Women in Ag grant winner fights adversity with farm diversity

Beauty through the weeds: Amy Fiedler aims to increase her farm’s offerings by adding pigs to Springhouse Farm’s pasture. Photo by Nina Montalto
Beauty through the weeds: Amy Fiedler aims to increase her farm’s offerings by adding pigs to Springhouse Farm’s pasture. Photo by Nina Montalto

Amy Fiedler is a no-nonsense farmer. She works hard and she’s not afraid to say that farming for a living requires intense physical stamina and a kind of emotional grit that goes beyond an appreciation for idyllic sunrises or perfectly ripe produce.

Fiedler is the owner and operator of Springhouse Farm in Vilas, N.C. She is in the process of diversifying her farm with the help of a recent grant from the nonprofit organization Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Like many Western North Carolina farmers, Springhouse Farm was hit hard by last year’s rain, forcing Fiedler to re-think her approach to farming.

“What I’ve learned the most is that you can’t control the weather,” Fiedler says. The uncertainty of planting crops without knowing if the seeds will germinate or if the weather will cooperate weighs on her mind. “We literally flooded out last year. It was epically destructive.”

This season, she will go beyond her usual crops of organic produce, herbs and mushrooms to make her farm more profitable. She will use a $2,000 grant from BRWIA to support her goal of adding pastured pigs to her business. The money will help pay for basic infrastructure such as building fences and creating shade for the hogs.

“I know my pigs, or any kind of livestock, wouldn’t be affected by the weather as much as my crops are,” she explains. Adding pigs is a way to increase the different types of products her farm offers, and improve the economic stability of her business in the process.

Raising pigs on pasture instead of in confinement falls in line with Fiedler’s dedication to sustainable agriculture. “The more I was getting educated about factory farmed meat and pesticides and conventional agriculture — this was years into my farming career — I just realized that I’m on the right path,” she says.

As a single mother raising a family with one income, she hopes to prove that sustainable agriculture can make for a sustainable lifestyle. She acknowledges that there is a lot of good and a lot of bad in making the economics of farming viable. The work is physically challenging and, as she points out, “there are never enough hours and never enough hands.”

But there are moments of joy as well. “I have had a fabulous day,” she declares on a recent spring afternoon. She spent the morning driving to Gastonia to pick up four pigs, which she brought home in her Subaru. It was a smelly adventure, but a rewarding one. When she got the pigs back to her farm, she says they ran out into the pasture and burrowed in the mud. “They just look so happy,” she says over the phone, letting out a satisfied sigh.

Fiedler spends the next few moments waxing poetic about one of her favorite pastimes, what she calls “watching pig TV.” At the end of the day, she likes to take a moment to watch the pigs frolic in their pen. It’s one of the little things she does to help appreciate the balanced beauty of her farm, she explains.

“You have to be able to see the beauty through the weeds.”

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