When Aaron and Nicole Bradley of Colfax Creek Farm decided to start their own farming operation, they had decades of knowledge to draw from. Nicole’s great-grandfather raised hogs in upstate New York. Aaron’s family has been farming in Western North Carolina for generations, and he grew up on what was his great-great-grandfather’s farm.
Aaron remembers spending time with his great-grandfather on the family land. His family primarily farmed apples and cattle, while also growing and preserving most of the food they ate all year.
“I remember the homestead that they had,” Aaron says. “The gardens that they had were massive and everything that they ate, they grew.”
Farming has changed significantly during Aaron’s lifetime. Around the time Aaron was born, his family shifted their focus away from the apple orchard and decided to become a commodity cattle operation.
Nationally, there’s been a decline in small family farms, and larger-scale commercial operations have become more common and profitable. Yet Aaron and his wife and farming partner Nicole decided to buck the trend by starting small, and building their business around healthy stewardship of the land and connections to community.
They started their livestock farm on Aaron’s family land in 2014, but realized that to really build their operation around pastured meats, they would need more land. While they had spent five years building community and a customer base in Polk County, their search for the right property brought them to Bostic, North Carolina, near Colfax Creek.
Although they don’t work the same soil as Aaron’s great-great-grandparents, and didn’t have their customers right down the road, they brought with them their commitment to raising animals in a way that maintained their farm’s values.
Their regenerative farming practices prioritize the health of the land and the welfare of the animals, much like when Aaron’s great-great-grandfather started the family farm in 1901.
“That’s all a farmer had back then—their land and their animals—that was their livelihood. So they gave them the highest level of respect and put so much care into them, because if they didn’t and they lost that, they lost their livelihood,” Aaron says.
“It’s a really good feeling for me to be able to have a connection and look back through history to see the way that my great-great-grandfather was doing things. We have that story that connects us back to him and we’re doing a lot of the things that he was doing,” he says.
Yet early in Aaron’s farming career, he worked in other forms of agriculture, some of which had very different approaches to farming. He worked for several large-scale cattle operations, often running several hundred or thousands of cattle at a time. Then he and Nicole researched regenerative agriculture and considered the choices consumers have when purchasing meat.
“I really challenged myself, Nicole and I both did, to be responsible consumers that could say, ‘This is where our food comes from; this was how it was produced.’ We really wanted to start to make a change in our food system and we really wanted to start helping educate people.”
In starting fresh on their own land, Aaron and Nicole also wanted to recommit themselves to educating and connecting with their new community. This has taken many forms, but one way the Bradleys have embraced this is building a new farm identity and brand with their farming philosophy and sense of place as the focal point.
When Aaron and Nicole started farming, they went with the name Bradley Farms, in honor of Aaron’s family and the last name he and Nicole share. But after the move to Bostic they decided that name didn’t fully capture their farm’s mission and they chose to change it to Colfax Creek Farm because of its location in the Colfax area of Rutherford County.
“We wanted to become a part of the community that we’re serving. We can do that through our last name, but to Nicole and I, it’s so much bigger than just us and who we are.” Aaron says. “It cemented us as part of this community, which was one of the things we wanted to accomplish with the name change.”
They also took on a new logo which incorporates an acorn and a pigtail to represent their commitment to the land and letting their pigs, chickens, and cattle forage on pasture.
Some businesses might feel trepidation about rebranding while trying to maintain the robust customer base they’ve built over the years. For a livestock farmer with restaurant buyers, it’s especially important to convey a continued commitment to high-quality meat and sustainable practices. With some help, Aaron and Nicole were able to re-energize and educate their existing customers.
More than just a name change, Aaron and Nicole feel like the new logo and branding better communicate who they are as a farm and hope to continue educating and connecting their community with the importance of regenerative agriculture.
“We’re excited to grow and we’re excited to grow at a very healthy pace,” he says. “I feel like it’s a responsibility of every farmer, no matter what type of enterprise they have, I feel like it’s our responsibility as stewards of land and folks that want to contribute to a healthy food system.”
Learn more about Colfax Creek Farm and hundreds of other family farms in ASAP’s Local Food Guide: www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: January 27, 2019