ASAP likes to share the stories of people who help us fulfill our mission. This month we talked with Kathy Phillips, who is helping to resettle an Afghan refugee family in Black Mountain, and farmer James Smith of Woven Roots Farmstead (pictured). They connected in order to provide the family with live chickens.
Tell me about how you are helping this Afghan family.
Kathy Phillips: The Unitarian church in Black Mountain is sponsoring a small family, a husband and wife and a one-year-old baby. They don’t speak English or drive or know the customs. Even something like going to the grocery store, they need someone to teach them. It takes a village. They were able to save enough money for a moped, so the husband could have transportation to get a job. I was teaching him how to ride it. They told me that the other thing they needed is halal meat. It’s hard to find and very expensive. He wanted to get live chickens so he could slaughter them according to a particular manner and bless them. I just happened to have picked up the Local Food Guide, but I didn’t know where to start. So I thought I’d just call ASAP. I didn’t get an answering machine or voicemail. Someone answered the phone and I talked to David Smiley, who said, “That’s what we do. We have 800 farms in our network, we’ll hook you up.” He gave me a list.
Everyone was so helpful, I didn’t even get through the full list. All of the farm community was just right there saying, “Yeah, we’ll help.” No one had sold live broilers to individuals before. Most people don’t want to slaughter their own chickens. But they all stepped up—“We haven’t done that, but sure. We can work that out.” Several farms I talked to didn’t have broilers ready yet. James from Woven Roots Farmstead did. He was so knowledgeable about the halal method and was even able to come and deliver the chickens, which was way above and beyond.
James Smith: If there’s a need, if someone wants the products from us, I will provide that need. I ended up delivering live chickens to the family in Swannanoa, but I invited them to bring the imam to the farm so they could bless them here. The way we process, Joel Salatin’s method, is actually halal. It might be too Pollyanna to say it’s humane. But this is a living thing. I talk about this at the farmers market with people. There has to be some sort of reverence for a living thing. You need to earn that life. We try to raise them in such a way that is the best life that chicken could have, even if it’s going to end up on someone’s dinner table.
How long have you been farming?
James Smith: This is our second year. We got into it because of supply chain issues with COVID. About six years ago we wanted to do Christmas trees, but our elevation is too low. We spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to get fraser firs to grow, but couldn’t do it. So we had about six acres cleared. Then COVID happened. My wife went to store and there was no chicken. I said, “Okay, we can fix that.” We started with 10 layers. We thought we could sell eggs. We wildly underestimated what we needed to have. Now we have about 60 layers. We buy meat birds in 100 bunches. Last year we did just short of 500, this year we’ll do 800. We did 15 turkeys last year, but we could have sold 100. Nobody does meat birds. Very few people want to do what we do. We process on farm, under the poultry exemption. All of our animals are non-GMO. We use Joel Salatin’s style of pasture boxes for the chickens. The pigs are moved with electric netting. The cows are just cows.
Have you had learning curves?
James Smith: I don’t go gingerly around the corners. I go all in. We got our first set of meat birds last year, which was a real eye-opening experience. We were watching videos of processing. We only had 21 birds, but it took my wife and I three-and-a-half hours. Now I can do 25 chickens by myself in 45 minutes, which is a far cry from that first ordeal! My wife and I work full time and farm. Our goal is to farm full time in the next two or three years. Farming is like multiple vocations wrapped into one. You fix more problems before the first cup of coffee than other people do all day. I’ve not had previous experience. I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. There’s not much I won’t try.