Green Beans–Behind the Scenes

As I was driving home, I noticed a field of what looked like soybeans, being harvested. I was quite confused at the sight (and the leaves all over the road) because soybeans aren’t harvested when they are green. Dad noticed the field too and stopped to investigate. He determined that they were green beans!


When I learned this, I grabbed my camera and asked Mom to drive. My plan was to just take pictures out the window, but there were workers standing right by the road. I quickly put the camera away to avoid being super awkward. Mom suggested that I should just go up to them and ask to take pictures. First of all, I was in purple stretchy shorts. Second, I had chicken shoes on (yard shoes with chickens on them and maybe even chicken poop). Unfortunately, Mom, in all her motherly wisdom, decided that I should go home to change. Now, I had absolutely no excuse.

I changed my shorts, but left the shoes (I was feeling bold). I asked Alec to go with me this time. I’m not sure that was the greatest idea because he was absolutely no nonsense about it all. All of a sudden, we were parked on the side of the road, and he was out of the truck telling me to come on. He walked up to the men, and said, “hey, my sister likes to take pictures, do you mind?” That was not the eloquent introduction I was going for, but it was something. I introduced myself and started shooting.


After talking to the guys there, I learned that they were from Pennsylvania and were with Hanover Foods. They had been working their way up from Florida picking beans on contract. This allowed for a longer growing season.



The current field they were working on was 147 acres, and they would harvest 41 million pounds of beans.


The neat part was we have bought Hanover green beans before from the store. Now, I know that someone had to grow those beans that I got from a can, but actually putting a face to the name and seeing the process was pretty special. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look too. Special thanks to the guys for letting me take pictures and answering questions.



Stop & Smell the Sage: A Look into NC Clary Sage Industry

Driving home from NC beaches, you may come across a sea of purple. Beautiful fields filled with flowering plants dot the sides of roads headed to the coast. These fields of flowers are not simply to look pretty, nor are they volunteer wildflowers. Rather, they are an upcoming crop for NC farmers. The flowering crop is clary sage.


Clary sage has roots (no pun intended) dating back to the Middle Ages. Used for its calming properties and benefits to the skin, it is not to be confused with the sage you may find in your kitchen spice rack. Clary sage, also known as salvia sclarea, is an herb that is found in many household items for its fragrance. Think dish soap, perfume, and detergent. It first must be extracted, though.


This is where a company in Bertie County comes in. Avoca Inc. is the largest extraction facility in North America for sclareol. They have been in the business since the 1960’s.  They take clary sage and produce sclareol  which helps fragrances have a longer life in items like soap and perfume. Avoca contracts with many farmers to grow a certain amount of acres. This is appealing for many  farmers because so many other crops have huge swings in prices. Clary sage is more stable.


Planted at the end of summer (August) the perennial grows until winter. At this point it becomes dormant until warmer weather hits again. By Late May, early June, the blooms are in full force. Blooms can be purple, pink, or white, depending on the variety. Harvesting begins mid to late June.


The smell the crop produces is obvious. It makes sense, since it is in the fragrance industry.  A special harvester is used that cuts up the plants into 1 inch cubes much like silage. The flowers have the highest oil content, but the entire plant is used. The harvest is sent to Avoca where they will extract throughout the year. Here is a video of harvesting:

Avoca contracts with over 120 farms, there are over 25,000 acres being devoted to growing clary sage in eastern North Carolina. North Carolina is definitely a major player in growing clary sage.


I was super excited to see all of the purple fields on the way home from the beach. So excited, I made Alec pull over on the side of the road so I could jump a ditch and take pictures of sage in the setting sun.


If you happen to see the purple (or white/pink) fields in North Carolina, know that they are much more than flowers. They are a farmer’s crop. So, roll down the windows to stop and smell the sage.




Avoca Inc.

NC Field & Family

A Farm of the Future: Butler Farms

Most hog farms involve a few common key aspects. There is typically a dirt path that leads to hog houses aligned in a row. There are lagoons (waste pits), fields, pumping reels, employees, and of course, pigs! However, I recently visited a hog farm that was a little bit different. It had all the “normals” I would expect in a hog farm– the farmer, pigs, and poop– but there were a few additions too. It wasn’t typical, and yet again it was. The best adjective I could find is futuristic.

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My day started with a drive through my alma mater, Campbell University (always a good day to go through camel country) and then on  deeper into Harnett County. I came upon my destination–Butler Farms. Following a long dirt path, rows of hog houses came into view on top of a hill overlooking a field. I pulled in and was greeted by Mr. Tom Butler, the owner of the ten-barn finishing farm.

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Originally tobacco farmers, the Butlers decided to build a hog farm. Recognizing the potential for incorporating new technologies on the farm, the Butlers began to research the color green — a greener way of pork production, that is.

In 2008, the first lagoon cover was installed; a second one was added later. One of the biggest tasks for hog farmers is managing lagoons, especially during wet weather. Lagoon levels naturally increase with the occurrence of precipitation, but lagoon covers help reduce the amount of precipitation that ends up in the lagoons, allowing for more manageable levels. The water that falls on top of the covers can simply be pumped onto crops. Not only do the covers reduce the stress of high lagoon levels, they also reduce 85% of the farm odor. If that isn’t awesome enough, it can also double as a type of trampoline…well sort of. You can walk on top of the cover, which is pretty cool, and yes, I walked on it!

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A covered lagoon
A covered lagoon

Working in conjunction with the lagoon covers is a digester. The digester stirs waste from the lagoons and builds up bio-gas methane that is then converted into electricity! Pipes take the methane from the digester into a building that houses an engine that runs a 180 KW gen-set. This engine utilizes the methane as its fuel to power the gen-set which produces electricity  that is used to power the farm.

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In addition to the methane run gen-set, Mr. Butler has also installed solar panels to add to the electricity production. The farm produces enough electricity to not only run the farm, but to also provide excess electricity which can then be sold to South River Electric Membership Cooperation.

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A final section of the farm is the composter. On a farm, it is inevitable that death occurs. On the Butler farm, any mortality is sent to the composter to be turned into fertilizer. The compost is mixed with wood chips to make the fertilizer that is spread on the fields.


edit9To keep the fertilizer as nutrient rich as possible, it must be kept at a specific temperature. Anything higher than 160 degrees, and the fertilizer will begin to lose nutrients, so keeping a steady temperature is imperative. This is accomplished with air that is circulated through pipes at the bottom of the pile of fertilizer. Not much goes to waste on the Butler farm.

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Part of the machinery that runs the air flow in the composter
The control panel that manages the air flow in the composter

Of course, I couldn’t walk away from the farm without seeing some of the 7,800 pigs on the property. After all, they are my favorite farm animal, not to mention the money-makers. For the Butlers, they are not only the  bacon, but they are the “poopers” that make bio-energy.

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So, there you have  a virtual tour of Butler Farms. What you haven’t seen yet is the passion behind the technology.
I spoke with Mr. Butler about his farm and why he wanted to incorporate so much technology. He shared with me that his motto is “A green farm for a green future.” It doesn’t take long to identify Mr. Butler’s dedication to following his motto. To couple with his desire to be green is his passion for science and technology. I had to frequently stop a discussion to ask questions about some complicated concept , but Mr. Butler knew the ins and outs of it all.

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Mr. Butler was able to implement much of his technology through grants. He is a huge advocate of installing lagoon covers and other technological advances in other farms across the state. He hopes to see a day when his farm is not the future but the norm, and he never skips an opportunity to share his knowledge and ideas with others. Mr. Butler is very open to visitors and tours of his farm. University groups have spent a great deal of time at his farm running experiments, and he has spoken with and given farm tours to politicians, international persons, and various organizations.
The Butlers hope to one day see more farms across North Carolina and the nation implement similar technologies; however, it will take time. These new ideas are not perfect and are costly, but they hold much promise. Mr. Butler is dedicated to constantly improving. He researches a great deal and is already making plans for further improvements.
Butler Farms, in many ways, is a typical hog farm. The name of the game is pigs and poop, and doing that responsibly and well. However, Butler Farms is more than typical. They are innovative and, dare I say, futuristic.

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I truly enjoyed my time at Butler Farms learning about the technology, walking on a lagoon, and talking pigs in the farm office. A huge thank you to Mr. Butler, his son Will, and the rest of the crew at the farm for sharing their time with me.

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Tom Butler is left and Will Butler is right

As I drove back down the dirt path to leave the farm, it started to rain. I couldn’t help but think of the technology that would provide a barrier between the rain and those lagoons.

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The Year of the Goat/Sheep: Chinese New Year

While today may seem like a regular day, for some it is quite the holiday. For me, it is my Valentine’s Day since Garrett and I missed out on the normal one due to ice and work schedules. We never liked to follow trends anyway.

That isn’t the holiday I’m talking about, though. Today is the Chinese New Year. What makes it even cooler, is it marks the year of the goat/sheep–two of my favorite farm animals. When I heard that it was the year of the goat/sheep, I got curious as to what this meant and what exactly the Chinese New Year entails.

Luckily, I have a friend at school who is an international student from China. Yue answered all my questions, and told me some pretty cool stuff. So, here is what I learned:

The Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is based off of the lunar calendar. In China, this holiday is equivalent to our Christmas except wearing red and green is a no,no. On the Spring Festival, people wear red, but green is considered unlucky. In addition, Chinese people think that the combination of red and green is very ugly. I thought this was very interesting, and will be sure to not wear a Christmas colored sweater if I ever visit China.

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Don’t wear green!

When I asked Yue if it was the year of the goat or the sheep, she explained that Chinese people do not differentiate between the two. This was very odd to me, as they are so different for me. I suppose, then you could say that it is the year of goat or sheep–pick your favorite 🙂 Yue said that there wasn’t anything really special about the year of the goat/sheep, but senior citizens in China think that babies born in this year are weak.


Where my family has black-eyed peas and collard greens for New Year’s, Yue’s family makes dumplings. She told me that it is a lengthy process to make the dumplings and the filling for them. Her family enjoys dumplings filled with mutton and carrots, but other families may use a combination of pork, green Chinese onion, and cabbage. In addition to eating dumplings, there are fireworks. Yue likes to watch the Spring Festival Gala with her family. When it comes to the Lunar New Year, people wear new clothes (usually red), and kids say “Happy New Year” to their parents and grandparents. Older generations give “red bag” filled with money to the children.

Yue also shared with me these facts about the holiday:

One week before the Spring Festival, many Chinese workers who work in big cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, begin to go back to their hometown, the rural area in China. The expense for travel through half of China is not cheap. But these workers would rather spend a large amount of money they earned during the last year just to go back home and get together with their families. So, Spring Festival is not only a holiday for people to have a break, but also a convention to remind each generation the meaning of family and true happiness. 

I’m so thankful to Yue for sharing her culture with me. I enjoyed learning about it! So, here is to the year of the goat/sheep. Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Perhaps, there will be dumplings on the menu today.