I’ve been a fan and a customer of Mr. Stanley Hughes and Pine Knot Farms since we moved home to North Carolina from Southern California in 1999. His family farm out in Hurdle Mills, 12 miles north of Hillsborough, produces a marvelous organic harvest which he sells to area chefs and to the public at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. His justifiably famous sweet potatoes first caught my attention, as I am a fool for them in any form. His yearlong bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and yellow squash, canteloupes, strawberries and watermelon, collards, kale, and Swiss chard have kept me coming back, stopping by the table where a visit with him and his wife, Linda Leach, feeds my spirit just as their vegetables brighten my kitchen. I wrote this story about Mr. Hughes in Edible Piedmont’s Winter 2009 issue. “Stewards of the Land” included him among six Piedmont North Carolina farmers profiled HERE . Pine Knot Farms’ website is right HERE. This past Saturday, I joined hundreds of friends, fans, customers, neighbors, and family members on the 100-year-old Hughes family farm, to celebrate its centennial birthday, which brought designation as a North Carolina Century Farm. From the day in 1912 when Mr. Hughes’s grandfather purchased the farm, it has been in continuous operation, its 125 acres supporting the Hughes family for one hundred years. What a reason to celebrate, and what a fine celebration they created on a gorgeous, late-summer afternoon. Here’s a small peek at a big, bountiful, joyful gathering in rural Orange County, NC. My friend Diane Robertson congratulates Linda and Stanley on their great success, in organic farming, growing and running a successful small business, and in throwing a fantastic memorable party! An abundance of friends-in-farming stopped by, including fellow vendors at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farms. Here’s Alex with Stanley. I got to visit over lunch with my friends Kate Medley and Emily Wallace, feasting on an astounding and extensive repast of old-school family-reunion-quality cooking. Here’s my plate; my initial plate, actually. At 12 o’clock, you see a fried chicken leg teetering atop candied yams (sweet potatoes cut into french-fry sized chunks and cooked with butter and sugar). To the right, chicken and dumplings, just like my grandmother made them. Next is “beantown”: greenbeans/stringbeans, field peas (maybe crowders, or lady peas? Please do leave me a comment if you can set me straight here, or just have an opinion about it), and butterbeans, both of which are cooked with corn. Next set is lima beans/butterbeans cooked with curls of streak o’ lean, a beloved porky seasoning meat which is kin to bacon but with the big accent on the fat, and red peas. The grand finale is chicken and country ham, the latter cooked by host Linda Leach, who didn’t let the challenges of putting on this grand, extensive party keep her from cooking up two peach cobblers, a country ham, and more. I loved it when a young family member walked out to greet me as I came up the driveway, handing me my program in the form of a cardboard fan, the kind we literally prayed for when sitting in my grandparents’ church on a July Sunday, back in the days before air conditioning adjusted the summertime for us.
Pieces of the farm’s past arranged inside the big, beautiful ‘shed’ where the crowd lined up for food and enjoyed shelter when rain showed up a time or two. I loved the Hershey’s cocoa can made from metal, the coffee mill, Cheerwine or RC Cola bottle, irons, and a Lodge Cast Iron cornbread skillet. This school desk came from the old schoolhouse which stood on the farm property. Family elders and longtime neighbors reminisced about schooldays there. The piece of wood on top of the desk was used in planting tobacco. Elders recalled (and demonstrated by pantomime right there by the desk) poking the seeds down into a hill of dirt as they worked a row, planting the new crop.
I find this so beautiful and profound. I also find it poignant: I cannot begin to imagine how tired people must feel walking home after another day of ‘working tobacco’, in the blistering, merciless heat of a North Carolina summertime. This is how the tobacco was prepared to be placed in the tobacco barn to cure.
This broom was made by Stanley Hughes’s father, who grew the plants he used in the summertime, dried it in the fall, and crafted the brooms during the winter when the outdoor farmwork took a backseat to the weather.
It was the sweetest, easiest day. As things wound down, I was standing out back talking with Mr. Ricky, Hughes-family friend, neighbor, and pitmaster, who was working the gigantic smoker on which he had cooked a whole pig (starting at 5:00 a.m.). Looking up, I noticed what I interpret as commentary from the universe on the occasion, the celebration, and the location. The Southern Foodways Alliance‘s oral history collection includes interviews Carrboro Farmers’ Market vendors. My friend Kate Medley (and lunch buddy, see above) recorded an wonderful interview and video with Mr. Stanley Hughes, which you can enjoy on the SFA website HERE
Pine Knot Farms 1912 – 2012. Going strong, growing strong. To the next hundred years!