Is a Hobby Farm Right for You?

Has it always been your dream to raise a flock of chickens? To grow your own fruits, nuts, herbs and vegetables? Perhaps you’ve always just wanted to live a simpler lifestyle in a rural community where the most traffic you’re likely to face in the evening is a flock of sheep crossing from one side of the road to the other. If so, a hobby farm might be just the thing for you.

What exactly is hobby farming?

From the mountains to the coast, small or part-time farmers or regular homeowners, even, with a passion for the farming lifestyle are enjoying the fulfillment of running small-scale farms – typically five acres or less – based entirely on their own interests. Not all hobby farmers are looking for a money-making venture, and not all are interested in self-sustainability. Some are families, some are “weekend farmers” who farm in addition to their regular careers, and some are retirees with the time and resources to put into new projects, entirely out of a passion for doing so. There is, in fact, no typical hobby farmer.

Usually, a hobby farmer is unconcerned with recouping the money he has invested in his venture; his interest is in fulfilling a desire he has to raise crops and/or animals on a small scale for the personal satisfaction of it all, only. He has the money to spend on seed, livestock, equipment and feed and he operates the farm because he enjoys it. Success depends on how he defines the purpose of his farm, and how close reality actually comes to achieving those goals.

Where to Begin?

Before making the decision to purchase a hobby farm, it’s important to consider all the ins and outs, both obvious and not-so-obvious, that come along with operating your own small farm, including these.

  • What are your personal goals for the farm? Are you interested in growing crops, or raising animals, or a mix of the two? What are your long-term plans for the farm?
  • What is your budget? Keep your eyes out for properties that you can afford, keeping in mind the additional funds necessary to get your hobby farm up and running. Based on your goals, take the time to figure out exactly how much land you’ll need as well as what other expenses will be involved.
  • Make sure you consider the true value of the property and the economic climate of the area in which the property is located before you purchase. If one property is priced substantially less than another, comparable piece of land, why is that? Is there a water source on the property? How is the soil? What might happen if you purchase in a depressed area, should you decide to sell down the road? Make sure that the farm you purchase meets all of your financial needs AND personal objectives.
  • Do not assume that you will need a piece of property larger than what your actual plan calls for. Do your research ahead of time to find out how much land other small hobby farmers have dedicated to raising animals or cultivating a few crops. Even an acre or two may turn out to be enough space.
  • Make sure you are fully aware of what livestock local laws will allow you to keep on your property. Not all animals are welcomed with open arms in all communities, so in order to avoid an unpleasant surprise down the road, check with the local municipality first.
  • Be sure to consider what sort of a water source the property has prior to purchasing. A vacant piece of land might make it necessary to dig a well on your own, so plan for that. Even the existence of a stream might not necessarily mean that you have rights to use that water.
  • Does the property include a house or other structures that you may or may not want? How is electricity provided? If there is a home, is it in livable condition? What about cable and phone service? Will there be any additional expense involved in bringing these features up to date?

Hobby Farm Vs. Homestead

There are quite a few differences between what is called a “homestead” property and a hobby farm. Basically, a hobby farm is just that – a small farm operated primarily for pleasure – while a homestead is a business venture. A homestead supports the family or farmer living on it, which is not the case of a hobby farm. The sustainability, too, of a homestead is unique in that the farm is designed to be able to entirely provide for its own needs and those of the homesteaders themselves. Anything that cannot be grown or raised on the farm can be purchased with revenue from the homestead. The financial operation of a homestead thus HAS TO be a success; it must show a positive flow of revenue.

Some of the More Challenging Aspects of Hobby Farming

Tax rules and regulations vary from state to state, and in North Carolina, where small, full-time farmers receive certain tax breaks, this is NOT the case for hobby farmers. Additionally, the efforts involved in maintaining a hobby farm are potentially substantial – hot, sweaty hours spent out in the field are unavoidable, as are certain other tasks that might be tiring or unpleasant. And as fun, interesting and rewarding as hobby farming sounds, the added responsibility of caring for crops and animals is sometimes too much for some people to handle.

The Biggest Rewards

Nothing much comes close to the feeling of looking around yourself and seeing the fruits of your labors in a flourishing herb garden, a basket full of farm fresh eggs, or a happy herd of cows grazing on what once was simply a very green, grassy hillside. The mundane acts of watering, weeding or feeding on a warm spring morning are somehow elevated to the most enjoyable tasks imaginable. Most individuals quickly realize how truly happy they are living the self-sufficient, practical and rewarding lifestyle of a hobby farmer.


Find out more about hobby farms here –

The Buzz About the Honey Bee

April 8, 2019

Our warm-climate neighbors to the south may beg to differ, but one of the true joys of living in North Carolina is experiencing the state’s four distinct seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. There’s something about the inevitability of nature’s rhythms that makes us, as humans, appreciate that we are as much a part of the overall cycle of life as are the plants and animals that inhabit the world around us. One of the most telling signs of spring, of course, as days grow longer, is the almost magical reappearance of insects in the garden as they hatch, transform or awaken after months of near total inactivity. One of these insects is the honey bee.

We live in a fairly temperate climate, so not all insects in our geographical area hibernate – flies, for instance, tolerate the cold quite easily – but many insects spend winter months burrowed into the ground, into tree trunks or under rocks, where they are sheltered from the cold and protected from predators until temperatures start to rise. The honey bee is one insect that doesn’t entirely hibernate, but instead becomes almost completely dormant throughout the cooler winter months within its hive, or nest. There, the swarm surrounds the Queen in order to keep her safe from natural enemies such as bears, beetles, and yellow jackets, and they protect her from the cold by “shivering,” or vibrating, which raises the temperature of the hive – and the queen, at its center – considerably. Because there are few, if any, flowers blossoming over the winter months, the bees rely on the honey they’ve stored within the hive for energy and survival.

Hive Life

As temperatures increase, so does activity both inside and outside the hive. By the time the queen emerges in early spring, she is ready to start laying eggs again and re-establish the colony. Worker bees, who are all female, venture outside the nest searching for food sources – pollen and nectar – that will allow them to re-build their strength and feed other worker bees within the hive. When a bee has found an area such as a field that is especially abundant with flowers, she returns to the nest and does a type of dance in order to show her fellow worker bees exactly where the area can be found. The pollen that honey bees collect is mixed with nectar and water within their mouths and deposited into the honeycomb’s cells as a material called “bee bread.” Once the comb is full, the worker bees flap their wings in order to extract all the extra water out of the mixture – a process that results in the sweet, syrupy liquid we know as honey. At this point, the bees cover the nectar with a thin layer of wax and leave it stored until the following winter, when it will be needed for survival.

Pollen – that light and airy, yellowish powder that is oh-so-visible this time of year – is critical for fruit and seed production. The type of pollen we see these days coating anything and everything in our yards, on our automobiles, on our clothing, in our hair… is pine pollen, which is distributed from tree to tree on the wind. Flower pollen, however, is carried from plant to plant by honey bees and a few other pollinators such as butterflies, beetles and moths. In order for crops and other plants to develop and seed, they need to be pollinated. Honey bees transfer flower pollen via “pollen baskets” on the stiff hairs of their rear legs; lumpy, yellowish bits of pollen that are stored in these receptacles or stick to the bee’s body as she flies from flower to flower are often visible to the human eye.


The Economic Importance of the Honey Bee

In North Carolina, honey bees are by far the most significant insect pollinator for “forage” crops – alfalfa, cotton and soybeans, for instance – and other food crops such as such as blueberries, apples melons, peaches, cucumbers and squash. To understand how critical the honey bee is to our economy and our food supply, it’s interesting to know that bees pollinate about a third of all food that human beings eat, and in North Carolina, many of the state’s crops could not be commercially maintained without honey bee pollination. Farmers sometimes strategically place hives in order to ensure the maximum number of pollinators in their fields, and even rent hives in order to do the job during the blooming period.

The History of the Honey Bee and Growth of Apiculture in the U.S.

The honey bee, incredibly, has been around for about 125 million years. As early as 6,000 BC, in Spain, humans began using the bee as a food source (honey), and other early civilizations in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and India soon followed suit, developed beekeeping centers that existed until the Roman Empire dissolved, around 400 AD. The introduction of the European Honey Bee to the U.S. by early European settlers contributed to a new industry, apiculture, that, during the 1800s, grew substantially with the inventions of the moveable-frame hive, the smoker, the comb foundation maker, and the honey extractor – all tools that continue to be widely used. Today, it is estimated that there are as many as 2-3 million honey producing colonies in the United States. North Carolina, with more beekeepers that any other state in the country, designated the honey bee the official state insect in 1973.

Most individuals in our state keep bees as a hobby, but many others have become involved in more commercial aspects of the beekeeping industry, in these areas and more:

  • The sale of honey
  • The rental of hives, for crop pollination
  • The sale of beeswax and beeswax products such as candles, lip balm, wood polish and lotion
  • The sale of specialty products such as royal jelly (a honey bee secretion used to feed bee larvae and adult queens, believed by some to help regulate blood pressure, balance cholesterol, fight cancer and improve health overall in many other areas) and pollen

Learn more!

Bird Hunting in the Piedmont

April 3, 2019

North Carolina is truly a sportsman’s paradise, and bird hunting is one of the most important aspects of our state’s rich heritage of hunting and wildlife conservation. Although most hunters use public lands for their bird hunting activities, many choose to enjoy hunting on one of our state’s several private preserves; although every state in the nation has at least one bird hunting preserve, many states – North Carolina included – are fortunate to have several high-quality and conveniently-located preserves that are within or very close to the Piedmont region of our state.

When, Where and What to Hunt in Central North Carolina

If you plan on bird hunting in North Carolina or anywhere nationwide, it’s important to keep in mind that each type of bird has its own season. Generally speaking, bird hunting season lasts from October through February, but whether you’re shooting on public or private lands, be sure to follow the guidelines of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (see link below) or be prepared to face some very hefty fines for hunting outside those dates. Take a look at a few of the hunting seasons for some of North Carolina’s most popular game birds.

                  Ruffed Grouse                     October 14, 2019 – February 29, 2020

Quail                                          November 23, 2019 – February 29, 2020

                  Pheasant (male only)     November 23, 2019 – February 1, 2020

Interestingly, the season for hunting crow has one of the most detailed calendars of all – Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of each week between June 5, 2019 and February 29, 2020, as well as Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Independence Day, EXCEPT when any of those days falls on a Sunday.

Hunting for migratory birds – waterfowl, woodcock, doves, raptors (bird of prey), songbirds and woodpeckers – operates under a different set of guidelines. Federal laws concerning both the hunting and protection of migrating birds take precedence over any local state laws. During hunting’s closed season, before any migratory birds may be taken, a federal permit must be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Once again, the killing of any birds without such a permit is eligible for substantial fines.

Licensed hunters of migratory birds must be able to show a certification of participation in the federal Harvest Information Program (HIP), which is free-of-charge. Every licensed waterfowl hunter 16 or older must also carry a valid Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or federal duck stamp as well as a license having the North Carolina Waterfowl Privilege. A host of rules regulating the hunting of migratory birds can be viewed here –

Where you choose to hunt depends on the type of bird you’re interested in hunting, of course, as well as what kind of hunting experience you seek and your skill level. Are you an experienced hunter or more of a novice? Are you accustomed to bird hunting in areas with varying types of sometimes rough terrain, or do you prefer a more uniform, protected environment? Over 2,000,000 acres in our state are currently managed by the Wildlife Resources Commission and are designated as either public or private “game lands” that are designated for hunting, trapping and inland fishing. Public lands, including the Uwharrie National Forest in Montgomery, Randolph and Davidson Counties and the South Mountain Game Lands of Burke, Cleveland, McDowell and Rutherford counties are two of the largest public areas for bird hunting, but there are also several smaller private preserves that offer outstanding hunting options.

The Benefits of Preserve Hunting

The differences between hunting on a public piece of land vs. a private preserve are substantial. Although many bird hunters, preferring the wide-open adventure and psychological thrill of hunting in the true wild, will ONLY hunt on public lands, there are just as many who enjoy a mix of hunting in both public and private environments, as weather, time constraints and other situations permit, and still other hunters who prefer to hunt solely on private preserves. No matter what kind of hunter you are and what your skill level might be, there are some real benefits to hunting on a private preserve.

  • Chances of success are higher in an environment that you know holds birds. If you or a companion are new to hunting, if you are not up to hiking long distances or are simply looking for an experience that will offer the greatest chance of success, then a private preserve hunt might be for you.
  • Wild bird hunting on public lands often means shooting in an environment that might not be entirely friendly – over rocky, overgrown or uneven ground that is difficult to maneuver. Terrain on a private preserve, however, is often smoother and lets the hunter more easily find his footing and move about with his/her dog.
  • With an increased likelihood of activity in areas on preserves that are known to hold birds, bird hunters will enjoy see their dogs getting a true workout.
  • A private preserve offers a perfect, high-activity environment if you’re interested in teaching gun skills to youth or any new hunter. Hunting on public land may involve long periods of trekking and/or waiting, which can be frustrating to someone who is eager to experience the excitement of a hunt.                                                                       

Conservation and Wildlife Management

Since the late 20th century, avid sportsmen have played an important role in the conservation of the nation’s – and North Carolina’s – natural resources and wildlife. Their passion for the great outdoors has helped to mold our country’s attitudes about conservation and the development of wildlife protection areas as they exist today. Each year, funds collected from state licenses and fees as well as taxes on guns, ammunition, bows and arrows go to support statewide conservation efforts. Hunters also help to manage the numbers of predators – cougars, bears, coyotes and wolves, for instance – that threaten other wildlife, and by following ethical hunting practices and utilizing hunting designated hunting lands only, they help to support and promote a healthy respect for nature.

Black River Shooting Preserve

One of the newest outfitters and private bird hunting preserves in North Carolina is in our own back yard – the 300-acre Black River Shooting Preserve, in the heart of Harnett County outside of Dunn. The preserve provides some of the best gamebird shooting available in the Triangle area, with fields and wooded areas that are ideal for quail, pheasant and chukar hunting in a natural, safe environment. Guides are experienced professionals, licensed and insured, and their dogs, well-trained and eager to hunt.

Black River hunts for the 2019/2020 season (October 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020) are currently being booked – contact (919) 522-1576 or

Photos courtesy of Black River Shooting Preserve


Find out more –



The Foodscape Movement

March 25, 2019

Foodscape. The term might sound somewhat mysterious to those of us whose gardens are traditionally either food-related – vegetable gardens, in particular – or well-manicured lawns and flower beds designed to beautify our homes and neighborhoods. As you might guess, however, the word itself is a bit of a hybrid of the two ideas, and foodscaping, the practice of combining traditional with edible landscaping, is a garden trend that is growing rapidly in popularity and interest worldwide.

What is a foodscape?

Based on context, the term “foodscape” can have two very distinct meanings. In a broad social sense, the word, often used in the field of urban studies, might refer to the overall food-related environment – growing areas, grocery stores, restaurants… anywhere, in fact, that food is grown, discussed, cooked, supplied and consumed – of a person, neighborhood or society. For instance, one person’s foodscape might be kitchen / neighborhood restaurant / school cafeteria / coffee shop, while another individual’s might be grocery store / vegetable garden / kitchen / farmer’s market. Generally speaking, the study of foodscapes looks at how food production, consumption and distribution affect places and people overall.

The second definition of the word, of course, has to do with the unique practice of combining the two types of growing – edible plants, along with traditional plants, flowers, trees, etc. – into one productive, attractive, harmonious garden design. Sometimes called “integrative landscaping” or “edible landscaping,” the result is often a beautiful mix of edible and non-edible plants, interspersed, that change in color, variety and function as the year progresses.

The Benefits of Foodscaping

One of the ideas behind this type of growing is the philosophy that, if it’s possible to benefit the environment and humans, too, by taking full advantage of the growing capacity of a piece of ground, why not do that? Why not transform at least a part of a traditionally landscaped area into one which is still attractive, but is now actually productive? The motivation to do this might come out of necessity – often it’s less expensive to grow and harvest your own fruit and vegetables than to purchase those items – but the idea is also gaining in appeal because many of us do care about our world, and our environment, and in the lifestyle of sustainable living.

The benefits of foodscaping, beyond the obvious – extra food for the dinner table or pantry – are numerous.

  • A garden that is growing a combination of traditional trees, flowers, shrubs, and edible plants will be pleasing to the eye and to the senses. Variety in a garden is what we all seek, and a mix of plants with their own colors, smells, textures and growing seasons creates a garden full of character.  
  • Kids who participate in the growing, harvesting, and eating of their family’s own fruits or veggies will be more appreciative of the food they have and where it came from as they get older, and they’ll grow up being more generally aware of caring for the environment, too.
  • Eating and growing your own fruits, grains, herbs and vegetables will almost certainly promote more healthy eating habits. The sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from harvesting your own food is a satisfying feeling that will most likely make your garden’s own cucumber, tomato or sweet potato taste just a little bit better than ones brought home from the grocery store, every time.

Foodscape from Scratch

Even a very small area – the soil around the root of a tree, perhaps, or along a pathway, or the sunny corner of a backyard – might be the perfect spot to try incorporating some vegetables or herbs into your garden design. It’s important to make sure that the different types of plants in the area all have similar light, water and fertilizer needs, and, because the mix of plants will change as time passes and the food plants are harvested, ideally there will always be something blooming or growing or shooting up out of the ground, season to season.

Should your yard lack space for additional plants, there are many ways in which to add an edible element to an already-existing garden or patio area, including these –

  • Large pots placed on patios, decks, along driveways or elsewhere are useful for growing herbs, tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries or peppers. Pots can be moved as necessary, and smaller, more delicate plants can be given the special attention they require.
  • Snow peas, cucumbers, and squash all grow well where there is limited space, on a trellis. Vertical growing takes up little precious ground space and the trellis may do double duty as a sort of screen in an area where privacy might be an issue.
  • Window-sill containers are perfect for growing plants – such as herbs – that don’t need a great deal of ground and can easily be switched out or harvested.
  • A vertical plant wall, much like a trellis, is perfect for a more urban environment or any other area in which space is limited. Some vertical walls are based on modular systems – containers that are spaced out at certain levels and heights – while others, such as fences, obelisks and arbors, also take up little room and are easily maintained.
  • Hanging baskets can be moved as necessary, are easily cared for and replanted, and might be one practical solution in an area where friendly – and hungry – rabbits and deer are an issue.


To learn more about the wonderful world of foodscaping, check out these informative sources:

Craft Beers, Breweries and the Fast-Growing Beer Culture of North Carolina

Craft Beers, Breweries and the Fast-Growing Beer Culture of North Carolina

March 18, 2019

Whether celebrating the end of a productive day, a long overdue get-together, or the simple beauty of a North Carolina sunset, there’s nothing better than sitting outside on a warm spring evening enjoying the company of good friends and family, a frosty cold beer in hand. With over 300 breweries and beer pubs and literally thousands of local ales, lagers and IPAs to choose from in our fair, beer-loving state, the heady world of craft beers and libations is thriving in North Carolina.

According to Forbes, North Carolina has more craft breweries than any other state in the South. We are also one of the most rapidly growing craft beer producers nationwide – no. 4 on a list of states with the greatest growth in craft breweries over the past four years, with an astounding 3.4 breweries per 100,000 residents over the age of 21. Beer-related events, venues (breweries, tasting rooms and beer pubs) and organizations showcase an industry that supports North Carolina growers (local ingredients ranging from barley, wheat and hops to sweet potatoes, berries and even sorghum) and is dedicated to the promotion of NC beer production and the growth of the craft beer industry both locally and nationwide.

The A to Z’s of Beer Tasting

Few people realize that just as there’s a tried-and-true, “official” method for wine tasting – swirl, sniff, slurp, swish, swallow… – there’s a right way and wrong way to judge a beer, beyond the basic, “yeah, I like that one!” or “nope, that one’s a little too bitter/sweet/ strong/weak for my tastes.” Given the number of high-quality, often nationally-recognized brews that are produced in NC, it may be worth taking an extra minute or two with a new beer to find out which tastes and qualities you prefer. suggests the following seven steps for making this evaluation.

  1. Pour the beer into a clean glass, tilting it so that the head of the beer isn’t too large.
  2. Stick your nose into the glass and inhale. Warming the glass with the heat of your hands will release even more aromas.
  3. Hold your glass up to the light and notice the color. Different types of beers feature various hues and levels of opacity.
  4. Smell again! The aroma of your beer will continue to develop as it warms.
  5. Take a sip. Let every corner of your entire mouth taste the beer. Swallow, exhale through your nose, and determine which flavors from this initial taste you’re picking up.
  6. Take a second taste, this time feeling the weight, or the density, of the beer in your mouth.
  7. ENJOY. Follow the steps all the way through once again, focusing on the aspects of the beer that you particularly like. Give the beer a score, if you’d like, and rank it on a scale of other beers you’ve tasted and evaluated.

North Carolina Breweries and Pubs

A number of breweries and pubs have emerged over the past few years, including some that are very well-known – Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., and Bull Durham Beer Co., to name a few – as well as several up-and-comers that produce and/or serve a wide range of masterfully-crafted brews.

  • Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin, NC is named after the nearby Appalachian Trail and the passion for the great outdoors that every Lazy Hiker employee seems to embody. Hikers and non-hiking visitors alike will enjoy Lazy Hiker’s special Trail Mate Golden Ale in the new taproom and brewery located in Franklin’s former town hall and fire department.
  • A beer-lover’s paradise in downtown Raleigh, the Raleigh Beer Garden features a record-setting 366 taps – 144 in the North Carolina bar alone – served in a total of four bars on three levels. Customers come for the awesome selection of beers on tap, an outstanding menu and spectacular city views from a wide-open rooftop.
  • Free Range Brewing in Charlotte offers small-batch brews on tap that change often but are all high-quality and unique. Try the Sea of Companions Oyster Stout for something new, or My Fair Lady, one of their more popular IPAs.
  • Fuquay-Varina’s small, veteran-owned boutique brewery, the Fainting Goat Brewing Co., produces high-quality, handcrafter beers – What the Buck American Pale, Der Hoof Hefeweizen (a traditional German wheat beer) and the seasonal No Kidding Belgian Wit (a Belgian white beer) – in a casual, dog-friendly atmosphere.

North Carolina Beer Month and Other Yearly Beer-Related Events

There may be festivals aplenty celebrating North Carolina’s flourishing beer culture throughout our lager-loving state, but an entire month of the calendar year – April! – has now been devoted to NC’s craft beer industry and all the unique regional beers that call North Carolina home. Next month a roster of special events sponsored by Visit North Carolina and the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild from Blowing Rock to the Outer Banks will include brewery hops, brew fests and, of course, fun and informative beer tastings.

Check out a few of the various beer-related celebrations and festivals taking place throughout North Carolina over the next few months, as featured on

  • Cape Fear Craft Beer Week kicks off on March 22 and continues through the end of the month as a celebration of the vibrant craft beer culture of Wilmington and Island Beaches. Local breweries announce new releases, a brewing championship takes place, family-focused bike rides and scavenger hunts are held, and an elegant final evening with live music and gourmet pairings is enjoyed by all who attend.
  • The Bull City Food & Beer Experience, taking place this year at DPAC in Durham on March 24, features food and drink from Durham’s finest restaurants and area breweries. Visitors enjoy live music, local food trucks and unlimited craft beer samplings.
  • Music and beer lovers alike will enjoy the 9th annual North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival, happening this year in Huntersville, NC over the weekend of May 11th/12th. Over three hours of free beer-tasting and great homegrown food are complemented by one of the best outdoor concert programs of the year. Camping is allowed at the nearly historic Rural Hill site, and special under-21 and Designated Driver discounted tickets are available so that everyone can participate.
  • The famous BBQ & Brew train, highlight of the Bryson City’s BBQ & Brews Fontana Trestle Train event on May 25, will arrive at the Fontana Lake Trestle in time for a spectacular Smoky Mountain sunset and delicious southern meal and beer samples from several local breweries (as well as root beer for the kids, served in special family-friendly train cars).

To learn more about NC Beer Month or any of these upcoming events, visit – or

For additional beer-tasting tips, go to –

And to find out more about North Carolina’s thriving craft beer industry, visit – or or




Last Call for Grilled NC Oysters!

March 12, 2019

As winter winds down and ocean waters along the Carolina coast begin the slow process of warming with the approach of longer, sunnier days, so does the oyster season draw to a close, on March 31st. A roaring fire, clouds of salty steam, the challenging prospect of prying open that final stubborn shell might not be for everyone, but as far as casual outdoor family fun goes during our chillier winter months, the delicious joy of an oyster roast cannot be beat.

The Oyster’s Habitat

North Carolina’s magnificent golden shoreline offers recreational opportunities including swimming, boating, and fishing, but did you know that some of the Atlantic coastline’s most prolific oyster beds are found in the intertidal areas and shallow waters of much of our coast? Oyster beds are areas under the sea where the shellfish breed and grow naturally, and in our state those habitats range from low reefs in intertidal waters to reefs along the salt marshes of our estuarine shorelines and the deep-water reefs of the Pamlico Sound. North Carolina is unique in that we are the only Atlantic state with such a wide range of reef environments.

The Three F’s

The social, economic, and ecological benefits that oysters and oyster reefs provide are often referred to as the “Three F’s” –

  • Food. North Carolina’s economy and cultural heritage is based, in part, on the recreational and commercial oyster industry.
  • Filter. An oyster is what is known as a filter feeder, or an organism that is able to remove harmful pollutants and sediment from the water. During this filtering process, an oyster transfers important nutrients from the surface of the water – plankton – to the bottom.
  • Fish habitat. All sorts of aquatic animals, including numerous commercially and recreationally fished species of fish, make their homes in and around oyster reefs. A healthy reef can support multiple fish, clams, shrimp and blue crabs. The crab and “finfish” industry in our state is valued at over $62 million annually.

Oyster reefs also help control erosion along our shorelines and are important indicator of the state of the shoreline overall; if a reef is not thriving, chances are the coastal ecosystem as a whole is being affected by a bigger issue.

Historical, Economic and Cultural Impact of the North Carolina Oyster

Mounds of ancient oyster shells have often been found on Ocracoke Island where Hatteras and Woccon tribal settlements once were located, showing us that the oyster has long been an important food source and possible trade commodity in our state. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the popularity of the new seafood delicacy exploded, at which point trainloads of the shellfish began being shipped to cities as far away as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Oyster reefs were first mapped and oyster harvesting reached its peak in the 1890s. Over the decades since, the numbers of oysters harvested each year have diminished due to a combination of over-harvesting, oyster disease, and natural disaster, but those figures started to increase again in the mid-1990s as water quality improved and increased measures to preserve and re-build reefs began going into effect. Today, North Carolina’s Division of Marine Fisheries has even deemed certain reefs permanent “no-take” oyster sanctuaries in the deep waters of Pamlico Sound, and has continued to list the oyster as a “species of concern” year after year.

West Coast Vs. East Coast Oysters – Distant Cousins

Interestingly, there is a substantial difference between the appearance, taste and texture of an oyster harvested on the West Coast of the United States and one found along the Eastern Seaboard. Because the salt water in each region is made up its own blend of plankton, salt and minerals, the nutrients consumed by each oyster is unique. These variables even affect the size, taste, and texture of oysters from North to South along each coastline. Whereas a West Coast oyster tends to be sweeter and plumper, with a shell that is deeper, rounder and more jagged, an East Coast oyster is more chewy and has a briny taste, with a shell that is smoother and more narrow. Northern oysters are slower to grow and are generally more tender, whereas southern oysters – such as those in North Carolina – tend to be larger, shellfish with a texture and firmness that makes them ideal for grilling.

Oyster Season

Oyster season starts in mid-October of each year and extends through the end of March. Recreational hand harvesting during this period is allowed 24/7 and requires no proper fishing license, whereas commercial fishermen are allowed to harvest Monday through Friday, sunup to sundown, and only with a proper fishing license. No oyster less than 3 inches in length is ever allowed to be harvested by either a recreational or commercial fisherman. During oyster season, the public is provided with drop-off sites for the shells of oysters that have been shucked, which are recycled back into the waters to provide an important habitat for the growth of more oysters and countless other organisms that thrive in that coastal environment.

Purchasing, Storing and Safely Consuming Your Oysters

It may sound like common sense, but it’s critical to remember that an oyster consumed that has not been properly refrigerated, cleaned or cooked can impose some very serious health risks. Refrigeration – storing the oysters at 45 degrees or below – ensures that any bacteria that do exist do not multiply, and cooking the oyster destroys any remaining harmful bacteria that the oyster may have absorbed during the filtering process. It is also important to thoroughly clean your oyster catch of any contaminant-filled sediment. Most oyster vendors will do this for you, for a small fee.

Firepits, Pots & Shucking Knives

The cooking process itself involves cleaning the oysters and placing them on a metal sheet over an open fire or grill, then covering the pile with a wet burlap sack or towel until the steam underneath cooks the oysters and forces their shells to pop open. After 8 or 10 minutes the oysters are transferred to tables often covered with newspaper, where they are immediately, sometimes voraciously, consumed, often along with a good beer, wine or cocktail.

The Southern tradition of an oyster roast is deeply ingrained into the culture of our state. Whether you’re lucky enough to experience the adventure of harvesting your own oysters or you choose to purchase your “catch” from a neighborhood vendor, to share a meal of something as simple and delicious as a mound of perfectly-grilled oysters with family and friends is nothing short of the perfect late-winter get-together. Bon appetit!


For more information on the rules and regulations of oyster harvesting, North Carolina oyster festivals, the history of oysters in NC or how to throw an incredible oyster roast of your own, check out the following informative websites:



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March 4, 2019

Picture the exhilaration of a traditional horse race combined with the allure of a field of horses and their riders skillfully negotiating a series of course obstacles, and you’ve got steeplechase horse racing. The name may not be familiar to all, but steeplechase, or “jump racing,” is one of the most exciting equestrian competitions in the world – and North Carolina – today.

A Fabled History

Widely believed to have developed out of the ancient pastime of fox hunting, the international sport of steeplechase originated in Ireland over 250 years ago, with the first recorded race occurring in County Cork in 1752. At that time, each town’s church was typically used as an area landmark, and cross-country races between towns – between church steeples – developed as competitions of endurance and athletic ability. Participants taking part in these risky races won acclaim by jumping hedges, wading through water and skillfully maneuvering their way around various obstacles more quickly than any other riders, and onlookers began gambling on riders or horses they felt were particularly skilled. By the early 1800s, as the sport gained in popularity, more organized races began taking place in England and Ireland, and in 1834 the first steeplechase was run in the United States, at the Washington Jockey Club in Washington, D.C.

The Jockey’s Life

Most steeplechase jockeys, even in the U.S., come from England or Ireland. Whereas the majority are male, some are female, and though most are professional athletes, some are amateur. A steeplechase jockey is typically taller and heavier than a jockey who races in traditional “flat” races, as most steeplechase horses are older, larger, more powerful, and more capable of carrying a heavier rider than horses running in flat races. Not surprisingly, jockeys who ride in one type of race – flat racing or steeplechase – do not normally ride in any other type of race.

In steeplechase racing, the jockey must wear a helmet and chest protector that meet the standards of the U.S. National Steeplechase Association. The colors of a jockey’s clothing are the registered colors of the horse’s trainer or owner, a tradition that most likely originated in medieval times, when jousters used specific colors or patterns as a form of identification and allegiance.

Due to the perilous nature of steeplechase horse racing, insurance premiums for steeplechase jockeys are some of the highest for professional athletes in the world. Some of the more common types of injuries sustained in training or in races themselves are broken bones, arthritis, paralysis, sprains, and concussion.

The Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbred horses – mostly geldings (castrated horses) – that run steeplechase are trained to jump hurdles and negotiate around water obstacles at high rates of speed. Most horses, though not all, are older, more experienced, and have raced on the flat in the past but have graduated on to steeplechase, which requires a greater skill and higher level of endurance than flat racing. Most are trained on the East Coast of the United States, between Pennsylvania to the North and South Carolina to the south, which allows them plenty of rural countryside and mild weather in which to spend time outdoors training and developing.

A novice horse in steeplechase racing is one that is still developing the skills that will allow him to run in professional races down the road. Some events specifically run only novice horses, and other races prohibit novices because of their lack of experience.

The Steeplechase Course

Steeplechase courses have pre-determined routes and distances – usually somewhere between 2 and 4 miles – with grass or turf surfaces and various types of fence and ditch obstacles: water jumps, timber rails (wooden posts and rails) and brush fences, for instance. In the U.S., most obstacles, popularly known by the term “National Fences,” consist of a steel frame stuffed with plastic “brush” and a foam-rubber roll covered with green canvas, on the near side of the jump. These official National Fences are shipped from race to race ahead of time so that they are standard, race to race. No matter what part of the world the race is run or what type of obstacles are placed on the route, however, the same obstacles are used for all racers in any particular race.

North Carolina Racing Events

Late springtime in North Carolina is traditionally the time when most equestrian racing starts taking place in our state, starting off with the running of the Tryon Block House Races in rural Columbus, North Carolina – this year, on April 13th. The neighboring community of Tryon is home to the world-renowned Tyron International Equestrian Center, a facility that offers training, cuisine, lodging, entertainment, and plenty of opportunities for overall family fun and activities year-round.

On the heels of the Block House Steeplechase, the acclaimed Queen’s Cup steeplechase races occur on the final Saturday of every April – on April 27th of 2019 – in the scenic Union County community of Mineral Springs. A sporting and social event attracting horse racing fans and curious visitors alike from across the Carolinas, the race involves some of the most skilled thoroughbreds in the nation, competing in races up to 3 miles in length and vying for purse money of up to $150,000.

Steeplechase Worldwide

Steeplechase horse racing today is most popular in the U.K., France, Australia and the United States; in the U.S., most training and almost all racing occurs along the East Coast. Depending on location, some slight variations in race conditions do exist. For instance, in some nations – including the United States – competitors race alongside one another, while in others, horses are timed individually. The types of fencing and obstacles used also vary widely.

The most famous race worldwide as well as the one many consider to be the most challenging takes place in Liverpool, England – Aintree’s 180-year old Grand National Race. Around 40 Thoroughbreds race to the finish over 30 fences in this 4-mile competitive course with prize money of £1 million. According to some sources, the Grand National is the most watched TV sporting event in the world!


A complete list of U.S. steeplechase horse races can be found here –


To read more about the sport of steeplechase, visit any of the informative sites below –






Hemp: North Carolina’s Blossoming New Agricultural Venture

Hemp: North Carolina’s Blossoming New Agricultural Venture

February 24, 2019

If someone asked you to name some of North Carolina’s biggest traditional cash crops, chances are you’d be able to come up with quite a list, including cotton, soybeans, tobacco, sweet potatoes, and corn. But did you know that list of commodities could potentially shift soon to include hemp? Yes – mysterious, often misunderstood hemp is one of North Carolina’s newest crops, and many North Carolinians have a real curiosity as to the plant itself, about getting involved in growing and harvesting it, and about the potential for this crop to become one of North Carolina’s most profitable new economic staples.

The History of Hemp

Hemp has been grown for centuries in regions from Asia to the Middle East and Europe; evidence has been found, in fact, showing that hemp fibers were used in the production of textiles, clothing, paper and rope from as long as 10,000 years ago in China and Great Britain. Today, however, although over 30 nations produce hemp, exporting a variety of consumer and industrial products that utilize the plant’s fibers and oilseed, drug enforcement laws in the U.S. have strictly monitored and controlled the production of hemp here, and most hemp-based products must be imported. As a result of the United States’ comprehensive Agricultural Act of 2014, research institutions and state departments of agriculture in just 34 states – including North Carolina – have now been allowed to start growing hemp as part of a pilot program.

North Carolina’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program

North Carolina’s Hemp Commission began issuing 1- to 3-year licenses through the NC Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in 2017, and since that point there has been an increasing amount of interest in growing the crop; over 500 farms are now licensed. Farmers who can show evidence of income from farming, who are registered as farmers with the IRS and who are able to provide a written statement of their research objective in growing the crop are eligible to apply, and once accepted, they may start planting, harvesting and marketing their hemp crops. Farmers who are accepted into the program are required to provide the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Plant Industry Division as well as law enforcement with full access to their fields and storage areas for ongoing monitoring of growing operations. Farmers pay a licensing fee based on total acreage as well as a minimal annual fee to participate.

What is hemp, and how does it differ from marijuana?

What exactly is hemp, and why all the interest in this ancient, yet somehow exciting new crop? Most people are aware that hemp exists, although many are uncertain as to how it is related to marijuana and to cannabis; some individuals incorrectly use the three terms interchangeably.

Cannabis, the family of plants, is divided into two genetic classifications: Cannabis Sativa, and Cannabis Indica. Some substantial differences exist between the two.

  • While Cannabis Inidica, or marijuana, is grown and used for its psychoactive, or mind-altering qualities, Cannabis Sativa – hemp – is harvested primarily for industrial applications: clothing, paper, plastic composites, dietary supplements, food and drinks and more.
  • There are very distinct physical differences between the two plants. While the well-recognized marijuana plant is short and bushy with broad leaves, the hemp plant is taller and more slender, with leaves that are also thinner and branches that are primarily grouped toward the top of the plant. The leaves of Cannabis Sativa are also typically lighter in color than those of Cannabis Indica.
  • A marijuana plant takes between 40 and 60 days to come to bud and is easily grown indoors, whereas a hemp plant flowers in 60-90 days, is ideal for growing outdoors, and is better suited to warmer climates.
  • The chemical composition of each classification is likewise unique. The main cannabinoids of these plants are ones called Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) – THC being the psychoactive component of each plant. In marijuana, or Cannabis Indica, this measurement is 5-40%; yet in hemp – Cannabis Sativa – this number is only 0.3%. Hemp’s high CBD content acts to counteract the very small amount of THC, rendering its effects useless. It is not possible, in other words, to get high from using a hemp-based product.
Cannabis Sativa (hemp leaf)

Cannabis Sativa (hemp leaf)

Cannabis Indica (marijuana leaf)

Cannabis Indica (marijuana leaf)


Every part of the hemp plant can be used, which makes it a very environmentally-friendly and efficient crop. The range of both consumer and industrial applications for the seeds, flowers and stalks of this plant is enormous.  

Extracts from the hemp seed are utilized in food products – bread, cereal, protein powders, flour and some animal feed – as well as non-edible ones such as fuel, lubricants, paint, cosmetics, ink and varnish. Hemp extract, or CBD oil, is produced when the seed of the plant is pressed, resulting in an oil that contains elements of cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and other useful phytonutrients. CBD, when used as a wellness supplement, is helpful in reducing anxiety and is also known to aid in the treatment of swelling, digestion and pain relief. Research is ongoing as to how CBD may potentially be used in several even more promising areas, such as the treatment of schizophrenia, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Fibers extracted from the stalks of this plant are used widely in the manufacture of construction and insulation materials, fabrics and textiles, carpeting, canvas, biodegradable plastics, mortar and paper products. Fibers from the center, or hurd, of the stalk are often used in mulch, fiberboard, concrete and absorbent items such as animal bedding, whereas the stalk’s strong, natural bast fibers, the very outer layer of the stalk, are most widely used in the manufacture of paper, clothing, shoes, biofuel, cardboard and filters.

Vaping or smoking ground, CBD-rich hemp flowers, or buds, allows the effects of the plant to reach the brain immediately, providing almost instantaneous relief from pain or other symptoms. Cooking or baking with dried and ground hemp flowers is also growing in popularity.

The Future of Hemp Growing in North Carolina

Although still just a fledgling crop in North Carolina, hemp seems to be an up-and-coming agricultural favorite due to the exploding interest in hemp products nationwide, seemingly endless possibilities the plant provides in terms of potential applications, both medicinal and otherwise, and the ease with which this plant is grown and harvested. We may not, as a state, see widespread hemp farming for many years to come, but the future of this wonder plant in North Carolina is promising, profitable and bright indeed.

Applicants can find more eligibility requirements online at