Caretakers

What comes here, stays here. Diane Price and her husband, Rob Griffith, own a no-kill farm, meaning all their animals -- including goats, chickens, llamas, a few dogs, cats, and a Vietnamese potbellied pig -- will be part of their 16-acre North Carolina farm for the rest of their natural lives. The family gathers eggs from the chickens, which roam the property at will, wool from the llamas, and laughs out of the pig. Diane and Rob are trying their hand at raising bees and growing grapes, as well.

"This place is very peaceful and spiritual," says Diane. "If somebody can't come to this place and be happy, it for sure isn't the fault of the place." She looks out over the rolling mountaintops, trees, and a swim pond catching the last rays of the sun. "It's more like we're just caretakers of a special place rather than owners. We have the ability to share this place, and we do." Neighbors, local kids, and townsfolk come frequently to visit and stay late.

"Being here has certainly made me more environmentally aware," she says. "You can try to make a place like this pretty, but you can't improve upon nature. Sometimes when you try too hard, you mess things up."

The family hosts a lot of school kids and 4-H clubs, as well. The children enjoy the constant kissing of the llamas, the chickens with their scratching in the dirt, and the crowing roosters. "One little girl heard her first rooster crow while sitting here one day, and I think it might have changed her life," says Diane. "It brought a sense of wonder and peace to her world."

Rob echoes Diane's environmental message. "We recycle a lot, too. We've put in a micro hydroelectric generator by tapping the natural flowing creek from up on the mountain and running water via gravity through a plastic pipe into a turbine." That little turbine, housed in a small log building at the bottom of the hill, powers about half of their home, the barns, incubators, and greenhouse. Diane wrote the grant to find sustainable energy, a pilot project through North Carolina A&T University.

With her recycling efforts, Diane likes to be creative. "When I go to the landfill with a load of trash, I'll trade it for more useful things than I brought!" she says.

Atop a lot of history

Three archeological digs have been conducted on their property near Todd, North Carolina, after a little excavating for their barn turned up bits of pottery and ancient stone relics. An old Native American trade route was determined to have been on their place. Some of the tools had been reworked from centuries before, probably used by members of a Sioux tribe which eventually got pushed west by other warring tribes.

They have conducted small digs for kids, who enjoy finding treasures on their own.

Times are changing

When the family moved to Todd, they were in a virtual wilderness. Now, homes are popping up all over the hills as city people look for their spot in the country. A decline in tobacco production has led to an upsurge in growing mushrooms, herbs, and other sustainable and healthy crops.

Diane and Rob have a natural interest in health. Rob is a doctor who treats mostly elderly people at a free clinic near Todd, and he worked years ago on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. Diane has a journalism degree and spent time in Afghanistan working on women's health issues with the International Medical Corps. She later worked at a leprosy colony near Calcutta with Mother Teresa. "Mother Teresa was unbelievable," Diane remembers. "If I can put anybody in my life on a pedestal, it would be her."

"We've done a lot of traveling and moved to a lot of places during our careers," Diane says. "We're so fortunate to settle into this one place."

Growing shiitakes

Under a lush and damp green forest canopy, Diane Price turns over a rotting log, carefully, slowly, methodically. Then another, and another. Closer inspection shows the logs marked with a series of holes, like a woodpecker might make, only bigger and further apart.

Diane's on the hunt, and she's going to be successful. Shiitake mushrooms are her quarry, and she's sure she'll bag a few. She ought to know. The holes in hundreds of logs scattered around on the forest floor were put there by her hand and hands of friends. It's her method of introducing shiitake mushroom spoor into the logs, which serve as a source of moisture and growing medium for the fungi.

The logs are dampened in a creek and left to rot and grow mushrooms in the wild. She's just helping the process along.

Diane learned about growing mushrooms through a 4-H project and grant. She bought an electric drill, chain saw, some inoculators, and mushroom spawn. She's harvesting about 150 pounds of the fungi a year now with help from friends and neighbors in the nearby village of Todd, North Carolina.

The growing season varies with the weather, but shiitakes start to show up in the spring and have been found on the forest floor as late as November.

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