Quick Dish: Shady Place Farm across generations

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Owners of Shady Place Farm, Neal and Ava Morgan, are proud to raise their family alongside their farm animals. Here son Nathanael is seen leading a calf named Ella. Photo are courtesy of Shady Place Farm

Shady Place Farm has been a family affair for multiple generations, and for current owners Ava and Neal Morgan and family, the proof is in the beef.

Surrounded by Leicester’s stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shady Place’s cattle drink water from pure mountain springs and eat grass, hay, and corn produced on-site. The animals are raised by hand and treated like pets by the entire family, including the Morgans’ sons Nathanael and Eli.

“When you buy Shady Place beef, you know that you will not be ingesting hormones or antibiotics,” says Ava, who watches the cattle mature from birth to finishing on more than 200 acres of lush pastures.

Mountain Xpress asked Shady Place to offer some background information on their family operation.

Mountain Xpress: Can you tell us how the farm was started and how it moved from primarily dairy cows to beef cattle?

Ava Morgan: Neal’s grandfather started the farm in the early 1900s primarily as a means of subsistence like so many families at the time. When Neal’s father came home from World War II, he and his brother, Neal’s uncle, started the dairy. Throughout the dairy years, Neal’s dad and uncle also had their own separate herds of beef cattle, which made the transition seamless to an all-beef operation once the dairy operation ceased. Neal was born on the farm, grew up farming all his life, and in fact, he has never lived anywhere else.

LOCAL BEEF: Ava and Neal Morgan sell their farm-raised beef at a local farmer's market.
LOCAL BEEF: Ava and Neal Morgan sell their farm-raised beef at a local farmer’s market. Photo courtesy of Shady Place Farm

What do daily operations consist of? In what ways do your children help out?

At the first light of day, Neal is already checking on the cattle to make sure they are alright and where they are supposed to be. He feeds the steers that are being finished on the feed we grow here on the farm, and then it’s off to the most pressing chores of the day. Right now, it’s hay season, which means he is either mowing, fluffing, baling or stacking hay. Sometimes the most urgent task of the day is checking miles and miles of fence to see what he needs to repair and replace. Other days, Neal is banding cattle, tagging cattle, and checking on their general welfare. Sometimes he is moving cattle from one pasture to another. Always there is equipment to maintain and repair.

Our sons grew up working on the farm and helping with these chores, all the while learning how to take care of the cattle, the land and machinery. Even though they have other careers off the farm, they converge here during the fence fixing times, as much of the hay season as possible, in cattle round-up times, and at any other time that we need extra help. This is their heritage, and they want to be involved as much as possible. And of course, we are delighted they want to continue to farm.

What makes Shady Place beef different from the typical meat?

Our cattle are born and raised on Shady Place Farm. We do not bring in other animals to raise and resell, nor are we a conglomerate of other farms. Our family members raise the cattle by hand and treat them like our pets! We do buy bulls of high genetic integrity for breeding to ensure the best quality meat in their offspring.

When you buy meat from our farm you know what the animals drink (pure mountain spring-fed water) and eat (grass, hay and corn we grow here on our farm). As a treat, the calves will also be given free choice of spent brewers’ grain from a local brewery. Buying from Shady Place Farm also gives you the opportunity to meet the farmer and family who are raising and caring for the steer, and you can choose to buy a portion of a steer (whole, half, or quarter) and know that your meat, including the ground beef, is all from that same steer.

HERDING: "There is just something so honest, so wholesome about being connected to the farm," says Ava and Neal's son, Nathanael Morgan.
ONE OF THE HERD: “There is just something so honest, so wholesome about being connected to the farm,” says Ava and Neal’s son, Nathanael Morgan. Photo courtesy of Shady Place Farm

What has it been like raising your family alongside your farm?

Our sons have a keen sense of responsibility as a direct result of caring for the animals, raising the feed the animals eat, maintaining the equipment, and caring for the farm land and buildings. They have learned stewardship of resources and finances. We have a very close bond with our sons Eli and Nathanael, and they have spent literally countless hours side-by-side with their dad and grandfather.

We truly feel that God has blessed us in this lifestyle. It is a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat and long, long hours invested in our farm and farming life, but we each come away with a deeper appreciation for life. And our sons have developed a greater working knowledge of mechanics and working with their hands. Their creativity has been enhanced in the ingenuity of problem-solving real-life occurrences on the farm.

And what is the most rewarding aspect of running the farm?

There are many everyday wonders, sometimes very simple ones, like seeing your crops grow up green and healthy from tiny seeds. Or the satisfaction we get when smelling freshly-mowed hay and admiring how manicured the fields look.

There is a true sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and pride in taking care of things and fixing things with your own two hands. It never gets old watching the miracle of birth of a baby calf and how the mother instinctively knows how to care for the calf. And how cute it is to see the “milk mustache” of a calf when it nurses its momma. We may never make the Fortune 500 in wealth status, but we are blessed in so many other ways.

Shady Place products are available at the Madison County Farmers and Artisans Market on Saturdays from 9-11 a.m., and the Oakley Farmers Market on Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. For more information, call 691-1728 or email shadyplacefarm@gmail.com.

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About Melissa Sibley
Melissa Sibley is from a tiny town near the coast of North Carolina called New Bern, and will be a senior next year at UNC Asheville. She is a Literature major with an emphasis on Creative Writing, and a Psychology minor. She plans to stay in Asheville after graduation and continue to work on her personal and public writing through internships/employment with local publications. Follow me @MissMelissaSib

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