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Start-up farm focused on sustainability

By Julie N. Chang | The News Herald

Jennifer Frew | The News Herald

Farmer William Lyons checks in on his pigs at Bluebird Farm in Morganton. Lyons and partner Marie Williamson are value local food that has been grown and raised organically.

MORGANTON - Marie Williamson and William Lyons are proponents of producing healthy foods for healthy bodies in environmentally sound ways. As nurturers of nature, the process seems to come naturally to the duo.

Williamson and Lyons are the owners and operators of Bluebird Farm, 4178 Bluebird Drive, a new venture for the 2007 Warren Wilson College graduates. Since their graduation, Williamson and Lyons have worked on farms in Colorado and have toured various farms in Europe.

The farmers wanted the challenge of a different environment than Colorado's, Williamson said. The farming season there runs from May to October with a chance of snow. So they chose to return to North Carolina.

Williamson, who grew up on the property, said her family has always had farm animals and a garden, but for the first time she's selling products from the farm. Both Williamson and Lyons talk about the process with ease and eagerness, delving into producing and protecting soil.

The duo began planting in September and have more than a dozen vegetables on hand, with many others just sprouting and plans for more. They butchered the meat chickens two weeks ago, and have the pigs and laying hens in mobile pens.

"It's like people — if you eat healthy things then you're healthy," Williamson. This is a cycle Williamson and Lyons emphasized several times in regard to human, animal and environmental health.

Lyons said the farm's focus is on sustainability and providing food for local consumers. That means there's little outside input to the farm, maintaining the soil's health increases the longevity of its use and there is less dependence on fossil fuels.

"International organic is not sustainable," Lyons said of organic foods that leave a large carbon footprint.

The farm itself isn't certified organic, and the owners aren't sure of whether to seek that certification. Williamson said federal guidelines are rigorous for organic livestock and acquiring organic feed is a challenge, but the produce on the farm is grown with organic procedures.

"The industry organic is not always a sustainable one," Williamson said, echoing Lyons.

Part of sustainable farming includes avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, Lyons said. Manure and compost are used as fertilizers, and the farm will make use of certified organic pesticides when necessary.

The soil in the garden, and following expansion, was prepared by hand, Lyons said, in the hopes of not disturbing the soil too much.

"Good" weeds over run unplanted patches of the garden, Lyons said, to provide nutrients until the patch of soil is needed.

Williamson said the farm would make use of a permanent garden bed and rotational plots.

Lyons said on rotational plots, the farm animals are set to pasture for an allotted period of time. Later on, produce can be planted on the same plot. Moving the animals also prevents parasite buildup.

That's what the seven pigs are currently doing in their mobile pen. In addition to the lack of grass in winter and its wetness, the pigs are penned for the moment, Lyons said.

The pigs gathered around Williamson as she distributed a meal of ground soybeans and corn onto the pen's hay lining. Lyons said it encourages the pigs to aerate the soil.

The pigs' diet will change a few weeks before they are slaughtered, Lyons said, because that affects their flavor.

In the spring, Bluebird Farms hopes to run a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation, Williamson said. Local consumers can purchase a subscription and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week.

Williamson said the experience is different than going to a farmer's market because a CSA belongs to a community that can share newsletters, recipes or farm activities.

The garden has already expanded, and in the spring the duo plans to plant varieties of produce in order to extend the season they available, Williamson said. Plans are also in place for the apple, persimmon and pear trees that are currently in various stages of growth.

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