COMO – When Marshall Bartlett was a young boy, he felt the place he called home was paradise.
But his father felt strongly about his three children growing up and leaving the farm.
One by one, they did.
Brother Jemison studied economics at the University of the South and agricultural finance at Texas A&M’s business school. These days he works at an agricultural investment bank in Charlotte, N.C.
Sister May Leinhart lives in Albuquerque, N.M., but will move with her husband and daughter this summer to Greenville, S.C.
Marshall majored in environmental studies at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He did an internship at the Virgin Island Sustainable Farm Institute in St. Croix. But then, the youngest of Meg and Mike Bartlett’s children had a hardy hankering for home.
“I wanted to come back to the South,” Marshall said. “I wanted to work on some ideas I had to bring this place into the 21st century.”
“This place” is 1,800 acres of land in Como that has been in the Bartlett family for five generations. In its earlier decades, the Bartlett farm boasted of traditional row crops, such as corn and cotton.
Mike Bartlett continues to grow and gin cotton on much of the acreage.
“Several years ago, I came home thinking I’d have some pensive, reflective time to decide what I wanted to do,” Marshall said, laughing. “But Dad threw me into the cotton gin as soon as I got here.”
Even while working for his father in the cotton gin, Marshall continued to make a plan for his future, which included the family farm.
“No matter where I was, subconsciously I always seemed to circle back to the farm,” the 27-year-old Marshall said.
For the past two and a half years, he’s watched his plans come to fruition on 170 of the 1,800 acres of family land.
At Home Place Pastures, Marshall raises pigs — “north of 400” — and recently he’s added 26 steers and 40 sheep to the mix. His father was skeptical at first, “but now he is 100 percent behind me. In fact, the whole family is on board.”
That includes Jemison as Home Place Pastures’ chief financial officer, May “mediates, counsels and offers grant writing assistance and research support,” dad, Mike, is a mentor and fount of agricultural wisdom in addition to managing the family cotton gin. And mom Meg?
“She is the sweetest woman in the world,” Marshall said. “She makes all our bank deposits, cuts out articles, helps keep us organized and is a voice of reason, taste and decency.”
Marshall is co-founder and president of Home Place Pastures.
“It’s a family effort all the way around,” he said.
In one part of the pasture, just across Home Place Road from the Bartlett family home, the sows and boars — the “baby makers,” as Marshall calls them — reside. On a sunny Saturday in March, the piglets were plentiful — some running and romping with litter mates, others lined up beside mama’s belly for a meal.
Home Place Pastures boasts “happy and healthy” pigs. Though most are being raised for food, Marshall and employees have given names to some of the pigs. Debra and Doris, Renetta and The Screamer are among the sows. Socks and Chuck Boris are the boars.
Of course, not all the pigs have names – there are far too many.
“You gotta like a pig a lot to name it,” Marshall said.
The hogs on Home Place Pastures are primarily Tamworths and Red Wattles.
“We raise purebreds and hybrids of these two breeds,” Marshall said.
Both breeds are known for their red coloring; and the Red Wattles, of course, boast a wattle or tassel near the underside of the neck. The wattles, which serve no purpose, make the animals look a little strange, but their dark red meat is some of the best around, he said.
Visitors also might see some Berkshire, Large Black and Hampshire breeds among the “Tams” and “Reds.” One litter might be 10 piglets strong, and there was one 12-piglet litter, but “We try to shoot for seven in a litter.
“Early on we lost a lot of pigs,” Marshall said. “We made mistakes, but we’re learning. There’s a pretty steep learning curve.”
The ears of the pigs are tagged for the purpose of tracing genetics and helping with all the farm’s record keeping. And, of course, there’s some color-coding to make it easy to quickly tell the males from the females — the boys are blue, the girls are yellow.
The piglets are weaned when they’re 6 weeks old. At that point, they’re moved to another portion of the pasture and continue to grow while eating a specially formulated feed mixed on site and including non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) corn grown at Home Place Pastures.
“We are serious about what our pigs eat, not only for their good health, but also for ours,” Marshall said.
The farm also has a unique watering system set up for the pigs.
“They drink the same water we do,” Marshall said. “Straight from our well to stainless steel nipple dispensers that they bite to drink from. The water is always fresh. There’s never any harmful contamination.”
The small boars are brought up to replace the aging population. And four to six weeks before slaughter, the feeder pigs roam freely on four acres of pasture and hardwoods, eating roots and acorns.
“This is what makes the difference in their flavor and texture that is not found in hogs that are confined,” Marshall said. “They have pretty good lives here.”
When the hogs hit 270 to 280 pounds, they are loaded for processing by a humane handling system designed and built based on the work of Dr. Temple Grandin, an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.
Soon, the animals raised at Home Place Pastures will no longer travel far from the farm for processing. Marshall’s dad is building an on-farm slaughter and processing facility. When it’s completed, it will be USDA-inspected so the products can be distributed across state lines.
Marshall said the facility, which he and his father designed, is a labor of love. The building will include an office overlooking the kill floor which will belong to the USDA inspector.
“USDA inspectors have to have their own bathroom and office,” Marshall said. “And there will be other office space upstairs as well.”
The processing room will be “where the magic happens,” and a smokehouse will be where the meats will be smoked and cured. The facility also will have a walk-in cooler and a retail store where neighbors, chefs and others can purchase the Home Place Pastures products. The facility will be available to others as well.
“Other farmers will also be able to have their animals processed with us under USDA inspection to help them reach profitable markets outside the state,” Marshall said. “I believe we will be the only USDA facility in the state processing beef, lamb and pork.”
Amazingly, Marshall, three full-time employees and a few part-timers take care of the bulk of the labor on the farm.
Though Marshall tries not to make the farm a 24/7 job, sometimes it seems that way.
“It takes so much time to maintain it all,” he said. “We mix five to six tons of feed a week, manage the breeding and the piglets, and so much more.”
Sometimes at Home Place Pastures, however, the work pauses for a bit and it’s time to celebrate.
At least twice a year, the Bartlett family hosts a party for friends, neighbors and the community. Front and center at the parties is an old yellow school bus, with one long side cut away to make a covered stage for gospel groups and other bands that might take a turn offering music.
It’s all part of the mission of Home Place Pastures — community involvement, economic sustainability, land stewardship and ethical treatment of the animals.
“It’s a fun way to farm,” Marshall said. “Much more engaging and fun than crops. Farming row crops, you hope for a good crop so you can pay back your loan and make a living.”
A lot has changed on this acreage in Como since Marshall’s double-great-grandfather Dr. Archibald “Archie” Yarbrough became the owner of what was then called Yarbrough Farms. A doctor for the Confederacy in the Civil War, he purchased the farm after the war.
Tended with loving care and hard work and held onto tenaciously by one family since 1870, the legacy of Home Place Pastures continues today in the hands of yet another generation.
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