By Heather Mundt
Waiting in the verdant pastures of Mahaffey Farms, we heard the eager rumblings of hungry cattle, grunting and mooing in anticipation of a new patch of grass.
“We use a call that all southern cattlemen use,” says farmer Evan McCommon, who manages his family’s Mahaffey Farms in Princeton, La., near North Louisiana’s Shreveport-Bossier (BOWS-yer) City area.
“Whooooooo! Whoooooo! C’mon, ladies,” calls McCommon and son Taylor, directing the herd toward a fresh paddock to graze, a common practice among many American farms.
But this is no common farm, evidenced by the unique cows descending the hilltop. Among them are Pineywoods, Corriente and Longhorns, descendants from Spanish explorers’ stock tracing back to the 16th Century.
“They’ve spent 150-200 years adapting to this land,” Taylor says. “We’re not going to change them that much.”
It’s all part of the family’s holistic approach to farming that includes propagating heritage animal breeds like the Spanish Colonial cattle and others like Red Wattle hogs in an effort to “mimic nature,” Evan says.
“We’re using resilient breeds that are hardy,” Evan says, which also means they don’t require much human or chemical intervention to survive. “They can thrive on their own.”
That also means implementing “mob grazing” techniques, where the animals are moved daily to fresh pastures (during the growing season). The cows, for example, spend their entire lives grazing and foraging on the property’s pine and oak savannas, he says, supplemented only by non-fertilized hay. As well, the pigs spend their lives as pigs were meant to live, Evan says, able to roam, root, wallow and lounge in open spaces.
Doing so, “allows the grass and forage plants to recover fully and build soil,” he says. “It also keeps the animals in a more sanitary environment because it keeps them off of yesterday’s manure.”
Part of a growing regenerative-agriculture movement—an organic-farming practice that not only helps maintain but regenerate healthy, natural soils without the use of chemicals—Evan saw a need in his community for healthier, whole foods that are free of preservatives, hormones or pesticides.
“Regenerative means you’re improving and growing,” he says. “We’re trying to build soil instead of just destroying it.”
As Evan describes on the Farm’s site: “We believe everything on the farm is connected. Every decision we make affects every part of the farm, our products and, ultimately, our community.”
Mahaffey Farms got its start in the 1920s, when Evan’s great-uncle Happy Mahaffey purchased the land. Managing his family’s farm since 1995, Evan initially focused primarily on timber production, conservation and wildlife management. But after a 2008 downturn in the economy, he sought alternative-income methods for the farm.
Frustrated by the lack of access to healthy foods in his area, he began growing chemical-free, sustainably-grown vegetables. After a successful spring 2012 at the local farmers’ market—and with help from son Taylor, nephew Bryce and mom Sandra—he launched expansion plans to include pork, poultry, eggs and grass-finished beef.
This year, he also helped organize the Pineywoods Supper Club, a members-only social group celebrating the area’s brand of Southern cuisine and beverage. What’s more, Mahaffey Farms hosts educational events, where community members can learn about and eat good food.
Both events are an effort to “Cultivate the 318,” his farm’s tagline in reference to their area code, generating interest in local cuisine and culture. Evan also hopes these programs will increase interest in and accessibility to healthy, whole foods in his area of Louisiana.
“We’re trying to build a more resilient community through a better local food system,” he says. “If we improve fertility, we can feed more people. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Sweet Potato Oranges*
A simple Southern recipe used at Mahaffey Farms that's perfect for fall
4 Large sweet potatoes, cooked
1 Cup brown sugar
½ Teaspoon ground cloves
1 ½ Teaspoon allspice
½ Cup orange juice
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup pecans, chopped
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
Mix all ingredients in mixer and scoop into empty orange-half peels. Place mini marshmallows on top of orange halves, and sprinkle with pecans and coconut. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. *To put a true Louisiana spin on this recipe, use Satsuma oranges.
Heather Mundt is contributing editor for Outdoor Families Magazine and authors her blog, Momfari. She lives in Colorado.