For Ann and Ron Fay, lambing season is not for the faint of muscle

Rising Meadow Farm

“Abilene”, a pride-of-the herd Corriedale sheep at Rising Meadow Farm, has her first lamb ever. Yet unnamed, the lamb is only a day old.

For Ann and Ron Fay at Rising Meadow Farm, spring is the most awaited time of the year with the daily arrival of new born lambs.  It is also the time of the year that is most demanding physically.

Ann and Ron have set the bar high as their credo is “only the best will do” which applies to the quality of food sources, environment, and mode of harvest.

They believe that this level of care generates the best products of wool and meat, the foremost which is generated  on the farm’s February Shearing Day by master shearer Kevin Ford. Meat to market occurs during the other months of the year.

Hard work has paid off for this couple as the end of each day brings comfort, satisfaction, and joy in a unique pastoral setting which has been preserved in perpetuity for future generations.

The Piedmont Land Conservancy is a partner in the Fay’s vision as benefactor of a conservation easement placed in 2011 .

Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm
Rising Meadow Farm

A division of labor between Ann and Ron makes each morning possible. Ann tackles the cleanup which reduces incidences of infection and hoof diseases.

Ron takes on the feeding after the sheep have been turned outside the barn. "They will knock you down," Ron says, "if they were in here with you."

The farm's best hay, according to Ron, is a blend of timothy and alfalfa. "It is expensive; it can break the bank!"

The barn lots are particularly soft and deep after a rain and the only way to get the hay out is by wheelbarrow through the ankle deep mud.

Hay is now much more compact (and heavier) than a couple of years ago because transporters figured out they could get more bales on a truck if each bale was "super compressed" by hydraulic balers.


Each new lamb gets an ear tag; no flinch; and there for life.

Meticulous heritage records are kept for each animal so as to insure diversification of the existing gene pool.

"We recycle everything."

The Fay's compost pile is the envy of the county.

The happiest (and one of the most satisfying) moment is when the newborns are turned out with mom ewe after an overnight or two in "the jug" - the confined newborn nursery for ewe and lamb. "They are happy to have their freedom ... they belong outside!"

NC DOT Disaster at Deep Gap


In 2003, the widening of US Highway 421 from Winston-Salem to Boone and it’s realignment with the Blue Ridge Parkway at Deep Gap was completed.

NC DOT, unfortunately, did not make adequate allowances for managing the water runoff at the highway’s boundary intersection with Critcher Farms. Over the last 10 years and even until today, this once pastoral landscape has eroded into a chasm of canyon proportions – almost beyond repair.

All local remembrances are of a once high scenic quality unblemished landscape of a well-managed cattle farm.

This photograph is a long exposure panorama of existing conditions and one of 40 photographs selected as a finalist with the Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition.   This photograph, titled  “NC DOT DISASTER AT DEEP GAP”  (40″ x 12″), is a finalist in the “Our Ecological Footprint” category.  The photograph is on display as part of an exhibition at the Turchin Center for Visual Arts at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.

Exhibition calendar:

March 6
“People’s Choice” voting begins

March 28
Private reception for finalists and invited guests.  Category winners announced.

April 3
Public reception

June 6
Exhibition closes



Ron Fay, weathered sheep herder lives his creed …

Ron seeks higher ground before bringing his prize ramms to their feed lot

Ron seeks higher ground before turning his prize rams into their feed lot.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this herder from the completion of his appointed rounds” … adapted  from USPS.  Ron Fay, who with his wife Ann, created the Rising Meadow Farm in Randolph, County, NC over 20 years ago and donated a conservation easement to the Piedmont Land Conservancy to prohibit forever the building of a big box store on their farm.  They did all of  this because it was “the right thing to do.”

“We are proud of the quality of our wool, of our meat, and of our farm, ” they will quickly tell you.  “It all starts with the way that we take care of their animals.”

Taking care of their animals “well” is obvious.  Their shearing day was only days before temperatures plummeted into the single digits.  The best hay available and improved shelter with piped in classical music would make any human jealous of Ron and Ann’s compassion, respect, and care of their farm life of cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, guineas, llamas, and alpacas.


Ron in his first morning round puts out a fresh timothy hay blend for his prized ewes who are at this time of the year pregnant.

The llamas, guineas. and chickens share in the feast.

And we all know about closing the barn door ...

The tractor, which is used to haul feed to the rams on another part of the farm, gets a brush-off.

These prize rams have fulfilled their obligation of breeding the ewes in the preceding weeks and are kept isolated at their own "men-only" shelter.


For Kevin Ford, a sheep shear day …

Shear Day

Kevin Ford, international sheep shearing champion


Yes, there is an international sheep shearing contest, and the retro category that attracts the most spectators is the non-motorized blade shear category that pits man with two pieces of blade steel against beast.  One doesn’t have to go to Ireland or New Zealand to witness first hand but up-close and close to home in Randolph County a half hour south of Greensboro.

Rising Meadow Farm and the septuagenarian proprietors Ann and Ron Fay have been multimedia and still topics of mine before.  It is their culturally rich and affectionate lifestyle that attracts my wife and I as frequent visitors.

A visit is never a disappointment and the most recent was their “Shearing Day” where master shearer and author Kevin Ford boards for a multi day visit to hand shear all of the Fay’s sheep — just as he has for the last twenty years.  Kevin is no lamb as his thin stout figure with flaccid hamstrings and grisled and chiseled face are testimony to a man who knows exactly what he is doing. He knows his craft so well that he has been a consistent podium finisher in the World Shearing Championships – and author of the collectible and definitive text: Shearing Day: Sheep Handling, Wool Science, and Shearing With Blades (1999)

Andrew Jenner, who writes for Modern Farmer, has documented Kevin’s beginnings and Irish spiritual home where sheep outnumber people 7-1.

“Shearing Day” occurs annually on Valentine’s Day when lamb chilli and handmade soup are lovingly shared and served.

Kevin Ford, master shearer, hones his steel.
Shear Day
Shear Day
Shear Day
Shear Day
Shear Day

Kevin Ford, master shearer, hones his steel.

Preparing for the "take down"

Efficiency in motion contributes the most to removing the fleece all in one piece which one of the shearer's goals.

Almost done

Joy Moore, who apprenticed under Kevin and is now a bonafide blade shearer, grins from the catch of a perfect fleece.

Weavers who attend this event wait for the pay down and check out of their fresh fleeces which will keep them busy for the rest of the winter washing, dying, spinning, and weaving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Edgecombe County, NC – 2011

For all of our friends and acquaintances and for our friends and acquaintances that we have not met yet – Happy Thanksgiving 2014.

Houck and K.B. Medford



Collard Art



An uncommon site in the Southern Appalachians is a well-organized garden tool rack … and the excellent calibre of field collard greens found in this garden is testimony to a great gardener!

We need to meet!

Fall is chicken stew time …

Chicken Stew Time!


When the weather begins to turn cold, stomachs churn for the warmth of soul soups and stews from derivatives of harvest.

Chickens apply here – harvest doesn’t have to be vegetables.  The “make-ready” step of gathering the chickens is traditional for this family in Piedmont North Carolina.  If the chicken source is not Harris Teeter, Food Lion, or Earth Fare; then the more hands the merrier.  There is at least an hour of investment to in the sacrifice, defeathering, and dressing of one bird for the next to best part — the cooking part.

If you haven’t figured out the best part yet, it is the eat’in part.

You are invited to dinner!

Chicken Stew Time!
Chicken Stew Time!
Chicken Stew Time!
Chicken Stew Time
Chicken Stew Time!

Raising pens for home grown free-range chickens are at a distance from where they will be slaughtered and dressed.

A precise, quick beheading is followed next by ...

... a quick dip in near-boiling water to facilitate the plucking ... not too long, now, do you hear?

A good pluck job takes about 15 minutes for a whole bird ...

K.B. Medford shows her pride in her first-ever plucked chicken.


Photolucida competition finalist … but not Top 50

In August of 2014, I was notified of being selected one of the Top 200 Finalists in the internationally recognized photography advocacy organization, Photolucida, and their  Critical Mass Photography Competition.

I was and still am deeply honored.

Being the superstitious person that I am (I read my horoscope daily while I am looking over my shoulder), I told no one but waited until today when the Top 5o of the 200 were announced to tell anyone. I didn’t make the Top 50 list.

Critical Mass is an annual program that purposefully makes connections within the international photography community. Photographers (over a thousand this year)  at any level, from anywhere in the world, submit a portfolio of 10 images. They are judged on creativity and story-telling worthiness.

My submitted portfolio images (slideshow following) were from my documentary in progress, The Cotton Chronicle .

Competitions are a means for judging one’s work against others; but the greatest joy that I experience is seeing the work of others. I invite my friends, students, and photography family to take a few moments to explore the winning portfolios of some very imaginative and talented artists.

You will be impressed. I am.

Bates Houck
Bates Houck
Houck Medford_-2
Houck Medford_-7
Bates Houck
Bates Houck
Bates Houck Bates Houck Bates Houck
Bates Houck
Bates Houck Bates Houck
Bates Houck

The six row cotton picker revolutionized cotton harvesting efficiency and is the stalwart behemoth of all cotton farms.

Patriarch of the family farm, Bates Houck, uses cell service to reach farm crew members, individually and collectively, wherever they may be on his 1,000+ acre farm.

Wells and mechanized irrigation remain the best investment for a farmer conscious about predictable production and yields -- whatever the crop.

Crew members are constantly mixing chemicals and fertilizers in large truck-borne portable containers to ease disbursement on the farm.

Farm crew are dedicated members of the team and may have been part of the family farm for generations.

"Top of the hood" huddles make farming days more predictable.

Maintenance and replacement of equipment remains one of those omnipresent challenges.

Fields can not be farmed efficiently when trees interfere with GPS guided planters and harvesters. Remaining sole pecan trees are often vestiges of an earlier farming era.

Family farms depend on succession with siblings to perpetuate lineage and ownership. Farming is regarded as a "life-style."

Perhaps the next generation will be inspired to carry on the traditions.

The Butter Bean … a new farm venture



One of my strong remembrances about growing up was eating hand-picked, hand-shelled, home-cooked butter beans. In those days, there were no efficient mechanical harvesters so their fine delicacy reputation was bred into their preparation … much like a blackberry pie tasting it’s best when the berries are hand-picked – by the one doing the eat’in!

Southern brand recognition and family tradition goes a long way so imagine my personal delight when I learned that again in my lifetime I might eat from the golden pot.  Enough South Carolina natives recall that experience and the demand has been one where supply is only met currently via private reserve.

Congratulations to my Houck cousins for finding that a modern ag growing and harvesting approach puts this high-fiber best tasting vegetable on our dining room table in Winston-Salem.

A new series of images is being created and crafted to reflect and tell the story of our farmer’s ‘hands’ in both organic and non-organic food production.  My wife’s hands are used in this beta-project to showcase the butter bean.

Harvest time …

Will Wofford trims his peanut dump buggy

Will Wofford trims his peanut dump buggy


Once peanuts are dug from the ground, they are  left in the field to dry before being combined (peanuts separated from the dug plant), graded, and prepared for market. Optimal conditions are when the peanuts sun-dry for a few days on top of the ground. This reduces the need and duration of mechanical drying with forced hot air ($$ propane $$).

A sun drenched field also creates dust storms which farmers had to endure before there were closed cabs. Here, Will Wofford of Houck Farms, dumps a load of peanuts into an open top tractor trailer which when full is driven to the peanut yard for grading and storage.