Feeding organic, pasture-raised foods to hundreds of people weekly
*See end of story for Southern Pine's Tomato Pie recipe!
By Ashley Beresch
“We never had any intention of growing produce to sell,” Jeff Vredenburgh tells me over the phone on a balmy summer afternoon. He’s on the farm, and the rustling sound of clippers tells me he’s working straight through our interview. The work is never over. There is always another pasture to tend, a crop to check, a pest to battle, an animal to feed. It’s like this with most farmers I speak with, and they all talk about this nonstop churn with humility and awe. Jeff and Annemiek of Southern Pine Farm are no exception.
Though Jeff and Annemiek had no plans to farm full-time, sometimes you can’t fight fate. On their 8-acre farm in Greensboro, they grow a bounty of vegetables, raise chickens and rabbits under the watchful eye of their Great Pyrenees, Lacie, and pride themselves on their steadfast commitment to organic, permaculture farming.
Southern Pine Farm is a first-generation farm. How did you begin?
Jeff: Annemiek and I grew up with family gardens, though never production for sale. I didn’t go to school for agriculture; I’m a firefighter in Greene County. We’ve just always been interested in this.
We started with goats. Annemiek thought it would be great to have chickens, to sell a few eggs. We started with 30 hens. Around that time, we planted a small garden along our driveway. People would come to the farm to pick up their eggs, they’d see the garden and ask to buy our vegetables. We started selling and ended up not getting anything for ourselves! People were very interested in organic, local produce, and we decided to build on that.
And that’s gone very well, I’d say!
We’ve grown every aspect of the farm. I have a tendency to overdo things [laughs]. I built our first greenhouse… we now have four, and we garden half an acre in vegetable production. The rest of the land is used for our chickens and rabbits.
You describe yourself as permaculture farmers - tell me more about that.
When I bought the land, it was a little log cabin and all woods. We started from scratch, which is the long hard way but you learn a lot about your land. It’s important to know things like where is the water going when it rains? Our garden is situated at the highest point of our property, so we don’t worry about runoff from any neighboring farms.
Permaculture farming is all about soil health. We don’t spray chemicals or use chemical fertilizer. We spend maybe an hour a week keeping the weeds in check. We don’t invert our soil, just aerate with a broad fork. And we use lots of compost from the farm.
It’s amazing to see what we can do without chemicals, how the flavors come through differently. Our bee and bird populations have increased substantially. Mother Nature always has a system of checks and balances. It’s easier to figure out how she wants me to do it rather than me force something on her.
And you can’t do it without animals. Permaculture farming keeps the animals moving. This way, they don’t overuse the land and the land always has a recovery period. Our hens will be in one spot for about five days and then they move to a new spot. They won’t see that same piece of ground for seven to nine months.
I’m sure you’ve grown your flock from that original 30 chickens.
We have 250 laying hens, all on pasture 24/7/365. We use rollaway nest boxes: once an egg is laid it rolls into a collection area, keeping the eggs clean so we don’t have to wash them. “Bloom” is Mother Nature’s antibacterial coating and what keeps them fresh for 45 days.
We also have rabbits, which help care for the land and make a great low-fat protein source. The rabbits are on fresh pasture every day, living their best life ‘til their one bad day. The land provides their feed, and their manure goes back to the land.
That’s fantastic. Do you have to worry about predators, or does Lacie keep them in check?
Lacie runs the property. She enjoys a good rain and being lazy on these hot days. She’ll chase off hawks, but we have a unique symbiotic relationship with the birds. We don’t collect eggs that are laid on the ground. The hawks have learned that on moving day they can clean up after.
What fruits and vegetables are you growing on the farm?
Right now, we’ve got about 500 tomato plants, bell peppers, jalapenos, poblanos, okra, a few varieties of eggplant, lettuce, onions, carrots, bush beans, basil, dill, cucumbers. Our garlic is harvested and processed for the year.
Microgreens have grown in popularity, as people learn that they’re so nutrient dense. We’ve got radish, which has a little bite; sunflower, which have a nuttier flavor; and broccoli greens. We’re experimenting with other varieties, like pea and arugula.
So just about anything you could want! What’s your favorite thing that grows at the farm?
Jeff: I love the Goldilocks beans and the carrots. We both enjoy the lettuce and spinach (though we can’t grow those in temps over 85, so come back in the winter market).
Annemiek: I love my herb garden, but I’d have to say tomatoes are my favorite thing to grow. I enjoy the process of selecting varieties, starting them from seed all the way to harvesting. It’s funny, I used to hate the taste of tomatoes until I tried one of ours last year. It’s amazing how flavor profiles change when produce is grown in healthy living soil!
Jeff: All of our plants (except berries) are started from seed on the farm. We can’t control weather, but we can control certain aspects using the greenhouses. Someone claimed that we were selling tomatoes that weren’t ours because we were selling so early in the season. We don’t sell anything we don’t produce. We strive for year-round production, but again, some things we can’t force.
It’s hard to break the habit of thinking that any food should be available at all times.
Jeff: Patience is a virtue. We added asparagus this year, but we don’t get to harvest that for two years. We’re growing our berry and muscadine production, but again, those crops take years to establish.
We push the thresholds of everything we grow, sure. We have crop failures just like everyone else. Our customers understand it’s difficult, our community is excellent. People really believe in our farm. I wasn’t anticipating that kind of support. This is our third growing season and we’re producing food for hundreds of people every week.
What’s on the horizon for Southern Pine?
This winter we’re going to try and offer a delivery service. Everyone loves convenience, and we know people would love delivery. Annemiek will be on the farm full-time in 2024, and we’re always open for visitors.
What about those goats you started with? Goats and gardens are not the best combinations. We still have a few at the farm, but they’re more pets at this point. They keep our fence lines in check.
Wendell Berry writes in Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food: “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do it for love.’”
Jeff and Annemiek certainly love the land, the food they produce, and the customers they serve. Find them at the Harmony Park Farmer’s Market every Sunday, pre-order vegetables and eggs for local pick up at www.southernpinefarm.com, and reach out to schedule a farm tour. They’d love to meet you.
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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 4 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.
Southern Pine Farm’s Heirloom Tomato Pie
- 3lbs assorted medium and large heirloom tomatoes*
- 1 pie crust
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 6 thick cut bacon slices, diced
- 2 large shallots, chopped*
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped*
- 6 oz extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped*
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh chives*
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 large egg *
*(Available from Southern Pine Farm)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
2. Cut tomatoes into 1/2 in thick slices. Place 7-8 slices on a baking sheet lined with a paper towel and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. Cover with a paper towel and set aside.
3. Arrange the remaining tomatoes in a single layer on a lightly greased wire rack set on a large baking sheet. Bake until tomatoes are wilted and slightly dried out, 40-45 minutes. Cool completely.
4. Cook bacon until fat is rendered. Add shallots and cook until bacon is crisp and shallots are caramelized. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a paper towel and cool for 20 minutes.
5. Stir together cheese, mayo, basil, chives, Dijon mustard, and egg until combined.
6. Sprinkle mixture with a little fresh ground pepper and remaining 1/4 tsp salt.
7. Fold in bacon.
8. Spread 1/3 cheese mix onto pie crust. Layer with half the roasted tomatoes in a slightly overlapping pattern. Spread another 1/3 cheese mixture on top of tomato slices. Repeat with remaining roasted tomato slices and cheese mix.
9. Top cheese mixture with the reserved sliced fresh tomatoes.
10. Shield edges of pie crust.
11. Bake at 400 F for approximately 40-45 minutes, until filling is set.
12. Cool for one hour. Enjoy!