With a name like Num Num Farms, you just know it’s got to be the source of good food. On 15 acres of land in Mountain Grove, Virginia, the farm – owned by Phil and Laura MacKlem – focuses on pesticide free produce and conservation of endangered livestock breeds.
The couple initially bought the farm as a second home, but after the second time their primary home in New Kent flooded, they packed up and made Mountain Grove their forever home.
Laura explained that they got into raising animals just for themselves, but soon the farm grew and they began participating in Farmers Markets in Virginia and West Virginia.
“I was on eBay one night and found out about rare breed chickens and that’s how I got hooked on that,” she said. “We started off with just the rare breed chickens and then it morphed into, ‘gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have our own bacon?’ So, then came the pigs.
“Then I’ve got a girlfriend who has Boer goats and she was like, ‘hey, you want to buy a goat,’ and I said, ‘why not? Goat meat’s good,” she continued, laughing. “So I got those and then the next thing was, ‘well it would be nice to have our own milk.’ I wound up buying dairy goats.”
Along with the livestock, Laura was growing produce in raised beds and in her kitchen, and soon it was necessary to start selling. But then, the pandemic hit.
“We spent three years getting ready to be able to sell to the public and then COVID hit,” she said. “That just sent the whole business plan sideways. We’re not the only ones. I lost processing dates for the pigs and goats. Then the market for the goat meat disappeared.”
Luckily, a friend in Covington, Virginia, said the farmers market there was still in operation and they traveled there as vendors.
Since then, the farm has grown to include more livestock, including breeds on the Livestock Conservatory list.
Through trial and error, Laura said they learned which breeds were hardy enough to live in the four seasons of Virginia.
“We breed for parasite resistance, which is a challenge in and of itself,” she said. “If you’re not using dewormers except when it’s absolutely necessary, you end up with losses. [If you do use them regularly], you wind up with stock that is very hardy.
“We don’t do heat lamps during kidding season,” she continued. “You want them to be strong. I want my goats to be able to have babies out in negative twenty degree temperatures and the babies live. Or during the summer when it’s hot. That’s just how we practice. It sounds harsh to some people, but I think in the long run – genetically – it’s the best way to go.”
Along with having Myotonic – or Tennessee Fainting goats – Num Num Farms has Tamworth pigs, also known as purple pigs; silver fox rabbits, midget white turkeys, Icelandic, Swedish Black Hen, 55 Flowery Hens, Black Australorps, Hmong and Malay chickens; two Angus heifers and emus.
Remember the emu that got loose in Mountain Grove a few weeks ago? She was from Num Num Farms.
Last year, when the pandemic became less restrictive, Laura sought out other farmers markets and came across the Pocahontas County Farmers Market. She spoke to president Melia Thompson about becoming a vendor and, before long, found herself becoming vice president of the organization, as well.
“It started off as only being the First Fridays and that was no big deal,” Laura said. “Then they started the market back up again, so that’s how we wound up in Marlinton every Friday. Then, I guess, Melia decided she liked my work ethic. She wanted me to be vice president. We were doing five, six markets a week.
“I’m not doing that again this year,” she continued, laughing. “I’m still trying to recover. On top of that, I’m market manager for Covington and Marlinton.”
Although the markets closed until next summer, the work continues on the farms. Laura said things are still hopping at Num Num every day. They have produce growing in sheds, in raised beds and in the house. In the woods on their land, they collect sap for maple syrup and much more.
“We bought Damson plum trees – which is an Appalachia native plum,” she said. “That’s kind of a rare treat up here. When we started selling them, we had people asking for the plants, so we are doing seedlings for those this year. I’m selling 350 to a winery.
“There’s some pepper plants you’ve got to get going in January, they just take so long and grow so slow,” she continued. “We use greenhouses and we have some sheds that we use and we also grow plants inside our house. My dining room will turn into a nursery for a couple of months.”
It may seem a like a long time off, but spring will be here before you know it, and Num Num Farms will be back to market.
“We will start selling in April,” Laura said. “We set up at two places in Bath County. There’s no farmers market in Bath County, so we are allowed to set up at Bacova Beer Company and Warm Springs Inn.”
They will also return to the Pocahontas County Farmers Market in May.
For more information, visit numnumfarms.com or their Facebook page.