by Laura Johnson
Amy Nelson of Nelson Family Farm in Zionville is a practical, down-to-earth farmer with a soft spot for animals. Having previously worked in commercial animal agriculture, she and her family now raise animals on a much smaller, personal scale.
“This is a really nice way to have them,” Amy said. “We love animals and we like having them here. We like interacting with them.” At the moment they have two breeding sows with a baby Berkshire boar coming to the farm next week, 20 goats, a sheep, three steers, chickens and four horses on their 20-acre farm.
Starting out with a horse, a small garden, eggs and honey, Nelson Family Farm continues to grow every year. A few years ago they received a Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture grant to do multi-species grazing. “Our pastures were unusable,” Amy said. “They were over your head, higher than you could reach your arms in blackberries and roses.” So they creatively used different species to serve various beneficial purposes on their land.
As USDA Meat Handlers they also raise their animals for meat, but that's no reason not to care for them and give them a nice life, Amy said. "I like teaching people that you can love your animals and take wonderful care of them and then, yeah, you still eat them, but that’s way better than them growing up with 30,000 chickens shoulder to shoulder, and then they just get sent down the pipeline."
"I think we don’t know a lot about what we’re eating.”
Amy grew up gardening in Burlington and was always “animal crazy,” she told me. She earned a B.S. in Animal Science from NC State before becoming a nurse. Concerned about health, she likes knowing what she and her family are eating. “I just like the idea of not having anything in (our food) that doesn’t need to be there, you know?” she said. "I think we don't know a lot about what we're eating."
She enjoys teaching people about what they do and how they do it. One of her pet peeves is misleading labels in the grocery stores: “People pay extra money for this label, and it might not mean anything,” she explained. “So that’s why it’s just so important to have somebody, me or anybody else, where you can go to their farm and see exactly what they’re doing, and ask questions.”
Beyond transparency, Amy and her husband, Kirby, do what they do for their 8-year-old son, Asa. “He’s another reason we do everything,” Amy said. “He’s a good worker, he’s learning a good work ethic, and he knows so much about the farm. It just impresses me, he knows enough to go around and lead a tour and tell people what things are…I love bringing him up here. This is so good for him.”