What is your favorite part of your work?
“Um...you need to hold a lamb. Come here you spotted wonder.” -Tim
About 3 years ago, Andrea Vangust and her husband Tim Gallagher of Grassroots Farm & Dairy, decided to buy a starter flock of 8 ewes (female sheep). Before then, Andrea was a full-time veggie farmer and Tim was, and still is, a computer programmer. When they met and fell in love, they both quickly realized that veggie farming was not their path: “Tim was helping with construction and equipment for the veggie farm but it clearly wasn't his passion...I grew up working with animals and I was getting pretty clear that small-scale intensive vegetable growing was going to wear me out. I felt excited to learn and work with sheep and I was really interested in more macro-scale farming (thinking about grazing systems and flock health versus each individual crop that I was growing).”
Tim grew up in Spain where sheep farms are the norm and are everywhere. While visiting Spain, he toured a sheep dairy and everything clicked. Tim’s love of Manchego cheese and his interest in the culture of sheep dairying was the catalytic moment to buy their first flock of ewes: “There are some very common foods traditionally made with sheep’s milk, like greek yogurt, feta, and then there are other cheeses made with sheep’s milk, like Manchego, some Italian cheeses and harder cheeses that are aged.” Using sheep’s milk to make cheese is so common in the rest of the world and uncommon in the states, so this gave them a hoof up in filling a sheep dairy niche.
In addition to providing products like raw milk, raw yogurt, meat, and sheep hides, Tim and Andrea strive to do everything as natural as possible. "Right now you are just seeing them in the barn eating hay, but as soon as the grass is growing we are moving them every day to new pastures. They are primarily grass fed and raising out our lambs and trying to do the full cycle, so we are raising the moms and milking them, and then they give babies which is when they start producing milk, and then the babies, when we wean them, we grow out some of the lambs. The ewe lambs we keep to be replacer lambs for the flock and the male lambs we grow out and bring them to a butcher in the fall so we are able to sell meat at our markets. From those ram lambs that are slaughtered we keep their hides and have them tanned so we have sheepskin to sell as well,” said Tim.
Going into their 5th lambing, Tim and Andrea both agreed that being outside and working with the animals is their favorite part of their farm. Even though the spring is ultra hectic with lambs being born at all hours, they love participating in the birth and life cycle of the continuation of their flock and their land. Andrea also mentioned that it is “highly rewarding to see the pastures improve and to see how each big project that we complete makes the farm run more smoothly while making life better for the animals.” In addition to that, they sure do love cuddling and socializing the new baby ewes.
For Tim and Andrea, the hardest part, of which many farmers can relate to, is constantly juggling the farm, their family life, and outside income until the farm is financially stable. When they were signing the contract for the land they are currently on in Marshall, Andrea was going into labor with their second child. Tim mentioned, “I tell people I can do programming work, I can be a dad, and I can work on the farm. I can do 2 of those well, but I can’t do 3 of those well.” This challenge pushed them to get on farm help this season so they can better balance this aspect of their time and give the two farm hands experience with animals using intensive management and rotational grazing practices.
Currently, vending at the West Asheville Tailgate Market makes their farm possible and is pretty central to growing their business. Beyond the financial piece, Andrea also mentioned that, “the tailgate market is hugely important to us on a social level. It's where we get to meet the folks who love our products and get feedback, ideas, motivation and support! It is so inspiring to me to go to market each week and share what's going on on the farm and hear what's going on in others' lives. I really believe this helps us keep going through the difficult months when there is more work than time, too much rain, too little rain, equipment malfunction...you name it. Being able to talk to our customers and see how committed they are to supporting us helps us keep going!”
Thanks you Andrea, Tim, and all the critters at Grassroots Farm & Dairy for being apart of our market community. Please visit their website or Facebook page for more information or visit them at the West Asheville Tailgate Market on Tuesdays 3:30-6:30.