STANFIELD, NC – Farming is paradoxically both a new adventure and old hat to Amy Irish, owner of Red Barn Farm. The daughter of the owners of Bost Grist Mill, Amy is no stranger to the hard work and dedication required to run a successful farm – and as a teen, she didn’t want any part of it. Instead, Amy chose to study Sales and Marketing and worked in a traditional office environment well into adulthood.
In 2007, Amy and her husband Stephen purchased the land they currently live on and farm in Stanfield. In 2018, they built the big red barn that gives the farm its name to signify the official start of their new business, which began with just a few chickens and pigs.
For Amy, who continued working part time with Chick-fil-A’s marketing department until last spring, it was COVID that pushed her to go back into farming full-time. “COVID just kind of gave us that boost,” says Amy. “We were doing it a little bit on the side, and then when COVID hit, our freezers were empty, and it was hard to get processing dates, and that’s when we said we should start doing more Farmers Markets.”
Today, you’ll see more than a few chickens roaming Red Barn Farm. Amy and Stephen raise both egg-layers and meat birds. Like everything on the farm, the chickens are raised on all-natural, non-GMO feed. They lay eggs of all different shades that make up the “rainbow dozen” you can buy at the market. “They all taste the same, but they taste better from the farm!” says Amy.
They also raise meat birds, a Cornish cross bread that come to the farm from PA as chicks. Just like their egg layers, Red Barn’s meat birds are raised on all natural grains; they also range and eat grass. Bred to grow quickly, the meat birds live only about 12 weeks before they are processed.
When Amy first raised meat birds last year, she discovered that it was more difficult to get them processed for sale than she thought. “There are no USDA poultry processors in North Carolina,” she learned. “There’s one in South Carolina, and it stays booked. So I had about 200 meat birds last year, and I called to get my dates when they arrived, and they had no dates.”
“I called the meat inspection lady,” continues Amy, “and she said you’re going to have to drive them two and a half hours away, and you’re going to have to help process them and pay them, and I was like, that doesn’t sound fun.” Instead, Red Barn became one of the few farms in North Carolina licensed to process poultry. In addition to processing their own meat birds, Red Barn is approved to process for other farms and for individuals.
You’ll also see more than a few pigs on the farm these days. For Amy, it’s important to raise her pigs as naturally as possible. “I come from a long line of pig farmers,” says Amy. “When I was born, we had hundreds of pigs and chickens. Daddy always said if a pig didn’t eat dirt or play in dirt, they don’t taste good. I think he’s right on that because the Smithfield pigs don’t taste as great raised on concrete as ours do. We try to get everything to live as naturally as possible. They get to root and play in the mud and be pigs all day until it’s time for them to go to processing.”
Health is always at the forefront for Amy, whether it’s her customers’ or her pigs’, and at the end of the day, healthier pigs make for healthier pork. “We try to keep our pigs at about 300 lbs,” says Amy. “We make sure the animals are healthy, that they’re living their best life. And then if we process on that 300 pounds, you’re not getting as much fat in your sausage. Could we make more money?” she asks. “Yes, we could if we raised them out to 600 pounds and we processed all that fat in your sausage and charged by the pound for it. But that’s not what we’re wanting to do. We are trying to promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Unlike their chickens, Amy and Stephen don’t process the pigs themselves. To sell to the public, all large animals have to be processed at a USDA facility. Amy prefers to send her pigs to a facility in Asheboro that offers many different flavor options. In addition to chicken and pork, Red Barn Farm also sells all-natural beef from grass fed cows raised on pasture. The cows are the one animal that don’t live on the farm in Stanfield; due to limited pasture space, Amy and Stephen lease land in Marshville where their cows graze.
Amy and Stephen are constantly thinking of how they can improve and add to the farm, and everything they add has a purpose. Licensed by the state as part of the Hemp Pilot Program, they grew their first small hemp crop last spring and added it to food products they sell like honey and olive oil. Just six months ago, they added bees. Two baby Nubian goats are one of the newest additions to the farm; eventually Amy plans to breed and sell them. There are plans in the works for turkeys. Down the line, she’d love to raise catfish in the pond on the property.
“We’re going to see how the hemp stuff plays out,” says Amy, thinking of the future. “If that doesn’t play out, we’re going to pasture out a lot more acreage and have the cattle moved here. We want to possibly look at something for the pond; I’d love to be able to do fresh catfish. And then our goat production in two years.”
But Amy and Stephen’s goal always remains the same: to promote a healthier lifestyle by providing the community with fresh, all-natural meats at an affordable price. “There’s so many things in our food now, even growth hormones that you can put in cows behind the ear that will make them grow out twice as fast,” says Amy. “When you talk about things like that in our meat and the growth hormones that are in chicken, it’s scary,” she continues. “And it’s not that much of a price difference. It’s a little higher, but it’s definitely worth it, and we have people who’ve been eating the fresh meat notice a health difference and a body difference.”
You can find Red Barn Farm at the Mint Hill Farmers Market every other weekend. Make sure to grab a peacock feather from Sophie, Amy’s youngest daughter and farmhand, who sells them for $1! You can also order from their online store. Red Barn Farm offers “barn to door” delivery of their products for the low fee of only $3.00, and orders over $100 are delivered for free!