Prodigal Farm and the Field of Creams

Dig, structure, develop, sustain, respect, practice, exceptional, flow, flavor

The quality of landscapes goes beyond words. Still, well-grounded humans are able to observe, to absorb and to reflect the quality of nature exquisitely. Farming is a way of cultivating and appreciating the rhythm, wildness and beauty of nature and its density of life. The quality of relationships matters.

The great conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote, “The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harbored cranes. Now they stand adrift in history.”

Prodigal Farm in Rougemont is not adrift in history. Prodigal Farm was established in 2015 by Kathryn Spann and Dave Crabbe. The name, Prodigal Farm, Kathryn affirms, both fulfills and explains hers and Crabbe’s arrival, her return to rural North Carolina, and their purchase of an old farm which still includes a crib house, smokehouse, antique car, tobacco barn, poison ivy, rambling planting, layers of memories, and, now, a fleet of well-tended goats and a dairy. And, as Kathryn notes, farming also means a lot of paperwork. It is not easy for producers of milk and cheese to make a living.

Prodigal refers to the Scriptural story of the returning son and the happy father planning a party in his honor—not dwelling on the long absence but on the return, the celebration, and the living potential. The word also means lavish, yielding abundantly. Spann and Crabbe met in New York where both lived, she a lawyer and he a builder. They met waiting in line for concert tickets. Crabbe was born in Towson, Maryland, and long aspired to be a farmer. Kathryn had not originally planned to return, but when Dave visited and loved the area, she was drawn to returning to her rural roots. She liked the idea of enjoying her Dad’s company while he was still alive, and she and her sister (who lives in Chapel Hill) have always been close. So Kathryn and Dave came to Durham County, North Carolina, near her family’s roots.  In fact, the farm they bought shares a country road named for her mother’s grandfather’s family. They are planted in soil with her family history, and memories. They are part of their own legacy creation, as we all are—step by step, moment by moment, clearing paths, fields, making plans, loving their goats, learning more about cheese as they love their land, the space and roots they chose to come and return to. To roost.

These farmers love their labor-intensive life, and are thus part of the geologic time in ways they weren’t so visibly before—more aware and getting their hands dirty in new and ancient ways.

As I read about these settlers, I was reminded again how we can feel the energy of the Earth as Earth interacts with our energy. I like to think of our re-entering a space, a landscape, a dream-come-true, as an immersion in air or water. Wade in the water. Take me to the river. Fly me to the moon. Some of our best nature appreciators, such as Wendell Berry, the Kentucky poet and farmer, capture the quality of landscapes and still express how nature’s true quality goes beyond words. This quality is what Prodigal Farm revels in, revives, and expresses in everything they do. Read about their plans: how creatively they are expanding and living their fields of dreams; about their hard work.

Kathryn Spann was one of the founders of the South Durham Farmers’ Market. Her commitment to this lawyer-turned-farmer lifestyle is inspiring, visible, and rooted.

In her words: I’ve served on several boards, including the Durham Farmland Protection Advisory Board.  The South Durham Farmers’ Market started as an initiative of that board, which I chaired at the time.  The goal was to increase market opportunities for Durham farmers, since only 4-5 of the 70-odd vendors at the downtown Durham market are farmers from Durham.  The South Durham Farmers’ Market has helped many Durham and new farmers grow, and it is now a thriving community hub, where folks can find gorgeous produce and artisan foods.

Cheesemakers encourage us to be the master of our cheese. Cheese-lovers , do you like it young, innocent and mild, or mature and saucy?

Can Saxy villagers pass up Saxapahaw Blues?

Kathryn’s favorites are Field of Creams & Saxy Blues – and they’re also a great contrast on a cheese board.  Field of Creams, she says, really celebrates our clean and bright tasting goat milk, while Saxapahaw Blues highlights the richness of the milk produced by Reverence Farms’ lovely Jersey cows.

We now have Prodigal Farms’ cheeses at the Store, so you can taste that terroir and their dreams for yourself. When you taste, think about the river of history, soil, of roots, and of return. Taste and savor all of the labors of love and goats that share the space; of Kathryn and Dave, not adrift but listening to the Earth and their goats as they do the work of clearing brush, making cheese, learning, and selling what comes. The cow’s milk used in their growing cheese-making dairy comes from our neighboring Reverence Farms, one more example of sharing resources to create quality products to share. Quality, distinct from quantity, invites us to learn more about the cost of what is sold; not just in the money exchange but in the spectrum of the relationship between humans and animals, agriculture and eating, work and love. Statistically, there may be more and more cheeses offered in the marketplace, but they are not all created equal. Quality comes from love and love’s labor.

Prodigal Farm: A licensed farmstead cheese dairy; 97 acres; Pastured Animal welfare-approved goat herd; Conservation, biodiversity, sustainability, well-managed open land.  And a little better care every year, as they learn.

These life-words represent commitment and conscious choices by these now-farmers with the skills and enthusiasm to share the fruits of their labor with care and taste. We are grateful for them.

Wendell Berry wrote, I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as ‘consumers’. … One reason to eat responsibly is to live free.

To visit Prodigal Farm, check their website for directions and more. Spann and Crabbe also offer bread, produce, and other specialty items at the South Durham Farmer’s Market and the Market in Raleigh.

In the immortal words of Monty Python, blessed are the cheesemakers…

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