Joy Combs and Darrell Cobb
We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.Wendell Berry
Joy Combs likens the regeneration of Providence Farm to an orchestral concert, with each of the animals playing the part of a musical artist. From the heritage breed turkeys and lambs to the broilers and the rescue pigs, each contributes to building fertile soil and a thriving community where Joy and her family live their ethos of sharing what Providence has provided them.
Estimated reading time: 4 min, 14 sec
Joy’s background as a middle school social studies teacher comes through when she talks about the farm. She shares her knowledge of farming and the history of the land enthusiastically and with plenty of context to integrate multiple lines into a theme. The farm name itself is an excellent example of this skill.
Providence Farm is a North Carolina Bicentennial Farm, with roots tracing back to the maternal family of her husband, Darrell Cobb who came to this area with a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants from Pennsylvania. This family land became available to them right about the time they were outgrowing the ¾ acre of land around their previous home. At the time, her daughter was raising heritage chickens and they came across heritage sheep while visiting Williamsburg. When all these factors combined – the availability of this historic land; the experience raising chickens; and the desire to raise heritage sheep – Providence seemed the most fitting name.
Everything plays a unique harmony in the music of the farm, from the pigs to the plants! Heritage breeds, including the American Tunis sheep and the Leicester Longwool sheep and less common utilized breeds, like the Tamworth hogs have different roles. The sheep help restore the soil through the impact of their hooves and their “recycling” of nutrients; create a talking point with curious community members; provide fiber for art and clothing; and carry on a unique set of genes. The Tamworth, Old Spot and other hogs are excellent foragers, turning acorns and other bits into fertilizer, and naturally tilling the soil.
Soon to be added members of the orchestra are flowers and bees. In the spirit of sharing what they’ve been given, they will be making space for bee boxes for Mary Ellen Smith of Bee Dance Cottage and flower fields for sister duo Katelyn & Kelly.
Talk to any farmer in this area who grazes animals or tills the soil on an old farmstead, and they’ll likely comment on the soil being “tired” from tobacco and other commodity crops. At Providence Farm, they rotate small ruminants, like their sheep, into these old fields after planting them with a special mix of forage grasses and plants that promote nitrogen in the soil (among other benefits). Once the sheep have their go, then come the broiler chickens followed by horses for a day; both of these groups vacuum up what’s left by the sheep, including keeping harmful insects in control. As long as things aren’t too wet, the pigs also get a short turn in the pasture. The result is less work by the family to grow thriving fields of grasses that are more drought tolerant than before.
Behind the scenes
Not only do the animals, land and farmers have a role, there are many supporting and cooperating members of the production that may not be evident. The farmers at PTB Farm have inspired and supported Joy, and the folks at Congolina welcome the sheep to graze under their solar panels. Impressively, the guy they buy hay from grows it on the same fields as he grazes his own cows – he’s just that good at raising hay! Beef from his operation, Wamees Farm in Stokesdale, can be purchased at Providence Farm.
How to be part of the production
Besides buying their products (more on that, below) you or your kids (the two legged ones) can hang out with their kids (the four legged ones) and more in their COVID adapted summer camps, field trips, and story times. Given Joy’s background as a teacher and her natural enthusiasm, I’m sure these are fun for everyone! They plan to host multiple week-long camps in 2021, with themes like GOATS (Greatest Of All Time), the Sheep Show, and raising chicks. They all sound good to me, but the chicken camp sounds like an extra memorable opportunity – watching the process of chick development form eggs in the incubator to little yellow fluff balls is something you don’t often come across.
You can buy Providence Farm products at the farm on Saturdays. Current hours are 10-1pm, but check their Facebook page for the latest information. From their own farm, they have free range eggs, pasture raised chickens, lamb, and pork, plus goat milk soap and fiber products like yarn and wool dryer balls. Other farms regularly make appearances on Saturdays, and you can find locally made granola, goat cheese, honey and more.
Where to find them
In-person (please check Facebook for their latest hours before heading out)
2569 Huffine Mill Road
McLeansville, NC 27301