Know Your Local Farmer
AJ and Wade Stanaland welcome people to Northwest Land & Cattle with a farm store called The Pack House and private onsite dining events.
AJ Stanaland sits in a rocking chair on the front porch of a building dating back to 1898, a previous flagstop into Wilmington. A minivan rolls in, kicking up gravel, and out comes Ms. Faye, here to purchase more sweet corn. It’s a scene reminiscent of a bygone era, yet it’s taking place in 2021.
“My grandaddy, he’s 93 and was raised right down the road, then he met my grandma,” AJ says. “He remembers the fish man, the milk man, he sold cattle to an old general store. When I started my business, I wanted it to be like that, where you knew the farmer. I like the old school feel of things.”
AJ and her husband, Wade Stanaland, are the owners of Northwest Land & Cattle in northern Brunswick County. They raise cattle and crops on the very land has been in AJ’s family for five generations. Today there are 130 black Angus cattle grazing, and a new grain bin bar sits center view. The Stanalands have always sold their beef through a subscription service, but when AJ had an idea to add a storefront to Northwest Land & Cattle, she saw potential in an old barn adjacent to her parents’ house. She applied for a grant through the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund, and got it.
“Once we received the grant, that got the ball rolling,” she says. “It helped with electricity, heating and air. The old barn was full of old world everything. We found my great grandma’s china in there. We cleaned out the barn and got started.”
The Stanalands opened The Pack House in April and welcomed the public with glass-front freezers, fridges and shelves stocked with provisions. Various cuts of dry-aged, pasture-raised beef like bone-in ribeye, NY strip and filet mignon pack the freezer next to baby back ribs and whole pork belly. For a beef-novice, AJ notes that the old-fashioned process of dry-aging lends a more tender meat — just make sure to let the juices soak after you grill it (and top with steak butter). Most customers came to purchase pre-made hamburger patties, a favorite that goes splendidly well with sweet corn in the summer.
Stocked in the shop are a wealth of accompaniments, all of AJ’s favorite things. Her friend Chef Sarah Gore supplies the pimiento cheese and steak butter. A childhood friend who owns Hannah B’s Sweets drops off banana pudding each Friday. Carolina Red BBQ sauce (her husband’s favorite) remains a best-seller alongside Spiceology rubs. Snacks for the road, including Karl Family Farms Jalapeno Pork Sticks, are an easy addition to an overflowing shopping bin. AJ recruited her favorite cocktail subscription, Simple Goodness Sisters, to stock the store with farm-to-glass syrups alongside Campfire Cocktails.
Even with the success of The Pack House, AJ continues her box subscriptions, which are currently on a short waitlist.
“I wondered, ‘How am I going to tell these people who have been with me for a year buying boxes they’re still my number one?’ So, I planned a customer appreciation party, cooked a whole pig and had a band. I invited the whole subscription list and had about 130 people out here. I told them, ‘If it wasn’t for y’all, I wouldn’t be here.’”
But AJ’s farm dreams are just starting. Recent collaborations with Wilmington-based Collective Law, a company offering styled al-fresco dining services and charcuterie boards, has helped her see the farm as something to share.
“My husband says if you told him two years ago that we’d have people coming out in the cornfield to have a picnic, he wouldn’t have believed you,” she says, laughing.
A rustic wood table decorated in a draped linen tablecloth, proper dishware and candles set the mood and made for a swoon-worthy Instagram post, one AJ captioned, “Date night, girls’ night or private meetings! The deer and wild turkeys won’t tell your secrets.”
As travelers and locals seek more authentic opportunities to connect with the land they’re visiting or call home, AJ keeps an eye on the market, shifting her strategy to be more than a farm and store, but an experience. Crafting an ethereal scene others can enjoy and share is at the forefront of her present and future.
“Working with Collective Law, you can do picnics here and buy a beef box,” AJ says. “I’m going to set up some spots where you can have a fire and cook your own burgers. It will be burgers and charcuterie boards, picnic style.”
Inspired by a honeymoon trip to Montana, AJ also wants to add four or five glamping spots around the farm. While travel trends shift to locally sourced adventures revolving around food, she believes the sustainability of her product hits her target market for millennials, as she is one herself.
“A majority of my customers are younger and care about the animals and where their food comes from,” she says. “There are a lot of farmers doing it the correct way. I want my cows to have a great life. My pigs are laying under the sprinklers right now. It’s funny, in the evenings me and the kids walk to see the pigs. They’re so happy, it makes you feel good about what you’re raising to feed other families.”
AJ already has visitors inquiring about renting the space for bridal luncheons and special events. New plans are on the horizon, including live music in the fall.
“I think for the farm to stay here and us to pass it down, you have to invite the public to come and enjoy it,” AJ says.
In her mind, sustainability exists in what will continue to thrive. She hopes one day her children, who might be sixth generation farmers, have something to grow into while discovering their own dreams along the way.
Want to go?
Northwest Land & Cattle
5014 Northwest Road, Leland
The Pack House farm store is open Fridays 2 to 6 pm and Saturdays 10 am to 2 pm. Bring a cooler and stock up on meats and other provisions.
Follow Northwest Land & Cattle on Facebook @northwestlandandcattle to find out about special events on the farm.