From The Daniel Island News|
Celestial Hills Farm offers fresh start for Huger family
By Elizabeth Bush
Nov 26, 2013 - 6:53:45 PM
|By day, Huger resident Mayo Powell is a fabrication specialist at Boeing’s Interiors Responsibility Center in Ladson. But as soon as he gets home from his shift in the afternoon, he gets to work on his chores at the farm he and his wife, Laura, started in 2011. Mayo is shown here at his kitchen table, preparing duck and chicken eggs for delivery to Boone Hall Farms in Mount Pleasant.
|Mayo and Laura Powell, shown here visiting with their pigs, offer natural, farm fresh products for the community to enjoy. ||
|Life on Celestial Hills Farm in Huger is just ducky! Co-owner Laura Powell delicately holds one of the farm’s new duckings. |
Step outside the home of Mayo and Laura Powell in rural Huger and all you’re likely to hear is the wind in the trees, a few playful pigs romping in a nearby pasture, and a gaggle of chickens and ducks cackling with content. To the couple, who operate Celestial Hills Farm on their 16-acre property, they are the sounds of the American dream.
“These are Khaki Campbell Ducks,” said Laura, pointing to the lively bunch, as they scurried about the backyard. “They are prolific layers. They lay as many eggs as chickens do!”
In 2011, Mayo and Laura were living more of a suburban existence in Everett, Washington, where Mayo worked for Boeing and Laura served as an office manager at a local dental practice. They had a large home and plenty of “stuff,” Laura said. But both were ready to make a change.
“We used to think the American dream was your parents raise you, you get an education, you go out into the world and you prove to them that you can survive,” said Mayo. “And you get wrapped up around the axel and the rat race. The longer we were out there, we just realized that wasn’t the American dream for us.”
Boeing soon announced they would be creating a new operation in North Charleston. With family on both sides in the Southeast, Mayo and Laura jumped at the chance to make a fresh start in South Carolina. While Mayo began applying for local jobs at Boeing, Laura came down to scout out the area. For them, it wasn’t just about securing employment, it was about finding a special piece of property they could use to start a new way of life.
“The American dream, we realized, was spending time with family and sitting on the porch and shelling purple hull peas until your fingers were black,” said Mayo, whose family had a farm while he was growing up. “It wasn’t so much preparing for winter and canning food as it was spending time with family. And we said one day, that’s what we’d like to get back to.”
Laura found the Huger property and knew immediately it was perfect for starting up a small farm, one that would specialize in all natural foods. She interviewed for an office manager position with Dr. Dana Blalock at Daniel Island Dentistry and got the job. But for Mayo, who was hoping to transition into a management position at Boeing, the search was not as easy as he thought it would be. “Fifteen months and 87 applications later,” Mayo said, he ended up taking an entry level position to get his foot in the door.
By day, both work their “regular” jobs, but once they get home, life on the farm kicks into high gear. Laura’s mother, Bobbi Jean, also lives with them and helps with the chores.
“I just switched to the 6:30 am to 3:15 pm shift,” said Mayo. “When I come home, I literally drop everything and do my chores. I am almost on a dead run to beat the sundown!”
They decided to name their new enterprise Celestial Hills Farm - a combination of Laura’s grandmother’s name, Celestial, and her maiden name, Hill. The latter name, made plural to reflect the fact that both Laura and Bobbi Jean are “Hills,” is also a nod to the two hills located on the property. Their first goal for the farm was to start a rabbitry.
“You can substitute rabbit meat for any recipe that you use chicken,” said Mayo. “It’s by far one of the healthiest, if not the healthiest, meat that you can buy!”
They hope to begin offering rabbit in early 2014. For now, they sell farm fresh chicken and duck eggs, Ossabaw pork, and heirloom vegetables and fruits. They’d like to add honey to the mix in the near future. Their eggs are now available for sale at Boone Hall Farms (or ordered for pick-up at Daniel Island Dentistry).
“People have a mind-set of what fresh eggs are,” added Mayo. “You think when you buy your eggs in a grocery store that they’re fresh. Well, by the time they are collected, by the time they are cleaned, by the time they go to a warehouse, cold storage and a distribution center and then get to the store, they’re not very fresh.”
In addition to being slightly bigger than chicken eggs, duck eggs are also better for baking, said Laura.
“If you compare cakes (one made with duck eggs and one made with chicken eggs), you have more volume. They are higher, they are lighter and they are more moist.”
Bobbi Jean helps with the eggs - cleaning, candling (which involves shining a light at the eggs to look for imperfections) and sorting.
“You candle the egg to see if it has any cracks in it,” she explained, as she delicately held up an egg to the light. “You see the yellow of the duck yolk and it looks like the sun is setting at the beach.”
It’s all part of quality control, added Mayo. And everything the animals get is absolutely fresh. There are no genetic modifications, no cages, no hormones, and no pesticides or herbicides.
“Almost everything on the farm is basically tied together,” he said. “Like the Olympic rings, it’s all intertwined. Our eggs that have blemishes or cracks that you wouldn’t sell, we boil those up and that’s protein for the pigs. Nothing goes to waste. Everything we grow here we either eat fresh, can it, sell it or freeze it…And if we have excess still left over, that gets tilled back into the soil.”
The community has been very supportive of their efforts, added Laura. This year, for the second year in a row, organizers of the Daniel Island Pumpkin Walk donated all the leftover pumpkins to their farm.
“The pigs are kind of pigs about pumpkins!” she exclaimed.
“They eat pumpkin like you can’t imagine,” added Mayo.
In addition to making sure the animals get plenty of wholesome good food and pasture time, Mayo offers a healthy daily dose of TLC, which might include giving one of the pigs a belly scratch, offering up some treats, or talking with the chickens.
“A stressed animal is not going to produce,” he said. “It’s not going to be happy. I try and do anything and everything I can to make sure they have the best care…They’ll listen to my problems all day long! As long as I bring them food, they’re good!”
Aside from the occasional mishap, such as when a pig or group of chickens escape from their pens, life on the farm is everything they had hoped it would be.
“It’s very soothing,” said Laura. “It’s nice to sit on the glider (in the backyard) and just look out over the property.”
“I come through the gates in the afternoon, and it’s almost literally like an immediate de-stressor,” added Mayo. “It’s very enjoyable. It’s a lot of work, but it’s not really work to me. It’s relaxing and enjoyable. And we get to meet a lot of people. They become repeat clients and you get to know them. The next thing you know, they’re almost like family.”
And for the Powell family, that has made for a bountiful harvest indeed.
To learn more about Celestial Hills Farms, visit their Facebook page or website, www.celestialhillsfarm.com.
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