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.”