Modern Life: The Brother-Sister Team Behind a 100-Year-Old Family Farm

"Working as a brother-sister team is sometimes challenging—especially when you have two strong alpha types! But we get things done."

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Bryan Meltz

"Early morning is my favorite part of the day, seeing the dew glisten on the plants and listening to the farm wake up," shares Matthew Raiford. "Chickens, Guinea hens and roosters make a lot of noise at sunrise!" Gilliard Farms has been waking up to the same family for over 100 years. Way before brother and sister Matthew and Althea became owners in 2010, their maternal great-great-great-grandfather Jupiter Gilliard, who started the farm in 1874, likely enjoyed those same moments. There is something very moving about that kind of history.

Matthew and Althea grew up just 10 miles from the farm. "Our family is very close-knit, so we spent most of our free time there as children and lots of fond memories were created," says Althea, who recalls picking pears, greens, pecans and watermelons with her great-grandmother Florine—and learning how to stand up to chickens. "She taught me how to take eggs from the hens. I was terrified that they would peck me, but she sent me into that coop and wouldn't allow me to be paralyzed by my fears."

The matriarch also told her great-grandchildren about the importance of hard work and perseverance, and how the Gilliards had become part of the backbone of their community. Florine instilled a lot pride in her family, so when she passed, Matthew and Althea were confident they had what it takes to manage the organic farm. With the help of grants from the Farmer Veteran Coalition (both siblings have military backgrounds) and the wisdom of their predecessors, they breathed new life into Gilliard.

Althea believes they are just picking up where their family left off and working toward building an even stronger community. Matthew—who likes to refer to himself as CheFarmer because he's also a trained chef and owner of The Farmer & The Larder restaurant in Brunswick, GA—learned he could tap into the knowledge that was already right there. "I read old letters about what was being planted and taken to market." He enjoys watching the crops grow and seeing those first fruits of harvest being sold and eaten, while Althea relishes the peace she finds on the farm.

Matthew often reflects on the family inheritance. "My kids are the seventh generation to plant seeds on our land—what a heavenly thing! I believe our great-great-great-grandfather Jupiter Gilliard would say, 'Job well done, my children, job well done.' And we would say, 'Thank you for leaving us a legacy!' "

WEB EXTRAS

There must be some amusing moments on the farm.

Something funny happens on the farm on a daily basis, like me telling Matthew to wait before he turns on the water, but he only hears turn on the water and I get caught in the sprinklers. I am also amused watching the animals and their daily routine. I wonder if they are laughing at me as much I laugh at them. —Althea

You both have military backgrounds. Has that discipline helped you on the farm?

It most certainly has allowed us to continue to do gut checks and reevaluate what we are doing on a constant basis. —Matthew

What would surprise most people about farming?

The amount of food that can be grown on just an acre of land and how many people that can feed. —Matthew

What is your favorite time of the day?

I actually have two favorite times. Early, early morning, before everyone gets their day started. The farm is quiet, except for the animals, and wet with morning dew. And sunset. I love walking the land and seeing the sunset through our trees or observing the chickens getting ready for roost, pushing each other over to find their sweet spot. It's like putting your child to bed and watching them get comfortable. That's what the end of the evening is for me—seeing the farm get ready for the next day. —Althea

What's your favorite recipe at The Farmer and The Larder?

The Double Oink with Roasted Vegetables! —Matthew

Double Oink with Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Vegetables

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 small sweet onion, diced

2 small carrots, diced

1 small zucchini, diced

1 small red bell pepper, diced

Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

Double Oink

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

3 tablespoons finely ground Sumatra coffee

4 bone-in pork chops (7 ounces each)

16 slices thick-cut bacon

Roasted Vegetables. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan. Put all vegetables in a bowl and add salt and pepper. Pour warmed olive oil over vegetables and toss lightly. Arrange vegetables on a parchment-lined sheet pan and set aside.

Double Oink. Heat oven to 350°. Combine spices with coffee and mix well. Rub onto pork chops.

Arrange 3 bacon slices vertically on a cutting board, then lay 1 slice horizontally over middle of slices. Place 1 pork chop on top of horizontal bacon slice and fold both ends of bacon over. Fold bottom 3 bacon slices over pork chop, then fold top 3 bacon slices over. Place pork chop on a parchment-lined sheet pan fold side down and repeat with remaining pork chops.

Bake Double Oink at 350° for 20 minutes, until bacon is crisp and temperature reaches 150°. Five minutes into cooking, add vegetables to oven. Remove at same time as pork.