As a local, family farm, the Shenk family has the opportunity to integrate the beneficial aspects of their family, farm, and community into their business model. Rachel says, “We want to create value around us, and the farm is the way that we have chosen to hopefully bring tangible and intangible value to our family and our community. One of our other values is a happy and healthy community. We have the privilege of stewarding the land and animals God has entrusted to us to provide good, wholesome food produced with transparency and integrity for our community. When people buy one of our products, they know that it is coming from our family and that is pretty awesome.”
Joe and Rachel raise laying hens, broiler chickens, pigs, and turkeys. They also partner with a local grass-fed beef farm to provide their customers with quality beef products. In addition to pork, they also have a breeding program and sell weaned piglets. One of their values is having happy and healthy animals. Rachel adds, “This doesn't mean we play classical music and give them foot rubs, although it is fun when a 500-pound pig rolls over for a belly rub. But it does mean that we proactively manage the animals and land in a way that ensures the animals can express their natural instincts and the environment around them is improved by their presence. Simply put, they live outside with appropriate mobile shelters, are rotated frequently to new pasture or woodlot, and are provided a high-quality non-GMO feed.”
Their son Mason is 4 and enjoys the animals, especially their livestock guardian dogs Bailey & Bandit, their barn cat Skeeter, baby pigs, and baby chickens. As he gets a little older, he's beginning to express more interest in hanging out at the farmers' markets with Mom and helping Dad with anything that needs fixing or driving. Daisy was born in the fall of 2021 and is such a joy. She's still just soaking it all in, but her smile makes everything better, especially on the hard days. Joe says, “Having piglets born on the farm has been such a cool learning experience for Mason. We get to teach him about birth and new life, about being gentle, and about respecting animals and caring for them differently whether they are a new mom or a baby. We are also attempting to teach and inspire gratefulness and generosity in Mason, as well. We try and remind him that he receives gifts because he is loved, but that there is also so much joy in giving gifts, whether that is the gift of time, talents, or tangible items.”
There are the obvious things they hope that the farm helps them teach their children, such as the value of hard work, responsibility, and a love for the outdoors. But they also hope they can utilize the simple teaching moments that build depth of character. Like how learning the value of a simple chicken can teach them to respect the infinitely more complex people around them. Although building a farm and business from scratch has been the hardest thing they have ever done, Joe and Rachel hope that by watching them, their kids will learn to persevere through trials, the art of problem-solving, and service to others. Rachel adds, “We try to view our farm from a generational perspective, but not in the traditional sense of handing the farm down to our kids. Instead, we view it primarily as a tool to help us prepare our kids to be productive, responsible members of the community and serve the people around them, regardless of their chosen occupation.”
The way they choose to raise the animals has a positive effect on the quality and the nutrition of the meat and eggs. Knowing where our food comes from means every meal has a story. We know the hard work that goes into each meal and into bringing the ingredients to our table. It reminds us of the value of food, that it is something to be savored and not wasted.
The Shenks do the majority of their sales directly to local families via their online farm store (shenkfamilyfarm.com), local pick-up locations, farmers' markets, and their monthly subscription boxes. They love that they are able to do this because it means that they get to have relationships with their customers. After all, at the heart of life lie the relationships we have with other people.
From Our Field to Your Table
Easy French Toast Casserole
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
1 (8 ounce) loaf crusty French bread, cut into bite-size pieces, or as needed
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch ground cinnamon, or to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar, or as needed
Grease a 9x12-inch baking dish.
Stir 1 cup brown sugar and butter together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves into butter, 2 to 4 minutes. Pour into the prepared baking dish and spread a 1 1/2- to 2-inch layer of bread pieces over the top.
Beat milk, eggs, and vanilla extract together in a bowl; pour milk mixture over bread into the baking dish and move bread as necessary to ensure all bread is absorbing liquid. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate, for 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Remove and discard plastic wrap from the baking dish and sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the top of the bread mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Rebecca Jones is a contract writer for the Carteret News-Times and the newest member of the Carteret Local Food Network blog writing team. She was born and raised in the Piedmont Triad area where she spent most of her life. She has two grown children and 6 grandchildren. Writing has always been a part of her life and she believes that it is a way to showcase and bring awareness to events that affect your community. In April of 2018, Rebecca and her husband George moved to Beaufort, NC. Her most recent two books, Love Brings You Home (about Hurricane Florence) and Go Deep (a devotional with photos), are sold locally and on Amazon.