Wild East Farm: A Rough Draft That’s Working

For farmers Lyric and Noah, the name Wild East came before the farm. “We were on a hike near Mount Mitchell, this really rocky, ragged ridgetop, and there were wildflowers, animals everywhere,” describes Noah. “It was a moment of pure, Appalachian wildness, and we had this revelation: Why does the west get all the credit for being wild? We’re the wild east.” The name stuck, and in 2023 they established Wild East Farm. The couple has taken East as a shared last name.

Now in their second year on 44 acres in Marion, NC, they grow no-till vegetables and raise organic-fed chicken, turkey, and pork, which they sell direct from the farm, at several farmers markets in Asheville, and wholesale, including to Mother Earth Food, Foothills Food Hub, Red Fiddle Vittles, and Equal Plates Project. They’ve also planted several hundred perennial fruit and nut trees, which over time will become u-pick opportunities as well as create an integrated system for stewarding their land and livestock.

Having that diversity of products and market outlets serves as a safeguard against setbacks. “Each of our enterprises is dominant in a different area,” notes Lyric. “We sell the most chicken at farmers markets, vegetables wholesale, and pork on farm.”

It’s also a way to preserve their quality of life. “The diversity of work is joyful for us,” says Noah. “Farming is filled with repetitive tasks. That was one way I saw potential for burnout. We’re able to operate each enterprise at a small enough scale that the whole picture works. We’re not dependent on machinery or large solutions.”

As they navigate starting a farm, Lyric and Noah say their most important asset has been the relationships they’ve developed over their ten years of living in Western North Carolina—making everything from borrowing equipment to connecting with customers easier. “The primary advice I give people about starting a farm is to root as deeply as you can in the place you plan to start farming,” says Lyric.

Guiding Light

Following college—they met while pursuing environmental studies degrees at UNC Asheville—Lyric and Noah were
bitten by the homesteading bug, and lived on several acres in Swannanoa. After working as an arborist and field biologist, Noah took a farm manager job at Clem’s Organic Gardens in Pisgah Forest. Lyric focused on education and community food systems, eventually becoming director of the River Arts District Farmers Market, a role she still holds.

“We started out super green, had never raised animals, had a garden,” says Noah. “It didn’t take long to realize that farming would allow us to live our core values with the means of making a living. It was a lightbulb epiphany moment. There was no looking back.”

In 2022, after six years of homesteading, they were ready to take the leap. As for many new farmers, land access was the first hurdle. “Our timing was tough,” says Noah. “In the timeline of getting out of school, starting our savings, real estate in Western North Carolina skyrocketed.”

Writing out their plan helped keep them on track. “We didn’t just have a checklist for what we wanted for our land,” says Lyric, “but also our value system and motivation for farming. We were clear about what we wanted our lives to look like, how we wanted to show up for our community, and our why of farming. That was a guiding light whenever we got discouraged.”

They kept themselves open to alternate possibilities, whether that meant leasing instead of owning or moving to another state. In the end, they felt a strong pull to stay in Western North Carolina where they had relationships throughout the food and farm community.

An opportunity eventually came via NC FarmLink, a resource from NC State Extension that connects landowners and farmers. “I had seen the farm on the real estate market a few months before,” says Noah, “so when it popped up on FarmLink as a lease I thought, ’What happened, it didn’t sell?’ Someone had purchased the land with intention of leasing it at an accessible rate for small farmers.”

Even though they hadn’t lived in McDowell County before, “we were basically one degree of separation from all the farmers in the area, which made it easy to connect,” says Lyric. They guess they saved around $20,000 in their first year borrowing tools and equipment from their neighbors. One of those neighbors turned out to be Eileen Droescher of Ol’ Turtle Farm. “She’s been rocking it as a farmer as long as we’ve been alive,” says Noah. “She’s been very generous.”

Resilient Systems

While they’ve had other “micro challenges,” as Noah puts it, both describe their first year of farming in joyful terms. They are establishing new systems on land previously used only as horse pasture, which has inherent challenges. Through a grant, they were able to purchase a keyline plow, a unique tool designed to break up deep compaction in subsoil without disturbing the surface. In just a year, they’ve seen the impact in how rainwater filtrates the soil rather than pool on the surface. Since they only know of one other keyline plow in the state, they plan to rent it out in the future so other farmers can access it.

Another challenge was weather, which may or may not represent a pattern for future years. McDowell County experienced a dry 2023, but when it did rain, it often dropped two or three inches in a half a day. “So we’re looking at how we can design resilient systems that can be adaptive to this climate,” says Lyric. “It’s like a puzzle.”

“A stimulating puzzle,” agrees Noah, noting that there are layers to building those systems and while some they can implement now, others will take decades to establish.

The past year has been all about trying things to see what works best—for them as farmers, for their land, and in their community. “We have a rough draft and we’re refining it,” says Noah. “Now it’s the time to find all of the sticking points and weak links and refine each of the enterprises to be functioning as optimally as possible.”

“But we’re not throwing anything out the window,” Lyric emphasizes. “That feels like a really powerful place to be. I’m really proud that the rough draft worked.”

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