Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Cox Family: Shiny C Farm

By Paige Campbell
At Shiny C Farm in Fall Branch, Texas Longhorn cattle graze, corn reaches toward the sun and 7-year-old Cheyenne Cox rides the tractor with her father, Brent, as he works the land.

The “C” is for Cheyenne, Brent and Jeri Cox’s daughter, who has taken her special seat on her dad’s tractor ever since she was a toddler. The “Shiny” is for her bubbly personality, a happy energy both parents say motivates them as they work to establish a sustainable family farm.  

Successful farming nowadays is no small task, says Brent from their Jonesborough Farmers Market booth, where he sells his Shiny C Farm’s signature grass-fed Texas Longhorn beef – especially when you also work full time. Brent and Jeri both work at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport. That leaves little time to devote to their long-term goal of building the farm into a self-supporting enterprise.

“If I’m not at work, I’m out there on the farm,” Brent said simply. 

For the most part, though, he doesn’t mind. “I used to hunt a lot. And some of the guys I work with like to go out and golf or fish. I just like to farm.”
“To be blunt, it’s in his blood,” Jeri said.  “If he lives long enough, he will make this dream a reality.”

That dream has deep roots. Brent spent much of his childhood growing up on his grandfather’s dairy farm, not far from the Fall Branch land where Shiny C Farm operates today. “I grew up milking cows and doing farm work,” he said. “And I’ve always had a few head of cattle of my own.” 

That hobby evolved into a business plan shortly after Brent’s grandfather passed away. Soon, the family began taking on different projects at the farm. It made sense, Brent said, to try a variety of farming strategies to see what would work best on that particular land, so in addition to raising standard commercial beef cattle, they also began to specialize in direct-to-consumer sales of distinctively lean Texas Longhorns.

“I have high cholesterol,” Jeri said. “But he’s a beef-eater and doesn’t care much for chicken. We needed to find a middle ground.” 

Longhorn meat has just a fraction of the fat found in typical ground beef, and about half the calories, according to data from Texas A&M University. It cooks slightly faster, the Coxes say, but otherwise requires no special preparation techniques.

Also on the Coxes’ 700 acres is a second-year crop of corn, another one of Brent’s efforts to diversify the farm’s offerings to build long-term stability. When that crop nearly failed last summer during a long dry spell, the hard reality of the agriculture business hit home. 

“You’re so dependent on the weather,” Brent said. “Even if you’re knowledgeable, it can always throw you curveballs.”

But luck was on the family’s side. “We got rain in our area just in the nick of time,” Jeri said. 

The first years corn crop was a success.  This year the Coxes have doubled their acreage in corn and added 400 acres of hay.

Another new venture they have tried was to sell their products through the online market for the first time this past winter.   “I wasn’t sure what I was getting into—honestly I was hesitant to try it.   But it turned out to be really easy to manage and we gained lots of new customers.  And it helped us keep some farm income during the winter,” said Jeri.  “Seems like we’re learning something new all the time.”

The Coxes are both very grateful for their good fortune.  Brent puts it this way:  “We feel very blessed that we’ve got the good health to farm, and have been rewarded in our efforts.”  Jeri says, “It’s long hours, great risk, and a loss of leisure time but the end result is great, when things come together just right.  It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while all the dots connect.”

At home with his animals, especially the Longhorns, Brent also sees great reward in the day-to-day work itself. “It’s relaxing, to me. And [the cattle] are just pretty to look at,” he said. “I’ve had times where they’re looking at me with the sun setting between their horns and I’ve wished I had a camera. And I have some that are like pets. They’ll come right up to me.”

Jeri laughed. “Sometimes I wonder which is better, being his wife or being a cow,” she said. “He talks so sweet to them.” 

Find Shiny C Farm products, like steaks, roasts, briskets, ribs, and hamburger at the Jonesborough Farmers Market.  If they’re not in their big trailer, you will find Jeri sharing booth space with Chris Wilson of Clover Creek Farm.  The market is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon on Courthouse Square.  Contact Shiny C Farm at 423-384-1171 or

Recipe:  Cowboy Beans
by Jeri Cox

This is a recipe that was passed from my grandmother to my mother and then to me. It is easy, perfect for summer picnics and a real crowd pleaser. 

1 lb. Shiny C Farm Ground Beef
1/2 cup of chopped onion
2 - 16 oz. cans of Van Camps pork and beans
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. Tabasco Sauce or Worcestershire Sauce  (I prefer Worcestershire Sauce)
2 Tbsp. Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Sugar

Brown ground beef and onion in skillet.* Add the rest of the ingredients to the pork and beans and then add browned ground beef and onion in a casserole dish and bake for 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

*Longhorn Beef cooking tips
Grass fed Texas Longhorn meat has less fat, so it cooks quickly.  If you cook lean beef as fast as feedlot beef you will overcook it and the meat will be tough.

For best results, brown longhorn ground beef on medium heat. 
Burgers will also cook quickly with little shrinkage.  Cook on lower heat and watch them closely.
When grilling Steaks, sear on high heat to seal in juices and turn meat frequently until reaches desired doneness (160 degrees on meat thermometer).

Source:  Texas Longhorn Cooperative

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dominick Haynes

By Kasey Jones
Dominick Haynes has the canopy and a table full of produce like other vendors at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. He has the chalkboard sign and he can talk about his produce like any of his fellow farmers. Unlike his fellow farmers, Haynes is 15 years old – and this is his sixth year as a vendor at the Jonesborough market. 

The Jonesborough native is a freshman at University School. His decision to begin gardening was largely influenced by his father, Dan, who has had a garden for as long as Haynes can remember. “My Dad told me I always liked to play in the dirt – since I was at least 2 years old,” he says.

Haynes first began gardening on his own when he was 9. A neighbor plowed the empty lot next to Haynes’ house and offered him some garden space. Haynes began planting and when his crops were ready for harvest, they were bountiful. He sold the excess at the farmers market during its very first season in 2008.

“Once he sold the first tomato, he was hooked” say parents Dan and Mimi Haynes. 
He has been a regular, full-season vendor at the market ever since.

Haynes works hard to balance school and gardening while pursuing other interests, such as golf and skiing. It isn’t always easy. Haynes estimates he spends an average of 12 hours in his garden each week. Depending on the weather and his homework load, the number of hours that he spends outside may increase. 

“Sometimes I’m up until 10 p.m. doing homework,” said Haynes. “Then it’s dark, so I installed a spotlight so I can work after dark if I have to – especially when the days get shorter.”

Haynes spends most of his time in the garden either planting or weeding. “Weeding especially,” he said. “Weeds are very prevalent around here. I have to make [my garden] look nice so that if someone comes by they don’t see crazy 3-foot-tall weeds.” 

Haynes is doing extra duty in the garden right now to prepare for the May 25 Garden Gala, when his will be one of the featured gardens on the tour. “I’ve been on the garden tour before,” he says. “ It’s great. I love to talk to people about my garden.”

Tomatoes, peppers, root vegetables, strawberries, cabbage, leeks, greens, herbs and potatoes populate Haynes’ garden. “A little bit of everything,” he said. “I even grew cotton once, just to see if I could.” 

He also enjoys growing sweet potatoes, because “it’s fun to dig them up and see what you’ve grown.” 
Last year, Haynes grew all the leeks that were served at the Farm to Table Dinner.  New for this year?  “I’m growing lettuce for the first time,” he says with a grin, “and it’s selling really well.”

Kohlrabi or German cabbage is a vegetable that Haynes grew by request. “One of my customers asked for it, and gave me some seeds,” he says. 

The first seeds didn’t grow well, but eventually Haynes found plants to start with and he now raises kohlrabi for a growing base of customers.

This year, the cool spring weather has slowed the garden’s progress a little, but Haynes expects to have some kohlrabi at the market in the next couple of weeks.

While Haynes sells the majority of his vegetables, he is particular about the quality of his product. “I eat the ones that aren’t perfect,” Haynes says. “If it has a small spot on it I won’t sell it.

“But there will always be countless tomatoes like that, so our family eats those. We don’t have to go and buy a lot of vegetables during the summer months.”

Recipe:  Kohlrabi Sautee
What is Kohlrabi?
Martha Stewart living describes it this way: “the texture of a radish with the sweetness of a jicama, and a slight hint of broccoli, and the leaves are like mild collards.” Use the bulb chopped raw in salads, tossed with salt and olive oil and baked, or sautéed as suggested in the following recipe.
Cook cubes of peeled kohlrabi and thinly sliced white onion in unsalted butter over medium-high heat until almost tender. Stir in finely shredded kohlrabi leaves and cook until wilted. Add a generous splash of heavy cream, and cook for a few seconds to reduce. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. 
Serve with chicken, pork chops, or steak.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Felicia McKee: Midway Fields Microgreens

By Kasey Jones
Just by driving by Felicia McKee’s house, one wouldn’t know that she has a thriving gardening business. Unlike most gardeners, McKee’s main product grows inside her house, rather than outside. McKee grows and sells microgreens at the Jonesborough Famers Market.

McKee began Midway Fields Microgreens three years ago after going to the Jonesborough Farmers Market as a customer. “I would see everything that everyone would have and it would be a lot of stuff that I had in my own garden,” said McKee, “so I wanted to grow something that no one else had — something different and unique. That’s when I got the idea of the microgreens.”

A microgreen is exactly what it sounds like — a micro-version of a green plant. These nutritious plants are harvested between the sprout stage and the full-grown plant stage. Microgreens are often confused with sprouts. Unlike the underdeveloped sprouts, which are grown in damp, warm and dark conditions and could harbor E. Coli and other bacteria, microgreens are grown with sunshine, fresh air and water.

“A lot of people have heard of sprouts, and you can go to the health food store or the salad bar and see sprouts, but sprouts are the first stage of the microgreen,” said McKee. “I actually start them out as sprouts, but then I take the sprouts and I put them in dirt and grow them. That’s what makes them okay to sell, because a lot of people don’t know that you can’t sell sprouts at a farmers market.”

The tiny microgreen packs a punch with respect to nutrients, containing protein, calcium, vitamins A, B, C, G and E, as well as iron, phosphorus, magnesium and chlorophyll. “They’re better for you than spinach,” said McKee, “The nutrients are more concentrated because they are grown and harvested within 10 days.”

 “Some plants don’t do well as a microgreen because they’re hard to grow,” said McKee. “Some things like to really hold on to their seeds and they’re just so labor intensive to cut and they’re just so tiny.” However, there are a number of plants that can be more easily harvested in the microgreen stage, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, radishes, dun pea, buckwheat, and McKee’s primary product, the sunflower.

For those who haven’t tried microgreens, McKee encourages people to use try them, especially in salads.  The sunflower microgreen is actually substantial enough that you can make a whole salad out of it, instead of lettuce, and just use that as the base of your salad. “It’s 10 times more nutrients, vitamins and minerals,” says McKee,  “Pretty much anything you can do with raw lettuce and more, you can do with microgreens.”


Recipe:  Veggie Wrap with Microgreens

Spinach tortilla
Goat cheese (plain, flavored, or another spreadable cheese)
1 whole small chopped tomato*
½ chopped cucumber
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

Smear the goat cheese evenly onto the tortilla. Place a thick layer of microgreens across the center of the tortilla, following with chopped tomato and chopped cucumber. Add sea salt and cracked black pepper for seasoning as needed.

*McKee also uses Roma tomatoes because they have more meat and less pulp, seed and juice. She also recommends almonds and dried cranberries as potential additions to the wrap.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Perry Phillips

By Lise Cutshaw
As the cold winds and snow blew in February, Perry Phillips was at work in his humid 80-degree wood-stove stoked basement. At his well-equipped potting bench, seeds are sorted and sown, cuttings are plucked and planted. “What I like best is when you start your plants and cuttings in February that means springtime is not far away,” he says. “The worst thing is when you leave things outside when the weatherman predicts low 40s and it went low 30s, and you find they’re all laying over sideways because they got chilled. That has happened about once every year.”

The results of Phillips’ experiments, his “hobby”, are homegrown bushes, perennials and vegetable plants that populate the perimeter of his spacious East Main Street, Jonesborough, yard and fill his basement.  Phillips grows bushes such as golden euonymus, nandina with and without berries, spirea, althea, knockout roses in a rainbow of colors, holly, butterfly bushes and  “tame” thornless blackberries; perennials, such as Lenten roses, hostas and ferns; and vegetable plants such as heirloom and traditional tomatoes and ornamental peppers. Cucumbers and squash are still snug in the warm basement until time for their debut.

All flora seem to flourish in Phillips’ hands. His affection for nature, he says, springs from his upbringing. “I grew up on 50-acre farm 10 miles below Jonesborough in the Conklin Community with my Mom, Dad and sister,” he says. “I came along in 1950. We grew corn, tobacco, alfalfa, oats and raised cattle, chickens, ducks, all of the above …

“We grew things from the time I was knee-high. We always had big gardens because we grew our own food for the winter – beans and corn and stuff. A lot of times we saved our own seed. You didn’t go out and buy it. You can save your own seed for a year or two and it will maintain its genetic qualities.”

As a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Jonesborough Elementary School for 37 years, Phillips found ways to propagate his love for biology. “While I was teaching, we always did things with the kids pertaining to seedlings, planting things in springtime, raising butterflies from larvae, turning them loose when they had reached their maximum,” he says. “The kids always seemed to like it.”

Phillips won’t sell a plant until it is large, lush and hardy, and that takes patience, often years from seed to full flower. “I grew those blue Big Daddy hostas from seed,” he says, reflecting on his experiment. “All hostas bloom and produce seed, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just try to grow me some of those.’ It took three years for them to be ready.”

Phillips also likes growing knockout roses.   “People tend to like my roses because they are bigger than you can find anywhere else. I rehabilitate them, but it can take up to two years to get them in the condition I like.”

Phillips seems especially proud of his rows of carefully cultivated tomato plants, all from seed, and mostly heirloom. Each is unusual: the Cherokee Purple, an Indian heirloom tomato with “a real study big stem and large foliage and large tomatoes;” Black Cherry and Lemon Pear that “will grow like crazy, producing 200 tomatoes probably per plant;” Lemon Boy and Jubilee, medium-sized yellow tomatoes; Dagma’s Perfection, an heirloom yellow with red streaks; and Peach tomatoes, “the size of a golf ball to a tennis ball with fuzz like a peach.”

And don’t forget the Big Boys. “Some people,” he says with a wry grin, “will say, ‘Don’t you just have any red tomatoes?’ ”
He’s ready for them.
Perry’s growing tip:

As a result of his years of experimentation, Phillips has unearthed one crucial secret to growing the biggest and hardiest plants and he is not shy about sharing it: “Lay the fertilizer on it – plenty of water, sunshine and fertilizer.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Chris Wilson: Clover Creek Farm

By Lise Cutshaw
Chris Wilson grew up on a cattle farm in Scott County, Va., where her mother milked twice a day, made her own buttermilk, and life and work developed naturally, organically. With the exception of two years during which Wilson lived in a subdivision, she has been working a farm from sun up to sun down.

“After we were married, we lived in a subdivision for about two years,” says Wilson, who now looks out from her orange Kubota across 50 acres in Washington County, Tenn., that she and husband Ray call home. “We had a one-plus-acre lot and had a large garden and a few chickens. I quickly found out that was not the life for me, or the family I wanted to have. I felt lost and out of place. Farming is very important to me. Being a good steward of the land and creatures God made is a great mission in life.”

While Ray worked a day-job at Eastman in Kingsport, Chris tended her flocks and family, which includes two now-grown children, Jonathan, and a daughter, Sarah; almost a dozen border collies and friendly, blond Akbash guardian dogs; about 200 sheep; laying hens; guinea hens to keep pests down; an “assisted living” kennel of dogs; and a couple horses. The Wilsons moved from the subdivision to a 25-acre farm in Rock Springs and then, about 20 years ago, to the farm on Harmony Road, where Chris – approved by Animal Welfare – raises free range hair sheep and chickens to sell their meat and eggs through the online and summer Jonesborough Farmers Market and a couple online sites.

“I still feel that you are what you eat,” she says. “My lambs are all grass finished. They don’t have any grain because they are ruminants. Ruminants were designed to live on grass not grains. It’s healthier. It’s more difficult because they finish slower. They finish naturally and I don’t wean my lambs. I let them stay with their mothers and they wean them so they don’t go through a stress period.”

To make a living as a farmer, Chris says nowadays, “you really have to be diversified. If you’re going to make a living on a farm, you have to do a lot of things.”

In addition to what she calls her “green eggs and lamb,” Chris also sells breeding stock and runs a kennel. For some years, she groomed as well as boarded cats and dogs, but neck surgery made that too difficult for her. “So all of that together makes a living,” she says. “It depends on your standard of living. That makes the difference. We don’t go on vacations. We don’t eat out. We don’t belong to a country club except this country … It’s a different lifestyle. It’s more of a lifestyle than a living.”

It’s the lifestyle Chris loves and, despite the investment of time, energy and daylight, she loves the daily fulfilling of her mission in life. She started the farm on Harmony Road, Clover Creek Farm, to be a registered Charolais cattle farm, and had a herd of 25, but she found that sheep were a more practical business, especially for a one-woman farm. She can move an ornery sheep – not so a stubborn Charolais. “I just kind of fell in love with the sheep. It was a real heartbreaking decision but I said, ‘I’m going to sell my cows and I did.’ I cried the day [the cattle] went out but I got over it and I love my sheep.”

Chris was meant to nurture. She helps bring the lambs into the world when necessary, then she and Ray bottle-feed the twins and triplets when the ewes don’t have enough to nurse, sheltered in a barn with their mothers until they are big enough to go to a protected pasture and, later, into a pasture with the other ewes and younglings.

Taking them to be processed into meat to sell is the hardest part of her life as a farmer, she says, and tears trickle down her tanned face as she thinks of that part of the cycle. “The place I process them had to be approved by Animal Welfare which means humane handling facilities and humane harvest, so there’s no beating, banging, shoving, screaming, shocking – none of that. My lambs gently walk off the trailer.”

But she is practical. “If we didn’t eat them, they would have no purpose,” she says, wiping away the tears. “What would you do with them? Everything can’t be a pet. To keep the breed alive, it has to have a purpose. If it nourishes you, that’s its purpose.

“People ask, ‘How can you eat a lamb?’ Well, how can you eat a hamburger? That was once a little tiny calf. How can you eat chicken? Look at those little diddles up there. That’s why they were put here and man put to oversee them.

“I feel I provide the best life possible for these animals until they are harvested. They are never neglected. They are never abused – and I love them.”

And that’s all part of the mission.

Recipe:  Southern Lamb & Grits
Contributed by Chris Wilson:  “This was the grand prize winning recipe at a lamb cook-off, but it’s just real simple. You can come in from work and fix it in a few minutes but it’s really filling and comforting, just real Southern food.”

1 pound ground lamb
1 Tbl Italian sausage seasoning*
Olive oil
3 peppers (1 red, 1 green, 1 yellow)
1 large sweet onion
2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups water
1 cup grits
¾ tsp salt
1 Tbl butter
6 oz shredded parmesean cheese

*If you can not find Italian sausage seasoning , you can make it very easily. Mix red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, sugar and crushed fennel seed. Add to ground lamb to your taste. You can always add more after you have browned lamb.

Mix seasoning into lamb.  Brown in a skillet until done and crumbly.  Remove from heat.
In a clean skillet, drizzle bottom with olive oil and sauté onion and peppers and garlic until tender.  Stir meat into pepper mixture and keep warm on low heat.

Boil 4 cups water.  Add salt and butter and mix in 1 cup grits.  Stir constantly until done.  Mix in parmesean cheese until creamy.

Serve lamb & peppers over grits.

Local ingredient note:  Ground lamb is available from the farmers market and yellow and white grits are ground locally by Shell Mill and sold at the Jonesborough General Store!