Raised Right

Cane Creek Farm Forever Protected

Written by Brianna Haferman, Piedmont Land Conservancy Director of Communication and Engagement

Even on a frosty, 25 degree February morning, Cane Creek Farm is a place that feels wonderfully alive. 

Two red shouldered hawks huddled around a nest cry out from a big oak tree. Piglets go from resting in a pile in the sunshine to testing their abilities as they squeal and sprint around. From various other fields, farm sounds ring across the morning – a donkey’s distinct bray, chicken squabbles, and a cat meowing as it trots toward my feet.

The bucolic splendor doesn’t make the work any less tough. I met Eliza MacLean, owner of Cane Creek Farm, first thing on a Tuesday. Right at my arrival tractors were kicked into gear to take on a big task list: Moving a sow (mother pig) and her piglets to a new field, tracking down a sheep that had been evading capture, and fixing a broken hose line.

A sow (Momma Pig) sticks her head out of the farrowing house surrounded by her piglets

“I realized people weren’t going to stop eating meat, so I thought at least that meat needed to be raised right,"

- Eliza MacLean,
Owner of Cane Creek Farm

Eliza MacLean, owner of Cane Creek Farm, busy on a cool winter morning.

Eliza’s transparent and authentic farming methods at Cane Creek Farm have been well documented and celebrated. Her farm, located in southern Alamance County, has been featured by the New York Times, PBS Tastemakers, Cooked (a Netflix Series, episode 1), Our State Magazine, and more.

“I realized people weren’t going to stop eating meat, so I thought at least that meat needed to be raised right,” she shared.

I was amazed as I watched sheep, geese, guineafowl, cats, dogs, chickens, and peacocks interacting peacefully, but to Eliza this was common. She remarked, “These are natural habits of domesticated animals. It’s how it was for hundreds of years on farms.” 

Recently, she’s taken her farming philosophy one step further by placing a conservation agreement with Piedmont Land Conservancy (PLC) on 50 acres of her land. Her passion and pride in the old methods of small family farms were a big part of why she took this step to protect her land. In her view, the conservation agreement will make the land more valuable in some ways. “Usable land is becoming, even in Alamance County finally, a dwindling asset.” she said.

Guinea fowl stroll freely through a pig pasture
Eliza breaking up a squabble between two sows

The Importance of Farmland in Alamance County

Alamance County is projected to lose 30-45% of its farmland to development by 2040, according to a report by American Farmland Trust. In a part of our state with a strong farming community in place and prime soils, we need to protect this farmland not only to save rural character but also to help protect our food security. With a conservation agreement in place, Eliza’s 50 acres will never be developed and will be protected for agriculture forever.

“Agriculture is a very dynamic business. By protecting farms in the Piedmont we are preserving the future potential for local production of any kind of agricultural commodity from vegetables, honey bees, livestock, tree crops, to items not yet known. We’ll keep working hard to save farmland in this region,” said Kevin Redding, PLC Executive Director.

Curious piglets checking out the camera

“I still believe that Alamance County could and should be the food capital of the world.”

- Eliza MacLean,
Owner of Cane Creek Farm

With an incredible variety of products, from mushrooms to wool and cotton, grains to vineyards, or fruit trees to livestock, and more, Alamance County has a strong agricultural future. According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, 98% of farms in Alamance County are family farms with almost 100 farms selling directly to consumers. 

To protect farmland in Alamance County, PLC partners with Alamance County Voluntary Agricultural District, and the NC Agriculture Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. With these partners, PLC has protected over 1,800 acres of farmland on 14 different farms, one of which includes Eliza’s neighbor, Ran-Lew Dairy. 

 “I still believe that Alamance County could and should be the food capital of the world.” says Eliza MacLean. 

Raising Animals Right

As we talked, I watched as a sow push over a water trough that was just filled. Pigs, which are known for tearing up everything they touch, aren’t easy to raise. Factory farming methods would keep them penned inside on a concrete pad to take out the extra work, but as Eliza says, “All that takes away any life for the animals.” 

Eliza raises her animals entirely different from that of large-scale pork producers. She practices rotational grazing, periodically moving the animals through pastures and woods, ensuring that both the soils and the pigs are healthier and happier. After the pigs do the tilling and have created an excellent topsoil, she’ll plant her garden.

The hogs graze on a diverse diet comprising nuts, grubs, roots, and vegetation, supplemented with a high-barley feed, yielding pork of exceptional quality. They are never confined, and piglets are raised by their mothers without human interference. 

If you’re interested in supporting food raised right and on protected land, you can buy Eliza’s products at Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, NC.

An Ossabaw Island Hog, a breed of pig from the feral population on Ossabaw Island, Georgia, crosses a field. In the distance is Ran-Lew Dairy, another PLC protected farm.

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