The Many Hands Peace Farm is an educational farm dedicated to teaching apprentices and The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center’s guests about the concepts and techniques of regenerative agriculture.
The Many Hands Peace Farm contributes to The Mountain’s overall environmental sustainability, producing food, mushrooms, flowers, and herbs for use in our kitchen and dining hall. The Farm sells produce at Highlands Farmers' Market and Cashiers Farmers' Market. This generates modest revenue, raises visibility for the Farm and The Mountain, and provides our apprentices direct marketing and sales experience as well as farm training. Farm staff regularly host farm tours, foraging and wild edibles tours, workshops, and other educational programs in the area to learn from other farmers and gardeners.
We use no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc. Most of the work on the farm is done with hand tools, though we occasionally use a walk behind tiller or tractor. We compost all food-waste from the dining hall to reduce our waste stream and to utilize nutrients and organic matter that would otherwise go to the landfill. Many Hands Peace Farm aspires to make a lasting impact on The Mountain, its overall sustainability, and our guests through educational programming, improving the soil and infrastructure of cultivated areas, and planting perennial food crops.
How and Why It Began
In 2009, Brian Gifford and a small group of Mountain staff had a vision of sustainable agriculture at The Mountain. This vision became the Many Hands Peace Farm. This program has evolved to provide environmental and agricultural education for guests, cultivate environmental awareness and sustainability, and produce locally grown, organic food for guests attending Mountain programs. As well as local communities through the Cashiers and Highlands Farmers Markets. Through determination and hard work the Many Hands Peace Farm and began its first season in 2010. True to its name sake, many have contributed to see this vision of regenerative agriculture in practice. Learn more about our commitment to soil, sustainability and stewardship bellow.
For the first time this summer, we will be also be hosting a week-long Farm Camp for kids aged 12-17. This will be an immersive, place-based educational experience focused on connecting practical, kinesthetic learning to broader issues and concepts. Kids will learn about mushroom farming, foraging/wildcrafting, soil ecology, animal husbandry, basic horticulture, composting & waste upcycling. This camp will engage creative minds with hands-on learning, while fostering holistic thinking & problem-solving, appreciation of the natural world and human’s roles within nature, food consciousness, interdependence, and healing the land as healing ourselves. For more information, please click here.
Many Hands Peace Farm is in the process of establishing a 1-acre Food Forest in the Black Locust grove at the base of The Mountain. A food forest is an intentionally managed space with trees, shrubs, vines, low-lying plants, and mushrooms that are planted in symbiotic communities, and all together produce a long-lasting, abundant harvest for humans and wildlife.
Thanks to a group of wonderful donors, we raised over $5,000 for this project on Faithify.org. We’ve used some of the money to buy over 200 fruit or nut-producing trees and bushes, many of which were purchased from nearby nurseries that specialize in native and naturalized food producing species. In fall 2017 we planted these new acquisitions into a temporary nursery adjacent to the food forest, to allow them to naturalize to our climate for a full year while we prepared the Food Forest area. During summer and fall 2018, we rotated roosters and turkeys through the space in mobile coops, letting them do some soil-prepping work for us by trampling and scratching the weeds/plants and leaving us open soil to scatter cover-crop seed and introduce our perennials. We are happy to say that over this past fall and winter, with great thanks to all of our volunteer help, we established all of the plants from 2017 in our Food Forest– and they are looking happy!
By establishing the Food Forest, we create a demonstration site for those interested in homesteading and regenerative agriculture, This space will also be used as a unique outdoor learning space for MountainCamp activities and other programming. The Food Forest is an attractive place for guests, campers, and visitors to gather for peaceful reflection, wedding receptions, forest-to-table dinners, or other social events.
The space provides habitat and forage for a wide range of wildlife, including bees, butterflies, deer, rabbits, birds, toads, and thousands of soil microorganisms. If we provide these critters with ample food in the Food Forest, they’re more likely to coexist with our field crops rather than destroy them!
In addition, the Food Forest contributes to the farm’s financial fortitude. Fruits, nuts, and other products derived from the Food Forest will be processed into products to be sold at market or our Mountain Store. Many of these products, such as greens, herbs, nuts, berries and fruits, will be supplied to The Mountain’s kitchen for preparing delicious meals and unique desserts for our guests that are locally sourced and bioregionally appropriate.
Mushrooms on The Mountain
The Many Hands Peace Farm has created a Mushroom Laboratory as part of our overall food production and education programming. The edible mushrooms will be used by our Mountain kitchen staff in meal preparation for guests and campers, with additional mushrooms sold locally to markets and restaurants, depending on supply and demand.
The educational aspect of the Mushroom Laboratory project involves teaching Mountain guests, campers, local visitors, farm apprentices and staff about mushrooms and how they grow and reproduce. Visitors and staff can learn about the nutritional and health benefits mushrooms provide, other medicinal uses for mushrooms, how mushroom cultivation fosters environmental sustainability, recycling and waste management. This is being done by reusing waste materials generated by The Mountain–cardboard boxes, paper, coffee grounds & paper filters, plastic and wood containers to feed and grow the mushrooms. Sustainable waste management through this kind of mushroom production has many potential benefits for the environment, cost savings for the organizations, as well as the learning process for all involved. Children and youth on planned visits to the farm will receive Mushroom Kits to take home with them and grow their own.
We are grateful to the Rotary Club of Highlands for the grant they provided in 2017 to fund Mushroom Lab sterilization equipment.
The farm is proud to provide handcrafted, locally & sustainably foraged mountain goods for all to enjoy! Our products include: herbal salve, medicinal mushroom tinctures, beeswax lip balm, and hand-stuffed herbal teas. You can find our products at The Mountain Store.
From May through October we sell these goods, as well as our fresh produce, at Highlands Farmers Market (every Saturday morning) and Cashiers Farmers Market (every Wednesday afternoon). Come by, say hello, and try a sample!
Resources for Fruiting Mycologist:
The best regional guide book for identifying wild mushrooms: A Field Guide to Mushrooms of the Carolinas By Alan E. Bessette, Arleen R. Bessette, Michael W. Hopping. This book lays it out there in the right level of complexity and won't show you any California mushrooms to confuse you.
The Bible for all things fungi is Radical Mycology by Peter McCoy It'll teach you everything about fungal biology and the myriad ways to work with them.
If you're interested in learning more on medicinal mushrooms, the book for you is The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms and Lichens of North America by Robert Rogers.
We have a happy flock of around 60 chickens both young and old! Currently we have Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Plymouth Barred Rocks, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Americaunas, Transylvanian Naked Necks, and a few mixed breed roosters. We primarily hatch our own chicks every spring.
We also have a mixed flock of 12 ducks (Khaki Campbell & Ancona), and 3 Bourbon Red turkeys. Our birds have access to pasture every day and freely intermingle with one another. Their coops are managed with the deep litter method. This consists of regularly adding leaves or sawdust to retain nutrients, give the chickens something to scratch through, and to keep the chicken coop free of unpleasant odors. During the growing season we rotate our poultry to help us prepare uncultivated land for annual and perennial crop production. We supplement their foraged diets with fermented grain and kitchen scraps, plus calcium to ensure they receive all their necessary nutrients and minerals.
Our eggs go to the Highlands Farmers Market, Cashiers Farmers Market and are also available to our guests on the salad bar.
Come visit our happy poultry!
What’s Growing on the Farm?
Though we have a short growing season due to our elevation, we usually have produce available late May – mid October.
Here is what is growing in the garden this year:
Greenhouse: tomatoes, violas, lettuce mix, sugar snap peas, lettuce, kale, spinach, collard greens, basil, nasturtium, micro greens, lemon balm, mint, stevia. We also start all our flats in the greenhouse before we transplant them into the field.
Garden: potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers (jalapeños, poblanos, cayenne, sweet peppers), beets, chard, radishes, bush beans, pole beans, corn, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, collards, kale, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, cut flowers, turnips, garlic, sunchokes.
Herb Garden: thyme, basil, dill, chives, rosemary, mint, violas
Flower Garden: Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Sunflowers, Yarrow, Gaillardia, Mint, Echinacea.
As part of our pollinator habitat development efforts, supported by our 2017 Feed a Bee grant, we have established an array of flowers to attract pollinators to the Food Forest. We are especially excited about planting Honey Berry, which flowers early and is a premium for bees and other pollinators. We are pleased that the Macon County Community Foundation has generously awarded funds for expanding our educational programs about pollinators and pollinator ecosystems. With the guidance of local entomologist, and photographers, we will be conducting our second insect and pollinator inventory survey process next year involving area students. In preparation for this program, aerial and drag nets and other survey equipment and supplies have been purchased.
Farm Apprenticeship Program
The Mountain offers Farm Apprenticeships in conjunction with our Many Hands Peace Farm and support The Mountain’s overall commitment to sustainability.
This Farm Apprenticeship program initially began in 2014 and is designed to support the individual learner’s professional development through experiential education. Apprentices are hired to live, learn, and work at The Mountain during each session. The 22 or 16 week sessions include educational off-site field trips to local farms, conferences, and workshops in Western North Carolina. There is also a practical focus to grow organic produce for use in The Mountain kitchen.
Aside from acquiring farming skills, apprentices learn techniques in experiential education through facilitating educational workshops, customer service and business management skills, and wild plant/mushroom identification.
Apprentices will be mentored by The Many Hands Peace Farm Managers.
If you are interested in helping on the farm
for a shorter stint come volunteer!
Apprentices select a personal project to complete during their apprenticeship. Examples of past projects include: mushroom log cultivation, blacksmithing hand tools, planning an edible food forest, researching and teaching about wild edibles, and building and planting a kitchen herb garden.
The apprenticeship program includes the completion of specific goals in the acquisition of practical skills related to the following topics:
Are you Interested...?
You will need to submit the following information:
Your resume of experience and education
A cover letter explaining why you would like to be considered for this program and what you can contribute to this learning opportunity.
Contact information for three references, such as a former supervisor in volunteer or paid work, teacher, or mentor. Please describe when and in what capacity you worked with each reference.
Important include phone number and email of references.
Applicants must be 18 or older.
All apprentices selected for this program must pass a background check. This background check is necessary since farm apprentices will be working directly with youth and adult Mountain Retreat and Learning Center guests.