The Jacksons started Grass Grazed farm in 2019 to introduce others to the benefits of regenerative agriculture
By Marie Muir | Photography by John Michael Simpson
“Penny gets sassy, but I love her,” Paige Jackson, in her mud-splashed overalls and pearl earrings, says as she gestures toward an unfazed Jersey cow. She leads a small tour group through Grass Grazed farm on North Roxboro Street, occasionally pausing in the soft dusk light to apologize for getting lost in tangents about the benefits of regenerative agriculture – the farming practice of raising livestock without antibiotics, genetically modified organisms or chemicals. Each animal at Grass Grazed is adapted to the Piedmont environment and contributes to the health of the soil as livestock are rotated from pasture to pasture, allowing vegetation to recover and be fertilized.
Paige proudly points out tractor tire marks in the pasture – proof that their animals are moved multiple times daily to feed on fresh grass throughout the farm. When the livestock is ready to be processed, it’s done at USDA-approved facilities that meet North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services standards.
“We support people who are conscious of what they’re eating and how it benefits their body,” Paige says, noting for instance that, since her family started living off their own farm products, they very rarely get sick.
Grass Grazed farm is owned and operated by Paige and her husband, Derrick Jackson. They founded the farm in 2019 following Derrick’s retirement after serving in the U.S. military for 14 years, eight of which were spent at Fort Bragg. Farming helped Derrick, originally from Mississippi, transition back into civilian life and has evolved into a full-time family business along with their five children: Madlynn, 1, Mikah, 4, Makartney, 5, Mayer, 8, and Maxwell, 10. In addition to their 7-acre homestead in Bahama, Derrick and Paige manage two parcels of farmland – a total of 170 acres – in Rougemont.
Friends and family were surprised when Derrick ordered chicks by mail. “Chickens are the gateway drug into farming,” Paige laughs. But that was just the beginning.
The first-generation farmers now shepherd more than 700 animals, including seven Jersey cows, 70 Berkshire-Duroc and Kunekune-Tamworth pigs, 500-600 Cornish cross hens per month (raised for their meat) and 75-plus Rhode Island Reds and Red Rangers (egg-laying chickens).
Derrick and Paige started Grass Grazed only a few months before the onset of the pandemic. Farmers market cancellations forced the entrepreneurs to fast forward ahead of their original business plan. They quickly established an e-commerce platform in order to continue selling meat and dairy products.
Luckily, Paige is no stranger to digital sales and marketing. Her past experience as a social media director helped grow Grass Grazed’s digital audience and connect them with like-minded consumers and farmers. Life on the farm has been a welcome change of pace for Paige, who operated as a single parent while Derrick was in the military. Now Derrick can spend more time with the family and also apply some of the survival and problem-solving skills he acquired in the military.
“You learn a lot of random stuff in the military, then when you leave, you’re like, ‘How do I put this on a resume without spooking somebody?’” Derrick says.
Today, the husband-and-wife duo function as farmers, business partners, digital storytellers, parents and now, teachers, after making the decision to home-school their children during the pandemic.
Daily chores are a core piece of their educational curriculum. Paige believes collecting eggs and feeding animals along with other farm responsibilities have given the five siblings a stronger work ethic and a tighter bond. “There’s always going to be broken eggs or spilled milk, but you can’t cry over those things, because I feel like it’s a part of parenting,” Paige says.
Grass Grazed shares the benefits of their approach to agriculture by inviting the public to farm tours and The Farmers Table – a four-course dinner featuring Grass Grazed products and other produce and goods harvested from nearby farms that are shared among farmers and the community on site at Grass Grazed’s farm.
Visitors snap pics of piglets and plates of sauteed vegetables while Derrick and Paige talk about their farming practices. Raleigh-based chef/owner of 58 Deli and Catering Travise Lott prepared the feast for The Farmers Table in late July, which was served family-style at one long farm table – Paige built two sections of the table with a fellow farmer, finishing the project the same day as the dinner. Dishes included Paige’s cayenne-spiced pork cracklings, Southern collards and a saute of veggies, honey cornbread and smoked Grass Grazed chicken finished in Travise’s housemade Carolina sauce. The kids scrambled over one another for dessert plates of whipped peaches and cream compote. This was the fourth ticketed outdoor dinner at the farm – the first took place in October 2020 and was backed by the Black Farmers Market, a membership farmers market and trade union that supports more than 30 Black farmers and entrepreneurs.
There’s power in eating a meal produced by farmers beside farmers, Paige says. “This was always what I wanted,” she says. “A long table, where we’re sharing a meal with people from the community [and are] able to have precision about food and talk about the things that we love and what inspires us. I feel like we have so much in common that we really don’t know. But you don’t know that until you share a meal together.”
Paige and Derrick share stories about the food on the table while the children at this particular dinner run around beneath the pine tree limbs and the warm glow of market lights. “We’ve uncovered a new face [of ] agriculture for our families,” says Derrick, whose relatives used to farm by necessity. “They grew up on farms, and it was one of the things where it was like, ‘We do this because we have to do it.’ Many families lived on farms and relied on crops for supplemental income in order to cover property taxes or in exchange for rent. You work and maintain the land; your family is allowed to live on the land.”
Recent media coverage of Grass Grazed by Heifer USA – a branch of the global organization Heifer International, which strives to end hunger and poverty in a sustainable way by supporting and investing in local farmers and their communities – has introduced the Jackson family’s story and regenerative agriculture to an even wider audience via a 20-minute documentary, “How to Start a Regenerative Farm From Scratch.” Paige and Derrick plan to expand Grass Grazed’s educational platform by establishing an organization that equips people with the necessary tools and knowledge to begin their own farm. But if you care about the environment and want to cultivate a community that values local, responsible agriculture, you don’t have to start your own farm – you can simply choose to support your farmers. “Spend your dollars and try to get as close as you can to sustaining your family off of a local farm,” Derrick says. “That’s a challenge. It requires work. But that’s a super important way you can get involved.”