Six years ago when Todd and Lisa Morse bought a tobacco farm in Pinnacle that had been in Lisa Morse’s family since the 1930s, they began a project which is at the forefront of health activities and the popular imagination and is also as old as civilization itself.
Intended Way Farm, as the Morse’s farm is known, is a place where a family works together to raise and produce as much of their own food as possible and sell the excess to others. Like in the old days of farm life, the whole family pitches in. Todd Morse runs the farm. Wife Lisa Morse runs the bed and breakfast where paying guests enjoy farm life and eat the farm-to-table meals prepared by Todd Morse, who was a chef in his previous work life.
Son Aaron Morse is in charge of raising and breeding the heritage breed chickens on the farm and won the 2012 Young Breeder’s Award from the Sustainable Poultry Network. Daughter Lily Morse is the expert at harvesting and processing chickens as well as being in charge of social media.
Both Todd and Lisa Morse have backgrounds in nutrition. He has a bachelor of science in human nutrition and foods and hotel and restaurant management. She has a bachelor of science in education and a minor in nutrition, is a certified natural health professional (CNHP) and a naturopathic doctor (ND). Both began to feel over the course of their careers that many of today’s health problems, particularly the sharp increase in pancreatic cancer over their lifetimes, correlated exactly to the times when food went from being a product of nature grown on a farm to an industrial product produced in a factory.
Todd Morse says this became clear to him when he was handling food service in a college and decided to put bone-in chicken on the menu. Students were perplexed and confused by it. With the exception of wings, they had never seen chicken with bones. Chicken thighs, legs and breasts were an alien concept. For them, chickens consisted of nuggets, tenders and the occasional hot wing. “That was when the first light bulb went off,” said Morse.
Later while working as the associate director in a senior adult facility in upstate New York where he oversaw the production of 5,000 meals at each of the day’s three mealtimes, Morse saw the food being processed, tumble chilled and extruded into chicken patties and other food-like substances. “The next light bulb went off,” Morse said. “Cradle to grave, we are killing ourselves. We are completely divorced from our food supply. Extruded meats and frozen broccoli from China was not appealing to me.” Morse added, “We in the U.S. can do better how we feed our people.”
The Morse’s decided to do better. When Lisa Morse inherited 1/6 of a family farm in Pinnacle, the Morse’s bought out the other heirs and voted unanimously to move there and convert the tobacco farm to an organic, sustainable farm. They formed a three-part plan; feed themselves well with healthy food, add the bed and breakfast to provide farm to table meals for guests and finally, to sell produce and meat to others through a farm store.
It took three years to rid the land of the herbicides and fungicides that had been consistently sprayed on the tobacco for decades. The first grasses planted in the tobacco fields had to be plowed under and started over when the summer heat reactivated the herbicides and fungicides still lingering.
During this time, a commercial greenhouse was built and raised beds for 1,000 square feet of square foot gardening were put in place. John and Amy Moyle take care of the beehives near the gardens and greenhouse. Amy Moyle won the 2014 NC State Beekeeper’s Association Special President’s Award (formerly known as Beekeeper of the Year) last year. Moyle initially put in two hives but last year brought in two more from a farm down the road where neither farmers nor bees were happy.
“They’re very happy here,” said Moyle as she stood in her beekeeper’s regalia with an unobstructed view of Pilot Mountain behind here. “This is a special place.”
By 2012, the pastures were ready to accommodate the farm’s initial animals. Heritage breeds of beef cattle, dairy cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens moved into the pastures. The animals are rotationally pastured. Cattle are put in a section of the pasture and a few days later are moved to another area. The chickens move in to the area vacated by the cows and begin feasting on the larvae beginning to hatch from the cow patties. They are nutritious to the chickens and make the chickens, in turn, more nutritious to their ultimate consumer.
An additional benefit of rotational pasturing is the smell, or rather, the lack of it. Unlike the stench of industrial factory farms with huge chicken houses and hog pens where animals spend their entire lives crowded in their own filth, the air at Intended Way Farm is as fresh and clean as country air ought to be but seldom is on a big farm.
The hogs all have names. Current residents are called “Bacon” and “Sausage.” They have endearing personalities and Todd Morse says that it’s important they never forget why they’re here. He can’t quite remember if the current Bacon is Bacon V or Bacon VI. As the weather warms up, they will soon be moved from their winter pen to the pasture where their rooting around will naturally rototill the soil, further increasing its fertility.
Aaron Morse, who is in his last year of high school, raises the farm’s heritage breed Delaware chickens. Those not needed to sell for meat and eggs are sold as chicks. Last year, the farm sold 1,200 chicks to other people wanting an old-fashioned breed of chicken that had not been hybridized or genetically engineered for industrial farming.
When eating chicken bought from the Morse’s farm store or prepared in the kitchen of their bed and breakfast inn, one is eating a chicken that has been fertilized, incubated, brooded, pastured and processed on the property.
During the 16 to 18 weeks that it took for that chicken to reach maturity (compared to 36 days for commercial raised chickens), it has been living in a large pasture of many acres. There are little two- or three-foot-high fences here and there to help protect the birds from predators and keep them somewhat together but they are free to fly over the fence if they feel like it as their wings are not clipped.
They have a little shelter with tree limbs in it to roost on and escape from owls. Their beaks are not trimmed or altered and they spend their days pecking for grubs and eating grass and clover, or as Todd Morse calls it, “doing their chicken thing.” Their diet is supplemented when necessary, usually during the winter months, with soy-free organic grain that Morse purchases as locally as possible, in Elon. He has just begun selling the feed to other local chicken owners.
When it’s time to harvest, the chickens only have to go a few feet to one of the five stainless steel killing stations where the bird is killed as quickly and humanely a death as possible. The farmers compare that with large scale commercial companies that catch the chickens, throw a dozen or so into a small cage, put them on an open truck with tens of thousands of others and drive them for sometimes great distances before killing them. Many of them die from fright before even reaching the processing plant.
Unlike commercial operations which ban photographs in their operations, Morse freely allowed photographing of his entire processing building and freely answered all questions. His license allows up to a 1,000 chickens a year to be processed. A higher grade of license would allow 20,000 per year.
All of the pork and beef processing must take place off the property in a commercial slaughterhouse though, due to state law. There are only one or two processors in the state equipped to handled “certified organic” meat and the paperwork required for that designation is long, laborious and expensive. Todd Morse has so far felt that the farm’s volume doesn’t warrant the time or expense.
Dr. Robyn Hakanson, a local advocate of a clean, toxin-free diet, advises that it is a good idea to see where your food comes from. “Meet the farmer. Talk to him. Ask if pesticides are used. If he says no and you trust him, that’s good enough. Most of the local farmers don’t spend the money to be certified.”
Todd Morse agreed with that philosophy and will not only tell you that he doesn’t use pesticides, he will show you with a farm tour, and offer to show the receipts of the grain which is the only feed not grown on his farm. His passion for his work is stronger evidence than any government seal.
Surprisingly, the biggest seller in Morse’s farm store is beef bones. He attributes that to the popularity of the book “Nourishing Traditions” which advocates for the use of beef bones and marrow in healthful cooking. The bones are the first thing to be sold out whenever a cow is butchered.
When discussing whether the farm is as financially sustainable as it is environmentally and nutritionally, Morse says with a smile, “If we’re breaking even, that will be hooray.”
He then asks and answers a question that he is clearly asked often. “Can you feed the world this way? We can, and we did, until the 1950s.”
Intended Way Farm and A Mighty Oak Bed and Breakfast are located at 513 Burge Road, (off of Hwy. 268) in Pinnacle. The farm store is open on Monday and Thursday from 9-11 a.m. and 2-4:30 p.m. and by appointment. If those hours change, it will be posted on the farm’s Facebook page, “Our Chosen Heritage Enterprises LLC.”
The farm store is on the lower floor of the bed and breakfast. Follow the gravel drive around the side of the house to the basement door. Ring the doorbell and if no one answers, call 336-705-3879. (The number is posted on the door.) The Morse’s may be working somewhere else on the farm and not able to see you. They’ll come right up when you call. For more information, go to ourchosenheritage.com.