When spring arrives in North Carolina, so does a bounty of fresh food from the field. Head east to Wayne County for an escape to the country and meet the folks who are opening their pasture gates and farm markets and inviting visitors to get an up-close look at what it takes to get food from farm to table. You might just a find a treat at every location.
Pick a Pint — and Pet the Pasture Gang
Although the Odom family has been farming in Goldsboro since 1947, it wasn’t until third generation farmers JR, Emily, James, and Reese Odom took over Odom Farming Company in 2010 that the farm opened to visitors.
“My eyes have been opened to just how removed people are from their food and farming,” Emily says. “It’s easy to go to the grocery store and buy strawberries — people don’t think about the work it takes to get them there.”
The farm offer something new every season: u-pick strawberries in the spring, a sunflower maze in the summer, and a pumpkin patch and corn maze in the fall. The farm is also home to a menagerie of animals, including donkeys, goats, and pigs. Emily calls them the “Pasture Gang.” “They are probably our most loved attraction,” she says. “Most of them are very friendly and thrive on the attention.”
What to try: Pick pints of strawberries this spring and eat them fresh, make strawberry shortcakes, or use them to make jams you can enjoy all year long.
Odom Farming Company offers something new every season: u-pick strawberries in the spring, a sunflower maze in the summer, and a pumpkin patch and corn maze in the fall. photograph by Visit Goldsboro
Start Kidding Around
Debbie Craig believes that each of the 1,000 Alpine, Tonnenberg, and Saanen goats on Holly Grove Farms have distinct personalities, and she loves introducing them to visitors.
“We had one doe when we first started milking that would always come visit before she would go to the milk parlor — it was like she had to come say hello before she would be on her way,” Craig says. “Now, we have a little doeling that jumps out of her pen when we come to feed; she just can’t wait.”
Craig is a third-generation farmer and operates one of the few women-owned goat farms and creameries in the country. At 65 acres, Holly Grove Farms is also the largest dairy goat farm in North Carolina. Craig milks her pasture-raised goats twice a day, in the morning and evening, and uses their milk to make fresh chèvre, a creamy, spreadable cheese in flavors like basil, chives, jalapeño, and “Summertyme Blue.”
“We’re a farmstead operation, and we do everything from start to finish on-site,” Craig says. “[We added an agritourism element to the farm] in response to people’s curiosity about how a goat dairy worked.”
The farm store, located in the middle of the farm, is open to the public on Saturdays, and provides the perfect spot to taste cheese and shop for goat’s milk soap while watching the goats leap around the pasture or climb on hay bales. Kidding season runs from January to May and is the best time to see babies on the farm.
What to try: Purchase fresh chèvre to eat with crackers, or warm it in the oven and use the oven baked goat cheese in a salad. Yum.
At Holly Grove Farms, the largest dairy goat farm in North Carolina, Debbie Craig uses the milk to make fresh chèvre. photograph by Visit Goldsboro
Sit a Spell
The fourth-generation farmers behind Goldsboro’s Cheshire Pork also operate Heritage Farms General Store, an old-timey shop with rocking chairs on the charming wrap-around front porch.
In addition to premium pork products ranging from bacon and ribs to sausage and charcuterie, the store stocks gourmet sauces, rubs, wines, apparel, toys, and other locally sourced gourmet goodies and provisions.
What to try: This is your spot to stop for handspun ice cream and famous milkshakes. You’re welcome.
At the old-timey Heritage Farms General Store, browse premium pork products, locally sourced gourmet goodies, delicious handspun ice cream and milkshakes, toys, apparel, and more. photograph by Visit Goldsboro
Relish a Local Brand
Mt. Olive Pickle Company purchases 160 million pounds of cucumbers and peppers every year — and one third of that harvest comes from North Carolina farms.
“People are often surprised to learn that there is a town called Mount Olive, and we’re a homegrown brand,” says Lynn Williams, public relations manager for Mt. Olive Pickle Company and co-chair of the North Carolina Pickle Festival.
The pickling plant, located on the corner of Cucumber and Vine streets in Mount Olive, opened in 1926 and has grown into a beloved brand. Although the plant is not open for tours, you can take a video tour and shop online for pickle-related goodies from the popular gift shop.
Mt. Olive Pickle Company is also a title sponsor of the annual North Carolina Pickle Festival. The 2021 festival, which will be held April 23 and 24, includes a recipe contest and virtual pickle eating competition.
What to try: Fresh dill pickles might be their flagship product, but pickled Vidalia onions, pickle chips, and pickle juice are also a “big dill” for the brand — and they’re delicious.
Fresh dill pickles might be their flagship product, but pickled Vidalia onions, pickle chips, and pickle juice are other delicious options from Mt. Olive Pickle Company. photograph by Visit Goldsboro
Unwind Among the Vines
The muscadine is the official fruit of North Carolina and it grows in abundance at A Secret Garden Winery in Pikeville. Here, the sweet grapes are the key to the winery’s success.
“My mom used to say, ‘You can’t make good wine with bad fruit,’” recalls third-generation farmer Linda Wall Hall.
Hall started growing Carlos and Noble grapevines in 2002. Since then, she’s transformed the land where her family grew corn, soybeans, cotton, and tobacco into a vineyard that produces delicious red, white, and blush wines. (The farm is also home to several beehives and Hall plans to start making mead.) All the wines are naturally fermented without chemicals or preservatives.
“We harvest the fruit and crush it, so the natural yeast gets to the sugar — the byproduct is wine,” she explains.
Hall offers tours of the winery by appointment and serves samples in the tasting room; she also encourages visitors to explore the vineyard — or simply order a glass of wine, take a seat on the patio and enjoy the view.
What to try: Ready to sip? Pop the cork on Hush Hush Blush, a popular sweet wine made with a blend of Carlos and Noble grapes.
Linda Wall Hall has transformed the land where her family grew corn, soybeans, cotton, and tobacco into a vineyard that produces delicious red, white, and blush wines. photograph by Visit Goldsboro
Churn Butter Like Charles
Register for workshops at the Gov. Charles B. Aycock Birthplace to learn how to churn butter at the reconstructed homesite of the former governor, who was born here in 1859.
The living history site’s heirloom garden and farm, where chickens and sheep roam the pastures, hosts demonstrations most Wednesdays in April, May, October, and November. Stop by for living history demonstrations on blacksmithing, outdoor cooking, lye soap-making, woodworking, candle making, and gardening. Or simply pack a picnic, bring the family, and breathe in the fresh air.
What to try: If you’ve never tried hand-churned butter, you’re missing out.
At the Gov. Charles B. Aycock Birthplace, learn how to churn butter, see chickens and sheep roam the pastures, and watch living history demonstrations. photograph by Visit Goldsboro
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