homestead in Ashe County, they continue to reach out to the community – from the local to the global scale – to spread and grow their vision of how to live a natural, sustainable life.
“Elizabeth is an action taker,” Lisa told me proudly. “And I think it often takes someone who’s willing to just go for it, you know, to do something so different than everyone else is doing it. You’ve just gotta go for it sometimes.”
Originally from Louisiana, Elizabeth moved to the North Carolina mountains, where she’d spent time as a child, in her early 20s. Active in the U.S. environmental movement and working as an environmental educator in the 1980s and ‘90s, she harbored a vision of caring for her own land.
“It was always kind of a dream to have and preserve land, to be able to tend or steward land,” Elizabeth explained. When she finally purchased her land in West Jefferson about 15 years ago, she began to apply the tools of land stewardship that she’d gathered, drawing upon the support of others and emphasizing community in many senses of the term.
“We want people to learn about our footprint in this world and the resources we consume and how maybe we can start to shift our collective consciousness and mindset.”
“Community is something that’s really important to the vision here,” Elizabeth said. “Not just teaching but teaching and learning and bringing people together. And not just for education (in the usual sense), but for learning about how to be in this world, to be happy and work together, to be resilient and heal.”
“We want to share what we’re doing so that people can see it’s not impossible to live with a really low impact and without a lot of money,” Lisa added. “We want people to learn about our footprint in this world and the resources we consume and how maybe we can start to shift our collective consciousness and mindset.”
Elizabeth and Lisa reach out to the local community by continuously hosting workshops and work parties, allowing them to share with others while collectively adding to the workings of Woodland Harvest. “We have an expert on site and we do a big project and everyone learns something new and we continue to build our infrastructure,” Lisa explained. “That’s how we do everything here on the farm, through work parties, work traders, different forms of trading rather than the dollar.”
Extending beyond the High Country, Woodland Harvest has a regional, national and global pull. They have spread their model for living and co-existing while gaining the support and labor needed to make it possible through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program.
“Our WWOOFers come from all over the world,” Lisa said. “We’ve had people come from New Zealand, Australia, England, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Israel and all over the United States.” Last year they also became an Alternative Spring Break destination for two major U.S. universities.
“So that’s one of the coolest things about living this kind of life,” Lisa said. “It’s a unique sort of community, and every person that comes through this farm learns something from us and we learn something from them, and we all continue to grow and learn and love together.”
Woodland Harvest uses low-impact, off-the-grid technologies and practices such as solar panels, a micro hydro-electric system, compost, permaculture and biodynamic agricultural practices, greywater and natural building techniques. They make a few products such as healing salves, recently hosted their first overnight kids' camp and have even learned to make their own fuel from vegetable oil to power vehicles.
“We’re out here as sort of a beacon of something completely radical and different that can be done,” Lisa smiled.
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture
PO Box 67
Lower Level, 171 Grand Blvd
Boone, NC 28607
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) is dedicated to strengthening the High Country's local food system by supporting women and their families with resources, education, and skills related to sustainable food and agriculture.