LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 18. Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce.
by MOLLY McGINN
CARY, NC — Most Fridays around 3 or 4 pm, the former champion sword fighter grabs a late lunch at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Cary.
Join him. He’d love to bend your ear.
Ask Mike Jones about farming in harmony. Ask him about that “Knight in Shining Armor” thing. Ask him which came first: his intolerance for confinement pig farming, or his libertarian approach to farming.
- “I’m not a pacifist. And I’m not a war monger,” Jones says. “If people misbehave, or things are harming you, then you need to deal with it. But for the most part, life is too short to put too much stress on others.”
Mike has been Lucky’s main pork supplier in Cary since 2010 when Chef Jay Pierce met him at the Farm to Fork picnic. Neither had a partner for the farmer/chef event and the two paired up. This summer the restaurant started serving Mike’s vegetables off the farmer’s cart and in the restaurant.
Named after his children, MAE Farm Meats is also known as the center for “ethical and humane livestock production.” Mike’s sustainable, humane approach to hog farming and the quality of his food makes Mike a great match for the restaurant, says Jay.
- “He feeds real food to his hogs,” says Jay. “Just tasting the pulled pork sandwich helps you to realize that there is something magical about the way that he is raising these pigs.”
Learn more about sustainable farming at MAE Farms on the CFSA Farm Tour September 17 & 18 from 1 until 5pm, presented by the Carolina Farm Stewards. MAE is open and available at any time for a tour, call 252-430-1988.
Farming in Harmony
- “The bulk of my experience is pork-production, and the other things that I do work in in harmony with the pork production: raise cattle, sheep, and vegetables.
- “I’ll take the pigs out of the pen, and this time of year, in about a month, grasses and … weeds grow behind it.
- “The cows graze the pig pastures from the nutrient-rich soil that the pigs put in the pen.
- “Then I use the cattle to eat that grass up, and I sell the beef so I can recycle the nutrients.
- “The chickens go along and clean up behind the pigs and cows.
- “And I also produce vegetables on the pig pastures – there again, a lot of nutrients left on that soil.
- “Pigs are still the main purpose, the other things just utilize the excess nutrients in the soil.
Which came first: Your humane approach to farming from a personal philosophy, or your experience in hog farming and how a more organic approach produces a better product?
- “I never wanted to farm the confinement way. I always wanted to farm — since I was 4-years-old — to bring the animals outdoors and to give them a nice life.
- “When I was a child my dad raised pigs. Grandparents raised pigs, so I knew about that.
- “I studied agriculture in high school and I took a job working for a confinement operation when I was in high school. Then, when I went to college, studied agriculture.
- “When I graduated from college I worked for a confinement operation (Confined, or Concentrated Animal Feed Operation) because that was presented as the wave of the future.
- “But as any young person does, you always go with the trend. Everybody’s got a cell phone now, or a smart phone, or something, all the young people have them. So when I was a young person, just did what was supposed to be the cutting edge thing.
- “But I never liked it. And eventually, I just quit.”
From concrete to the classroom
- “North Carolina A&T University hired me to work on a grant-funded project that they had, helping small scale and limited resource tobacco farmers transition into outdoor niche market pork production.
- “And that position lasted for 7 years. And during that time … I bought my own farm. When my position ended at NC A&T, I became a full-time farmer and I’ve been farming full-time for 3 years now.”
- “It’s just the way I am. I have a Libertarian philosophy in that I would like for everyone to be able to express their natural behaviors within the limits of not hurting other people, and that’s how I regard my animals.
- “They belong to me, but we have more a partnership. I try to give them a good place to live, and in return, they provide with me with what I need: food to eat and food to sell.
- “A lot of times, for my farming practice — for me — it’s not over managing or micromanaging.
- “Sometimes I see things that aren’t going the way that I want them to go, and the instinct is to do something about it. But I’ve learned a lot of times, you just stay out of the situation and back off, and lower the stress levels, things will right themselves.
- “Sort of like if you’re in a boat: the way to get the boat to stop rocking is just to sit still.”
Mike Jones makes his Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen deliveries on Friday afternoons. Maybe you can catch him then. He usually orders “something made of pork,” he says. “Sometimes, fried chicken.”
Taste the difference yourself in the Parmesean-Crusted Pork Cutlet in Cary on the special NC Locavore’s Delight Menu.This special menu ends August 21.
The featured photo of Mike Jones was taken Jeremy M. Lange for story on Mike by Sidney Cruze in Indy Week.