by Jennie Rucker
Justin Strickland never intended to become a historian when he and his wife, Jessica, first purchased 83 acres in Rural Hall, NC. Their intention was to raise grass-fed beef and to be good custodians and preservationists of the land. Their tract of land was part of an old farm called Old Holler Farm which actually dates back to 1790. When the remaining acreage became available in 2017, the Stricklands were able to unite the land once again under one owner and it was then they found some historical treasures.
“The land had just become so overgrown with weeds and brush…that I spent untold hours just clearing out to see what I had actually bought,” said Strickland.
What he did find were two centuries-old log cabins that held uniquely historic items with their own stories to tell. “My favorite is the old camel inlaid into the hearth of the large cabin,” stated Strickland. The camel is actually a picture of “Joe Camel,” the symbol of the Camel brand of cigarettes produced by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The story goes that Old Holler Farm owner, Roy C. Haberkern, was a personal friend and worked with R. J. Reynolds himself and Mr. Reynolds charged Roy with finding the symbol for his product. Roy found his inspiration through a camel at the Barnum & Bailey Circus and that picture became the symbol.
The Bailey family bought this part of the farm after the Haberkerns sold it and the Bailey family began working on the cabins, eventually selling the land and buildings to Strickland. Then Strickland and the “log whisperer,” Kevin Thomas, spent countless hours restoring each of the cabins and ensuring that the original beams, logs and workmanship remained true. Even the ‘1790’ can still be seen where it was etched into the stones of the large cabin’s fireplace and the soot from the original oil lamps still stains the beams of the ceiling supports.
As Strickland and his coworker, Zac Tesko, along with part-time worker, Matt Barton, cleared the land and put up fences, Jessica came up with the idea of a way to incorporate the new part of the farm into another income opportunity. This side of the farm would become a historic venue where people could stay for one or several nights. It also could be used as a wedding venue. In addition to the cabins, there is a large modern style home with a beautiful view of the land and pond. Strickland has even built a fire pit and fishing is allowed.
The wedding venue already has 18 weddings booked. Strickland, Tesko and Thomas have remodeled the old machine shed and tool shop into a 2,500-square foot barn that will seat 250 people and will be a wonderful place for receptions and dancing. He maintained the rustic look by using tin from sheds on the property and cedar planks from a fallen cedar on the farm. They have added beautiful lighting with dimmer switches so the atmosphere can be manipulated to suit the company.
The very first wedding to be held at the Old Holler Farm wedding venue will be in May and the couple is bringing their two horses to be a part of the ceremony. This is another benefit of the farm; horses are welcome guests. The pasture is directly adjacent to the newly remodeled reception barn and the horse barn is just across the gravel drive.
But the Stricklands are farmers first and their main product is the grass-fed beef and free range eggs. Their beef cattle herd is predominantly Angus based with cattle Strickland purchased from Belle Terra Farms in Monroe, NC. He runs an Angus bull on his cows and calves from March to November. He would like to shorten the calving season but has been so busy with restoring the historical venue.
Since these cattle are grass-fed, they go to slaughter around 24 to 30 months of age and weigh over 1,000 pounds. Strickland uses a USDA inspected butcher. The beef comes back vacuum packed and labeled and then goes into one of three freezers. Beef is then sold online and shipped the same day that it is ordered. They ship along the eastern coast and as far west as the eastern edge of Kansas. The boxes are sold in a variety of cuts, including boxes of steaks, burgers, roasts or a mixed box. They even have an adventure box filled with bones, heart, liver and other more “adventurous” cuts. The whole animal is utilized, which is important to the Stricklands.
Old Holler Farm also had between 950 to 1,000 red sex link hens last year that produced enough eggs to bankroll the completion of the historical and wedding venues. These hens were outside free range chickens and their eggs were sold at farmers markets around the area. They were getting about 55 to 58 dozen eggs a day. Strickland converted a room in the old cattle barn into a cool room for the eggs to be washed in a commercial egg washer and then stored. He had a small silo built to store the chicken feed and he still uses the old silos on the farm to store what little feed he gives the cow herd, which is just a commodity pelleted feed that is given once a week just to get the cows accustomed to coming in the lot. At the current time, they are without chickens but they do still have some Boer and pygmy goats, which are Jessica’s main livestock interest.
The Stricklands have two young sons, Tate and Beckett. The Stricklands feel it is very important to raise their children where they can see the results of hard work and to appreciate what the land can yield and to stay humble. “This farm has definitely kept me humble,” said Strickland. “It is not about the money.”
Strickland has the original deed from 1790, when Old Holler Farm was established, and he is looking forward to being a part of the modern version.
By diversifying the farm enterprise with grass fed-beef, free-range chickens and now their venues, the Stricklands are looking forward to making their mark.
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