TURKEY — As chickens made clucking noises on her farm, Sharon Funderburk tilted her head back and noticed a bird soaring through the sky.
“They’re so graceful and beautiful,” Funderburk said about the Mississippi kite which nest and hunts in the area.
She often catches a glimpse of the small birds of prey, but has yet to see a much larger creature — a bear.
“We’ve seen the tracks, but we haven’t seen the bear,” Funderburk said about the lack of sightings on her land, officially called Beartrack Farm.
What began as just field and trees now includes gardens, grain bins, a solar green house, barns and habitats for 12 animal species.
She purchased the 50-acre farm in 2010 and began developing it in 2012. From the total amount, 35 acres is wooded area and 15 acres is cleared.
Funderburk grew up on a dairy farm in Union County and studied agriculture in college. Before Beartrack, she worked as a crop consultant, working with conventional and organic farmers. After receiving a job in South Carolina in corporate organics management, she visited the farm periodically. In July 2013, she decided to dedicate all her time to Beartrack.
Some of the animals include sheep, horses, heritage breed pigs, goats, cows, a donkey, ducks, chickens and a boar named Horace.
“Horace is lonely,” she said. “He’s missing his girlfriends. We have to put Horace on a trailer because he’s not going to go easily.”
The animals provide a specific purpose on the farm. For instance, the goats help clear the forest.
“The woods are too young to do a controlled burn, but they’re filled with vines, brush and tangle,” Funderburk said while driving in her truck, “so we lose a lot of chickens to bobcats and foxes. One way to help with that is to get some of the brush cleared out.”
She pulled next to a pasture with two snorting hogs cooling off in mud puddles. “Hogs, they have a good life,” Funderburk said in a humorous way about the pigs relaxing. “I would like to come back as one of my pigs, really. They lay around all day, they get up eat some more and lay back down.”
But when it’s cooler, they have a nice green field to roam in.
“When you hear about pastured pork, there’s supposed to be grass,” she said.
Having an ecologically managed farm is something in which Funderburk takes pride. She is currently seeking certification for it to become an official organic farm.
“The less chemicals we put in the environment, the healthier it is for us and everything else that lives in the woods and on the planet,” Funderburk said.
Beartrack Farm sells pasture-raised eggs, chicken, pork and grass-fed beef. Eventually, the farm will also produce goat meat, too. Another plan is to make handmade organic yarn from sheep wool.
“People ask what the horses are for, you can’t eat them” Funderburk said. “One of them is trained to pull a cart, but he forgot how. I would like to get him where he can pull a cart again.”
Funderburk said she would like to use the horses in events such as parades in the future. But Beartrack’s is mainly focused on produce such as tomatoes, squash, string beans and salad greens. Currently, Funderburk is growing blueberries and will have hazelnuts, pecans, peaches and asparagus.
The farm does not use synthetic materials.
“I like to think of it as ecological farming,” she said. I think it’s important because it improves the land and improves the soil. A healthy soil gives the plants the ability to make their own insecticides and compete with the weeds to defend themselves.”
For many, it’s an old way of farming.
“People say you can’t feed the world that way,” Funderburk stressed. “I think we can. We just have to decide that we’re going to.”
Funderburk said people have to know about the advantages of ecological farming techniques, although it’s harder.
“It takes longer and it’s more complicated,” she said. “You can’t deliver nutrients just by dissolving a solution of fertilizer. Nutrients have to be eaten by a bacteria community and the nutrients released from their breakdown. So that’s a slow process.”
The animals are on the farm to increase the fertility of the farm. It’s done through a system called rotational grazing, where animals are moved from one area to the next.
“We try to mimic nature by moving animals from one place to another, which is what they would do naturally,” she said. “Grazing animals move from one area to the next continuing to eat where the grass is tall. That means they’re not staying in the area where their waste products are and they’re not eating in areas where there are heavy parasite loads.”
Funderburk said meat can develop flavor from the animals’ muscles being used.
“If animals are free to move around, the meat will taste more favorable because it has been exercised,” she said. “We hope their diet is healthy and natural and they have room to move around naturally.”
Bearttrack is under the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Shoppers can buy a basket, which contains items such as eggs, baked goods, seasonal produce and an option to include meat for an additional fee. She notifies people if particular items did not come from her farm or are not organic.
“We really try to go to the community level to provide interesting and different things next week,” she said.
Beartrack would like to increase pork and egg production soon. After the first year, Funderburk said she has made a lot of progress.
“I’m looking forward to us expanding.”