The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

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June 25, 2014

Home grown

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 — Usually merchandise precedes a market. In order to sell something, there’s got to be something to sell first.

“But we did things a little backwards,” Carolyn Davis, of Natural Spring Farms, said.

Before the Davis family even had its first cow on the farm, they were selling it.

“It was just too much of an expense for us to cover ourselves,” she said.

So she asked friends if they would buy a portion of the yet non-existent cow.

“It’s actually turned out to be a great business model,” she said.

Not the imaginary cow part — the sharing the cost part.

Cow pooling, as the process is called, (or pork pooling in the case of pigs) has become the primary sales model for Natural Spring Farms.

“It’s really the least expensive way to go, per unit, per pound,” she said.

While they also sell their meats by the cut now, cow and pork pooling remains one of their most popular options.

Customers can buy pigs in quarters and cows in eighths, essentially getting prime cuts for about the same price, per pound, that they would pay for ground chuck at the grocery store.

“It’s a lot of meat at one time, but if you know what to do with it, it’s a great bargain,” Davis said.

After that first cow, which became more than just imaginary in 2009, she said it became relatively easy to find a larger market for those kind of meat sales.

“I would get on mommy blogs and online boards and ask if people would be interested in seeing more of this,” she said.

“I found out there were a lot of people who were interested.”

By the next year they had enough people pitch in to get four cows.

“I think what people love the most is the fact that it’s non-GMO, grass fed, local product,” Davis said.

Their farm made a purposeful decision to market to that kind of environmentally sustainable niche, she said.

“We’d like to see more of that on the shelves ourselves and this is a way we support that,” she said.

They try to support that creed in the field crop market, too, by getting their chicken feed exclusively from Barrier Farms, a local non-GMO field crop farm.

But going local, free-range and environmentally sustainable has not hurt prices any, she said.

“You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg,” she said.

“I want people to realize this can be affordable.”

To give more people those reasonable prices, she said the farm has worked hard to expand its operations for the past couple of years.

In 2012, they bought a farm that was in foreclosure near Reed Gold Mine, bumping the size of their farm up to 90 acres.

They added pigs to that farm in 2013 and this year they live-birthed their own pork stock, rather than order them from somewhere else.

“I’d love to start live birthing our own cattle soon, too, if we can,” she said.

Of course the expansion hasn’t come without some growing pains.

In order to focus on growing the farm, Natural Springs decided to sell its Go Local Mobile Farmers Market business in 2012.

The Davis family developed Go Local as a go-between for customers and local farmers.

Customers can place orders for local produce through their website, farmers put the orders together and then Go Local takes the orders to a number of local delivery points for pick up.

“It was very successful,” she said.

“Everything came together just right for it.”

Carolyn’s husband Jim designed the website, while she talked to the farmers. Their children even helped from time to time.

“But we focused so much on the market that the farm wasn’t growing,” she said.

Once again, she said, they were a little flip-flopped, creating a market before they had the farm under their belts.

“Go Local is still up and running, we just needed to step out of it,” she said.

It is a decision, she said, that is already paying off, and in more ways than just money.

“[The farm] is definitely something my kids are getting interested in,” she said.

Jessica, 15, has been thinking about taking over their 150 chicken egg business. Katie, 13, has began helping out at farmers markets this year.

While their son is still a little too young to help out with the pigs, cows and chickens, he has taken to selling lemonade at the markets.

“If this is something they decide they want to do, then we’ll definitely give them every way to be a part of it,” she said.

“My father was a dairy farmer in West Virginia and that was very much part of my childhood. I got away from it, but I’m so glad to get back into it. … I think [my kids] will fondly remember being out in the country, being a part of the farm community. I’m glad for them, too.”

Natural Spring Farms sells its products at the Stanly County Farmers Market on Saturday, at the Stanly Commons Market on Monday and at various locations in Mt. Pleasant throughout the week.

Schedules are available online at www.naturalspringfarms.com.

Orders can also be placed online or at (704) 796-4168 and pick up can be scheduled at the farm or at various nearby locations.

To submit story ideas, contact Shannon Beamon at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24 or at shannon@stanlynewspress.com.

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