‘I try to keep the poultry
off the swingset’
Mackenzie Withington, owner of Lilly Den Farm and manager of the
Pittsboro Farmers Market, talks homesteading, homeschooling and how she does it all
From Big City to 10 Acres
“I’m actually from New York City. When I met [husband and New York dairy farmer] Tucker, I was going to school for forensic psychology, go figure. I moved to upstate New York and we bought our first farm. I was actually a stay-at-home mom when [Lilly, 11] and [Dennet, 12] were growing up and I went back to school to get my master’s in teaching. [In 2008,] we moved [to Goldston] just with our show cows. They cost a lot of money and they don’t bring in a whole lot of money, and when they do bring in money [Tucker] just put it right back into the cows. I was like, ‘You need to figure out a way to make farming bring in some money.’ We were raising meat for us and that’s when we decided, ‘Let’s just start raising meat.’ We were living on a teacher’s salary. I taught in Harnett County. In 2013 when I had Meadow , I was ready to be done teaching. I had her, I never went back. I took my maternity leave and then I got pregnant with [Rye, 2] and then I really wasn’t going back.”
From Farm To Market
“I manage the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. We started as a vendor there in 2009 and I’ve been the manager for four years. We have a solid 10 or 12 vendors, and then craft and seasonal vendors, like a blueberry vendor only during blueberry season. I’m constantly looking for new seasonal vendors. The majority of our vendors are full-time farmers, this is their career, so we’re not taking any old vendor. If we have three or four selling vegetables, that’s all you need. But we don’t have a honey vendor or preserves.
“We sell [our own] unpasteurized milk, [and] yogurt that we milk here, bottle here, make here. Eggs are a big thing. [In early February] I sold, like, forty dozen eggs. It’s insane. We sell all the meat that we raise: pork, beef, chicken. We actually process our own chicken. We have duck. We sell monthly bundles, we sell it in bulk. Pretty much if you want to buy it, I will sell it to you however you want. I’m not afraid to drive anything to anyone. If people want me to deliver, … I go all the way down to the coast.
“We do compost. People can bring their truck and fill it. I mean, we have poop. That’s one thing we’re not short on!”
From School Teacher to Farmhand…
“While I was teaching, we hired a part-time farm hand who would help do chores and daily farm tasks. Once I stopped, I took over her daily chores. I also spend a lot of time working on marketing and other off-farm tasks that have helped our business grow. I like the fact that I create my own schedule. If something doesn’t go right, it’s my own fault. I don’t have anyone to blame but us. If I want to make more money, then I just have to work harder.
“I love the fact that my kids have this opportunity to grow up on a farm. I thought I had a great childhood. I don’t know what my parents did with me all day long inside. I just love it, and I hate it. I wish we had a little more money so we could actually get better-running equipment. Everything we have is falling apart. My van is actually pretty good, but everything we own is old, because nothing was given to us. But that’s also really nice, too, knowing we’re doing it alone and we didn’t inherit anything. It’s just the simple life.”
…And Back to Teacher
“They do most of their homeschooling curriculums on the computer. Lilly is severely dyslexic and dysgraphic, so she does a program designed for that. And my son just does computer programs. I don’t actually teach it. I did at first, but I don’t know how I taught so many kids [as a full-time] teacher and was so nice. Teaching [my] own kids, I’m so mean! Dennet, he’s right where he needs to be – hates school, just would rather be on the farm, gets his work done and is outside. They will wake up and do schoolwork, and Tucker and I take the babies out and work. I honestly think it would be harder to get ’em up and out the door and then be there at 2 o’clock to pick them up. Come 1 o’clock, I’m ready to leave for the day, do all my deliveries and start getting the kids ready for their extracurricular activities.
“We do three summer camps: June, July and August. In March and April, we do day camps for homeschoolers, weekend day camps, adult day camps, dairy activities. In September… our turkeys are getting so big [they] start taking over the farm. Our July and August campers get to handle the turkeys. [Campers] get to work with the Jersey [cows], and learn the show aspect of dairy cows, which is very different from just conventionally milking. You know, it doesn’t look like it because they’re standing in mud right now, but they are pampered individuals.
“One of our biggest ‘attractions,’ shall we say, is the bunnies. If I could just have a bunny camp, I would be a millionaire. The kids will spend hours in the bunnies, so we teach them how to show them, work with them on a harness and, you know, just hold them correctly because any break they get they spend in here.
“We do a big outdoor cooking component [using] what we have on the farm to make something super easy that the kids can make themselves. Pancakes or simple scrambled eggs or stuff from the garden. We’ll make cheese and yogurt and ice cream. And we try to use what’s in season, not necessarily just on this farm but on other farms. They cook twice a day, and my goal is to teach them how to use farm products and also simple snacks they could make at home with healthy ingredients.
“During camps, I try to keep all the poultry off the swingset.” CM – As told to Holly West
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Chatham Magazine is a bi-monthly publication that seeks to capture the beauty, charm and unique character within Chatham County.