Adapted from the Fall 2015 issue of Conservation Connections
Ryan and Alicia Butler moved from Baltimore, Maryland to a rural farm in Durham back in 2007. Alicia’s father and TLC board member Norris Cotton owned the land at the time. Aside from a farmer who owned a few head of cattle, the farm was sitting mostly unused.
“This was a landing spot for us. We thought we were going to live here for six to ten months. We just never left,” said Alicia.
Living on the farm, which they cleverly named Green Button Farm, with their three boys, Jackson, Gates, and Finn, the couple started growing a small family garden as a relaxing activity. Deciding they wanted to have their own eggs, Ryan and Alicia then raised six chickens. They began sharing their food with the community by bringing eggs and vegetables to cocktail parties with friends.
“People really liked it. People would say you should take up golf or offshore fishing because it would be cheaper than your farming habit and less time consuming. We decided we either needed to scale back or start generating some revenue,” said Ryan.
The farm maintains a flock of heirloom, threatened breeds of chickens including Black Austrolorps, Dominiques, Welsummers Ameraucana, White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and Silver Spangled Hamburgs.
Ryan and Alicia have become successful farmers by marketing to people like themselves, younger families. Alicia was a stay-at-home mom when the family started packaging community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes. Understanding that younger families cannot always make it out to a farmer’s market, the couple decided to deliver their CSA boxes.
Aside from growing for young families, the Butlers also wanted to make their healthy and organic food affordable. “If you are savvy about it you can get really good local food on a budget and that is part of what drives us,” said Alicia.
Apart from growing local food for the Durham community, the couple is also the third party in a new restaurant opening up in Durham that will be called Picnic. Ryan provides the pork and works with other local farmers, Ben Adams is the chef, and Wyatt Dickson is the pit master. During the day, Picnic will be a barbeque spot where people can stop for a barbeque sandwich, mac and cheese, and good beer or iced tea. At night, the restaurant will be tapas-style barbeque cuisine. (Get a sneak preview of their food on Sunday, October 4 at the Picnic with Lewis Barbecue on Green Button Farm. Proceeds benefit TLC!)
Ryan and Alicia first approached TLC through the Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District for help preparing a Forest Stewardship Plan and implementing a number of EQIP practices on their farm through the Healthy Forest Initiative. They also expressed an interest in conserving their farm through a conservation easement.
“We have been trying to save money to conserve more land and it’s wonderful that TLC has been able to help our smaller farm do that. Most of the landowners around us are at the end of their farming career. There is a lot of opportunity for us over the next 50 years,” said Alicia.
In the last two years, the Butlers have improved their farm greatly in order to protect clean water. Mountain Creek, their southern and western boundary line, is a main tributary into Little River reservoir. “We paired up with UNCWI to help [improve] water quality because we are right on the cusp of the reservoir,” said Alicia.
Green Button Farm’s heirloom breed pigs graze on pasture with access to grasses, legumes, forested areas, and, occasionally, pumpkins.
Larger hog farms in North Carolina have received a lot of negative attention because of their potential impact on water quality. The Butlers try to quell those fears by managing their farm sustainably in the “old-fashioned way” by pasturing their pigs, cows, and chickens. “Even the term “pig farm” sends a lot of people into a tailspin. We don’t appreciate the way it’s done in modern times, but we feel our farm is run as a throwback to how farms were done 60 years ago,” said Alicia.
Under the EQIP program, the Butlers added 2.5 miles of fencing around the streams and in the pastures, ran 6,000 feet of underground piping and a well for the cattle, and constructed a new gravel road to minimize runoff.
“We are protecting water for a million and half people. How do you put a value on clean water?” said Ryan.
TLC is currently working with the Butlers to purchase a permanent conservation easement on the 37-acre farm to further safeguard water quality and to support their farming efforts. Ryan and Alicia want to use this project as a stepping stone to purchase, and conserve, more property around their farm.
When asked what people could do to help the great cause of conserving land, Ryan and Alicia commented, “Donate to TLC because this farm would not look like this without TLC. Support local farms. Join a farmers market. Support restaurants and politicians that support local farms.”
Ryan and Alicia noted that cooking world-class, organic food and providing it for their community makes the job worthwhile. “Being able to have our family on this farm and see how our kids have grown and developed an appreciation for life and a work ethic is very rewarding,” said Ryan.
Learn more about Green Button Farm, including how to join their CSA, by visiting their website, greenbuttonfarm.com. You can also purchase their produce, meats, and eggs every Saturday at the South Durham Farmers’ Market in the Greenwood Commons Shopping Center. And don’t forget to join them at the farm on Sunday, October 4 for a Picnic with Lewis Barbecue. Tickets are limited, so purchase them now! TLC members get premium parking at the event and all participants can enter a raffle for an REI sleeping bag and an REI backpack.