Cathy Payne used to live in a comfortable suburb of Atlanta where she worked as an educator, earning her doctorate in reading education in 2004. Her husband Jon traveled much of the time for job in a high tech industry. She describes their careers as “very busy and high stress.”
Due to some health problems they began to research solutions. They interviewed sustainable health experts and visited area farms. Cathy says, “One day we just woke up and decided to become producers.”
Now you’ll find the Paynes on their farm, Broad River Pastures, where they raise heritage livestock breeds and nutrient-dense produce such as sweet potatoes, herbs, and melons. They’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to help them advance their efforts to save endangered livestock breeds. Their campaign perks include homemade dog treats, farm scenery cards, wool from their rare Gulf Coast sheep, and pastured pork.
It used to be rare to hear about people leaving successful careers to become farmers. But such tales are becoming more and more common, a heartening sign when the number of farms in the U.S. declined from seven million to two million in 70 years, as ever larger agricultural operations took over. This, despite strong evidence that small farms are more productive.
Cathy doesn’t have to dress up for work these days. She wakes to the natural beauty of the farm and pulls on comfortable clothes to tend rabbits, care for sheep, feed pigs, and talk to customers while finding time to indulge in research. She’s still an educator, teaching about sustainable foodways through their internship and homestead classes.
We asked Cathy to tell us what she’s learned as a heritage breed geek.
GeekMom: How do you apply your geeky interests to this venture?
Cathy Payne: Jon applies his engineering and technical skills to designing practical solutions to problems or needs we have, making our work less physically demanding or to help us give better care to our livestock.
I use my iPhone notes to track sales, health checks, weather, moon cycles, and more. For our Indiegogo fundraiser, I wanted a T-shirt design to showcase a rare, heritage pig. I photographed a pig during a farm visit with my iPhone, then sent it off to Sketch My Photo for a sketch. Teelaunch is putting that artwork on an organic 100% cotton t-shirt as one of our 20 promotion perks for contributors.
GM: Can you tell us why pasturing livestock is important?
CP: When you buy your meat at the grocery store, it was most likely raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Commercial meat production has many drawbacks compared to a pasture based model. In a CAFO, pigs, poultry, and cattle are raised on concrete or dirt, force fed large amounts of “balanced” food that may contain GMO grain, meat by-products, cardboard, animal manure, steroid hormones, candy and bakery waste, rancid oils, and antibiotics. This is generally for the last few weeks of the animal’s life in the case of ruminants, but the entire life for a pig. All of these grains shut off the production of a fat-burning, muscle-building fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), decreasing the nutrients then passed on to the end consumer. The ingestion of antibiotics through the meat also contributes to side effects and antibiotic resistance in humans. Ninety percent of all antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. are fed to livestock.
The waste of CAFO animals ends up in huge latrines that can pollute the water table and leach to neighboring farms, polluting lettuce, sprouts, cantaloupe, and spinach. Ruminants like cows fed corn and soy instead of grass develop acidosis that allows forms of E Coli to grow in their stomach that would not normally live there. This can end up in the waste water or in the ground meat.
GM: Tell us a little more about nutrient dense foods.
CP: Nutrient dense foods carry a lot of bang for the buck. A six-dollar meal at a fast food restaurant may have many calories but few nutrients, leaving you hungry for more. But six dollars worth of eggs from a pastured hen will be rich in vitamins A and D and other nutrients, provide several breakfasts, and leave you very satisfied until lunchtime. Grass fed and finished beef and lamb will include CLA, have clean livers, and have a very healthy fat layer. Pastured pigs will develop a flavor based on the dirt and pasture grasses they consume. Foods rich in vitamins A and D were considered sacred by traditional populations and reserved for young couples of child bearing age in order to help them have healthy children with broad palates that did not require braces. Dental caries were almost unknown.
GM: Tell us a little about why you emphasize heritage breeds.
CP: Heritage breeds are the kind of livestock developed to thrive in particular regions for specific purposes. They add diversity to our food system and impart unique flavors to the palate. They have always been raised on pasture, either with or without access to a permanent shelter such as a barn. While modern breeds are suitable for harsh lights and crowded conditions, they are useless when raised on pasture. Of 7,500 livestock breeds, most are in danger of extinction. Only 19 breeds represent 90 percent of the food in grocery stores. They are disappearing at the rate of 1-6 breeds per month. We are dedicated to raising American breeds to keep them in production for our children and our grandchildren. We raise Gulf Coast Sheep, American rabbits, and Silver Fox rabbits, all American breeds. We also have two farm collies that are registered English Shepherds, another rare American breed.
GM: Can you share an experience from the farm?
CP: This summer, one of our Buff Brahma heritage hens left her flock and moved into the dog house with our Great Pyrenees, Belle. Belle’s job is to keep coyotes at bay and watch over all the livestock. Once I realized she was determined to sit in there on her eggs, I gave her a few eggs of purebred poultry to hatch. When the first chick hatched, “Buffy” lost interest in the rest of the eggs. She was totally enthralled with her new Dominique chick. I enclosed them both into a chain link pen. At that point, Belle moved out of her dog house and started keeping watch next to the pen to make sure that Buffy and the new chick were not bothered by the barn cat or puppy, since the chick had a habit of running in and out of the chain link. Too cute!
GM: What’s next?
CP: We are currently having an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to help us start a herd of very rare American Guinea Hogs, a small, friendly homestead pig. If we raise enough funds we will also build additional housing for our growing flock of sheep and purchase replacement supplies for our meat rabbits.
GeekMom readers who want to help can contribute to the campaign, share the campaign with their friends using the social media buttons on the campaign page, locate heritage meat, egg, and fiber from the Slow Ark of Food (Slow Food USA), find slow food producers through Local Harvest, or locate products from heritage breeds at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Thank you for preserving these breeds for future generations!
The Paynes are dad and stepmom to our own GeekMom, Brigid Ashwood. Glad to meet up, via the tubes!