“RUN!!!” She screamed at me, and I ran! We knew we shouldn’t be there, but we did it anyway. We climbed through the fence into the forbidden zone of the cow pasture, not realizing that sometimes there was also a big feisty bull with the cows. My cousin, Lou Ann and I, spent the summer on her grandma’s farm in Ohio, a foreign planet for twelve year olds growing up in the 1970’s where we gathered eggs from the hens, and watched women iron aprons and pillow cases in the kitchen. We perched on silvery stools like princesses eating fresh eggs, biscuits and bacon.
Cattle were strangers to me. I saw them regularly on my plate, but I didn't spend as much time with these domesticated ungulates, as someone like Leland Gibson, so when he asked me to climb through the fence to cow-land again, I had reservations. They blasted horns like tubas warming up for the high school band, and tossed their boulder sized heads with strings of grass hanging like spaghetti from their muzzles. The shadow of doubt melted with Leland nearby and I almost understood why in India cattle are considered sacred, a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance-a full Earthly life. He didn't just talk to his friends, Big Boy the Bull and his Boss Lady, but he scratched their backs, and rubbed their heads, and I trusted I was safe in Gibson green pastures.
Linda Lee and I made our first visit as we hoped to approve the farm for the Slow Food Upstate Earth Market, a challenging process. It was a bucolic theatrical winter day, with cerulean blue skies laced in high white clouds, waves of purple mountains in the background, 180 acres of green rolling hills topped with black and white faced Angus cattle like bride's and a groom on a verdant half moon cake. A big red one strolled by or a creamy white one glimmered in the bright February sun. The visit restored the slow in "Slow Food"-a peaceful and stimulating experience.
The spirits of those gone before were evident in the hand hewn beams and wrought nails in the old barn, the grain house and the one room home built by hand in the 1700's. He stripped away 1960's vinyl floors and dark paneling and revealed rich bead board and wide planked wooden floors in the old farm house. He pointed to a Confederate grave on the side. Folks had carved their lives in Westminster, Oconee County for a very long time. A beautiful corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina, Oconee was a place of Cherokee towns, located along the rivers all over the Southern Appalachians for more than 2000 years.
The Cherokee maiden Issaqueena, warned European settlers of an attack, and was chased by the Cherokee. She appeared to jump over the waterfalls, but actually hid behind a stump, and survived. The story gave way to naming the Stumphouse tunnel, northeast of Walhalla, which was carved in the rock 17 feet wide and 25 feet tall to connect the railroad from Charleston to Knoxville in 1852, but the Civil War by 1861 halted it all. It was purchased by Clemson University, 1951, and housed the first blue cheese made in S.C., now a park open to public visitors.
Without a doubt Leland's father built the farmer into Leland throughout his life, and still does so, stopping over and checking on the property everyday. "Green" described him to a T, the recent winner of the S. C. Cattleman's Association and Beef Council's award for environmental conservation stewardship-yet he passed the credit to his dad's work for the last twelve years. Leland Gibson protected the streams on his property from effluvial excremental drainage, an act swimmers, fishermen and visitors to Lake Hartwell, the Seneca or Tugaloo River or other waterways downstream might much appreciate. But Leland had even greener goals in mind. Leland said he wanted his farm to be "off the grid" by 2014, and planned to install a geo-thermal system for heating, a wood burning boiler for hot water, and solar panels for the cooling of the farm house and electricity to pump well water to the cattle.
Yet, the green also referred to the "other" farm products, the Coastal Bermuda, Rye, Fescue and Lakota Brome grasses, and how they were maintained with techniques like impact grazing on one field and rotational grazing on another. He often moved fences so the cattle ate fresh healthy grass, and eliminated the chance of parasites to develop, and therefore the need for medication, and allowed for a chemical free naturally well fertilized emerald glowing grass. As the first certified organic and animal welfare approved beef producer in S.C., he did not apply antibiotics, steroids or hormones, and all of his methods allowed folks at many local farmer's markets to enjoy really great tasting all natural Angus, a melt in your mouth beef eater's experience that couldn't be topped if their Scottish ancestors came back to Westminster themselves.
The Gibson Farm is exactly what the Earth Market Greenville seeks to find - a truly sustainable farm, that worked in harmony with the Earth, did not destroy water, land or air, gave animals the dignity they deserved, and took personal responsibility for their work - Good in taste, clean for the environment, and at a fair price to the consumer and to the farmer. Our visit proved successful, and Leland will present his beef at the Earth Market Greenville at the end of North Main and Rutherford Rd. beginning May 17 and every third Thursday afternoons through September, where shoppers can hear the story straight from the source.
Visit Leland, Big Boy, Boss Lady, Big Red and probably his dad, on the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's farm tour, June 2-3, 2012 and leave with your own appreciation of excellence in motion and some delectable beef.
Written by Janette W. Wesley, Chapter Leader, Slow Food Upstate, home of the first and only USA Earth Market, certified by Slow Food International's Foundation for Biodiversity. Janette also works as an artist and writes quarterly for At Home Magazine, a publication of the Greenville Community Journal.