By Shavonne Potts
On a warm Saturday afternoon, April Bruner was enthralled with all there was to see and do at Hartsell Farms.
The Salisbury farm was one of eight in Rowan County that were on the annual Charlotte Area Know Your Farms Tour. This is the fourth year of the event, which encompasses more than 40 farms throughout the Piedmont.
Know Your Farms is a Davidson-based, family-operated business that works to rebuild the local food system in a sustainable way.
Hartsell Farms was the second tour stop of the day for Bruner and her parents, Judy and Dave Rhodes.
Bruner traveled from Mint Hill, while her parents recently moved from Arizona.
Retired from the military, Bruner has traveled extensively, but Saturday was a chance to leisurely see what North Carolina farms had to offer.
"I love it because I've wanted to know more about farms and agriculture," she said.
She heard about the event through the farmers market in Matthews.
"The thing that is just great is the people at the farms love what they do. They absolutely love what they do," Bruner said.
Hartsell Farms on Patterson Road is operated by Mark and Melody Hartell. The Century Farm raises endangered livestock breeds including Tennessee Fainting Goats.
Those who visited the farm were greeted with a taste-testing of dishes made with meat right from the farm and other local produce.
Salisbury chef Matt Trexler of Creative Gourmet Catering was on hand with fellow chefs David Eagle and Scott Staley.
Jessica Andersen and Mike Schweizer, both of Charlotte, began going on the tours years ago.
The couple were on their first stop at Hartsell Farms, but planned to visit three more farms before the day was through. Andersen and Schweizer will tour today as well.
"We're pumped about it," Andersen said.
The two decided to buy some pimento cheese and short ribs while at Hartsell Farms.
Schweizer's likely plans for the meat will be his braised short ribs recipe, Andersen said.
"It's a beautiful time of year," he said.
Schweizer created the brochures for last year's tour so he was familiar with the event.
A year ago he was more interested in the operational side of the tour, and this year his interests are recreational. The two are even planning next year's trip. Next year's trip they say may include a camp out complete with food bought from the farms.
Danelle McKnight, daughter of Mark and Melody Hartsell said the farm's biggest seller has to be lamb. The chefs prepared a lamb dish for people to sample.
McKnight said people's tastes have changed.
"We are in that day and age where people want something different," she said.
The shift, McKnight said, is toward wanting to know more about what they eat.
"People want to know where their food comes from and who's handling it," she said.
This is the third year Hartsell Farms has participated in the tour.
Bame Farms, just down from Hartsell Farms on Patterson Road, has been around since the 1950s. The farm is operated by Andy Bame and his wife, Megan.
The small sustainable farm raises pastured pork, grass-fed beef and is known for its colorful eggs. The farm has Araucana chickens that lay eggs in varying shades of blue.
The couple sells their blue, brown and white eggs at the farmers market in Huntersville.
This is their fourth year with the tour, Megan said.
"The tour is a great opportunity for folks who don't know how their food is produced or have never been in a rural setting," Megan said.Andy said they've met people from Boston as well as the Charlotte area.
He said it was a good opportunity to be able to share their farm with people.
"It's a small diverse farm. We've got a little bit of everything," Andy said.
The tour has grown a much bigger crowds over the years, he said.
Amber Lipscomb and her daughter, Abby, 9, don't live far from Bame Farms, but they wanted to meet other farmers and see other farms.
The Mount Ulla residents grow and sell their own organic produce. Lipscomb homeschools her children and has visited some of the counties' farms for educational tours.
Lipscomb said it excites her to see the smaller, diverse farms.
Abby was glad to have the experience to see how most farms have all types of meats, she said.
She also found it interesting to see how farmers use animals like chickens to eat the bugs and other animals to graze the pasture to reduce the need to mow.
Alisa Rhoades, husband, Paul, and daughter, Katie, mapped out their Saturday route. Each family member chose a farm they wanted to visit and they drafted their route accordingly.
The family heard about the event through Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, where they live.
The family had planned to visit more than six farms on Saturday.
"We are interested in farming. We love being out in the country," Alisa said.
Alisa said she and her husband are thinking about farming once they retire. The Rhoades learned a lot from Andy Bame and Bame Farms, she said.
While Katie, 16, enjoyed the taste-testing at Hartsell Farms, Paul, said he loved it all.
The Rowan County farms on this year's tour were:
• Bame Farms, Andy and Megan Bame;
• Cottonmill Mushroom Farm, John and Cris Herron;
• Hartsell Farms, Mark and Melody Hartsell;
• Hoffner Organic Farms, Alan "Buddy", Connie, Chris, Tara and Amy Hoffner;
• Mary L. Farm, Rick and Dorcas Parker;
• Patterson Farm, Randall, Nora, Doug and Michelle Patterson;
• T&D Farms, Todd and Danielle Mauldi;
• Wild Turkey Farms, Lee and Domisty Menius
Visit knowyourfarmstour.com for details.