Women Rock: How Mother and Daughter (Plus Father) Work Together to Run a Successful Local Farm

| By Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, Wholistic Nutritionist |

On a recent, early Saturday afternoon I’m sitting with Dawn Robertson and her 17-year-old daughter, Madison (Maddy), talking about their farm – East Fork Farm in Marshall, NC.

Girls Collecting Eggs at East Fork Farm

We’re gathered around a small table in a room behind their vendor’s booth in the Indoor Winter Tailgate Market located in Crosspoint Church at 119 Cumberland Avenue in Asheville. We’re surrounded by a dozen, large Styrofoam coolers in which they bring their farm produce to sell. One of the first comments Dawn makes to me is “Women Rock!” In this article I’ll share some of what Dawn and Maddy shared with me, along with a few of my own thoughts relevant to the topic of foods and health.

Dawn tells me a bit of her history. “Before Stephen and I bought the farm, we were working in the computer world. I was working with a very well known company and felt as though I was ‘owned’ by them, that I was on call 24/7. We bought the farm in 1996 to get out of the ‘rat race’ of the business world and because we wanted to feed our future family healthy foods. I quit my job and Stephen continued working off the farm to provide an income to support us. We both have worked off the farm at times to allow us to build the farm as our primary source of income; I’m happy to say that we have now reached that goal!

“Neither of us had any farming in our background when we bought East Fork Farm. We read lots of books because this was before Google. Later, I learned how to castrate pigs by watching a YouTube® video! Of course we made some silly mistakes. Our neighbor had a goat that wasn’t being cared for in a healthy way. So we bought the goat for $100, built a 3-foot high fence around a small parcel of land, and put the goat inside. The day we moved the goat into the fenced area, we were leaving to go into town. As we drove to the road we saw the goat jump over the fence! We didn’t know how high a goat could jump! Another time I caught a skunk in a Havahart® trap that does not kill it. However, I didn’t know how to get the skunk out without getting sprayed! So I contacted the Madison County Animal Shelter and found someone who could show me how to release the skunk. Whew!

New Baby Lamb

“I call Stephen the ‘face of the farm,’ while I’m the CEO because I make the decisions about the farm and cottages. It takes teamwork! We are a working farm and have three people – me, my husband and my daughter, as well as two to four interns depending on the season. We do all the work on the 40-acre farm and cottages. That long list includes caring for all the animals, harvesting the small ones to put in our freezers, gathering/washing/putting eggs in cartons, growing corn that we grind in our gristmill, maintaining every building, cleaning the house and cottages, as well as giving tours. I schedule the cottage guests and provide a tour if people want one. A few years ago there were several incidents where I learned I had to create certain boundaries for myself and stick to them!”

Suddenly Maddy gets up to help a customer make a purchase. When she returns, she proudly announces that she will be 17 in five days. She wants to be an emergency room nurse and is studying Spanish in high school so she can be bi-lingual when nursing.

“We intentionally diversified what we did on the farm. We raise chickens, ducks, lamb, beef, pork, and trout in a natural pond. We raise corn and grind it in the gristmill. If a farmer feeds the animals crummy foods, that is unhealthy foods, the animals become unhealthy.” (Yes, this is true for people as well! The building blocks for every cell and substance in our body and brain come from what we eat and drink and breathe and put on our skin that disappears – think cosmetics. So when we eat healthier foods, drink healthier liquids, breathe healthier air, and put healthier cosmetics on our skin, we get healthier.)


“In 2016, we began making a transition to non-GMO feed for our animals. And now we have access to a continuous supply of GMO-free foods. We prefer to process all the small animals on the farm, because it’s very stressful to put the live animals in a cage on a truck and transport them a long distance to have someone else do it. They taste better because they are under less stress. However, all large animals like cows must be handled at special facilities as mandated by the US Department of Agriculture.

“Start small and think big! Take baby steps. Find out what works and what grows in your soil! It’s more honorable now to work on a farm than it used to be. Organic foods taste better and are more nutritious. We sow wheat and rye for the grazing animals. In the fall we spread the composted manure that makes the soil more acidic. We add what are called amendments to the soil, like lime that neutralizes the acidity.

“Stephen and I were the primary people who got the indoor Winter Market started. This happened with the help of Diane Saccone, and the YMCA got involved.”

The YMCA Indoor Winter Tailgate Market is currently being held at the Crosspoint Church at 119 Cumberland Avenue on Saturdays until March 25, 2017 from 10 AM to 12:30 PM.

To find Dawn and Maddy, walk in the open door, into the large room full of vendors, shoppers, and lively conversation. Go straight ahead to the second vendor on the left and say hello to them. Watch the smiles that appear on their faces. Or check them out on their website – http://eastforkfarm.net. While it’s only a 30-mile drive from Asheville, please call them before you come out: Stephen – 828-206-3276.

Finally here’s an acronym to remember about foods: FLOSS = fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable. Those are the qualities of the very healthiest foods a person can eat. And remember to eat well to be well. Your health depends on it!

Elizabeth Pavka, Ph.D. is a Wholistic Nutritionist practicing in Asheville, NC. She may be reached at 828-712-8938.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker