Rickey Hall was born in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 22, 1957 and has lived in West Charlotte for his entire life. Mr. Hall is an important member of numerous neighborhood coalitions and organizations such as the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition and the West Side Community Land Trust. He intends to bring greater food and economic security to West Charlotte through his work with community gardens and the opening of a co-op market called the Three Sisters Market. Throughout the interview, Mr. Hall discusses food insecurity in West Charlotte resulting from food deserts and the importance of the community working internally to combat issues plaguing the area.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:01:13||Family history in Charlotte.|
|0:02:58||Personal experience with gardening.|
|0:03:53||Types of produce grown.|
|0:05:24||Closeness with grandmother and lessons learned from gardening.|
|0:07:42||Gardening in West Charlotte past and present.|
|0:10:52||Food desert in West Charlotte.|
|0:17:29||Role of community gardening in West Boulevard Corridor and the larger strategy.|
|0:22:13||Distance of grocery stores from West Boulevard residents.|
|0:24:32||Gentrification and food access.|
|0:27:20||Mr. Hall's involvement with the documentary, The Farmer That Feeds Us.|
|0:29:37||Mr. Hall describes the Three Sisters Market project.|
|0:34:36||Importance of women as growers and activists in West Charlotte.|
|0:39:08||Urban farming and gardening Mr. Hall is currently involved in.|
|0:41:34||Mr. Hall makes concluding remarks about the importance of his work.|
|0:45:47||Conclusion of interview.|
>> Quinn Whittington: My name is Quinn Whittington, and I'm interviewing Ricky Hall on April 16, 2019. I'm conducting the interview at the West Boulevard Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ricky is an instrumental member of the West Side Community Land Trust and has an extensive history in West Charlotte, on improving food access and preserving the area's unique culture.
This interview is part of The Queen's Garden, Oral Histories of the Piedmont Food Shed. An oral history project conducted by graduate students from University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Public History Program. This project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region.
First off, could you just introduce yourself, state your birthday and place of birth.
>> Ricky Hall: Ricky Hall, born in Charlotte, North Carolina, birth date January 22nd, 1957.
>> Quinn Whittington: You've lived in Charlotte, in West Charlotte specifically, your entire life, I believe. How long has your family lived in the area?
>> Ricky Hall: My family is from Charlotte, North Carolina, primarily, came out of Chester, South Carolina, and my grandmother moved up to Charlotte. And we've certainly been here all of our lives.
>> Quinn Whittington: What sort of work did your family do?
>> Ricky Hall: My mother was a teacher and educator in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
And [INAUDIBLE] early childhood education, where she retired. And my father was employed by Norfolk Southern Railroad where he worked as a rail yard engineer. So those were jobs that they had a lot in life, so they were working class people.
>> Quinn Whittington: And what were their names?
>> Ricky Hall: My father's name is Jerry Hall, and my mother is Carry Hall.
>> Quinn Whittington: And did you have any siblings?
>> Ricky Hall: Yes, I had seven siblings, so there was eight of us, it was five boys and three girls. My oldest brother is deceased but my remaining siblings are still alive and live here in Charlotte.
>> Quinn Whittington: You've already mentioned your family gardening does.
You mentioned your family gardening too, at previous instances.
>> Ricky Hall: My gardening experience started at a very early age with my grandmother in the garden in our backyard. And it was from that garden that we grew vegetables for the family, which she actually canned and it was a part of our food supply every year.
It was just part of the process and it was a part of in the community which I grew up in,which is Reed Park, which is right adjacent to the library, just about every family had a garden. And that garden provided much of the foods that we ate and provided nourishment to us.
>> Quinn Whittington: What kind of stuff did you grow actually?
>> Ricky Hall: That's a good question, my grandmother utilized every space in the garden. So, we had anywhere from greens to cucumbers to cabbage to squash to corn and okra and potatoes and onions and just about every garden vegetable that you could actually grow.
There were two growing seasons, there was a spring garden, and then there was a fall garden. And then the garden in the fall, of course, one of the staples was collard greens. So, we had collard greens and other vegetables in the fall. That was, needless to say, because we came from a working class family and in many ways, just living barely above the poverty line.
We were poor but we weren't poor in terms of good foods to eat. But certainly in terms of the economics during that particular time. And that garden provided the necessary nourishment for our well-being.
>> Quinn Whittington: You worked in the garden. And from what you've told me before, you were pretty close to your grandmother, correct?
>> Ricky Hall: I was very close to my grandmother, and of course, it's a laborious thing to do but also, they are life lessons that you learn from gardening. And it was those life lessons that I learned from my grandmother. In the stories that she told, that I carry with me with fond memory today.
But also it was about learning how to prepare a garden in the how to lay out the section of the garden, determine what you are actually going to plant and then to plant it and watch it grow. And as we are gardening and weeding and thinning out the garden, there were life lessons that she taught me.
That you take the operative part of the garden and you turn it to a speculative science about life lessons and it was with the balance of those life lessons from gardening. As well as the actual physical aspect of gardening and seeing this food grow before your very eyes and then at some point, you reap that harvest.
And from that harvest, you could eat from the ground to the table. But at the same time, that you didn't eat, my grandmother would, and our family would, she would actually can those vegetables. And she would can those fruits. So that during the winter months or the other months, that you could actually go to the shelf and open that can.
Whether it be beans or whatever else and that's what we ate from.
>> Quinn Whittington: [LAUGH] So was your experience with your grandmother, do you think was that a unique experience in West Charlotte or did a lot of people do backyard gardening?
>> Ricky Hall: I would say a lot of people did gardening but it was the experience that I gained from my grandmother that actually informs the work that we're doing today.
And so Those lessons that go from the garden and the hard work of gardening, in terms of, she was actually providing for her family because all of us lived in that little two-bedroom house with my mother and father, and eight siblings. There was literally 13 of us in a two-bedroom house and we were trying to just try and put a roof over our head and help my mom and dad to raise us and, so that we grow and mature and become productive citizens.
And so providing food on the table was a part of that process, and so gardening was a part of it, and my brothers and sisters didn't necessarily gravitate towards actual gardening during that time. And so there was that bond, that relationship that was formed between the two of us, and I learned the intricacies of gardening from her and life lessons that she taught.
One of the things that she always taught me was gardening is hard work, and hard work kill you and one of the things she said was, you may never get rich from gardening but you'll never go hungry. And needless to say that experience of never going hungry from gardening and if you look at it at a macro level, this community being in a food desert has a desire for fresh healthy fruit and vegetable.
And so you take it to another level if you don't have a menu you got to create some processes of providing it. And so from this garden with the rest of our neighbourhood coalition, we're looking to provide fresh healthy vegetables and foods to families. And at the same time, leading that lead up to a larger development building a coop market.
And so it's a graduated effort that's on a community scale but it all goes back to the roots of that gardening experience. And it's used from a collective community standpoint to really make it have a large impact.
>> Quinn Whittington: So you mentioned the food desert, and that's actually something I wanted to talk to you about, how long has the food desert been in place, do you think?
>> Ricky Hall: Well, if you know anything about Charlotte's history,
>> Ricky Hall: There's been a food desert in the West Boulevard Corridor for well over 40 years. And it falls to history, and the pattern of housing development in the community. When, in the 50s and 60s, there were predominantly white communities in the West Boulevard Corridor, then there was a grocery store at Remount West Boulevard.
The predominantly African-American communities starting with most sanctuary Marsfield Drive, and the Capital Drive communities and the Parker Heights community which actually formed the, foundation of the historically African-American communities in this Corridor. Those were we're doing the racial divides, now with the advent of White flight in the late 60s, then the businesses that were here began to leave as well.
And so the West Boulevard Corridor has been without a primary grocery store for over 40 years. And there's been efforts, over this time period to really attract growth store and this is one of the primary community needs. And so back in the late 80s when CityWest Commons was captured by the US attorneys after it was purchased as a part of a drug transaction that got confiscated, we put together a community driven effort to redevelop that shopping center.
And with the idea in mind of attracting a major grocery store a first and second tier grocery store. And after an 11-year effort the shopping center opened, but we did not get a grocery store I mean the shopping center opened but we didn't get a grocery store. All of the major grocers came out looked at the area, looked at the demographics, and they expressed interest, but at the end of the day we were still without a grocery store.
This site, which is at Clinton and West Boulevard, when the housing authority redeveloped a former public housing community, Dalton Village, into a mixed-income community under the Hope VI and started in 98,99 when they received the grant for that. They targeted this site which you see across from the library with the garden there as a site to attract the grocery store because the community expressed the need for it.
And went through the same market analysis and demographic assessment and brought developers and grocers out, and they expressed an interest. And certainly, with the funding that was there, there was expressed interest but at the end of the day the community is build out but there is still no grocery store.
And of course with the redevelopment of Renaissance West, which is closer to Billy Graham and West Boulevard, they were targeting the same effort to try to bring a grocery store but by that time in 2015, the community had said that it was tired of trying to attract traditional mainstream grocers to the area.
And so the idea was born of a co-op grocery store and that's the effort in which we're pursuing today.
>> Quinn Whittington: So the food desert really become a thing after you had already started growing up?
>> Ricky Hall: Yes.
>> Quinn Whittington: Did you have a grocery store close to you before that point?
>> Ricky Hall: Well the only grocery store that we got close to us now within a mile is Walmart on Wilkinson Boulevard. The other grocers are, of course, in the South End area with that burgeoning development, being there's Publix, there's Harris Teeter, and further North, on Ashley Road and Freedom Drive, there is, of course there's a Harveys, which is primarily the only other major grocery there, there's maybe a Compare Foods on Freedom as a part of the,
>> Ricky Hall: New Freedom Community's development there, and outside of the Family Dollars and the convenience stores on this corner.
>> Ricky Hall: There is no other place for this community to shop and so you get to a point where if you've got a problem, then it's up to you to come up with a solution.
And so the community solution is the co-op model, which is showing itself to be very successful in rural areas of the community across the nation. And now they are gaining in popularity, particularly in urban environments. Which are much like the West Boulevard card, in need of grocery amenities along with healthcare amenities as an economic development strategy.
But also, to address the long term need for fresh healthy food investment.
>> Quinn Whittington: Considering the food desert has existed for 40 years, when did community gardening really start picking up in West End? Has it been only recently that it's really started?
>> Ricky Hall: No, I think there was of course, the Park Community started the community garden on Drive.
And of course, had some success there and of course, with leadership changes and volunteer interest, it kind of ebbed and flowed.
>> Ricky Hall: In the West Boulevard corridor specific, we are not definitely depending on community gardens as the panacea for the problem, that's one way. A garden is more than just the provision of healthy food and vegetables.
It's actually the provision of foods as a means of improving health and the social determinants of health. It's also about capturing and creating economic development opportunity, that creates community around solving a long term community need. And it's also a community wealth building strategy and it's a multi-tiered approach that brings all of the 19 communities in the West Boulevard corridor together.
To focus on solving a long-term community need and to do it from a collective community impact perspective.
>> Ricky Hall: That in and of itself is the crux of what this gardening effort is all about. Here's the other thing, if you look at those social determinats, and if you look at where people get access to foods now.
Except for Walmart, and you have as many as four or five Family Dollars, two along the West Boulevard corridor. Approximately, 19 convenience stores on the West Boulevard corridor. What are people getting out of those stores? They're getting processed foods, they're getting high sugar, high fat foods that may satisfy hunger.
But when you look at those markers and those long term determinants of health over time. Processed foods, high fat foods, even alcohol products, tobacco products are the primary drivers of what people are consuming from these locations. And then if you look over 5, 10, 15 years, and you follow those health patterns, then what you're gonna find is that there's a whole lot of heart disease, high blood pressure.
All of those markers that lead to declining physical health overtime as opposed to improved physical health over time. We're going for the enhanced quality of life in affecting those determinants of life from our quality of life perspective. As well as a community impact and a community benefits perspective.
It creates community wealth and creates job opportunities and it allows a springboard for fostering other economic development opportunities. And it's not just to focus on the food aspect as the end all be all but it is a part of a larger strategy, around land use, around transportation, around economic development.
It also addresses the other issues about the healthcare deserts, so it is a multifaceted approach to address long term community.
>> Quinn Whittington: You just you told me where lot of these like the Walmart is, the Publix. For whoever would be listening to this in the future, about how far do people in West Charlotte have to travel to get good food?
>> Ricky Hall: They have to travel more than a mile.
>> Quinn Whittington: More than a mile?
>> Ricky Hall: And that's how you actually determine the food desert. If you have to travel more than a mile to access foods and food options, then you're considered in a food desert. And if you look at the burgeoning development of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, most communities have banks.
>> Ricky Hall: They have healthcare facilities, they have retail development, they have all of those markers that lead to enhanced quality of life. If you look at the West Boulevard corridor, there's no healthcare facility here. There's no bank still actually located. Retail development is sparse.
>> Ricky Hall: Housing and economic development opportunities are starting to grow.
But it's starting to grow towards the higher end. What actually happens is that why should this community be a community that actually improves as demographics change, and not improve for the people who have been historically in this place? That in and of itself is our challenge.
>> Quinn Whittington: And you can see the gentrification that's happening in the West End pretty visibly, if you're driving through specific parts of it, and- It has it's own set of problems but they also have the potential right to bring these banks and stuff that you're talking about and in supermarkets, but what are the problems with gentrification that way it's happening right now, especially as regards to like food access?
>> Ricky Hall: Well here's the problem. The West Boulevard Charter and the West Boulevard Coalition is blessed to have a solid historical foundation, and that foundation goes back to Moss Sanctuary in Zion Church, where you in as far back as 1850 Land was granted for the development of the church and ultimately that church becomes the foundation, a force for an educational facility.
And then the leadership part of that church becoming the foundation for the development of homes, schools, and churches in the area. And that community, that progressive community self help culture becomes the defining feature of creating that community village. That is the village that I grew up in because more sanctuary, Capital Drive.
>> Ricky Hall: Carr Heights, Reed Park, and the Parker Heights community, becomes that village hub. And it's not just the foundation, but it also is the creation of social policy that drives other needs and advancement in human relationships that becomes a progressive spirit in culture of the West Boulevard neighborhood coalition.
>> Ricky Hall: So the foundation of what we are doing is not just a new beginning, it actually is underpinned by the efforts going all the way back over 150 years ago.
>> Quinn Whittington: So you screened the farmer that feeds us.
>> Ricky Hall: Yes.
>> Quinn Whittington: With a couple of weeks back actually.
>> Quinn Whittington: So I mean nd I did interview Zach Wyatt a couple of weeks back as well. One of and he was one of the leads behind the project. How did you become involved with that project specifically?
>> Ricky Hall: Well actually the site for filming of the farm as feed is one.
The predominant sites that is featured is the West Boulevard Corridor, Seeds for Change urban farm was used as the backdrop for a lot of that filming and Zach came out and we were talking about the Carolina farm trucks and we talked about the vision for the Seeds For Change initiative under the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition.
And what are our goals and objectives and it fit in with Zack's documentary of the farm and it feeds us and other efforts that are taking place in the areas like the West Boulevard corridor to address food insecurity. And how do we come together as a collective to begin to understand what the dynamics and the underpinnings of how we got here?
But also, not just to understand that underpinning, but how do we begin to dismantle some of the challenges that this community has. We've talked about the code of law. If you look at the pattern of development, and even with highways and roads and things of that nature, in terms of racial segmentation and separation, then all of this is kind of driven from those challenges that the community creates.
So, how do we unravel it to create more equity and social and economic advancement?
>> Quinn Whittington: You also previously described to us about some I mean bringing greater food access to Charlie region I mean West Wales specifically, and you talked about the Three Sisters Market which is in planning, now wondering if you can just describe that a little bit?
>> Ricky Hall: [LAUGH] The Three Sisters Market
>> Ricky Hall: Is a vision that the West Boulevard Corridor has in terms of addressing the decades old need for fresh healthy food and vegetables in the West Boulevard Corridor, and as I said, it started in 2016, when we came together with Wells Fargo and we talked about creating a collective community impact.
And so we started with four pillars under the coalition strategy, land use and transportation. We started with the civic and community engagement as well as the Seeds for Change Initiative and we started with the vision of having the urban farm as a way of beginning to provide fresh, healthy food and vegetables and in the car and as a part of an educational and youth component, to where we were teaching marketable skills youth in and farming as well as the social and environmental sciences.
And then as a part of the larger vision on this four-acre site of building a co-op market to provide the fruit and vegetables, to provide good paying jobs, as well as to create community wealth. And so the Three Sisters Market in and of itself, is a way in which as a coalition we pay homage to the leadership of African American women.
Going back to that progressive community spirit that was born over 150 years ago. There was three under the first coalition, that I kinda grew up and gravitated under, there were three women, Maggie Freeman, Carrie Graves and Lucile McNeil who represented that leadership and who were instrumental in a lot of the improvements in the community, like Amy Jane.
Neighborhood center, like this West Boulevard Library and other improvements and as that leadership waned and Dorothy Watty picked up the challenge and mantle of leadership. And under her were people like Alfreda Brown and Harriett Mahoney who really took the coalition and ran with it. Ms. Watty was alive in 2015 when we started this initiative and one of her primary words were you teach a person to fish, they eat for day.
I mean, if you give a person a fish, they eat for a day, if you teach them to fish, they eat for life. And so she said then, yes, we can do this. And so the coalition has certainly ran with that challenge and that informs the decision in which we are working on today from a Three Sisters Market perspective.
So we're paying homage to the legacies of female leadership while at the same time recognizing that within the West Boulevard Corridor there were primarily three sister communities that really formed the basis of African-American life from a historical perspective. Morris Sanctuary, Capitol Drive, Cora Heights, Reed Park, and then Parker Heights.
But also, it has so many other connotations associated with it, thus the name Three Sisters Market was born. And when the store opens in 2021 then not only will it have that historical legacy, but it will certainly meet the needs of the community.
>> Quinn Whittington: So I actually wanna build on that because I've noticed a trend and the people who are really significant in your life related to the food access, they're all women.
And the typical image of a farmer for the public or even an urban farmer is an older white man, right, who will own hundreds of acres of land. But with you and the West Charlotte community, it seems like it's a very different image of who the growers are.
And I'm just wondering where the importance of women, how that grew in the West Charlotte community?
>> Ricky Hall: Well, I don't necessarily know where it grew. But I know, for me, it actually happened and I think that it's true. That's not to say that there weren't significant men who actually were a part of that food provision as well.
But I just know that from a community leadership perspective, those women were foundations. They stood out because they came out and they formed, they organized, and they brought about community change. And for me particular, Dorothy Watty, who was my predecessor in the leadership chain as well as Alfreda Brown.
Both are gone now and the only living part of that legacy is Harriett Mahoney. So Dorothy Watty hands the baton to Ricky Hall and Brenda Campbell and the persons who make up that. And so in our time, we're taking it and we're running with it until it's time to hand off to a new round of leadership.
And we think that that new round of leadership will come from those youth that we're working with in the garden. That we touch on in terms of the overall vision and strategy for improvement of quality of life in the West Boulevard Corridor through our four pillar strategy. Whether it be in the land use, in transportation activities, in the housing development activities, in the civic and community engagement activities as well as in the co-op activities.
Because what we do want to see is those youth to come out there and put their hands to the soil. And that in learning these marketable skills and habits become the leadership that actually goes from growing stuff in the ground to actually putting things on the shelf and becoming viable employees within the market.
>> Ricky Hall: That then,
>> Ricky Hall: Begins to get good paying jobs as a result of the market. And then they help to create long-term viability and sustainability for the market that creates community wealth as a result of creating,
>> Ricky Hall: An economic development system that keeps capital in this community to foster opportunity as opposed to the dollars continuing to flow out.
That is what that process is about. But also as the community changes and grows, that it becomes,
>> Ricky Hall: An opportunity for multi-cultural and a diverse community that honors its past, keeps people in place, but also attracts new residents, new economic development opportunities, and new growth and economic viability as a whole.
Whereas Boulevard, in and of itself, has long been thought of as a place to avoid. Now it's becoming an attractive place, as a place to invest. So as investment comes, there's no reason why others have to divest in order to get to a place of visibility and viability.
>> Quinn Whittington: So, it's the skills, in some ways, the skills that your grandmother taught you, like working in the garden, you're trying to pass down to the youth, the people that are working in the urban gardens that you're working on right now as well. And in addition, you're intending to teach them even more skills to be an important part of the community and really build the community up right.
>> Ricky Hall: Mm-hm, mm-hm, absolutely.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay, so I only have a couple more questions, but could you just describe what urban efforts are currently involved? I know you've mentioned a few of them already, but-
>> Ricky Hall: Of course, there's the Rosa Parks Garden over in the Beatties Ford Road Corridor.
And I know there's the Aldersgate,
>> Ricky Hall: Farm that Zach is establishing over on the east side. And all is within that crescent arc of areas that have been long associated with social and economic mobility challenges. And now these arcs are starting to coalesce around, okay, if it didn't happen, does it stay that way?
And now, if it hadn't happened, should we wait on somebody to make it happen or should we make it happen ourselves? And food access is one of the One of those primary needs. And so if we can grow sustainable gardens and we can create sustainable markets. That also leads to high level markets that become physical locations to access good, healthy food and vegetables.
And create supply chains that allow us to go from farm to market to table. And to provide it at an affordable price point. That then begins to affect access to healthy food that then begins to affect those social determinants of health, whether it be high blood pressure or diabetes, all of those negative markers.
But then we begin to see an upward progression of health markers that leads to higher quality of life for families and communities.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay, so that was my last major question. Kind of the big follow-up question, is there anything you wish I had asked or something that you wish you could have talked about?
>> Ricky Hall: No,
>> Ricky Hall: It is for me. And I think that it's a part of community self help. It's part of being positive deviant. It's part of creating solutions for self and community. As opposed to having someone else plan with your future and your life outcomes will be. And while these things have historical underpinnings around race, and it doesn't have to stay that way.
And for the West Boulevard Carter, we're not necessarily talking about what has been. We're actually focused on what can be. And what can be is not just improvements in food access, but food improvements in economic development, improvements in housing, conditions in housing opportunities. They're in a mixed income situation.
Because what I want you to understand now is this, and this is my last remark. Where we are now, we're less than a mile or mile and a quarter from the biggest economic development generator in the city of Charlotte, to our west, and that's the airport. Where we are now, we are less than a mile and a quarter from the central business district of Charlotte.
Where we are now, we're less than a mile from South End, and all of the burgeoning development around the Blue Line. Which really transform and change the South Boulevard Corridor, and really creates gentrification pressures. Where we are now to the west, we are so close, less than two miles away from the river district, which is a big Ballentine-like development that is creating pressures on gentrification coming from that way.
There's realignment in transit patterns from Clinton West here to Ashley Road over to West Tyvola and associated with that. To our south there is economic development that is burgeoning around the old site where the Hornets used to play in the Coliseum, that is really creating this vast economic opportunity.
Why should West Boulevard be a area of, with all of this economic development around us, why has this area been allowed to be that way for so many years? So it's actually a pearl in an ocean of economic development opportunity. And it shouldn't be that the River District and South End come together.
[LAUGH] In this space. And it not provide opportunity for the people who have historically been here. That is where we are. That is what our challenge is. And that is why that progressive culture of community self help must be brought to the table as a part of an inclusive strategy to achieve those goals and objectives of the West Boulevard neighborhood coalition.
It's there, but the drivers have to be the people who are here, and not the people who are now looking to come here.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay.
>> Ricky Hall: That's my.
>> Quinn Whittington: All right, well I just wanna thank you for your time.
>> Ricky Hall: And I'm glad to do it.
>> Quinn Whittington: And I greatly, I greatly appreciate it.
>> Ricky Hall: No problem.
>> Quinn Whittington: All right.
Amy Foster discusses her twelve years as a livestock farmer and co-owner of Gilcrest Natural Farm in Iron Station, North Carolina. Mrs. Foster expresses her desire to control her food and develop her land as factors that led her to become a full time farmer. She explains why she chose cattle and chickens and describes the methods she uses to raise her animals naturally. Other topics include the usefulness of the Internet and North Carolina State University resources, pros and cons of urban development, farming as a business, and the importance of educating consumers.
Amy Foster was a 53-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place at Gilcrest Natural Farm in Iron Station, North Carolina. She was born in Hastings, Minnesota in 1965. She received her BA from Hamline University and her MBA from St. Thomas University, both in St. Paul, Minnesota and was employed as a business analyst and farmer.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:25||Getting into farming|
|0:01:38||Choosing livestock farming|
|0:02:37||Learning curve into farming|
|0:03:59||NC State Extension courses and assistance|
|0:06:02||Certifications (GAP and Organic)|
|0:09:08||Naming the farm|
|0:09:40||Choosing which livestock to raise|
|0:11:14||Slaughtering and processing|
|0:14:42||Labor on the farm|
|0:16:47||Livestock vs. vegetable farming|
|0:17:51||Working with NC Farm School|
|0:18:28||Profitability of vegetables|
|0:19:47||Internet and social media|
|0:25:32||Neighbors and urban development|
|0:30:05||Average day on the farm|
|0:32:36||Feeding the animals|
|0:33:46||Chickens and grit|
|0:36:00||Challenges as a woman farmer|
|0:38:18||Employment prior to farming|
|0:39:08||Farming as a business|
|0:40:40||Shift to farming|
|0:42:08||Decision to farm|
|0:45:20||Future of the farm|
|0:48:23||Difficulty of getting into farming|
|0:49:19||Importance of educating consumers|
>> Sarah: All right, today is April 24th 2019, we are in Iron Station, North Carolina at Gilcrest Natural Farm. My name is Sarah Wyles and I am interviewing Emmy Foster.
>> Emily: Hi Sarah.
>> Sarah: Hi, so Emmy, how did you get into farming?
>> Emily: We were living on the lake, and not using it, and decided we would rather have open space than being on neighborhood.
So we started looking for land, and found our farm and moved here.
>> Sarah: Which lake?
>> Emily: Lake Norman.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: So it wasn't that big of a move?
>> Emily: No, we were still in the same school district and everything.
>> Sarah: Okay, what made you choose to do farming?
Was it just a matter of you had the land and you were already farming near Lake Norman, or you chose to move here to specifically to farm?
>> Emily: The farming kinda blossomed as an after effect, we wanted more space and we wanted to use the land to grow something.
We didn't know exactly what we were gonna do when we got here. We've always been backyard gardeners. We wanted a little more control over our food supply. We've been shopping with local farmers for several years and wanted to try our hand at it a little bit too. So we started small and now we're not small any more.
>> Sarah: Yeah, so what made you go from vegetable gardening to livestock?
>> Emily: Well, we started out getting 25 hands in and started raising our own eggs and selling the surplus and I've always wanted cattle. So we got two cows, two bulls actually, and fenced in a small portion of the acreage.
And things just kept growing from there as we started going to the farmers' market and we saw there was demand, things just kept growing each year. Plus, my kids were getting older and going to elementary school, so I had more time to devote to the farm. But yet I wanted a flexible schedule so I could be quote-unquote the stay at home mom.
But yet still generate a little income and and have something to do during the day.
>> Sarah: So how much of a learning curve was that?
>> Emily: Luckily, it was a gentle learning curve because we knew a lot of farmers in the area that we've been shopping with. They were very kind with their advice and and methodologies that people shared a lot with us.
YouTube is an invaluable resource to learn how to farm, as well as we relied on our local extension office a lot. That when they offered classes, we would attend, just calling them with questions, they would come out and help us so they were a great resource.
>> Sarah: Can you talk a little more about that, the extension courses?
>> Emily: Yeah, I guess, Gaston County, Laura Warden specifically, offered a lot of small farm-orientated courses. And we took a lot of courses about things that we're not doing, we learned about sheep and goats and different livestock species. But it also included information on taxation and how to handle regulations and things like that.
That extension really gave us what we needed for a well rounded farm. That we went looking for answers that they were able to answer any question we had. So we've always relied on extension and even today, I volunteer with them and still call and ask questions [LAUGH]. But their courses were very valuable and even, I think it was about five, six years ago we went to NC State Farm School.
We've been in operation for a while. But we really needed to check our profitability, our direction, our marketing. And the farm school course is more designed for people starting out. But it adapted for us to make it valuable to kinda check in with our operation and make our plans.
We've always had a business plan which they advocate you have but it really helped us update it and modernize it for where we wanted to go.
>> Sarah: So what regulations do you come under?
>> Emily: Being a livestock producer, we have to have a meat handler's license to sell meat to the public, and we are inspected for that annually.
Phillip showed up a couple weeks ago and they check your freezers, and your refrigeration, and temperatures and labeling.
>> Emily: That is our main inspection. There's other things we fall under as far as we're in the present value use program for taxation that we have to comply with that and do some filing.
The FSA, we have to do some filing each year. But because we're not GAP certified or we haven't sought organic certification and other things, our level of inspection is fairly minimal.
>> Sarah: Okay, do you fall under the Food Safety Modernization Safety Act at all?
>> Emily: They have not communicated to us that we need to do anything at this point in time.
I expect something eventually will come up with that.
>> Sarah: Is there a reason you're not GAP or organic certified, or was it just not worth the time and effort?
>> Emily: They don't have a lot of GAP certification for livestock, it's mostly focused on vegetables, I took a course at extension [LAUGH].
Talked about what you would have to do, there are certain things that make it not worthwhile for us that we'd have to adapt and change so many of our structures. And this goes with organic certification. We'd have to make so many changes that it really wouldn't pay off.
We use organic methods. We don't wanna be chemical-driven or conventional, but we're not certified. Ultimately, we see the consumer as our ultimate inspector. If they wanna see what's going on, we invite anybody to come and look.
>> Sarah: So what are those organic methods for livestock farming?
>> Emily: We would have to do the birthing on our farm and right now, I work with four of our neighbors to buy their milk cows and we raise them out here.
We don't really have enough space to operate a cow calf operation that could be profitable which is something I learned in farm school. [LAUGH] That helped crunch the numbers to see, could we do our own and really, the answer on paper was no. So that’s prohibitive for the beef as well as we would have to locate organically certified hay and organically certified feed.
There’s no organic feed producer nearby. We'd have to have it shipped in, and the cost is prohibitive again. Same with the chicken feed, there's no one producing it locally, so it's a barrier to entry for organics for us. There's a lot of things in our equipment we'd have to change that we view some treated lumber for fence post, they don't necessarily like that.
If your wire isn't coated, they don't like that. So to retrofit the farm to be truly organically certified. It just doesn't make sense financially, and we're not spring chickens any more. So [LAUGH] the amount of labor involved is kind of prohibitive for where we're at right now too.
>> Sarah: So what methods do you employ on the farm? I know the animal's are free-range and-
>> Emily: Yeah, the animals get to do what they're meant to do. We don't use any man-made chemicals. But we use our own chicken manure that's aged to fertilize. We don't vaccinate the cattle, we don't give them hormones or antibiotics, same with the chickens.
If you don't need a chemical, why would you use it? We operate pretty naturally and hence the name of the farm, Gilcrest Natural Farm.
>> Sarah: Where does the name come from?
>> Emily: My husband's name is Gil. And long ago I said, if we ever have a mountain house or a beach house, we should name it Gilcrest.
And it just wasn't gonna happen. So I'm like, let's use it for the farm. And we put the natural in there to kinda communicate what we're about. And it's also hard to use the word natural in labeling. So if we put in the farm name, it communicated for us what we wanted it to do.
So that's how we named our farm.
>> Sarah: So how did you choose which animals that you were going to raise? I know you said you always really wanted to raise cattle, and I guess chickens are sort of an easy start. But why not like pork or sheep?
>> Emily: Yeah, well chickens are kinda the gateway to farming.
They're lower investment, good turnover, that you always have a product whether it be eggs or meat. Cattle we chose because we did have that much acreage and in order to keep up with keeping it maintained and keeping it in the program, cattle made sense because they took up a lot of space.
We rejected pigs just because it's a third system. Each species needs its own watering system and its own fencing system, and I've always said two hands, two species. With juggling family and the farm and everything else, two is enough. So if we ever did do something, I'm still interested in goats.
So I'll never say never, but for right now, two is the right number of species for us.
>> Sarah: I guess if you have all your land devoted to the cattle, you can simply add more cattle cuz the system's already in place for them.
>> Emily: Right, and we've ramped up and down over the years.
We've had as few as 12 head and we've gone up to 36. 36 was too hard on our pastures, so 20 is kind of our sweet spot.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: And where is the meat, where are the animals slaughtered to process for the meat? Cuz I know you sell the meat yourself.
>> Emily: Right, we go to the farmers market to sell our meat. And chickens you can do yourself on the farm, or you can take them to a processor. We've processed on the farm in the past. Right now, we might do a little on farm this year. But primarily, we use a USDA inspected facility in Kingstree, South Carolina.
And we transport our birds down there, they do the dirty work, and then we pick them up in pretty plastic packages and bring them back. For the cattle, we use Cruise Meats over in Concord, and have for a long time. They're really a partner in our operation. In a given year, we'll slaughter anywhere from 12 to 18 head, depending on demand and when everybody's ready to go.
So they've been instrumental for us in helping us process our beef.
>> Sarah: Okay, so it's even the slaughtering and processing is pretty localized?
>> Emily: We try to be. We used to have a chicken processor that was closer to us, but unfortunately they closed. So it's a hike to South Carolina, but for the amount of chicken we need to raise, we needed to do larger batches and doing it ourselves completely, we just couldn't handle it.
>> Sarah: So where all do you distribute, I know you're at the Davidson Farmers Market, do you do any other markets?
>> Emily: Yeah, we go to the Charlotte Regional Market every Saturday, that's down off Billy Graham Parkway, by the airport. Every now and then, we'll sell to a chef.
It's not a main part of our business, but we're happy to work with chefs. And organic marketplace in Gastonia sells our meats too.
>> Sarah: Are you partnered with any wholesalers?
>> Emily: No we have never really embraced the wholesale market because our chicken suppl is seasonal. They aren't really party to that, they want a constant supply.
And for beef, because of our limitations on how many we can do here, everything we're raising, we're selling at retail. So wholesale just doesn't really make sense at this point. If we wanted to stop the farmer's market someday, then we could look at that.
>> Sarah: What other organizations are you partnered with?
I know a lot of farmers work with the Piedmont Culinary Guild. But it sounds more like you sell specifically to chefs.
>> Emily: Yeah, I need to become a member of the Piedmont Culinary Guild, [LAUGH] frankly. We've been members of Slow Food in the past, but I guess we've let that lapse.
The Carolina Farms Steward Association, remember.
>> Emily: And I think that's about it right now.
>> Emily: There is a lot of groups you can join and pay dues to, but from a time and money stand point we haven't really looked into a lot of those.
>> Sarah: So running the farm, obviously it's you and your husband, and you mentioned your husband is inside, is he doing sort of the paperwork aspect of it?
>> Emily: He works full time off the farm.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Emily: So he works for one of the big banks in town, and when he's done at the end of the day he will help out, which is wonderful. My main job is at the farm, but I also work off the farm too.
So we hire contractors to help us when we need a little extra labor right now. Two wonderful men are up staining our barn for us. It's a big job that we don't have the equipment for, so oftentimes we'll hire someone to help us do things that it just doesn't make sense to do ourselves.
We have two boys who are teenagers now, and they're a great help. It's their part-time job, so we are happy to have their help and we pretty much get by with that.
>> Sarah: Okay, so you just hire in people when you need them? Like mostly local?
>> Emily: Yeah, like we need to do some roadwork.
I'll probably seek out somebody to help with that. The winter was rough with all the rains, we've got some ruts we need to correct and move the water where we want it to go. So when we don't have the equipment or the labor then I'm out looking for help.
>> Sarah: You don't have any full time employees helping you with necessarily cattle or the chickens, it's more of just tasks on the farm, to upkeep the farm as a whole.
>> Emily: Right.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: It's interesting cuz I've been talking mostly to vegetable farmers who of course are having to constantly be in the field, to constantly look after the crops.
So I guess if you let the cattle and the chickens do as they please to some extent, you don't have to constantly be watching them.
>> Emily: No, our days are full. There's always more you can do. You always have a to-do list on the farm, and I think that's part of why we shied away from vegetables a little bit, that we just do them as a supplement when we have time.
The animals look at you and make noise, so they get your first attention. I've tried doing larger scale vegetable in the past but I ended up dropping it to focus on the animals. Even one of our extension agents said it's rare to see somebody successful doing livestock and vegetables at a substantial scale, which made me feel better because I felt like I was failing at vegetables.
Even this year with the wet spring, I didn't take the time to get the garden ready because it was too wet. And it was harder to do the chores out in the field because it was so wet and it sucked up all my time. It's always a balance.
You monitor and adjust, like with anything in life.
>> Sarah: So what do you do off the farm? Do you have a part-time job?
>> Emily: I have a part-time job with NC State, with the farm school as a matter of fact.
>> Sarah: Do you teach, or are you a mentor?
>> Emily: I've been a mentor with them. And right now I'm working on creating budgets for farm school for different farm crops, as well as some case studies.
>> Sarah: Oka, cool, but do you that mostly from home?
>> Emily: Yes, a lot of what I can do from home or over the phone, every now and then I have to travel to interview farmers.
Not unlike this. But it's been very interesting. And a lot of it focused on vegetables. So if we ever do get into vegetables it's probably changing the way I would do it.
>> Sarah: How would you do vegetables?
>> Emily: Well, I guess I've learned which vegetables are profitable and which are not doing the budgets.
And what scales affect what crops. You look at sweet corn, in a small amount, it's not profitable. But if you scale up, there is a place for profit. If you look at the profit per square foot that you're planting, it's very small for sweetcorn compared to some things, say like salad mix.
So it's really opened my eyes from the vegetable standpoint of where to put your labor and what kind of dollars you might get back from it. We've done that study for ourselves with our livestock, and I know exactly how much a chicken cost from birth to slaughter. And what effects our ratios, what makes it more profitable or less profitable, same for the cattle.
So it's interesting to see the vegetable side of it, but I'm enjoying the job.
>> Sarah: Nice.
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: So yo you mentioned that you, yeah, that bee is stuck.
>> Emily: [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: It's having a hard time. So you mentioned earlier that you learned a lot from YouTube, just sort of I assume little how-to videos, like how do I fix this post, or whatnot.
How useful is the Internet, in general as a farmer?
>> Emily: It's a tool that I wouldn't wanna be without. I've been members of different forums over the years, to look up,, my chicken has this weird thing on its leg, what could it be? The books aren't always as descriptive as a picture.
The picture is worth a thousand words. And for researching new equipment, it's really been essential to do make or buy decisions. Do I want to buy this chicken coop, or make one myself? And just people are so willing to share ideas, it's really handy to look at five ways of fencing to know what's gonna be right for your land and your soil.
So I really enjoy doing research on the web. I probably do too much sometimes, but it's there, so you get sucked into that rabbit hole sometimes, but no, I like farming with the web. I've got a lot of books. But I haven't bought a book for probably two or three years, but I just really have gone to relying on the web.
>> Sarah: What about social media to connect with customers? I know you have a Facebook and a newsletter.
>> Emily: Yeah, we do a weekly newsletter we have for years, just about what's going on at the farm because it's a glimpse of life that most people aren't familiar with anymore.
People are so far removed from farms that back in the day, either you lived in a farming community or your grandparents had a farm, or somebody had a farm. And that's not the case anymore, so our weekly newsletter helps communicate that to people. We have a webpage, we do Facebook, and we post the newsletter on Facebook each week, and I just started doing Instagram, so it's fun to have some followers and see their comments.
That's probably enough social media for me right now though, cuz it's time consuming, and it takes away from the work.
>> Sarah: What kind of comments do you get?
>> Emily: Well, I guess I post the happy positive things, so I get happy positive comments back. When we got baby chicks, I showed them racing around and they were all chasing each other and they were going to the right.
So I commented that they don't know about NASCAR [LAUGH] because they all go to the left, but it's fun to just put up the fun pictures of what's going on.
>> Sarah: Do you get pushback for only putting up sort of the good when things are going well?
>> Emily: I haven't on Instagram, in the newsletter I'm pretty forward about what really goes on day-to-day.
If something happens that's not sunny, that's the reality of farming and that's what I wanna communicate to people. If we've had flooding issues, we talk about flooding Issues. If we had a predator attack, we talk about the predator attack. And we also talk about what we're gonna do different to prevent it next time.
So it's a great tool to really communicate our day-to-day life.
>> Sarah: Do you have a lot of predator attacks?
>> Emily: Not so much anymore. Raccoons have probably been our biggest problem over the year with the chickens. We found electricity really works well for them. And we protect all of our chicken coops and chicken tractors with hot wire at night, and that kind of solved that problem.
We went to that especially after the year of the skunk. A little bevy of skunks found us and that was a bad year, cuz not only do you have To clean up after the predators leave, it smelled awful [LAUGH]. But we have coyote, fox, weasels, owls, hawks, you name it.
But I guess over the years we just get strategic that if we see too many hawks around our chickens, we'll bring the cattle up closer and the motion of the cattle deters the hawks. If you call in crows with a crow caller in the spring, they will nest and crows keep foxes away because they chase them, they try and play with them.
So trying to find ways to make mother nature work for us has really helped our predator issue.
>> Sarah: So it sounds like the predators are mostly after the chicken, not the cattle.
>> Emily: Yeah, because we don't do the birthing here, we don't have a lot of the issues that you get with having small cows around.
So by the time they come to us, they are about 6 months old and 500 pounds and the coyotes don't mess with them.
>> Sarah: I'm from up north, so I think of predators as bears and mountain lions.
>> Emily: Luckily, knock wood, we don't have that yet. But there have been bear sightings last year around here, but we didn't have any sign of the bears.
That would be bad. But there's other farms with cow-calf operations around us, so I think they would favor them instead of us. We'll see.
>> Sarah: So you have a lot of farming neighbors?
>> Emily: We do. Luckily development is really booming in this area but there's some old time farmers who are gonna be here as long as we are.
And in fact there are a lot of the people I get my calves from. So then I work with four of our neighbors to get our calves.
>> Sarah: How is development affecting your operation? Because I mean I had to drive through a development to get here.
>> Emily: That used to be a hay field when we moved here, and it's been a change because even though they move in to near existing farms, people don't really know what to expect anymore as far as the noises and the smells.
And the kind of traffic we generate versus being in an urban neighborhood, which for the most part is where most of the folks come from.
>> Emily: And their understanding of country and a farmer's understanding of country are sometimes two different things. The county helps us work with that, because we're part of the present value used program, when somebody buys property near a farm, they receive a letter saying, realize you're moving next to a farm.
It has farm noises and farm smells. Animals have sex outside. If this is upsetting to you, this is your notification that it's going to happen. And people have complained. The county folks come out, okay, hey, how you doing? Cuz I've participated on committees with most of them so I know all the people in the county regulatory agencies, and yeah, heard you had some chicken noise.
I'm like, yeah, [LAUGH] chickens make noise. Unfortunately they have to come out,
>> Emily: Whenever somebody files a complaint they have to come out and investigate, but it's tampered down since the neighborhood's filled up and people are used to it now. The one thing we were hoping we wouldn't get, and the developer of course promised us we wouldn't get, is increased runoff.
That we've dealt with a lot more water anderosion problems since the neighborhood went up than we were told we would have to. And now it's a done deal, there's nothing we can do. So the neighborhood is kinda bittersweet, it did give us much better access to our farm that we have a paved road connected to our gravel road.
We used to have to travel through another farmer's farm where we had an easement and it was just kind of a dirt road, and it would wash out. So there are benefits. Some of the people have purchased things from us over the years, so it's not all bad.
Development brings customers. There's a couple developments, large developments, a couple miles from us that are going up. With the change in how retail business is done, I'm planning on doing deliveries to their neighbourhoods when they get built up. Amazon has kind of spoiled us that everything should come to our door again.
So why not meat and eggs that instead of hiring somebody to do with third market to try and expand our base, I've got a third market in my backyard because people are coming to me.
>> Sarah: So if you consider doing a foreign stand and having just the locals comes to pick things up or-
>> Emily: We can do that a little bit, we're not zoned for a farm stand where we can have regular hours and days, and all that. If somebody wants to come see the farm and buy something while they're here as a portion of agro-tourism, that's allowed. So I've got some folks who'd like to do that.
In fact I think I've had two groups come this week because it's spring break in our county, and so that's nice. But I don't really want a farm stand anyway because it would interrupt what I'm doing every day. So not knowing when people are coming wouldn't really work with trying to get chores done.
Some things you can't stop in the middle of.
>> Sarah: What does a average day look like for you?
>> Emily: I guess during the school year get everybody up and out of the house and have a cup of coffee or two [LAUGH].
I usually plan my week on Sunday and get it all written down.
I'm a list maker. So grab my list, head to the barn, and start feeding the barn cats and check the freezers. I have a very set routine for about the first hour of things that I do and check. One thing that we've just put in, I've got automatic chicken doors that raise and lower with the sunlight.
So I don't have to let the chickens out everyday anymore. But I still don't trust them so I'm checking [LAUGH] to make sure they're open everyday. Although this morning I realized I might have to adjust them a little bit, they're opening earlier than normal. And I saw some feathers on the ground, I'm like, I don't know if somebody got carried off, but maybe I wanna open them a little later because the hawks eat breakfast before I let my girls out.
And so that's part of my morning routine, is just kinda check on everybody, monitor everything, count noses, whatever the case may be. And then after that there's always a project going on, or six and you gotta feed everybody every day. So most of the activity right now, because it's cooler, I plan for the end of the day and when my husband's done, that we can do a lot of things together.
I've got this frozen shoulder right now, so I need help lifting. When it gets hotter, I'll try and get everything knocked out in the morning before it gets hot. The animals are happier to move and be fed in the morning too, so you just kinda adapt seasonally. As to what's going on, the Summer time, usually one of the boys will come help me.
Now that they're driving now, they'll probably get jobs off the farm and I won't have as much help, so we'll see. And then end of the day you do another go round to make sure everybody's okay, tuck everybody in, hook up wires where they need to be, hook up so everybody's safe, hard task.
>> Sarah: How many times do you actively feed the animals cuz I know obviously, they have a reason as well?
>> Emily: I try and keep it everybody on a 24-hour schedule, just for ease of labor, that we scale up or scale down our systems so we only have to actually be hands on with them once a day, so it seems to work pretty well.
>> Sarah: So they get a nice breakfast, and then they-
>> Emily: Yeah, depending if it's, right now, everybody gets fed around four to five o'clock, but in the heat that'll move to eight o clock, and everybody just adapts. But in Summer time the chickens drink more water cuz it's hot, so we scale up the amount of water we have and how many gallons they have available to them.
And in cooler months, they might be able to make it on five gallons a day, so it just kind of depends what they need to make it that 24 hours. But I guess I always go through and do a check at the opposite time of day because you don't know when water's gonna leak or something is just gonna be off.
>> Sarah: Or somebody tips a bowl or-
>> Emily: Right, yeah.
>> Sarah: So I saw a picture in one of your newsletters of a chicken and a, was it an oyster shell, bath?
>> Emily: Yes.
>> Sarah: Can you explain what that is?
>> Emily: I had just filled this tub with oyster shells, and we feed our chickens oyster shells, just free choice to help with the grit they need as well as supply them with calcium to make sure their egg shells are nice and hard.
And she just decided she was queen of the roost and hopped in, took a dust bath, flapped her wings up, and got all that dust under her feathers, and she just sat there and pecked at any of the other girls that came around. [LAUGH] So it was one of those picturesque moments that I like to try and capture.
>> Sarah: Where do you get the oyster shells?
>> Emily: Our feed company actually has them, or you can go to any farm store, like Tractor Supply or Southern States, and get them. They come in a 50 pound bag and they're just crushed oyster shells, bite sized for chicken.
>> Sarah: All right, just part of chicken feed in general.
>> Emily: Yeah, they get a little bit of grit just from when they peck around on the ground, but that this just kind of serves multiple purposes and-
>> Sarah: What is grit?
>> Emily: Grit is just any small stone or a seed casing or something that's not readily digestible. They will hold that in their crop, so, as they eat other food The crop's like a big muscle gizzard people might call it, and it just helps grinds up the food before it goes into the rest of their digestive system.
>> Sarah: So it's kind of like a tumbler almost inside?
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Emily: Our stomach contracts a little bit to massage the food and break it down, this is our stomach on steroids.
>> Sarah: All right.
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: So now I know what a gizzard is for the first time in my life.
>> Emily: Actually the gizzard is a separate piece, the crop and the gizzard are not quite the same thing. But most people think the gizzard is the crop, but they both do similar things.
>> Sarah: So it sounds like you really do a lot of, you're the farm manager, essentially?
>> Emily: Yes, I wear many hats. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: Have there been any issues you've faced, as a woman, managing your farm?
>> Emily: Earlier on, I think I faced more than I do now because I was a little green and didn't know things that you walk into the cattlemen's meeting or something.
And first it's called the cattlemen's meeting, and you're the only woman in the room. So it's cute, you're not necessarily treated as a professional right away. But over the years as you get to know people, and you become part of the farming community, those issues melted away. Going for a loan for our barn, we're both co-owners of the farm, my husband and I, so we go together but when they address questions they ask my husband, and knows 95% of what I know that goes on in the farm.
But it just, as a liberated woman it grates on you to not be 100% of who you are and taken for 100% of your value, you get used to it, I suppose. It's part of an evolving role for women to be farm owners, and I don't let it bother me.
There's a lot of better things to worry about in the world, so it's all right.
>> Sarah: Yeah I've talked to some other, again, vegetable farmers and there's that initial sort of wet behind the ears, I don't know what I'm doing, but then once you start knowing what you're doing, people are like, well, you know what you're talking about, so-
>> Emily: Right, yeah, and I guess it would be like that for anybody, once you can walk the walk and talk the talk. If you were 22 years old, regardless of if you're male or female, you'd probably get the same look, you have to grow into your role.
>> Sarah: So what did you do before became sort of a full time farmer I know you said you have an MBA.
>> Emily: Right I was an IT geek a business analyst but,
>> Emily: I worked for large corporations, developing software systems, writing documentation, training, the whole software development life cycle, which has really helped me in farming, actually. Our farming's pretty much been Six Sigma-ed, and [LAUGH] I know how much everything costs, and how to budget, and how to price, and that you wouldn't think an MBA and farming go together but it really has for me anyway, that I've been able to use my education to create a better more efficient farm.
>> Sarah: That's something that kind of struck me is how much farming is essentially just a business, we think of farming as, something our grandparents did for subsistence, and you know, then they just sold the rest.
>> Emily: Right.
>> Sarah: But now people running it like the business, they would look at the market, what's the hole in the market, what can we fill?
>> Emily: Well, and how do I save money on my costs? I did a time study one year and I recorded how much time I was spending on each activity, and it really changed the way we brood our chickens. I discovered I was spending a lot of time there, and I wasn't getting a lot of profit out of my activities.
So what could I do differently to minimize that time and maximize the longevity of the chicks and the health of the chicks during that time, and it changed a lot of our method I need to do it again because, there's always room for improvement, just the little addition of the chicken doors that we used to pay our kids a buck every night to go close the chicken doors.
So there's $365 and a chicken door costs, $200, so in two years that paid for and little did I know my husband up the rate $2 a day. Well these are already paid for [LAUGH] so it's come in handy for a lot of different things.
>> Sarah: So because you started it sounds like you kind of gradually shifted towards farming, there was an update, you know, you just suddenly quit working as IT and suddenly was, I'm making my money of chickens now.
>> Emily: No, it was very gradual, when our kids were born, we decided that one of us should stay home and nurture and be a full time parent, so that was me. And when we moved to the land, we started the vegetable garden and little by little, just to see what we could fit into our life without upending our life.
We did a little try before you buy and I went to work for another farmer at the farmer's market every Saturday to see, are the boys all gonna survive okay on their own without me for six hours? They did just fine, [LAUGH] so it was very gradual and the nice thing about farming is it's scalable.
You can scale up or scale back, we tried doing three markets and hiring somebody for two years, and we decided no, the third market wasn't very profitable, it just stretched us too thin, it was too complicated. So now we're back to two markets, and I like sleeping in that extra half hour on Saturday morning instead of four thirty, I can get up at five, so yeah.
>> Sarah: So what sort of drew you to farming, did you come from a farming background, like your parents or grandparents or?
>> Emily: No one's lived on a farm in my family since my great-grandparents. I grew up in a farming community, and I loved to go out to my farming friends' houses because it was just different and more fun climbing on the hay, and if they had horses and seeing the animals.
But no, it was really control over our food supply that really led us to do more besides the backyard garden, that we wanted to be able to subsist for ourselves, we're kind of homesteaders in a way. And then when we were growing too much and the demand was there, I'm like well this is kind of a built-in job.
And that's when we tried, you know, working at farmers market and so I figured if we want to eat this way, certainly there's other people. And we're doing this in 2007, 2008 when the market was going up and then tanking. And we figured, well if we could make it through 2008 and people are still buying our food, we've got something here, we just kept refining our methods and learning more all the time.
And so gradually, over time, everything just keeps growing.
>> Sarah: So who between you and your husband, who sort of led the way towards farming was it a joint effort, was it you?
>> Emily: That's pretty much my fault, [LAUGH] but we did have a joint interest in using our land, making it be productive, trying to improve the quality of the land, create something sustainable.
The last time this land has been farmed was back in the 40s and it was cotton farming. So when we were cutting down trees and putting up fences it was really very much a joint effort, because I might be really good at planning but the muscles was more my husbands', and what man doesn't like driving a tractor?
So [LAUGH] it really has been a complement to both of our lives, I would say, yeah.
>> Sarah: So when did you move? I know you said that this farm was started around 2008.
>> Emily: 2007, we started selling to the public and we moved on to the land in 2006.
>> Sarah: Okay, so when did you sort of move out of the city towards Lake Norman.
>> Emily: Let's see, we moved in Lake Norman in 2001, yeah, we built a house and,
>> Emily: And we enjoyed it, there was nothing wrong with it, just our preferences kinda changed, yeah. We wanted to have more space and be a little more natural.
>> Sarah: So what do you see as the future of your farm, do you see it as a business, handing it down to your sons, or maybe selling it off at some point or?
>> Emily: Right now, as teenagers our sons have worked hard and are not interested in farming as a career which is fine.
At their age I wasn't interested in farming as a career either, so like any good business plan we ever exit strategy that, if we get to the point where we're too infirm to run it ourselves anymore, we can lease the land, we can sell, we can put it in a conservation program.
We don't have any development options because of our access, the road is too narrow, so making a housing development out of it is not an option which suits us fine. We wouldn't want to see that happen to our farm, so we've got options. We'll see what happens, we've got a good 20 or 30 years, and the children and all, go through their personal midlife crises and maybe then they wanna come back, and so we're keeping our options open, but it's good to know what your options are.
>> Sarah: But for now you're gonna stay here, you're not looking to like add more land or?
>> Emily: No, we've considered that in the past, there's nothing for sale adjacent to us and when you do the numbers to travel to another location to tend cattle every day, it didn't really make sense because it's more time invested in the operation and then you've got more to market.
When we went to farm school that we decided, you know if we got bigger we'd have to hire employees, and it would really change the scale of our farm that we needed to look inward at our efficiencies and improve that instead of growing, physically, so we opted not to become the super farmers.
>> Sarah: So it sort of just mastering what you have and making it as efficient as possible?
>> Emily: Correct.
>> Sarah: Gotcha, I guess that makes it easier for you as an individual to manage it?
>> Emily: It does, but some days it's a little daunting to wake up and know your to do list is longer than you can physically accomplish, but you just choose your priorities and if you need help, you hire help.
You choose what you're good at, to do yourself and hire out other things or sometimes things just go undone. You choose what's on fire and try and prevent fires, not literal fires, we're not burning anything, [LAUGH] but that you just do the preventative maintenance so you don't have these crises, we've learned that the hard way.
>> Sarah: Well is there anything that you wanted to talk about that I didn't ask you?
>> Emily: I guess I would like to talk about the future of farming a little more.
>> Sarah: Sure please.
>> Emily: That it’s hard, it’s difficult for new people to get into farming. We were lucky that we had assets and we were of an age where we had money to invest in our farm.
The young people that have the passion and desire to farm today are having a difficult time, there's organizations to help with grants and loans, a lot more than when we started. Just to find land for some people is so difficult, but it would be nice, going forward, if it got easier and easier for people to farm.
And I guess I would also mention the consumer end too. The more people understand about what it takes to get food to the farmer's market, and why small farmers are important in our economy, the better they're gonna understand why they're paying what they're paying for their food and understand what the quality is, and the freshness, and the economical models that go with it.
That I like seeing all the education, including your project, about how food gets to the table, and I think it's important to keep having that discussion, so thank you for getting this.
>> Sarah: Yeah, thank you.
>> Emily: Yeah.
>> Sarah: Well, unless you have anything else, I think that's a good way to wrap it up.
>> Emily: I would agree.
>> Sarah: All right.
>> Emily: Thank you Sara.
>> Sarah: Thank you.
Lucky Leaf Gardens, LLC (“LLG”) (www.luckyleafgardens.com), headquartered in Harrisburg, North Carolina, has been owned and operated by Kate Brun since the company’s 2010 launch. Initially located at her home, the greenhouse-based farming operations are now located at the Forest Farm, a five-acre offsite farm in rural Concord, North Carolina, which includes an “edible forest” of fruit trees and plantings, and a large open-air pavilion featuring a stone wood-fired hearth for events and cooking classes. From its state-of-the-art 3,600 square foot greenhouse, LLG produces fifty varieties of grown-to-order microgreens, which it distributes via regional grocery stores (including Harris-Teeter, Whole Foods, and Earth Fare) and wholesale distributors (including Sysco, USFoods, FreshPoint, and Foster Caviness), and directly to regional restaurants and chefs.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:48||Kate Brun (“Kate”) introduces herself, her background, and the start of Lucky Leaf Gardens ("LLG") out of the solarium at her home|
|0:01:56||Kate describes her education background and past work experience|
|0:02:42||Kate's lifelong interest in gardening and LLG's first sales of microgreens produce in May 2010|
|0:03:12||Transitioning a gardening hobby into a business|
|0:03:47||The early days of LLG|
|0:04:27||Kate explains microgreens, their growth cycles, shelf life, and nutritional benefits|
|0:06:14||The differences between microgreens and sprouts, including the potential health risks associated with consuming sprouts|
|0:07:17||LLG's evolution and business expansion from a home business into a greenhouse operation; the transition from a home farm to LLG's Forest Farm|
|0:09:07||The learning curve and trial-and-error education in microgreen cultivation, including the constant improvements of processes and equipment|
|0:10:47||The evolution of LLG's customized soil heating system as an example of those constant learnings and iterations of farming and business operations|
|0:12:37||The development of LLG's harvesting practices and distribution network|
|0:14:57||The impact of weather and growing seasons on greenhouse agriculture|
|0:16:17||The adoption and use of technology in LLG's farming operations, including technologies enabling constant monitoring of Forest Farm as a remote farm location|
|0:18:12||The functionality and durability of LLG's greenhouse structure|
|0:19:02||Climate control of the soil and air in the greenhouse|
|0:19:33||The selection of crop varieties to accommodate customer needs and expectations|
|0:20:52||LLG's more successful crop offerings|
|0:21:57||The evolution of LLG's distribution network, from farmers markets to restaurants and grocery stores to local and national retailers and wholesalers|
|0:24:47||The challenges of regional direct-to-consumer produce shipments|
|0:26:07||The benefits of shipping harvested microgreens versus still-growing microgreens|
|0:26:52||Typical daily and weekly schedule for LLG|
|0:27:27||LLG's minimal work force: Kate, her father, and occasional short-term help|
|0:29:07||LLG's less-successful crop offerings, including edible flowers; how the greenhouse's specific design for microgreens impacts its utility for growing other crops|
|0:30:07||Watering and shade cloth practices for greenhouse farming|
|0:31:07||LLG's compost practices as an example of the trial-and-error evolution of farming practices|
|0:33:02||LLG's organic farming practices|
|0:33:47||The ongoing debate whether to pursue organic certification, and its questionable value given LLG's condensed growing season and current organic farming practices|
|0:34:37||Food safety, USDA audits and inspections, and LLG's voluntary USDA "Good Agricultural Practices" (GAP) certification|
|0:35:43||LLG's Food Safety Management Act readiness, despite its exempt status under the Act|
|0:36:47||LLG's Forest Farm and ongoing efforts to use the property to grow community and farming awareness|
|0:37:27||LLG's use of Permaculture Techniques in managing Forest Farm; the edible forest|
|0:38:31||Forest Farm's outdoor pavilion and wood-fired oven for community pizza nights|
|0:39:27||Outdoor classes taught at the pavilion, including bread-making, kraut, mushrooms, sourdough, and planting for human health|
|0:40:12||LLG's experimentation with hops cultivation|
|0:41:55||Fruits cultivated in the Forest Farm's edible forest|
|0:42:57||LLG's educational mission, including with local schools|
|0:45:12||Challenges and public misperceptions of greenhouse farming and microgreen agriculture|
|0:46:14||Kate's course of self-education about microgreens and greenhouse operations|
|0:47:22||The Charlotte microgreen industry and market|
|0:49:17||LLG's involvement with Piedmont Culinary Guild; Kate's view of Charlotte's potential future as a "foodie" town and culinary destination|
|0:52:07||Microgreens versus staple/commodity crops; greenhouse farming versus traditional outdoor agriculture, and the different challenges facing each type of farming|
|0:54:54||Public misperceptions about agriculture in general|
|0:55:47||Future plans for LLG and the Forest Farm|
|0:56:52||Kate's view of Charlotte's agricultural future, and the growing age shift of farmers|
|0:58:57||The return to heirloom crops|
|0:59:57||Changing consumer awareness of food and dietary issues and the impact on farmers and farming|
|1:02:27||Kate's advice for consumers wanting to learn more about food and dietary issues|
|1:03:03||End of interview|
>> Okay, so this is Tommy Worlick, today is Thursday, April 4th, 2019. I am working with the UNC Charlotte History Department on the oral history project, the Queen's Garden, oral histories of the Piedmont food shed. And today I am at the forest farm of lucky leaf gardens with Kate Brunn who is the founder owner and operator.
Kate, good morning.
>> Greatly appreciate you spending time with us and letting us speak with you today about the gardens and about your business. Can I get you to start by just sort of telling us about yourself, your background and how Lucky Leaf Gardens came in to being.
>> Yeah, so I'm Kate, we moved to Charlotte 14 years ago now, and at that time we were kind of in transition with our careers. Long story short, I had a sun room on the back, and still have the sun room on the back of my house. It's a glass roofed solarium, octagon shape, probably why I bought the house and probably why my husband hates the house.
[LAUGH] It was leaking, it's cold, it's hot, you can't really use it. Mark, my husband was threatening to tear it off and put something better. And I said well what if we turn it into a little greenhouse and maybe we can grow some winter greens, or something. And within a month, we had a operation of microgreens, because that's about the only thing you can grow in such a small space.
And we were selling, we had our business up and running within a month, website, business cards, door to door, selling microgreens.
>> My gosh. Now, you were telling me, your educational background at Radford University-
>> Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
>> But what did you do before you were a real estate agent?
>> I worked as a contractor for the EPA in region eight, Colorado, and we were mapping contaminated soils through GIS which was back then, somewhat of a new technology. Now it's very, I mean, everybody's using it on their phone every day.
>> And your studies at Ratford were in environmental science?
>> Environmental, well, it's in the geography department, it was three or four tiers down, but ultimately, a geography degree in environmental studies, concentration in GIS with a minor in geology.
>> Now you according to the website I saw started doing this in 2010.
>> 2010, May of 2010 is I'll call it when we started the business.
We made our first sale, we filed our paperwork with the county, and became a legitimate business.
>> But now you according to some of these articles were involved in gardening from a very early age.
>> All my life, yeah, as long as I can remember having a backyard we always had a garden, always.
>> So how did you take that hobby if you will, and turn it into a business, what prompted that?
>> Like I said, it was a tough time, with my husband working in construction I was part-time realtor to make ends meet, back in 2010, this was a difficult time to be in both of those careers.
And we thought, what can we do with this crummy old, beautiful sun room? But turn it into a greenhouse, and how can we possibly make any money in here? And that's where we started digging around and found microgreens as a profitable crop that you can grow in a small space.
We're only talking about a hundred square feet, t's a very small little sun room. But we managed to bring on about ten chefs that we serviced out of that little sun room. Ten restaurants and we would do weekly deliveries. It seemed like every door we'd knock on and introduce our products to them, they'd very quickly sign on and get on the program.
And again, 2010, this is sort of a beginning for microgreens, particularly in this region. Everything starts in the West coast and moves to the East. So in California, they had been doing it for years but here in this area, not many people where even aware of what microgreen were.
>> I was gonna ask you, somebody doesn't know what microgreen is?
>> Yeah, so they are vegetable seedlings. We grow about 50 different varieties of vegetable seedlings from seed to harvest is about seven to ten days. So it's a very quick turnaround. You don't need a lot of shelf time or growth space required because it's such a quick turnaround meaning things aren't sitting growing for more than 30 days or a couple months like traditional crops in the ground.
So we would grow them, harvest them, package them, and bring them to a chef. Now the chefs like microgreens because they're beautiful. They add a lot of flavor to a plate, texture, something interesting or unique that they can bring instead of a sprig of parsley on a plate.
Now on the consumer side, there's a humongous health benefit to microgreens that a lot of people aren't aware of. They're super tiny, little sprigs of broccoli are packed with 40 times the nutrition of traditional broccoli. It's the same seed, same plant but it's tiny so all the nutrients are concentrated.
So I was given the reference of once ounce which is about the size of the palm of my hand is the equivalent to three cups of broccoli. Yeah so.
>> [INAUDIBLE] A little handful of microgreens.
>> A little handful of microgreens is the same as three cups of broccoli as far as vital nutrients and macronutrients are concerned.
Not fiber or calories, but all of the nutrition associated to three cups of broccoli.
>> Okay my son is gonna kill me if I don't ask this, because this was the first thing he asked when I was telling him about micro microgreen. The little baby corns that are in Asian food.
>> Corn shoots, yes.
>> Okay, that's a microgreen?
>> No, those are baby corns. That's an Asian food, [LAUGH]
>> So what's the difference between a sprout and a micrograin?
>> That is an excellent question. Nobody ever asks that question, I usually have to explain it without people even knowing there's a difference.
Sprouts are grown in water, typically in the dark and if it's not done correctly, it's a breeding ground for bacteria. With sprouts you're eating the root, the plant, the stem, all of it. And they're also extremely healthy, like microgreens. But you just have to be very careful about the process of sprouting them.
Microgreens I grow in soil, in a greenhouse like you see with sunshine and fresh air and we harvest above the soil. So you leave the root behind and you're just eating the plant on top. They're a little heartier more of like a lettuce rather than a sprout. And I believe they have more nutrition because we grown in soil and they absorb nutrition from the elements around as well.
>> So, you started this in the Solarium. And I think one of the articles that I saw had you building a greenhouse in your backyard.
>> Yes, that's the one that Hodge's now owns.
>> That's the one, okay, they told me they had bought one from you.
>> Yes, yes.
>> So you moved out into that. How big was that?
>> 400 square feet and in that greenhouse, we probably came close to about $10,000 a month in sales in that little 400 square foot greenhouse. We had about 20 chefs and restaurants, but we were still limited. We were growing vertically rather than horizontally.
So some things didn't grow as well as others, they didn't get the full spectrum of light that they needed. We had hot spots and shade spots that we didn't want. And we were out of space so about a year after that is when we came over here and built this greenhouse.
>> So this is about 2012.
>> 2012 for the first half, 2013 for the, 2000, no, 2013 for the first half, 14 for the back half.
>> Okay, so you live in Harrisburg, this is roughly a ten-minute drive from your house, and it's sort of rural-
>> Six, okay.
>> Six-minute commute.
>> That's great!
>> It's wonderful.
>> And this is sort of rural Concord, I guess.
>> You've got about five acres here?
>> Five acres.
>> And you've now got a greenhouse that's how big?
>> I think it's 3,600 square feet.
>> So you really have gone big in just about nine years?
>> Yeah, I wish I could say that the dollars reflect the square footage still, when we were making such a good profit on a 400-square-foot space. But remember, we were growing vertically, so now the volume is up, but it's spread out.
So everything grows a lot better, but it certainly didn't quadruple our [LAUGH] revenues.
>> Right, so let's talk about your growth, because you're starting off in a solarium, you really haven't done this before. How did you even learn about greenhouse warming, microgreens.
>> Every day is something new that I didn't know.
Literally, every time I'm over here I find something new, I build something new, we grow something new, it's always a learning curve. As you saw when you walked up, we're troubleshooting a boiler system, we're troubleshooting plumbing, we're working on electric. We're constantly working on ways to improve the process or maintain the process.
And it's all trades in industries that we know nothing about.
>> But in 2010, when microgreens really weren't known in North Carolina, how did you find out about them, how did you get educated in this?
>> It was all trial and error, I'll tell you the difference between 2010 and now.
If you were to search microgreens on YouTube, you are gonna find hundreds of videos on how to and what to do and what not to do. Back in 2010, I think the only videos, if you searched, were videos of interviews like this on YouTube from my farm, not anyone else's.
So it was all trial and error, just get some seed, throw it in some soil, and see what happens.
>> And so I watched you fix your system in here, but how did you learn the operations of a greenhouse and your radiant heat system?
>> I think we start with the basics, each time we implement a new feature to the greenhouse we start with the basics.
And then we figure out within a year or so what we like or don't like about that process. And then we try to recreate something that'll improve that process. So with our heat system, in particular, we used to use an overhead heater. It just blows hot air over, the air of the greenhouse, and that's the end of it.
It was about $600 a month in propane, and that was just for the first half of the greenhouse.
>> So when we expanded to the back half of the greenhouse, we thought, well, $1,200 a month is probably what we would be looking at in propane. And that doesn't sound responsible or sustainable in any way, so how can we improve our heat system?
We don't have the ability for solar efficiently here because of, you can see, how we're mostly forested. So there are some elements of solar we could do but, at this time, it just didn't work out. And we thought rain barrels, or not rain barrels, ambient heat barrels, [COUGH] excuse me.
And it would take up too much of our valuable workspace inside. So we did some research and found this company in California. Typically, our heat system is typically found on the ground, and you're growing on the ground. So this was sort of a custom-built, to our specs, to our greenhouse and our crop, heat system.
That they designed and shipped it out, piece by piece, and told us who to call to install it. And they laid the whole thing out, and we've been working with it ever since, so that was about five years ago. It is a boiler system, it still uses propane, but our heat bill is still that same $600 a month.
So we ended up cutting our heat bill in half, basically, yeah.
>> Doubled your size and cut it in half, that's fantastic.
>> So 2010, you're still working on your solarium, do you just start knocking on the doors of restaurants?
>> I did, I had a little wheelie cooler, I had my very first crop of microgreens, which was a broccoli and radish and cabbage and kale mix.
Today we call that our lucky mix, and I grew these trays of microgreens, it took me hours to harvest it. To put that into perspective, a tray of microgreens today takes me less than a minute to harvest one tray. And because when you own a business you calculate your hours, and you figure out what your total costs are.
So it takes me less than a minute to harvest a tray of microgreens, which is a 10 by 20 flat. And back then, I had four of those trays, and I remember it taking over an hour just to cut it. Just to get it packaged and get it ready for samples and bring it out the door.
>> Just cuz you're better at it now?
>> Yeah, we know what we're doing, back then it was all new. How do I cut it, should I cut it this tall, should I cut it that tall, is it even ready? Should I let it go a little longer, did I let it go too long, it's all a learning curve.
>> So you just randomly pick restaurants-
>> And walk in?
>> My first sales call was a customer who, or a restaurant who stood me up in downtown Concord. And I got all dressed up in my business attire, cuz it's all I know, I'm not a farmer by nature.
And got my little wheelie cooler and went downtown and knocked on the door and it said they're closed. And got on the phone and said, hey, I was supposed to meet you here, and no answer. So here I am with all my samples and thought, all right, well, what about that place?
And went next door, knocked on their door, and the owner of the restaurant sat down and made a sandwich. And put the microgreens on top and just started eating it and brought her whole staff out to try it, and they became our first customer.
>> That's fantastic, who was that, do you mind my asking?
>> They were called Brass Button, in downtown Concord, they closed a couple years after that, but it was a cute little sandwich shop.
>> I think I know, they're right across the street from Gianni's.
>> Yes, yep.
>> I know exactly where you're talking about.
>> I can't remember what's there now, it's a cafe, a coffee shop maybe?
>> Something like that, yeah, maybe a sandwich shop or something, I can't remember the name of it either, but wow.
>> So you're now doing 50 varieties of vegetables and greens.
>> What have you found works really well, what have you found doesn't work so well in this type of agriculture?
>> Spring and fall work really well, [LAUGH] winter and August do not. It's a struggle, it's always an adjustment based on the weather. And a lot of folks will grow indoors, in a warehouse even, with artificial light and hydroponics. So you're feeding your plants with water, which means your nutrition is diluted and so is your flavor and the shelf life.
So we prefer to do it this way, but this comes with challenges. We're always watching the weather, we're always adjusting for daylight hours, for temperature. If it's a little colder, it's gonna take an extra day to grow. If we have a lot of overcast, cloudy a few days, like we've had, we have to cut our watering way back, and it's gonna take a little longer to grow.
So it's constantly an adjustment, those are our challenges here. But I would not trade that because I'm always told that we have the best product in town. And that's because we grow in the soil with a greenhouse with sunshine.
>> I'm really surprised that the seasonality impacts you that much, I wouldn't have thought that-
>> Absolutely, yeah, mm-hm, we're heated and cooled, so it's year-round production. But there's always, with extreme weather challenges, the snow will pile up On top of the greenhouse, and I will be over here with a broom and a ladder [LAUGH] sweeping it off. You can see this little camera here I've got pointed at the greenhouse, that's so I can monitor what it looks like from the outside when we do have snow and ice piling up and I know when it's time to come over here and make sure it's okay.
I've got a camera on the inside as well that will notify me if something, if a head pops off of my irrigation and something like that, so I could take a look at the inside. It's all monitored by a computer which has Wi-Fi so I can check temperature and humidity and everything from my phone no matter where I am.
These are all measures because we don't live right here, on the farm. Even though every six minutes I'm always out doing deliveries in Charlotte or, it's just good to have remote access. But yeah, these are all challenges that we deal with.
>> Well see, your talk about technology was one of my questions, how does technology kinda impact what you do here and how's it changed since you started?
>> I have cameras now, those are new. Not that it's changed too much because when we came over here we knew immediately that we needed some sort of external remote monitoring system. And that was important since we don't have a house here. That was important to make sure we can always have eyes on the place.
So that was important. We have a back up generator that's also Wi-Fi and it'll send me an alert if it kicks on for whatever reason. We have a lot of downed trees and power lines and we're always dealing with that. So I would say those two are pretty important.
We still have a DSL network here. [LAUGH] So I'm running all of this on a DSL. [LAUGH] So, yeah.
>> My God! With regard to the plastic covering here, how durable is that? I mean, if you do have a downed limb, have you had problems with the sheets getting pierced or?
>> We've had piercings. We haven't had anything taken down. Knock on some wood for safety. We've had a limb fly and just poke right in and just show up and it's sticking right out. It's two layers of plastic, I don't know if you noticed that. So it's a bubble.
The bubble serves as about 12 inches of insulation. It's just an air chamber, but there is an inflation device on the inside of the greenhouse that fills that bubble and is constantly running. So, if you get a puncture, it just keeps filling and filling and filling and filling.
It never stops running. So, I've come over and had it look kind of deflated but I've never had it down.
>> Are your timer, are your heating system, or they are on timers.
>> Everything's climate controlled, so thermostats, humid stats, that kind of stuff.
>> Okay, I would have thought there was a thermostat.
>> Yeah, there's a couple of soil thermostat to tell us how. So that was the main point of the heat was that we're heating the soil and not the air. So we have a soil probe that tells us the temperature of the soil. And then, we have an air thermostat for just ambient.
>> Now, the types of crops that you do. You said you do about fifty varieties. How have you landed on the types of varieties that you have had selected.
>> I wanna say probably 90% of those have been chef recommendations.
>> Can you do this, can you do that?
Sure, we'll try it.
>> Most of those make the cut, as long as it's something edible and can grow in this environment, then we'll do it. There's definitely been a few that I've tried, and I can't think of one right now, that have been just not good ideas or just blegh.
So we don't bother. And when I say we have 50 varieties, our business is primarily a custom grown business. So I'm only gonna be growing the varieties that chefs are asking for. And most of those chefs are standing orders. So they'll start their seasons in Charlotte and the surrounding area.
They'll start their seasons and say, okay, here's our spring menu. Can we do this, this, this, this, this? And we start growing those. And we keep them and harvest them every single week and deliver them every single week.
>> Every week?
>> Every week until they come back and say, all right, we're going into the summer menu.
Now we wanna use these. And then we'll switch their palate to a different whole new menu. So we have the 50 varieties that we know we can grow but they're not always all growing.
>> Okay, so of those 50 varieties are there some that are more successful than others, less successful?
>> Again it depends on the season. Right now my top winners in the greenhouse are cilantro, basil. We've got about a ten degree differential without heat in that greenhouse. So we already consider us in a May climate without heat in the greenhouse. So whatever grows really well in early May grows really well right now.
And then, today, it's supposed to be what, 79-ish? 75 degrees? It will probably hit 90 in there. My cooler will kick on. It will drop it down to about 80. So it's really the perfect climate right now to grow a lot of things. But basil, cilantro the top winners this week.
Every couple of weeks we have a crop that is just by far stellar compared to the others and year round though, our favorites for year round is that lucky mix. Broccoli, radish, cabbage, kale blended together tastes great. It's super nutritious, it has a great shelf life and that is what we sell the most of.
>> So you started off with a handful of restaurants. Was restaurants your primary initial distribution network?
>> Yeah, absolutely. We also were at the Harrisburg farmer's market, the Piedmont farmer's markets.
>> We did that for our first year. I have two small children and Saturdays get booked up pretty quick.
And evenings are difficult. Everything was difficult which is how [LAUGH] with children. Now, they're older but at the time, the markets were just, I got to do it. It was the one thing I did not look forward to every single week but it brought in the most money at that time.
So we stuck with the markets for a while and when we got too busy we decided to pull out from the market and have partners sell for us. So, several different farmers already at the market, I'd come bring them to them and they'd sell it for us, and it was great.
That work usually was a trade, I'd get eggs and everything else from them and they'd sell the micro-greens for me. So that would work out well, since then though we have evolved to retail. So we do Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Earth Fair, and that is our marketing. There is very little profit, if any at all, in those retail suppliers, but that's our marketing.
So when we have regular consumers say, you at that market?" And we say, no we aren't at the market but you can go to Earth Fair, or Harris Teeter, or and it's excellent, to get our product out there.
>> So are you doing much in the way of direct to consumer now, or are you primarily.
>> Only by request, I do have a few customers who are either currently struggling with a medical condition or they're in a rehabilitation mode from cancer or something like that. And they often spend more than restaurants will spend on micro greens.
>> Just because of the nutrients.
>> Yeah, yeah. [COUGH] Excuse me.
>> And I see that you are working with some wholesale distributors now.
>> Yeah, we've been with Cisco since we came over here. I'm trying to remember what year that was, but it's been at least five years now with Cisco, and U.S. Foods and Foster Cabinets.
There's also a newer. More local distributor called Freshlist in Charlotte. And Freshlist is a team of people who collect from all the farms, and then they do all the leg work of delivering to the restaurants for you. So this is great because we have a minimum for delivery and if the chef just needs a little tiny container, they can get it from Freshlist.
So will drop it all at Freshlist, and Freshlist take it all around for us, it is great. [CROSSTALK]
>> So you are not necessarily doing the deliveries or at least as much of the deliveries as you-
>> It is about 50% customers, direct to the customer and the other 50 is wholesale.
Cysco, US Foods.
>> Now I saw on your website that you offer free overnight delivery to-
>> We do.
>> the Carolinas, Virginia. Is that your primary distribution area right now?
>> We don't do a lot of shipping at all, which I think is the way I would prefer it.
It's a very perishable product and each day that it spends not getting the best care is one day less you're gonna be able to enjoy it. So, shipping takes a day off the top right away. And then you hope and pray that it gets there all right and in time and that it gets unpacked and put in the refrigerator right away.
And I lose control of the product as soon as I put it in the box and put it on the truck. I don't like to do a lot of it, but we do. We have a ground radius through UPS that is Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, parts of Tennessee.
And that'll get you a free box of of microgreens.
>> Okay, and are you primarily distributing in that area or is it broader than that?
>> No, so our direct, you mean our direct deliveries? Between Valentine and Davidson are pretty much the bulk of our deliveries.
>> Okay, and beyond, but beyond that-
>> Beyond that is Cysco, US Foods-
>> Are they distributing your product nationally?
>> They're taking all over. Not nationally but they've taken up and down the coast.
>> Okay, now when you are delivering this either directly or through one of these distributors, is it always already harvested or are you shipping anything that are continually-
>> Nope, all of our products are harvested. The thing with micrograins is that we grow them in such a little amount of soil, that if you don't harvest it within a week of growing it, it's gonna need to be transplanted or something. So there's sort of a misconception about buying living micrograins versus harvested.
You're gonna get the same shelf life whether they're harvested or whether you cut them yourself in your restaurant. They're still within a week need to be used so.
>> And a week is sort of the shelf life?
>> Seven to ten days, mm-hm.
>> Okay, cuz I saw on your website that you guys have actually been able to extend the shelf life on a lot of these.
>> Yeah, I think that's because we're growing in soil and with sunlight. It hardens them a little bit.
>> So what's the typical day? I hate to ask this question because I just saw-
>> There is no typical day.
>> But what do you typically do on a day in, day out basis?
>> We do have a schedule we try to keep. Thursdays are delivery days which means Wednesday is harvest day. So those two are hard and fast. As far as seeding, and all of the other things that take place to run the business, those sort of float with the schedule of the sun, and the season.
Right now we see it on Monday, so I come in, throw on some ear buds, and spend a couple hours filling trays. And then we're out for deliveries on Thursdays, and Tuesdays too, as well.
>> And you said we, are you the only one here, or are [CROSSTALK]
>> My dad is a pretty integral part of what we're doing on a day to day, he's out doing deliveries right now actually, so Is he local I guess then? Yeah, he lives in my neighborhood actually.
>> That'a great, okay.
>> So but there's always hiccups and challenges but he's primarily the go to.
We've had other, sorry. That's him. Do you want to pause that for one second?
>> I'm actually gonna have to take that because
>> So that was your dad out on deliveries.
>> Yeah, so I just need to be available in case something comes up. Like in case he lost an invoice and doesn't know how much they owe.
And you know.
>> Okay, so Is he the only one who helps you out here?
>> Yeah, we've had people come in from time to time to do some cleaning and maintenance and that kind of stuff. And lately it seems like we can't keep that position filled for more than two to three months.
It just requires a whole lot of effort to keep filling it, just to have it turn over in two to three months. So I've just been kind of picking up the slack and dad's been picking it up. And I guess we downsized, I don't know.
>> [LAUGH] It's okay, it's okay.
>> So Mondays your seeding days, Wednesdays are harvesting, Thursdays are deliveries.
>> Yeah, so the distributors get multiple deliveries a week. They're the only ones on the Tuesday as well. So we have a couple delivery days and a couple of harvest days for the distributors. But Wednesdays and Thursday are hard and fast harvest, deliver.
>> Now, with the distributors, are you delivering to them, or are they coming here to pick up, or-
>> We'll deliver to them.
>> Okay, now, with regard to different varieties of products have been anything that you tried just has not worked in the setting?
>> Edible flowers, we've got a lot of requests for edible flowers it works in this setting because we're so fine tuned for micrograins.
Anything that doesn't require those conditions, and when I talk about conditions I'm thinking about the watering in particular. If it doesn't require 18 seconds an hour of water which is what we water right now, then it's not gonna do well. And because we don't have artificial light, our blooms our flowers are only seasonal flowers.
So all through winter will get request for edible flowers and we're not forcing any blooms with artificial lights. So that's the challenge. Yeah, I've tried to grow tomatoes and things like that. But again, it's so custom tailored greenhouse for micrograins, that anything outside of the micrograin realm is a challenge unless we adapt a whole section of the greenhouse to accommodated.
>> Okay, now you mentioned 18 seconds an hour. Is that really how much water is?
>> Yeah, we can get down to one second an hour if we'd like or up to 90 seconds an hour. But in the summer months it'll be more. As the Sun bakes the soil and it gets hot in there, we'll water more often.
But in the winter, when we have shorter day, it's about 18 seconds. Right now we're actually about 30 seconds, but we're creeping up. We'll be putting shade cloth on soon, which will help with the heat.
>> So that's covering the plastic cap?
>> Yeah, and then it'll feel like a cave in there for about a week, and then we'll get used to it, and so will the plants.
And it'll be perfect come May, it'll be the right amount of light.
>> Now, given that you started this in 2010 and by trial and error done a lot of things are there practices or things that you've done that you just don't do anymore because they're not as successful, you found more efficient ways to do them?
>> Always, yeah. Where do I start? There's always ways that we change what we're doing and how we're doing it. Our compost is one of those challenges. Because we grow in soil, we you need to start with a fresh batch of soil each week. Primarily for food safety reasons, we wanna sterile soil each time we start a new crop of micro-greens.
So what we take is the old soil and we dump it out here onto a compost pile. It breaks down quickly and it is great soil, it has only been used a week. So that's always a challenge, is what to do with it, and where to put it, and how to dispose of it.
And we do a lot of with the Cabarrus County school gardens, so garden clubs at Cabarrus County schools. And they'll come and pick up as much as they want, it's free, and we'll bring some to them as well. But there's always a challenge of It's piling up, what do we do with it?
So that's something we're constantly evolving. Right now I'm staring at my compost bin while I'm telling you this. We have three bays, and the third bay you can see is piled up over the top. Bay one and two are pretty empty. So while it's emptying we're trying to decide, is this system working for us?
And I'm thinking no, because we need to get a tractor down here or something that can load it up. And it can't make that turn by the greenhouse, so we're always evolving that [LAUGH]. That's maybe the third or fourth rendition of our compost. So, yeah, there's always something, from the soil we use, to the amount we water or the heat we apply.
>> Now I notice on your website that you focus very much on non-GMO, organic farming.
>> So how challenging is that for you?
>> It's not at all, actually. Our seed sources are all 100% non-GMO, so we start with that. We only buy non-GMO seeds, that's easy.
The soil itself is a sterile compost, it is peat moss with vermiculite and all natural ingredients. There's no fertilizers, there's no additives. There's nothing added to it, there's no pesticides. We're only growing for a week. So what can you possibly do in a week that would make an impact at all?
So as long as we don't apply anything then we're by default we're going organic practices. The only challenge at this point is making the decision on whether we should be a certified organic farm or not. And each year we go through this process of thinking about it and always decide that it's not as important as we think it might be.
So we don't do the certification. Let me rephrase that, being organic is extremely important. Being certified doesn't seem to make an impact on our customer base. Our customers know how we grow, and they're welcome to come over and see and learn about the farm itself. So we haven't had a reason to be certified, but I don't think we see any challenges with that.
>> Well, and I didn't think about it, but I guess that quick turnaround as far as your harvest goes really does dictate against it, and that, therefore, really does sort of make [CROSSTALK]
>> Yeah, can't really,
>> Certification process unnecessary.
>> Yeah, Pretty much.
>> Okay, putting aside that certification, are there any other types of certifications, or inspections, or regulations, or-
>> Food safety, yeah, absolutely. To sell to the people we want to sell to, we have to continually do annual audits and inspections with the Department of Ag. And they come out and they run through our food safety plan and our harvest practices and everything from the front door to the back door of the greenhouse on how how we are handling the operation.
So, we've been certified, that's called Good Agricultural Practices or GAP. We've been GAP certified for, I think, five years now. It's a voluntary program, but it's something that we think is pretty important for the reassurance. So that when the health inspector shows up at a restaurant and sees our microgreens, they can also see your GAP certificate showing that we're doing everything we need to do to make sure we're giving a safe product to that customer.
>> And that's US Department of Agriculture.
>> That is USDA.
>> Okay, and does that then tie into this Food Safety Modernization Act?
>> Absolutely, that program is continually evolving and changing, cuz each year a new incident will pop up and then they'll reassess their measures and come up with new rules.
But we are FSMA ready because we're certified. So I actually think it may be be mandatory for most farms. For our size farm, it's not mandatory, but we've been doing it for five years.
>> Yeah, I was wondering if you were of the size that you had to actually-
>> No, yeah, there's a dollar amount as well as the size. The whole thing we're below, but to sell to Sysco, and to sell to Whole Foods and all these other customers, they need the reassurance, so we get it for them.
>> Right, right, but again with the short growing season that you've got, are you likely to even have those challenges?
>> There's never been a reported case of anyone getting ill from microgreens.
>> Knock on wood.
>> Yeah, knock on wood [LAUGH].
>> So this is a, really I'm going to change gears on you here, I really like your setting here, I mean this is really just-
>> Yeah I would love to tell you what's going on out here.
So once we got to the point where our growth was manageable and stable inside the greenhouse and we have enough room to continue to expand without having to build something, we started to look outside, and think what else can we do to bring people to the farm. And how can we use our property.
Now that the greenhouse, it's like a well oiled machine in there. Sometimes I'm dealing with the boiler, but other than that it's a well oiled machine. And it's calm in maintaining itself. The business is rolling on and everything's like clockwork. Out here, we thought what can we do to bring in community, we try to practice permaculture.
Are you familiar with permaculture?
>> I'm not familiar with that.
>> So with permaculture what you're doing is you're working with the land the way its intended to be worked with. So you're capturing water that's already on your property. You're not employing irrigation and everything else. You're planting things that are native, things that will thrive in the current environment of the property.
And a big part of all of that is, community, getting the community involved in the farming practice, as well. So, it's hard to bring community into the greenhouse, other than just a greenhouse tour and then that's the end. So what we did out here was we created a space where we can hold classes.
We can have parties, we can do private events, and all with the permaculture practice in mind. So we've tried to plant an edible forest out here. We've got hops that'll grow up on that trellis. Hardy kiwis and blueberries and all kinds of things that'll be constantly bringing interest out to this part.
What we're sitting in right now is our timber frame pavilion with the wood-fired oven. And so that is actually the focal point [LAUGH] of out here. Everybody thinks that the plants are great, but they wanna know about the-
>> Wood fired oven. So Mark, my husband, his passion is pizza.
He's perfected the dough, he's sourced it locally. He mills his own flour, we have a yeast starter from Italy that we've brought over. It just goes on and on. And so, we'll have pizza night out here where you come, bring a bottle of wine and your significant other or a friend and everybody makes their own pie.
We go in and we harvest micrograins to bring out to the pizza. Whatever is growing out here, seasonally, we'll put on the pizza, basil, tomatoes, whatever is in season. And it's just a fun night of everybody kind of, strangers getting together and learning about each other and about our farm, and yeah.
>> I saw that, and my son, again, is a pizza hound.
>> You have to bring him out, yeah.
>> This is gonna be great. So is it just pizza that he's doing here? Is he doing breads as well?
>> Well, we've done, he's done a bread class, we've done ****, we're also addicted to ****.
I don't know if you ever have fermented foods, but **** is a miracle elixir. We have, we did a **** class, we've had a mushroom class out here. The pizza class, the dough, the sourdough starter class. So yeah, any kind of class, we've done plants for human health class, we've had, We've had a wedding out here.
We've done a lot of interesting Things out here.
>> That's great, so you pointed me to the hops over here-
>> I also saw on your Facebook page, I guess it was called twisted luck hops?
>> That's still on there?
>> It's still on there, yeah.
Is that not a thing anymore, or?
>> No, it is, we don't necessarily market it. So I'd say no, it's not a thing.
>> Now is this associated with the local brewery scene, or-
>> This is a funny story. so Caberas Brewing, you know Caberas Brewing? My husband was working for Criterion Healthcare, which was a medical office building construction company there in Concord.
Steve Steinbacker is one of the owners of Criterion. And he also brewing.
>> I didn't know that was him, okay.
>> Yeah, so Steve said hey, can you guys grow hops at the farm? And we thought well, let's find out. And all three of us went into classes and we erected this trellis that is 18 feet at the top which is what hops need to grow.
They do get from the bottom all the way to the top in one season and then they start growing around and going down the other side. And what we learned at this class though, after our initial investment, is that we need at least an acre of hops to make even one batch of beer.
And with that, well, we don't have that, we're not gonna be able to do that-
>> But we loved the idea of incorporating hops here as a trellis. And so this actually works as a great little covered area to sit. This is a backdrop to the wedding that we had.
And they do. They fill that whole trellis up with hops from the top to the bottom in one season. And the chefs actually are the ones that buy them, not. But the chefs will buy them and make jams or purées with them, you name it. Ice cream, I've had one chef make ice cream with them.
>> That's great. And I see so you've got, this is a variety of fruit trees out here?
>> Yeah, most of them are. Look at that Monarch right there.
>> It's kinda early for a Monarch. Since it just snowed yesterday. [LAUGH]
>> Yeah, I know.
>> So we've got some plums and some cherries, we've got a couple of fig trees. Obviously those aren't native, but they grow really well, and they're adapted to this area. We've got persimmons, elderberries, I think that's it. A variety of all. We've got blackberries, raspberries, blueberries. Over here we've got goji berries and some pomegranates as well.
On the trellis is here we've got hardy Kiwis. Those are interesting.
>> I was wondering what that was.
>> Yeah, those are a lot of fun. It tastes great.
>> Now, are you just utilizing these yourselves, or are you distributing these as well?
>> No, the hops are really the only thing out here that we will have an abundance of to sell to customers.
The rest of it is just for fun.
>> So you mentioned education. It's on your website. You do some outreach with local schools. You've got classes going. Tell me about your educational mission? How did this work come to be?
>> I don't really know how that evolved. The schools, we got involved with because both of my children are in the school system.
I have a fourth grader and a seventh grader. Again when we started though, they're both in elementary school and we helped our program at the Elementary, we help them get started with their garden club. So from design to supplies, we're here for whatever they need. And I wanted those programs to evolve because I think it's probably one of the most important things right up there with balancing a checkbook that kids are not being taught how to grow food.
Where food comes from? Doesn't come from McDonald's. I don't even know that that's real food. So, you probably want to edit that. [LAUGH] We're not getting sued by McDonald's. So I think that was part of the passion was to get these programs going. In our several years of working with the schools it is amazing how much they are doing now versus when we started working with these programs.
But they have all about farms, I mean not small little gardens anymore. They've got like an acre of cultivated property that they're working with at certain schools with greenhouses and rain barrels. And it's amazing, and these kids know just as much as I know about growing a garden.
It's wonderful. So I think that's been sort of a passion is just to keep those programs going, because I think it's very important. And as far as the adult education again, we're just trying to find ways to use our property and bring people here, and create something where it creates awareness about what we're doing.
As well as gives us a way to reach out to people as well. When you work alone or just with your dad, it's hard to meet new people, so I'm always looking for ideas to get people here, always.
>> You mentioned that there was seasonality aspects to this operation which frankly I had not even contemplated.
What are some of the other challenges that someone like me probably wouldn't think about in running an operation like this?
>> It's a full-time job. There are a lot of, when we first started, you saw, you obviously did a lot of research before you came here. But you saw that there were a few articles about us.
Everyone else saw that there were a few articles about us as well. And those farmers that saw it said well, I can do that, when they're already running big operations. And this is a full-time job in itself, and it's just one crop, just micro-variants. So, I think that's a pretty big misconception, of how much time it takes to actually have it as a business.
Now, on a personal level, if you just want to grow some microgreens, it's a piece of cake. But if you're trying to grow a business of microgreens, it in itself, there's a steep learning curve. It's always evolving, and it is a full-time job, for sure.
>> So have you pursue any type of formal educational training on this?
You said it's a lot of learning. Is there classes you take in or anything like that?
>> Not specific to microgreens, we've done a few online courses on greenhouse management, things like that.
>> And there really is not anything formal on microgreens. There has been a few books, I have read lots of books.
Anytime there's a new book I get it just to have it and make sure it's part of the library. Some of them are great, some of them are my child could write [LAUGH] but it's good to have them all because you might get one little bit of information you were not aware of.
I would like to learn more about soils. pH, things like that soil components, because that's something I always struggle with in my garden is the soil. So I would love to take more on that, but I haven't done anything formal. We've done some food safety classes, again nothing specific from microgreens, but on the greater agricultural spectrum, there's a lot out there.
>> Now, you said when you started this in 2010, there really was little if anything in the microgreen arena in this area. How has that changed since you've been involved?
>> Everyone does microgreens now. [LAUGH] Everyone's growing microgreens. I just got a call last week from someone in Cornelius who just, according to him spent $250,000 on a property.
He has 30,000 square feet of indoor space that he wants to partner with me on. And I thought, No, I'm good. [LAUGH] I'm good but everyone sees this as a big profit center, and again, it's a full-time job. You're gonna get out of it what you put in to it.
So it's not a get-rich-quick business. It's taken us almost ten years to get to the point where we are, and we have a lot of very loyal Customers and a lot of very generous customers as well, who don't even consider that they're spending x amount of dollars on microgreens because they see the bigger picture of how they're working with a farm who's working directly with them.
And they know the farmer, and the farmer knows them and the whole cycle. So I think there's a lot of relationship building that needs to take place, but as far as the difference between 2010 and now I would say is, I said they're at least six or seven growers in the Charlotte area that are trying to do it commercially.
They kinda go within a year, but some pop up.
>> It's really not much in the way of longevity.
>> No, I mean, there's only so many restaurants buying microgreens, and if they're already buying them from the top producers, then its hard to compete. Its a very competitive market for sure.
Its a lot different than every other agricultural market for some reason.
>> So just from agriculture in general, how do you see the Charlotte market as far as the liability of agriculture here not in microfreen but whatever you come in contact with?
>> I see, and I don't know if maybe I have blinders on because my customers are all amazing, 100% gang-ho on local food scene.
I'm sure for every one that I have as a customer, there are some that just don't care. But I don't know them, so I can't speak to that, but we have a pretty strong momentum right now. Are you familiar with the Piedmont Culinary Guild?
>> I saw that referenced in one of the articles, but I had never heard of it.
>> Yeah, the Piedmont Culinary Guild is a collaboration of chefs and farmers in the Charlotte, and out to Winston-Salem, and they're expanding all throughout North Carolina. But primarily start in the Charlotte market, where it's sort of a warehouse of chefs and farmers where we can work together. A chef will say, I need tomatoes and whose got this kind of pepper?
And then the farmers can pipe in with, we have them, I'll bring them Thursday. So it is a great way to connect the chefs and the farmers. It is also a outreach for education and other. There's grants available for farmers, there's marketing opportunities for chefs. There's always charitable events going on that the Culinary Guild is either hosting or a big part of.
So things like that, having programs like that in any region. I can't imagine or I think it's a pretty important part of what we're doing. But it points us in the right direction, it means that we have it and there's over a hundred members. So we have a momentum is what it means.
So, [COUGH] as far as the Charlotte market goes, I think, we have a pretty unique spot.
>> Unique in what way?
>> For restaurants, and farmers, and agricultural industries growing and just the food desserts and the availability of certain things. I think we're in a unique spot to become the next culinary hoopla, I can't think of the right word, but Charleston, Greenville, these are all well-known foodie towns.
I believe that Charlotte is right there. It's just a matter of marketing it, like the fact that you don't know the Piedmont Culinary Guild means we're not doing the best job of making sure everyone knows about Piedmont Culinary Guild. But having these programs is, I think, key to it all.
>> So is this type of farming, I know you've got this organization with the Piedmont Culinary Guild, but does a farm like your's work with the cooperative agencies or anything more traditional farm might work with, or are you a little more specialized in what they can service?
>> Yeah, the only thing about our farm is that not everybody needs microgreens.
It's not a staple or a commodity. It's not a crop that'll feed the hungry. It's a fine dining crop. So we're sort of limited on places that will that we can help. We volunteer time all the time to do for different programs, but not in the way of crop.
Time, yes crop no.
>> Okay, are there aspects of greenhouse farming that insulate use somewhat from the risk that an outside farmer would deal with. You got the same issues with sunlight. You can control your water flow a little bit better, obviously, an outside farmer doesn't have to pay a heating bill.
Are there things that are a differentiator for you?
>> In terms of risk or?
>> In terms of risk, in terms of making sure that your crops are not prone to insects, not prone to any other issues?
>> I think another farmer, once called us fake farming. Another one called us lazy farming.
And I will maybe agree with both of those because I'm not on my hands and knees digging trenches, but you did see me get blasted with a hose of rust water from my boiler. So in some aspects, yes, it is easy farming in that it's not as labor intensive.
The most rigorous activity I do on a day-to-day basis is lifting a three cubic foot bag of dirt, and I do that many times a day. But I'm not shoveling, and I don't have big equipment. My overhead is a lot lower because I don't have big equipment, I don't have acres that I'm cultivating, I have inches that I'm cultivating.
So we are shielded in other ways though we're more at risk in the food safety world microgreens are lumped into that sprout category which is a high risk crop. So our insurance premiums are through the roof just to have the amount insurance required to sell to the people we sell to.
And yeah, and so it's kind of a, it's a balance.
>> It's a little bit of a wash.
>> Where your strengths are or your avoiding risk your picking it up elsewhere.
>> Okay, what are some of the farmers comments lazy farming.
>> What are some of the misperceptions that folks have about greenhouse farming, or microgreens that you've come across?
>> Again, it's that full time a lot of people think this is just a part time gig. Anyone who's running any business, agriculture or other, knows that that's [LAUGH], it's always a full time gig.
There's always something to do. You might not be standing in the greenhouse doing it, but I am sitting at a table doing an interview, or I'm at home doing bookkeeping, or, or I'm out doing deliveries or trying to do sales. Tuesday was the taste of Carolina food show, so I was four hours at a food show.
So it is a full time job, that is the biggest misconception. I would say that is probably it.
>> That you you mentioned the gentleman that reached you to try to partner to help him with his operation. What do you see for your future? What do you see for the future of Lucky Leaf?
>> It's funny, when we started we had a white board of our goals and our plans and we only have the two year, the five year, and the ten year plan. And, And we're approaching ten years.
>> Better get to it. [LAUGH]
>> So I think we need to erase it and start over.
Our last few years we have, like I said, let that do it's thing and shift out here. So our goals are our here to try and build this area of the business, and more outreach, more community type activities. Whereas that brings in the money, this brings in the enjoyment if that makes sense.
So bringing that aspect kinda renews the vibe, renews the longevity of the business. It does well, I think. It gives us more avenues to consider other options.
>> And you said you see Charlottesville becoming a Foodie destination like a Charleston.
>> Absolutely, yeah.
>> What other things do you see as far as what your view is in the future for agriculture in this area.
>> Well, it's such a dense area that I feel like it's hard to see agriculture in the Charlotte area. I mean, here we are in Cabarrus County, we're not in Charlotte. [COUGH] Excuse me. I consider Charlotte, though, our market. I don't know. That's a tough question. I do see a shift in the paradigm of the farmer.
The 55 plus aged farmer is now the 30 aged farmer. 44 in my case, I see that shift and with that I'm seeing new energy and new life with all these farms. Not that they weren't doing it right before but it's evolving with time, using Podges as a perfect example or Barbie's.
Have you talked to Barbie Farms?
>> Somebody on a project spoke with them.
>> Yeah, so to watch how Barbie's From their third or fourth generation farm. I have met Tommy Barbie when we first started and he was still running the business at the Farmer's Market every Saturday, multiple farmer's markets.
Hauling his stuff in, hauling his stuff out. And then as he has sort of taken a step back, Brent Barbie has stepped in, I am watching Brent Kinda shift the way they do things. They don't. They do maybe one farmers market now. And the rest of it's restaurants.
[SOUND] And wholesale groceries, retail.
>> So is that the trend you're seeing these young. Younger farmers are not necessarily run of the mom and pop-
>> Right, I feel like they're doing the paperwork to get them into the retail, they're doing the paperwork to get them in front of other customers that otherwise wouldn't even have been on the radar.
So when you go into Lowe's Food and you see all your farmer friends on the shelves at Lowe's Food or Harriss Teeter, that's when I'm noticing, and I think that trend will continue.
>> Are you seem more, as younger farmers are coming in, are you seeing more experimentation with methods and crop types and is that shifting [INAUDIBLE]?
>> I haven't noticed too much of that, except that we're trying to get back to our heirloom roots. Bringing back the Bradford watermelon. Bringing back peanuts. Bringing things that were normally grown here and then kinda sort of stepped away and went to chin or wherever else. Where the watermelons getting pretty much lost to a whole new non-crushable watermelon.
Where as the Bradford was a soft squishy but the best tasting. So bringing back some of those heirloom are rice. Our rice industry. I am seeing that being brought back as well. Where we lost seed, now we are resurrecting seed old seed and starting to build up storage of that.
I think those things are interesting trends, something to keep an eye on.
>> So our time is about up here and I have jumped around a lot. [LAUGH]
>> I followed you, I hope.
>> No, you have done great. I appreciate it. Is there anything that I didn't ask or that you think should be reflected in something like this that talks about the history and the growth of foodshed in this area?
>> I think what is ultimately going to dictate and drive the direction of any of these industries whether it be restaurants or agriculture or either is the consumer. What I'm noticing is not necessarily farmers changing, but the consumers changing. They're becoming more aware of what's happening with our food industry.
They're becoming more aware of why the United States is 50% obese and why illness is rampant and why we're all on medications and I think people are getting ready to change. To change this, not the farmers. But with that, the farmers have to evolve to accommodate curious consumers.
So I'm seeing a lot more on-farm events, farm tours, farm outings, pizza nights at our farm. People want to do that stuff. They are always looking for husband, myself, my kids want. We on the weekends, we love doing that kind of a thing where we can go visit a farm, and you know learn something new about the way someone is growing a crop or whatever it is.
But so I'm seeing that trend, and it's totally consumer driven. That people shifting their farms are in to accommodate visitors and I think that's great.
>> So is that educational element? You think that's consumer-driven?
>> Or do you think folks have been hearing from farmers and operations like you need to do some, I mean there's almost like a chicken and egg, very cyclical.
>> It's probably a balance, but the more I learn, the more I want to learn more. So the more I learn about a particular thing that I've always known as just part of the diet. We eat it every day and no big deal. And then you learn something about it and then you start researching.
>> The more you dig, you know? But I don't know, I think it's consumer, I think the consumers are ready. I think we're all, I hope we're all ready. Maybe it's just my small circle of people I know, but we're very aware to come over here and talk about sustainable farming.
People know what that means now. And they know how to spot it, you know [COUGH] versus big ag or, you know, people are knowing the difference without having to educate so I don't know which came first but.
>> And how would you tell a consumer to get better acquainted to get better knowledge of about these things.
>> Find a farmer, go to a farmer's market, get to know them. That would be my suggestion.
>> Okay, is there anything else I overlooked?
>> [COUGH] I apologize for my lagging cough, it's the season.
>> No problem.
>> But no, this was great.
>> Okay, I really appreciate your time.
Thank you so much for helping me out here.
>> Yeah, absolutely.
>> We really appreciate your cooperation and your assistance with this. And wish you the very best of luck. This is a fantastic operation-
>> We'll have to have you out for pizza night, you and you're son.
>> I can see Todd all over this-
>> I'll let you know.
>> I'm gonna shut this thing down.
>> Do it. Yeah, we usually have
Doug Carrigan is the fourth generation owner of Carrigan Farms in Mooresville, North Carolina. His family has been farming their land in Moorseville since 1902. During his interview, Doug discusses the evolution of his farm through the generations and of farming and the farmer. He discusses the vital role that word of mouth, whether through social media or otherwise plays in growing his business, and how he diversified and grown his farm from a produce farm to what he terms a “private park” that has a swimming quarry, pick your own produce, and events such as weddings and their haunted trail.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:23||History of family and farm|
|0:01:57||Evolution of the farmer|
|0:04:01||Moved to Direct Marketing started in 1975|
|0:04:53||Demand driven growing|
|0:05:27||Agritainment Phase of Farming|
|0:06:32||Farm to table at Carrigan|
|0:07:46||Sell beauty of the farm|
|0:08:52||80/20 rule of farmers feeding people|
|0:09:26||Marketing Integral to Production|
|0:10:52||Managing Social Media|
|0:12:15||Agro-tourism started in 1975/ Farm to Table Info|
|0:13:08||Farmer by trade/ Wedding Planner by default|
|0:13:47||Duties of him and wife|
|0:15:32||How to become the best|
|0:16:53||Day on the farm, Farming seasonal|
|0:18:55||Crew of the Farm- Equipment of Farm|
|0:27:24||Not Organic but use organic practices|
|0:33:12||No Till and Sod Planting|
|0:34:52||Government always your business partner|
|0:36:47||Diverse portfolio of income|
|0:38:09||Married to Mother Nature|
|0:40:12||Waste on Farm/ Dollars per Acre Back|
|0:42:06||Giving to Gleaners|
|0:42:44||Community Supported Agriculture|
|0:43:27||Future of His Farm- Day Camp|
|0:44:46||Thoughts on American Food Consumption|
|0:47:41||Future of His Farm-Full Fledged Restaurant|
|0:49:12||Evolving Habits of People|
|0:50:02||Organizations involved in|
|0:51:54||Bees on Farm|
|0:54:07||Misconceptions of Farming|
|0:58:12||Advice to new farmers|
|1:02:47||Homegrown Tomatoes/ Produce|
>> KL: So I'm Kristina Lance and I'm interviewing Doug here at the farm. And we're gonna get started. Doug, will you first just tell me just a little bit about your background and your farm?
>> LDC: Well, we're sitting in a house that was built in 1852. I'm a family of farmers.
I'm the fourth generation to live in this house. We came over from Scotland, Ireland in 1750s before the country was ever a country. We've been farmers virtually all before and for hopefully generation to come. The fifth generation lives in this house too and hopefully he's gonna be enrolled at NC State this fall.
And he'll come back and continue on with the same old tradition.
>> LDC: I grew up on a dairy farm, my dad grew up on a dairy farm and a cotton farm, and granddad on a cotton farm, so on and so forth. Same piece of dirt right here. Been in our family since 1902.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: We settled within probably 10 miles in here in the 1750s and hadn't gone much further than that. So we're about as deeply engrained in the Piedmont as anybody can be unless you're a Cherokee Indian or something. So but other than that we just farm, we're married to the land first and we live off the land, we eat out of it.
And the stuff that it produces we sell it for money and take that buy other things with it too. So that's our only source of livelihood. Like it, enjoy it. Some days make 2 bucks an hour, some days 20, some days 200. I just keep coming in cuz I like it, enjoy it.
>> KL: So, can you tell me a little bit about how over the year the different kind of farming, things that you do seasonally?
>> LDC: Well, I say there's the evolution of the farmer. And the first thing a farmer will produce, commodities, which are corn, wheat, soybeans, cattle, hogs, chickens, whatever.
And those are commodities. You take them to the market and say, what will you give me today for them? When I was growing up I remember we're riding on a wagon, little kid, we'd harvest wheat, take it up to the elevator in Mooresville, the flour mill. Finally waiting in line because every other farmer was there with the same old stuff, trying to sell it at the same time.
What are you paying for wheat today? He says well we're paying $3 a bushel. Well it cost me 3.50 to grow it. Well we're still paying $3 a bushel. I didn't like that and that's not a way to get rich, it's not a way to stay alive and continue farming.
So I said mentally, I didn't know it at the time, but I made a good notice that I'm gonna figure out how to control the price on this. And so I went to school, majored in horticulture cuz I always loved the garden and other stuff. Cows are okay, but in the dairy business, they're a 24 hours a day, gotta milk twice a day, 365 days a year.
There's no break, no let-up. Growing up the biggest vacation I ever took was Mertyl Beach or White Lake or the mountains and that's it. My granddaddy probably didn't go, I think he went to Virginia and South Carolina. That's about as far as he ever went away from home cuz he never could, he just stay at the farm.
Well, the evolution of the farmer continues on. Then once you go to the commodity production, then you go to the wholesale production of maybe vegetables and stuff. You can produce a truckload of squash, which I grew ten acres of yellow squash, which is quite a bit. And took those to Food Lion, sold them, generated some extra income.
But again, the price fluctuates up or down. They tell you what they're going to give you today for them, okay?
>> LDC: The whole time we were headed in the direct market phase of it. Back in '75, I guess. Growing up I had a stand out here. I would pull up a card table and I would go pull sweet corn and sell it right beside the road for $1 or $2 a dozen when I was 13, 14 years old.
So that was the first step at retailing, and you get a little extra cash that way, it was good. And I set the price and got it. And then after I got out of college, we came in and we'd grow and pick your own strawberries and other stuff and vegetables.
And we would sell those directly to consumer. Cuz we were at a busy location on a main highway here. So there's people coming by, if I can get a dollar from every car that drives by, I can get filthy rich. But, I don't get every one of them but I'll get my share.
So, all of a sudden we came in and started growing and selling retail to the public. And I said I'm going to grow what the public wants, I'll be demand driven. So the customer decides what they want and then I'll produce it, figure it out. And try to grow a lot of different things that maybe everybody else doesn't grow.
Apples, they grow in the mountains well because of elevation and other stuff. But we could grow them down here not quite as good but a whole lot closer than the mountains. So all of a sudden there's a market to do that. Same thing on pumpkins and strawberries and other stuff.
So we try to pick the, I guess select crops or demand crops that people want and we will produce them. And then if we produce too many, we can't sell them. So if we produce just enough, it works out right. So we've done that. Now after you get into the retail production area, the next phase is the agritainment.
The people come out and pick strawberries because they want the strawberries, because they want the experience. It's a little bit of both. And early on in 71 it's was they want strawberries. The housewives were picking five gallons of strawberries, take them home, I call cram them, jam them.
They would cram them in a freezer bag or put them in the jam. Well, most housewives today, the only thing they can make is reservations. They can't make a pie, they can't make jam, so they want a few to eat. So it's more the experience right now. And as we move on up the evolutionary scale of a farmer,
>> LDC: Back in 88, we saw that people wanted people to prepare food for them. Well, we're in the farming business so that's a food business, so we got into, we have a beautiful spot at our farm, the rock quarry. And we do farm to table or farm to fork or farm to face, whatever you wanna call it.
So a lot of times we'll pick the strawberries today, slice them up and put them on a piece of homemade pound cake and they go wild. And they'll give you 2 or $3 for strawberries and the pound cake to go with it. But then all of a sudden we'll have fresh asparagus that I just picked the first batch yesterday.
Quite delicious, and nobody grows fresh asparagus around, and still not much at all, we've been growing them since 88. But Southerners didn't want to eat fresh asparagus. So I'd have to beat them over the head to get them to try it, cuz they're used to can asparagus back in the 80s.
Well, nowadays, they're eaten fresh all the time but we got all the Yankees that are coming down here and it's our Southern obligation to relieve them of their burden of money. So we just gotta give them a little something in return for it. And the fresh asparagus that they grew up with, they want it here, so we sell quite a bit of it.
But then we'll take it and sell it three or four of them. Spears of it on a plate for a wedding dinner or graduation party or birthday party or whatever. And we get a little more for it that way. So that's where we are right now. Also we sell the beauty of the farm which is another evolution that happened.
Most people that live in the city, perhaps like you do, they've got a quarter acre lot, at best. They've got neighbors on both sides of them. If they invite more than three people over, they run out of room for parking in their yard and in their backyard too.
And so we've got a lot of space. And so we essentially Have become a private park where people can come and play for a day, leave a few dollars and a few footprints. And they come away with a great experience and something in their hands or their belly and they're happy.
And that's the evolution farming, that's what we're headed. And we're always looking for the next level where it's gonna go to. We're making a living at it, and we can still stay on the land, and that's the key. When my granddaddy first started, we were probably, I guess, one farmer out of was feeding, well one out of, gosh, four people was a farmer back whenever he was starting.
And now there is probably 1 out of 130 or so. And so I'm feeding 130 people on the average. There are some they're feeding more, some less. But on average, I think the average farmer is feeding about 130. But again, about 20% of the farmers are producing about 80% of the production.
That's the same in a lot of other businesses, too.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: 80-20 rule.
>> KL: So I noticed on your retail here, do you have restaurants that you partner with? Or just word of mouth? Or a little bit of everything?
>> LDC: The marketing is an integral part of the operation as the production, and most farmers don't get that.
They like to produce, take it to the market, here, it's done, walk away. Well I have to work at the marketing. And earlier on newspaper was a primary mode of advertising. We haven't done a newspaper ad in probably, gosh, eight or ten years. Radio, again down, we're almost 100% social media right now.
We do partner with some restaurants, some of the higher end good stuff. They want some quality product, and we work with those, like Fork in Davidson. Tim Grodey is a Cracker Jack chef in this area, and there's a couple others around that we work with and do stuff for.
They like the fresh quality product, and they like being associated with us and us with them. So they will put our name in their menu, and we're happy to toss their name around too cuz they've got, it's associated with quality. And early on on my business card it says, where quality comes first, and that's been the motto from the start.
Quality will always sell, price is second.
>> KL: So tell me a little bit more about social media. What do you guys do? Do you have Facebook?
>> LDC: All of it.
>> KL: Things like that. All of it?
>> LDC: All of it, okay.
>> KL: And how do you manage that?
Cuz I know social media-
>> LDC: Well I'm an old soul, and I can't even turn the computer on, okay. But I know what I want it to do, keep up with what's happening. And we're on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever it is, and whatever's coming next. And does it matter?
I keep my ears to the ground. I see what's happening. I travel sometimes. I watch what other people are doing on the plane, on the train, in the mall, at dinner, you're watching and seeing what's going on. If you go to a restaurant dinner, you have four people, a lot of times you'll see three of them on their phones, sitting there doing stuff while they're waiting on something.
That's not very much of a social interaction.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But it's what they're doing, so the phone is another body part. It's like a brain or a heart to a lot of people, and they won't give it up. So that is one way to access them. Now word of mouth is probably your best advertising, period.
And how that gets disseminated, via Snapchat, via this, that, whatever, it doesn't really matter. But someone will tell somebody if they have a good time, they can't keep it to themselves.
>> KL: Yeah, [LAUGH] so I know you said you kinda got involved in the agrotourism part, and all of that.
When did that start? Did you start that in 75, or has it grown, okay?
>> LDC: Right in 75, right from the get go. We were doing it before it was cool, before it ever had a name. We were doing farm-to-table before they ever called it farm-to-table. So for that, do you have a restaurant or do you just have little things that you make specially down at kinda the quarry area?
We've got a commercial food grade kitchen that we prepare the food in. And we have big grills that we cook it on down there. A lot of the special events, they like the sizzle as much as they do the steak, and so you gotta put the show on for them too.
We initially started out doing a pig picking, chicken picking, cuz we'd do them in the South probably once a month just for fun. And then we said, well if we mowed the grass and put on a clean shirt, maybe we could charge for the same stuff, and so we did and we moved on.
And one day in 88 one little gal says, have you ever thought about having a wedding here? And you never make any money when you say no, only when you say yes. And so we didn't know what we were doing. We do probably 80 plus weddings a year right now.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: I'm a farmer by trade and a wedding planner by default.
>> KL: [LAUGH] Well that's amazing. So do you cook or do you have-
>> LDC: Yes.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: I wear a lot of hats, okay.
>> KL: You need a lot of hats, yeah. [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But then again, I have other people that wear a lot of hats too.
>> KL: Okay.
>> LDC: My wife, she does primarily the computer, social end. She's a little younger than I am, and so she's a little more in tune with that. I do most of the production, although she does production too. And I create the marketing programs and this and that and tell her where I want to go a lot of times.
And right now I know that for certain, every crop or every marketing opportunity we have, there is a certain demographic group that I'm trying to target. And so I figure those out. Right now for our quarry and our open swim in particularly, it's soccer mom and her 2.8 kids.
All right, and she is my customer so I'm gonna take care of her. Now it's constantly evolving. For a pumpkin hay ride, it's the two to eight year old kid that comes out and picks a pumpkin. For my haunted trail it's 12 to 22, female more than male but both.
>> KL: Really, interesting.
>> LDC: Well they make the decision when to come, and the guy says, okay.
>> KL: [LAUGH] Fair, very fair. I actually got to do your haunted trail a couple of years ago, and it is phenomenal. Just the, it was huge.
>> LDC: Yes.
>> KL: And I'm from Tennessee, and they don't have, or I hadn't experienced anything that big and diverse kind of.
>> LDC: You've gotta be the best at whatever you do.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: There's room at the top in every profession. And unless you get there, when you're on the bottom the scenery's always the same, you're always looking up.
>> KL: So how do you go about kind of doing the research to know the demographic and get to the top and make sure that yours is the best?
Do you visit other farms? Do you just kind of pay attention? Is it just experience? You've-
>> LDC: All of the above. All of the above, [LAUGH] One thing I do, first of all, I have a background. I majored in horticulture, so I understand fruits and vegetables and how they work.
I'm always reading the trade journals, going to trade shows. I've been to two, three this year, seeing what the cutting edge is, and hopefully it's not the bleeding edge, there is a difference there. So you can be too far ahead. We were in Florida. There's a robotic strawberry harvester down there.
We've been spending about, we got about four or five million dollars into it right now. But it will ultimately change the scope of agriculture. But a robotic harvester to pick strawberries is quite amazing. Then the guy's got 1,600 acres of farm down there, he's growing strawberries on. [SOUND] Excuse me one second here.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> KL: So I know you wear a lot of hats and everything. Can you tell me, it may be not typical, but a regular day on the farm or kind of what you do in a day, and how you do it?
>> LDC: Well, we are seasonal. In the winter we get to play a little.
So we work real hard, we work seven days a week.
>> LDC: We work seven days a week from, probably, about mid March until about mid November, at the farm. We don't really take much of a break at all, occasionally if you get two rainy days in a row, you maybe escape out for a little bit.
But, in the winter we get to play. So now we're back, this is mid March. We're getting back into the scope of things, so I wake up about 4, 4:30 in the morning. I do about an hour or two of nothing but figuring things out and watching the news and the weather, and so on and so forth.
And when it gets light, we're starting to work and get ready to do stuff. Got a crew that comes in, and depending on what's going on, we're scouting the fields and watching the weather, and we notice we've got a few aphids, so we gotta spray for those. Last night we had to irrigate for frost.
We were up at two in the morning turning the water on to save the starry blossoms that are just starting out there. It'll be apples next and we're working on doing some improvements for weddings that are coming up, a wedding come up on Friday, one of the first of the year.
And so there's just, everyday it's a different story. We picked two pounds of asparagus yesterday. But then we had to spray to keep the weeds down yesterday too. And so today it might be planting some beets. Everyday, there's something that goes usually in the ground, or something that comes our of the ground.
And you're fertilizing, spraying, watching the weather, trying to improve the land, market stranded, make phone calls, take phone calls. It's just.
>> LDC: There's so many different things that can happen on any given day.
>> KL: Right, so tell me a little bit about your crew. I know you said sometimes you'll have 8 or 10 or 12, sometimes you'll have 50.
Where do you find them? How do you get them? Do you have trusted people that you keep all the time? Do you have a farm manager? Things like that.
>> LDC: Early on when we started it was just me, and I brought a little help in. A given farmer, most of the farming in the area is done by one, or two, or three people on a farm.
And they, when my granddad started out farming, he had himself, and mule or two, and whatever children he had to work the fields. And he had the ability to work ten acres of corn per year and that's all he could manage, to plant and cultivate with the mule, and feed, and roll, and pick, okay?
Now, a farmer will spend one, actually 45 minutes, man hours per acre of corn is grown. We've substituted capital in the form of a big John Deere tractor, or combine, or planters, or sprayers, or other stuff. It can cover vast amount of acreage with one time. So today, to be a productive corn farmer, you need about $1 million worth of capital equipment.
And if you don't have that, you're not at the efficient production level at the moment. A good combine is probably a quarter million dollars. A sprayer Is very close to that, it will spread over 80 to 100 feet with one pass. So the main hour per person, per acre, is a lot less than it used to be.
And that's the efficiency, and that's why America is probably one of the most efficient food producers in the world, because we substituted capital for labor. Now, at the farm, and the stuff that we're doing, which is the horticultural crops, fruits and vegetables, they require a lot more hand labor.
So we're, we have a varied crew right here. We've got a couple of mid-managers. We've got one guy that does probably 80% of the job, is nothing but IT. I didn't have an IT guy ten years ago, fifteen, twenty years ago, didn't know what it was. And so we got a guy on board that does a lot of that.
He does some other stuff, too, but the social media, social marketing, that's an integral part of it. So we got that in house. And so we do a lot of it. We also got one guy that's more production oriented, two guys that are more production oriented. One, I call it general handyman and can fix about everything, build big shape, do.
Got three or four guys that are production, they're Hispanic. They, well, the youngest of them has been with me probably about eight years. The oldest's been with me 32 or 33 years. So it's not my gut because they're here every day seven days a week. Well no, they work six days a week.
Primarily, but they're here all the time, and we're consistent for them. But they want a job, they like it, they come here, and we pay them enough that they keep coming back again. So it's not too much, but it's enough for them, and they're happy, and they're good, but they do mainly production.
And we also have some, I call, frontline or marketing type crowd. A lot of high school for that, some housewife, but the high school model, we get a lot of 14 and 15 year olds, 16 year olds that come in here, first job, we get them, we try to get them smart.
We can put the training on them. Most of them are gonna be college-bound. I'd say 90% are college-bound, 95. They come in, they work their sophomore year in high school, junior, senior. Then they'll go off to college and we'll get them to come back for a year or two.
So we get them for three to five years minimum, usually, when we get one like that. But every year we have to hire six or eight, cuz we get six or eight that are leaving. But over the last forty years of hiring high school, I've got, I can name a handful of people that are doctors now, and lawyers, and quite successful in their own rights.
But it's good talent that is smart, untrained, but it's gonna be highly successful on down the line. We're getting them before they know they're good yet.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: And then we had to put some training on them, work them, and they usually have good values and good work ethics from their parents, and their parents are usually successful.
They wanna have a job, and that's how they move up, and so, though we got them at all gender, age, color. [LAUGH] It doesn't really matter, we just, we got them all. But usually they come from successful families and they're smart and they're doing well in school. And some are poor, some are very wealthy and don't have to work but they choose to, but we get all types.
>> KL: Okay.
>> LDC: But that's generally the work mix. There's a couple, two or three, Kelly and myself are the main managers. We got a couple mid-managers that we can delegate to. Then we got some production that does the producing of the crops. And there's the marketing side of it.
And lot of those are high school. But sometimes the high school is production too.
>> KL: Do you bring on wait staff and stuff for the weddings that you do, and-
>> LDC: We train everything internally. We're very vertically integrated. We like to do everything in house that we can.
If we only do it once every now and then, hire somebody that knows that they're doing. But if we're doing it every day, we're gonna be vertically integrated. We're gonna do it from top to bottom, we're going to do it. We have lifeguards at a quarry. We do a lot of open swim in the quarry.
There's a place, beautiful swimming, and we weren't doing it and we said we could do it, so here it is. And we've got probably up to 35 lifeguards that are certified and trained, and we train them ourselves. Kelly is a Red Cross lifeguard, instructor, trainer. So she's kinda the pinnacle of that, so she can train them all from a to z.
And so we train them all the way we want them, the way they need to be. They're certified, they're good, and those lifeguards in turn become wait staff. Cuz if you're not doing a wedding then you're doing a swim party, but you're not doing swim party means you're doing a wedding.
So if you keep enough of them, you gotta keep,
>> LDC: Well with high school you gotta keep ten on the books to keep seven or eight coming in cuz one of them, I've got a ball game, I've got soccer, I've got dance, I've got this. Okay, that's fine.
And so we really don't schedule them, per se. We just put a big spreadsheet up and say, we need this many and at this time. You sign in when you want to work. And so they pick and choose what they want, and it works quite well that way.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: Then you don't have to manage them. But a lot of times, we'll say we need two seniors and two juniors, and then the rest, whoever. And the guy that's been here three years knows what to do, but the guy that's a newbie, they don't know anything.
And so, but they're learning, and then two years from now they'll be moved up the line too. That's kind of the way we work that part.
>> KL: That's smart because you're not managing day to day schedules for the kids, clock in at this time, clock out at this time, all that, kind of like-
>> LDC: Drives you crazy, so let them drive themselves crazy. And if they're scheduled for a day and something comes up in their schedule, they call one of their friends to reschedule and get somebody in their place. If they don't show up and they told me they're coming, they're on the **** list real fast.
>> KL: Yeah [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But if you've got a replacement, that's fine, that's of your equal sorts.
>> KL: Right, okay, so I know you said there's swimming, doing different things. Do you guys farm organic or?
>> LDC: No, we use organic practices, but we're not certified organic and never will be.
>> LDC: People vote with their pocketbook with their food. Organic is growing, but it's still less than 2% of the total food marketplace business. And so when you come in and say, I can buy tomatoes for four dollars a pound that are organic or two dollars a pound that are not, most people vote with their pocketbook, okay.
We love organic methods, we just put out about 90 tons of organic matter on the farm the other day because it's good and it's good for the land, good for the soil. It's just another tool in the toolbox. If your kids, if you're a mom and you have kids, when they get sick do you give them homeopathic treatment?
Maybe to start with, but if they've got tuberculosis or pneumonia, you're gonna go to the doctor and say, I want some high priced drugs to make them well. And that's just chemicals to make your kids well. You're not gonna let them go, I'm just gonna use organic methods on them and watch them die.
It's the same with my crops and plants. I'm gonna take care of them, whatever is needed. And if it's legal and good. Everything we use has been passed by FDA, USDA, so on and so forth. The streptomycin that we use to prevent fire blight on our apples is the same streptomycin that's used for the Streptococcus that's in your throat.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Just one works on a bacterium in the plant, one works on a bacterium in your body. And it's okay for that. One of the big names, not just organic, but is the proper term today is GMO's, or genetically modified organisms. Well that's another tool in the toolbox.
Gregory Mendel, if you're a student of history you might know who he was. He was one of the first guys to crack the genetic code right there, he took peas, he had wrinkled and smooth, so on and so forth. He crossed back and forth to figure out what they did and they did, so he started figuring genetics out.
And that was back in probably the late 1700s, I think, early 1800s, something like that, and now we've moved on up. We've figured out how to take the gene out of that and put it into that and work. And there's gonna be dramatically more revolutions right now because of the crisper gene.
I don't know if you know what that is, but it's a clustered regulated, uneven regulated palindromes or something. I forgot the exact acronym for it, but it's a good technique. You can take a piece of bacteria, slide one gene in out of this species, insert it in here.
It just clips and splices and slides into this, and all of a sudden we can pick up some disease resistant or this and that. Well only because the media said, that's not good, GMOs. Well there's two sides to every coin here. All of the sudden when they're able to do that and let's say they're able to do that to someone and put insulin production back in all the diabetics and they don't have to take shots anymore.
The line will be so long for people waiting in line to get that treatment of a genetically modified organism so they don't have to do this, that you can't reach it far enough, I guarantee it. And so all the stuff will be falling by the wayside. There's some good genetically modified rice right now that they put a vitamin A gene in it, and it prevents blindness in certain parts of Africa because they don't have enough vitamin A.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: And so it's just another delivery system to deliver some of the form of the stuff that's there. And it's gonna improve lives dramatically. I mean it's a revolution that's here now, there's a lot of people saying, we don't know, we don't know. Well get used to it, we do know.
The GMOs, the National Geographic last year came out with over 100 Nobel laureates, which are not the slackers in the world.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: That basically said it's perfectly good, it's perfectly safe, the rest of you got your head in the sand.
>> KL: So do you use GMOs here?
>> LDC: Yes, we use everything. We use all of the tools in the tool box.
>> KL: You gotta do what you gotta do to-
>> LDC: We don't do what we have to do, we do what is best to do.
>> KL: Right.
>> LDC: Okay? If we can take corn, in which we got one, that resists corn earworms, and we can plant that, then we don't have to spray it.
So we're using less chemicals by inserting this gene in there that as soon as the bug takes a bite of it, he gets sick. So it goes right into the plant to start with. It makes the plant essentially resistant to that corn earworm, and that's in essence what it is.
Now, also they have stacked traits. They put that trait in. They also put a trait in that says it's Roundup resistant, so that we can spray the corn with Roundup and we don't want to spray with other herbicides. We don't want to use a tractor with diesel fuel to kill all the weeds by and so it becomes more efficient process with less inputs by man.
So we decrease our footprint on earth, and increase the production. We have soil that we've been no-tilling, that means it doesn't till. We don't have a plow and plow it up and so and so forth like my granddad did every year. I've got fields I haven't plowed in 25 years.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: And we just don't. We do it with chemicals and cultural practices with a sod planter that will plant in there. And our yields are going up, not down. They're going up and our organic matter is going up, not down. So we're better for the environment.
The Soil and Water Conservation Service was a service created in the 20s, 30s, because Americans were plowing the land. The good to be grains would wash away big gullies on farms, the dust bowl back in the 30s. They were plowing the soil, blew all away. Well now we're sod planting.
We keep something on the ground at all times, there's always a cover on the ground. We have next to zero erosion. The new modern practice of sod planting has essentially put the Soil and Water Conservation Service out of business.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Because if everybody did that there'd be virtually no erosion.
We probably till about less than 10 acres a year. And so it’s just a new production practice, it's there. It’s been the cutting edge since the late ‘80s and it will be for the foreseeable future. That’s pretty cool. So tell me a little bit about, you've talked a bit about different organizations and stuff.
>> KL: Do you deal a lot with government? And how does different regulations affect you as a farmer?
>> LDC: Well, the government is always your business partner. I don't really like them all the time. The government is there to do things for people collectively that individuals can't do on their own.
Now I don't participate in the government programs that say, if you don't produce this, you will get this amount of money or so on and so forth. There's some farm bill programs that basically are safety nets to keep the farmer in business. Now every government has been and always will be involved in agriculture because it's politically infeasible to have anything otherwise.
Because Egyptians came in and said if we don't store the food, people will eat it all now or get rid of it and won't produce enough, and then when we have a bad year then we're going to have to take care of them and they're going to revolt.
Russia, the reason they fell out in the 80s, was because they didn't have enough bread in the grocery stores. Their collective farming didn't work, so they had to switch their models back around to be self sufficient with food. Japan still subsidizes their rice production. We can grow rice a third cheaper than they can in Japan, but they are not gonna be dependent on American rice cuz that is a staple in their diet.
And so the government has to say, we're gonna keep a base of food production out here all the time for our food security. Now that's okay. So the farmers are kind of married to the govenrment in that regard. I jumped outside the lines. I said, I don't want to be involved in these programs.
I'm on my own, there's no safety net. I'll be demand oriented. I'll plant what the market wants, and if it goes south on me, okay. I keep a diverse portfolio of income sources, and that would be spring strawberries, asparagus, lettuce comes in. That's a spring crop, then I come into the summer vegetable crops.
Then I come into, say, apples and I come into pumpkins, and then I've got broccoli, the fall crop. I've also got the agritourism bit, the swimming at our quarry, the weddings, the company picnics, which take part of those food production too, to be fed to. So we take all those different areas.
Every year we know one of them is going to do very poorly and lot of times it's not because of me, it's because of Mother Nature. Last year we picked strawberries for three weeks, great picking. Five inches of rain, another three inches of rain and the stormy season was over and done.
We got our money back and a little some after, but not much. Two years ago we had a great crop of apples, did well. This past year we had a, just a barely, made a little bit off the apples, not much. So every year one crop's gonna do great and one's gonna do poor.
We don't know what it is until it's all over. And hopefully we'll have more on the plus side than the minus side. And then we'll have more money left over to do something else with it.
>> KL: So how much does weather affect farming?
>> LDC: Weather, as a farmer I'm married to Mother Nature.
I mean she is my first wife, I could tell you that. She does what she wants to do, and my job is to push the odds in my favor so I can get a little more of it. If she wants to send a bug and a disease over to get me, I better be putting some chemical on the spray and keep that away.
But if she doesn't give me rain, I've go $100,000 worth of irrigation system that I could put water on. But I can't take it off. This past year we were probably, i think last year we were up about 18 inches over normal, which really killed our fall broccoli, cauliflower, kale crop.
We got next to zero out here. They just drowned it out. Never had that happen. I've had years that I planted pumpkins and I would have them blooming in little pumpkins and they never had rain on them. The whole time either you're getting completely from seed up to little baby pumpkin before it ever got his first rain.
So Mother Nature, she gives and she takes away too. And so we just have to push those odds in our favor. The irrigation system is my insurance policy. Last year they did a water survey, as far as what my irrigation uses was last year. And I said, I think I irrigated once or twice last year and that was it., because we had rain.
We made 92 bushels of soy beans on upland unirrigated ground. We were the second highest in the state last year. Right here in Mooresville, North Carolina. And that's not your typical soybean growing area, but we slayed it because we had the right genetics, the right soils, the right stuff, and we got the right rainfall.
>> KL: Wow, so I know you produce a lot, and I've heard that there's a lot of kind of waste, marketable produce versus usable, edible, but not marketable. How do you combat some of the waste of farm? And the excess, or with your strawberries, if they get mushy from all the rain, you can't sell them, is there something else you can do?
>> LDC: In production agriculture, when you're producing for the market, you have seconds or off brand stuff, and sometimes they can have a value, or they have no value. A cucumber with a worm in it has zero value, okay? So therefore, there's zero tolerance if you bite into a pickle, and you got a worm in it, even if there's a whole jar out.
Okay, so there's zero tolerance right there, so we have to eliminate certain things like that. Now, I don't equate the production with anything. I look at how many dollars per acre, or per square foot I get back from that, because I have pick your own apples. A lot of people will come in and pick an apple, if it's not perfect, they'll throw it on the ground.
Okay, I don't like that, and a lot of people get upset. I went to an apple growers meeting, the guys were up there, they were making. The top guys were making 4, $5,000 an acre on their apples, as far as their gross sales back to them. Well I was getting 8 to 10 back for mine, so all of a sudden, I'm getting double the dollars back in, but I'm selling half as many apples.
And I've got a third of the crop that's on the ground. I don't care if they pick them and throw them out, or pick them and eat them, as long as I get paid for them, so it doesn't really matter to me.
>> KL: Do you partner with any Gleaners or anything like that?
>> LDC: Yes, we've given tons, literally tons of produce to the Gleaners, okay? And that's a St. Andrews church-based association that works, and works quite well. There's volunteers that come in and harvest and pick, and then take it to soup kitchens and other stuff, and literally times, okay?
>> KL: [LAUGH] Do you partner with other farm organizations or anything?
Do you participate in any of the community?
>> LDC: You call them CSAs?
>> KL: Yes, CSAs.
>> LDC: Community supported agriculture. The bottom line, there's people that don't have a farm, so they come in and pay a year, monthly, weekly stipend, or whatever so much a year. And they basically say, we'll take a percentage of your crop production, and it's basically share some of the risk.
So if you don't get a lot of production, you don't get a lot in your basket this week. But it has to be good value. It's just another way of marketing, another way of sometimes sharing the risk. We haven't gone in that direction yet, I don't feel it's the most efficient way to market your crop to the customers.
Some people were quite successful with it, and it works with them. I just choose to have the people come to me, just to have the experience and other stuff. I'm as much experience as I am just putting food in your belly. Now, in the future, we see opportunity, I could come in and do a day care where kids from 7 to 17, which would basically be 7 to 12.
When you go to camp, you come out for in the morning eight o'clock, and don't leave till five o'clock. We'll teach you how to grow a garden which your mom and dad don't know how, and we'll let you plant something every week. We will let you harvest something every week.
And we'll have it with our restaurant deal that we'll feed you. You'll pick fresh sweet corn, and eat it right now, and nothing's better. We eat like this on the farm, and we could do that with the kids. And then all of a sudden, give them a basket of whatever they picked today to take home with a recipe.
So you can tell mom, here's how you fix your brussels sprouts, which, a lot of people don't eat them. But they're good, and they're good for you. Here's how you do this. And so all of a sudden, the goal is to,
>> LDC: Change people's habits, such that they will eat healthier and eat better.
America is they consume way too many calories, they're way overweight, they're way out of shape, and they gotta start eating better. And we're having to drag them kicking and screaming to get there. And they don't wanna be, but they're often gonna be, or they're gonna be pushing up daisies quicker than not.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So you gotta change, or else you're gonna get left behind. And that's what we see already, and I see certain, I see the trends coming. It's not a trend, but it's just a behavior that has to happen, because if it doesn't, we're gonna eat ourselves to the grave, one fork at a time.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So if you travel to Europe, go to Italy, you'll be amazed. Eat like they do, drink like they do, we were there for ten days, and we both lost a pound a piece.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Because they don't drink soft drinks. They drink distilled or sparkling water, they drink wine.
They don't walk around with french fries and donuts.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But they eat fruit and vegetables. They don't eat big massive plates of it either, so America has got a lot going for it. They don't have everything going for it.
>> KL: So tell me a little bit about the Charlotte Blue Shed, and what you think of that?
And where you think Charlotte is heading, especially with the rapid growth, in terms of food and food production.
>> LDC: The cities never will be able to produce their own food, they can produce certain amounts. And surprisingly, you can take a small area and produce a lot of stuff if you want to.
And some may, they won't do it for the cost savings, they'll do it for the quality standpoint, if anything. But most of the people that are on the outlying areas, but if you can put it on the back of a truck, it'll make it to a market, and it'll get there.
So all your grocery store shelves, your farmers markets, your CSAs, having them take a weekend, come up, pick their own fruits and vegetables. That works too, so there's a bunch of different ways people can get their food, one way or the other. In America, food's very cheap. America's spending probably less than 10% of their disposable income, or 10% income on food.
Which, if you go to certain parts of the world, it's in the 20, 30, 40% range of your total disposable income. So food's real cheap, calories are real cheap.
>> KL: So how do you see your farm growing in the next five to ten years, besides the [INAUDIBLE]?
>> LDC: Well, that's one way, it's a possibility.
We're doing special events right now, but I foresee a full-fledged restaurant at some point in time. And matter of fact, this year, this winter, we did. We went to two or three different cities, and I call it restaurant hopped. We checked out some different restaurants, and saw what made them work, what made them tick.
Why and how can we do that here now? I'm creating the the vision of where we need to go, and we're in this right here. Hopefully, they'll be wonderful, hopefully inaccurate and get it going. But I'm trying to lay the groundwork and what makes people come to a place?
And why do you get up and go to a restaurant? And why do you go to this and for what reasons? And those are the things that we were trying to figure out and we've got a better handle on it right now. But we're in the food business and it goes all the way from the seed right to the palate.
And you gotta figure out what makes all that work, all the way. I understand science well, but the psychology, that's more important. And matter of fact, he's going to college to major in horticulture. But it's gonna be mandatory that he's gonna take some psych and soc courses, okay?
>> KL: [LAUGH] You've gotta understand people. And if you're serving people to have a good idea of how to serve them, and how to get them to come.
>> LDC: But their habits are always evolving and changing too. Because when I started out southerners were not eating freshing asparagus, they were eating canned.
And now they're eating fresh, and they don't eat canned at all.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: And again, brussel sprouts weren't on the horizon, but now they're quite good. Kale, we grew in our garden when I was growing up. We ate it all the time, but now it's become quite popular, one of the superfoods.
So there's a evolution that's happening. So people are actually trying to do better. And some of them are really doing better, and some of them are not yet. But when I see you come to our farm, and you bring a bag of Cheetos, I'm going like, something's wrong here, eat an apple.
>> KL: Yeah, so do you partner with any other farms? Or anything for knowledge? Are you part of any associations in the area?
>> LDC: I'm a part of a lot of organizations. I was president of the North American Strawberry Growers Association back in 88, I guess, that was a long time ago.
But still, and I know all of the players, and I go to all these meetings. I just got back from one in Orlando from the Strawberry Growers. That was an international symposium, so I know people throughout the world in certain businesses and stuff. And you have to keep up with what they're doing, and where things are headed, and all of that good stuff.
And we do association things, farm direct market associations, and all of that. But we go to all kinds of conventions. We have a haunted trailer that you mentioned you had been to. We just got back last weekend from St. Louis from a haunted attraction, a haunt show. And there was probably 4,000 haunters there from throughout the country.
They were there, and we were all sitting around and going to meetings and learning how to scare people and this and that. That's another part of that agritourism, that we got the space and land. It's fun, and it's just another unique way to stay on the land.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: Yeah, we can do that. But we were picking up some scares, and we stole a few ideas from some folks and gave away a few ideas, and it works. But I got people I can call who really flew out the country, if I've got a question about some haunted aspects.
Again, I have people call me about certain things that I know about too. Everybody's really dumb about some things and really smart about some things so just knowing who asks for what.
>> KL: This is kind of a weird question, but-
>> LDC: Go ahead.
>> KL: I interviewed a beekeeper.
Do you guys allow beekeepers to put up hives on your property? Cuz I know sometimes they'll-
>> LDC: Got one right now.
>> KL: You do?
>> LDC: We do, yeah, for sure, yeah. And that's, everything we have, if you like strawberries and cantaloupes and watermelons and apples and peaches and oranges, if you don't like them you gotta like honey bees.
Cuz I mean, honey bees pollinate all those crops and they're there for that. And they are my biggest work force. About 20,000 bees in each hive and it takes six, or eight, or ten hives to pollinate a crop. So there's a 100,000 work force out there working for me.
And they're out there working today, right now. They're working on strawberries and apples are due. And in about ten days, they'll be tearing up the apples to crop, so.
>> KL: Do you do the beekeeping yourself, or?
>> LDC: I don't, I've got a beekeeper that, bees are no good without flowers.
Flowers are no good without bees, so I've got the flowers.
>> LDC: I know how, can do it, but I'm too busy with other stuff this time of year. And so I've got a beekeeping company that does it and he basically takes care of the bees. And he likes it as a hobby to do, which is fine and dandy.
And then I, in turn, take something, sell it for him or buy it from it and sell it for him. And it works because I've got the people too. They like local honey, and it works, and it's good. I've got another guy that if I don't, he will just bring hives in.
I will rent them from him just to pollinate the crops. And I've done that for pumpkins in the past. I pay him, $60, $80, $90 a hive just to bring them in for the four-week, five-week period I need to pollinate the crop.
>> KL: That's amazing.
>> LDC: Yeah.
>> KL: That's reallly cool.
>> LDC: Have to have bees.
>> KL: Yeah [LAUGH] that's what they were saying, is that if the honeybees go, a third of all farmers' crops would go. And not just as necessary.
>> LDC: For sure, yeah they are necessary. They're not a want, they're a need okay? They have to have them.
>> KL: So just a couple of concluding questions cuz I know you're busy.
>> LDC: It's okay.
>> KL: Is there any kind of aspect of farming that people wouldn't consider or is misunderstood by the general public?
>> LDC: There's a whole lot of misconceptions, and it's mainly because most people are two, three, or more generations removed from the farm.
When my granddaddy was growing up, everybody had somebody they knew that was in the farming business. An uncle, aunt,a cousin, a brother or a family member that was involved in farming nowadays they so far removed. You can't complain about farmers with your mouth full though, cuz you got something to eat and we're feeding you.
Most people say, I don't want sprays. Well, I don't either, but I sure don't want the pests to take all of it away and have nothing. So there's always a trade-off that you have to have, benefit versus risk. The chemicals, there's three Cs. There's a cultivar, a cultural practice, and a chemical.
You change any one of those three and you change the whole dynamics of the that crop. Now, any crop gravitates to area that's most climatically correct for that given crop. We can't grow olives here because they get frost on and get killed. And they'll grow in the dry Mediterranean type climates.
But they'd love to grow apples in or peas in. So each farmer has to maximize what he's got. But most people's misconceptions come Particularly when we're so mobile right now. We get people call me in January and it's a holiday weekend. Well I want to come and pick strawberries and it's in January.
Now you laugh because you are from Tennessee and you know that in January no strawberries growing. But they moved from Southern California to Southern Florida, and they pick them all winter long.
>> LDC: And so, they don't have a clue that it's geographical and not, well I always see them in stories all the time.
So you should have them too.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: You know, and so that's one of the big misconceptions that they'reso far removed. They don't think they get the food from the farm it comes from the food line. But look where food line got it, that's the key. The other thing is the chemicals that we use they are a necessary part for most all of the crops.
If you, and water, California particularly complains that agriculture using 90% of the water. It probably is, but which is more important, your green grass in your yard or something in your refrigerator? They'll have to decide and ultimately there will come a day when they're still fighting over water out there, and we don't have to fight over it here as much.
We can still produce quite good without it.
>> KL: And then what advice would you give for people who are just starting out in farming, or wanna start out in farming? How do you sustain something for the long run?
>> LDC: You have to have a profit to be sustainable.
I started out and got down the road with an organic farmer and he said well you're not sustainable. Well he's been retired for eight years and I'm still at it because I could produce. He was having to do it all by hand, [INAUDIBLE] work, and his body's just wore out.
And so he wasn't using the chemicals, and I am, and so I can do it. And it works, it works quite well. So I'm very sustainable. For a new guy jumping in, you gotta have persistence, and you gotta have motivation. There's room in every field. I know farmers that started out with next to nothing, and they've come up.
I had a family land base, but I rented it from them. I rented from my granddaddy. I did not go out and say, hey, just give it to me. And then I end up buying it from my dad, or bought my brother's and my sister's share of that, and I do it by working and making it.
So you can do it. I actually bought more land too along the way. So land is like a carpenter without a tool. Farming without land is like a carpenter without the tools. So you got the land. And a lot of the people in the urban areas, particularly Charlotte, will come out and say, you've got 250 acres, you're rich, you're this, that.
Well, if I sell my land, I'm not a farmer, I'm done. The land is only as good as what it'll produce. If it will produce fruits and vegetables, or crops, then that's the value of the land, to me. I'm just the caretaker for this generation. I'll come and take care of it.
I'll pass that land on to the next generation. Hopefully, they'll make it more productive, produce more stuff, then they'll be able to make a living off of it that's commensurate with a history teacher or professor or whatever it is. Or a car salesman or a nurse or whatever.
All we want to do is just make a living like everybody else, and that's it. But we like to go out and eat. But we have a hard time doing it, because we eat so good at the farm. Hard to find better than what you can get. I had the freshest berries, it was like one hour old, last night.
It was so sweet and so good. It was just really delicious.
>> KL: Yeah, you can't find homegrown tomatoes, I love tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes, there's nothing better.
>> LDC: This is one thing that we see when we actually watch people, say, at a wedding or a company picnic. We'll take a hamburger, grill it, have some fresh onions that were growing out of the garden.
Big, thick slice of sweet onion and a good piece of lettuce right off the farm and a good homegrown tomato. You put it out there and they'll go, wow, these tomatoes are red and they are delicious. And they're not talking about the hamburger. They're talking about the tomato that was on it.
Well, that's the only way we eat it. Like when we have sweet corn, we turn the water on to get it boiling, and then we go pick the corn, and that's fresh. Okay, any food that most of Charlotte or any of the rest of the people get in the grocery stores, it's a week old when they get it.
Now they think it's fresh, but if that asparagus was picked in California on Monday, then it got on a truck, it rode three days to get here, which got here at best by Wednesday or Thursday. Went to the food warehouse, [INAUDIBLE] Food Lion, sat in there for a day at best.
Got on another truck to go out to the regional store. Which sat in their cooler for a day because they had already had a box from the last day, they put it out first. And so by the time your getting it, you're getting week old produce, at best.
And then you set it in your refrigerator for two days because you only go to the store twice a week or once a week. And it might be two weeks old when you eat it, and you go well this taste good but it doesn't taste as good as what I had at the farm.
Well no wonder, you're eating leftovers man.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So that's how we've shortened the time frame from the time it comes off of the field or the plant to your plate. And by doing that it really increases the quality. And it's very evident by watching the people and what they say do that.
And that's the quality comes first, price comes second. They will pay more dollars to get that because they go, wow, that was a great eating experience.
>> KL: Yeah, I will, I know I will, absolutely. If I can find a home grown tomato I would have them all the time versus the stuff you can get in the store.
Cuz it's jus not the same.
>> LDC: Went to Florida, went to Homestead, Florida, which is producing the winter production there for tomatoes right now. There's acres and acres of tomatoes down there. Well, found one guy down there that was not picking them green. Put in the box so they'd ride for three days from there to wherever and then ripen on the shelf or the back of the store along the way.
Homegrown tomatoes right down there. So good, brought a handful of them home. It was like, welcome back to July in March. But,
>> LDC: People vote with their pocketbook and they vote for quality. And that's how we survive. They can tell the difference.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> KL: So are there any other questions that I should have asked you that I haven't asked?
>> LDC: No,
>> LDC: As farmers we will produce any type of food that US customers want. And you tell us what you want. If you want all organic, we'll do it, but you've gotta be willing to pay for it. Cuz if I'm gonna take a third less yield, then you've gotta give me a third more in price to do that.
And I still think that most people vote with their pocketbook. Mentally they can say they want this or that, but when it comes down to it. Yeah I like to drive a Cadillac, but nope I just have to drive an old Ford or Chevy.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: That's fine.
>> KL: Makes complete sense to me.
>> LDC: Well and most people it does, they just don't think about it in those terms. It's their education that, again, you don't have to like farmers, but don't complain with your mouth full. Cuz we're gonna feed you every day.
>> KL: That's it, I like that, I like that.
Okay, well thank you so much for your time, I really appreaciate you, I'm gonna go and stop this.
>> LDC: Thanks for coming.
Dr. Kim Buch, a Professor of Psychology at UNCC, helped found the Jamil Niner Student Pantry in 2012. Nationwide, approximately 20 to 60% of college students are food insecure. UNCC’s food pantry serves less than 2% of the student population and had 3,000 clients last academic year (2017-2018). Dr. Buch discusses the history and evolution of the pantry, the students served, the types of food provided, and other services and programs offered. She also discusses community partners and donors who support the pantry.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:07||Introductions, 2012 Hunger Summit, beginnings of the student pantry|
|0:04:52||Naming donor of Jamil Niner, expansion of the garden and professional clothing closet|
|0:06:33||Service learning, impact of serving on students|
|0:08:28||2012 Hunger Summit, how Dr. Kim became aware of hunger on college campuses, general population hunger versus college student population hunger|
|0:11:08||Number of students served, demographic info collected, demographics of students served|
|0:14:18||Unique versus regular visitors, amount of food donated, criteria students must meet, intake form|
|0:18:28||Resistance from Chartwells and changing criteria, process when students come to the pantry|
|0:23:50||Clients with families, high demand items, types of food available, partnerships|
|0:28:18||Fresh produce from partnerships, university support, non-food donation support from partners|
|0:32:57||Swipe Out Hunger program,|
|0:35:11||Resistance in addition to Chartwells, limited space, percieved stigma of being food insecure|
|0:39:15||Other universities, growth of food distribution network in Charlotte, food reclamation|
|0:42:49||Development of UNCC Community Garden and its relationship with the Jamil Niner Student Pantry|
|0:46:32||Importance of students serving others, guesstimate of number of students who volunteer weekly, concluding remarks|
>> Rachel McManaman: [SOUND] Today is Thursday April 4th 2019 at 4 PM. My name is Rachel McManaman and I am at the Jamil Niner Student Pantry on UNC Charlotte's campus. Dr Kim, thank you. Thank you. This interview is part of the Queen's Garden an oral history project, a project collecting oral histories of local Charlotteans involved in food distribution, urban agriculture, and community gardens in the Charlotte area.
The Jamil Niner Student Pantry provides assistance to UNC Charlotte undergraduate and graduate students that struggle with food insecurity. The pantry offers a variety of nutritious meals and frequently gives demonstrations on what meals can be made with the food in the pantry. In addition to providing food, the pantry offers a variety of programs such as a professional clothing closet, a community garden, swipe out hunger, and a new resource center that links students with campus and community resources.
Now Dr. Kim.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Mm-hm.
>> Rachel McManaman: Dr. Kim. [LAUGH] Sophia called you that.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yep, that's what they all call me.
>> Rachel McManaman: [LAUGH] So could you please introduce yourself? And tell me a little bit about how you got involved with the Student Pantry.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yes. So I'm Kim Buch in the psychology department.
And I got involved with this when I attended the North Carolina Hunger Summit in 2012. And at that time, on-campus food pantries were just taking off. They were already, I think, around ten, just in North Carolina alone. And other campuses were really looking at it seriously. And so we, a team of faculty, staff, and students, represented UNC Charlotte at the Hunger Summit.
It was in Elon, and we came home and made recommendations, came back to campus and made recommendations that we thought that this is something that UNC Charlotte should consider. And of course we have a severe space invitation on our campus, and so why all the university administration was very supportive of our proposal, the lack of suitable space pretty much resulted in our, the lack of success of our first initiative.
So that was in 2012, fall of 2012 we tried in earnest. I think we made the proposal in 2013, and nothing happened. And finally I started working with Sean, I'm in academic affairs, Sean Langley of course is in students affairs. And together, and I don't really even know how it happened, but Sean was looking for space in Cone Center.
And we we did finally get space and Cone Center, and it turned out to be a janitor's closet. And they said we had to keep the buckets there. We had already received a grant from Food Lion, that was one of our initial partners, they're no longer involved. But we'd already received a grant from them to give us our first full stock for the pantry that was to have opened in Cone.
Well, we were getting really frustrated. And finally my chair at the time, she's no longer the chair, but my chair at the time offered very limited faculty office space. Right in the academic building of Colvard, which is where psychology is housed. So we started in a room that was about 8 by 12.
No windows or anything, it was just surrounded by classroom space. And so we actually operated, The Pantry in my building for the first year. Throughout that year, we were actively lobbying, and presenting, and working hard to get a more suitable space. While over that first summer, that was in the fall of 2014, by the time we finally opened.
And over that first summer the university acquired these two, these are private residences, the university has owned a lot of stuff over there, they own all of this, except for the adult daycare, and these two properties while the university acquired them. And we had been petitioning for space, we got lucky and this building was assigned to us on a temporary basis.
But then, we've been operating here ever since. But in the fall of 2015 we got our naming donor. So, that's where we got our name the Jamil Student Pantry, and along with that, and so it's dad Jamil has been on the board of trustees for campus for a long time and they decided that they wanted to support us.
And once you have that kind of support, if it comes to the university in the form of a, I forget the name of it. It's like money that is dedicated to the pantry. They continue to pay for it over time.
>> Rachel McManaman: Like an endowed grant?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Something like that.
And so because of that, we feel like even that this building was only given to us on a temporary basis, and we were told not to get too comfortable, because very likely that we would not be able to keep this building. But because now we have the naming donor, we're hoping that this is at least a semi-permanent place.
In 2015, no 2016, we expanded with the garden. And so that was our first expansion. And then in 2017, we hired our first garden director. And then in 2017 also, we started our professional clothing closet. And that was my students' in the service running class that actually started the professional clothing closet as one of their service learning projects for the class.
>> Rachel McManaman: And in the questionnaire, you said your interest in service and learning was kind of what got you interested in the Student Pantry.
>> Dr Kim Buch: That's exactly why, yeah. I had no idea that hunger and food insecurity was an issue among college students. At that time back in 2012 when I first became aware of it, and the fact that so many campuses were responding to the problem with on campus food pantries, I was really surprised.
And I was concerned obviously, because I'm invested in student success and anything that would detract from student success is obviously not a good thing. So I was very interested in serving the needs of students who do have the problem. I was mostly interested in it as a place for my students to have an opportunity to learn how to serve.
I've been doing service learning with my students for many years, and it's always one of the biggest challenges, to find a suitable site. And especially working with first year students, like my psychology learning community, that's where Sophia started, as a first semester freshman. They don't have cars, it's very difficult to arrange for transportation.
So the idea of having something right on campus that would provide volunteers with genuine, meaningful service was really exciting. And so I got involved that way. You know again, I'm interested in the students and the clients but Leave them more interested in my research is really more looking at the impact of service, serving on students and their specific development.
There, how that experience is part of a general education, and really important to the curriculum.
>> Rachel McManaman: Right, right, and so you said that you had become largely unaware of hunger and common illnesses.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Totally.
>> Rachel McManaman: How were your eyes open to this?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Just at that hunger summit.
>> Rachel McManaman: Were you just interested and wanted to go?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yes, the way this conference, they have them every year if you want to look it up. It's a really cool summit, and it's co sponsored by Campus Compact. And and so it's just a whole lot of people that come from all over to talk and learn.
But the university since teams and so the charge of each team after they leave this summit is to go back and make recommendations to their campus. So we I think I wrote up the the recommendations report for our little team. I think there was only two or three, three or four of us who were there.
One of my students went and couple of other faculty members but I wrote up the recommendation and in doing that, the I think, I don't remember. I could look it up was one of our very top priorities in terms of recommendations. It just seemed like low hanging fruit and learning that so many other UNC system schools already had them, we were almost like feeling in 2012.
Late to the table with that but truly I had no idea. I just assumed that my students, our students were basically middle class students. I had no idea that not only is it a problem, but it is a bigger problem than it is in the general population. And since it, yeah, hunger and food and security is higher among college students nationwide than it is in the general population.
Yeah, the general population is estimated by the FDA as about 15%. And it's harder to measure on college campuses for a lot of reasons. And, of course, college campuses are not homogeneous. Community colleges are different than four year colleges, but in general, it's believed that it's from 20 to 60% depending on the location and the type of students that are served.
So and then the one study that we've done at UNC Charlotte, which is not a good study very small sample size estimates are rate of hundreds of insecurity on our campuses right in that range, around 25%.
>> Rachel McManaman: Wow, that's one in four students.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Exactly.
>> Rachel McManaman: That's one in-
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, it's pretty crazy.
>> Rachel McManaman: For 30,000 students, that's a high amount.
>> Dr Kim Buch: It is.
>> Rachel McManaman: So how many students does the pantry serve per week or per month?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay, our data 100%, they're not as good as we will like them to be. I did write an article using our first year data, and it is available in the public domain.
If you shoot me an email, I'll send you a copy.
>> Rachel McManaman: I will.
>> Dr Kim Buch: It was published in the campus compass state journal. And it reported our first year of data and that's when I kind of controlled the data since and I had an IRB approval and it was basically to do research.
But since then, Student Affairs has taken it over and we have these little iPads and our technology fails us a lot, we're not on the university WiFi and so, but Julia does keep that we use Google Forms on the iPads. And she wrote up a report for the unit.
We have to report to the people who give us money. And the report for the last academic year was 3,000 students served in the academic year. But last summer, we were also open on a very limited basis. For the first time, we were open during the summer one day a week.
And I don't know if that data included. I don't think that included our summer, so that was our last full academic year. Julia can give you more she runs monthly reports. The problem with our data and we do break it out. We asked there's the intake form asked if they're domestic student or an international student, if they're graduate, undergraduate and a few other things.
And we learn from that, and from the beginning, we have served a disproportionately high number of international students, and more of clients are graduate students and undergraduate students. Which also surprised me at first, too, but when you think about it, it makes sense. That there is a stereotype about a poor graduate students, and that is true but especially when you look at the international graduate students, they're not allowed to work.
And so that means that, like most graduate students at least have a part time job or or an assistantship or something to supplement, to take the edge off of. So we do know that. But another problem with our data is sometimes we run reports just because somebody asks for it.
And I'm not sure that those 3,000 represents unique students. Or that includes a regular shoppers, we have regulars. We have, in fact, that's something that I'm going to try to do this summer is get a better handle on who are we serving, and if we can run those reports.
So when I say 3,000 that's, we can ask Julia on our way out. I think those are not unique students.
>> Rachel McManaman: And by unique you mean?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, not the second and third time. So every time a client comes in, even if they've been here before, they have to fill out the intake form and sign the food and security pledge and all that.
>> Rachel McManaman: A unique would be a one-time business.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, and we do get them. And we get a lot of new students. I work here every Tuesday with my service earning class, and I don't think it was this Tuesday, but last Tuesday, we had like at least 12 new clients.
And the reason that we know, we don't look at their data, obviously, that's confidential, but we ask just because if it's regular clients sometimes we recognize them, but even if we don't, we ask. Have you been here before? And then if they haven't, then we have to show them, and orient them.
But most days, most clients are returning.
>> Rachel McManaman: So, I saw the scale.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah.
>> Rachel McManaman: It's huge.
>> Dr Kim Buch: I know. I know it is.
>> Rachel McManaman: How much food does the pantry give out per month? And is it weight on that scale? Or is that just for
>> Dr Kim Buch: We're going to have to ask Julia if she has a report on that.
Right now, we are not weighing food going out. And the reason for that is we had a much smaller scale about this big. And for about a year and half, we wait clients, we waited coming in and we waited going out. And our goal was to trying to track waste.
And we just thought, well, why not? More data is better than lost data, and then in the middle of the semester, last semester, our scale broke. And so we just stopped weighing food going out and what we would do for food coming in, we would just write down The number of items and stuff.
So we just got this scale over winter break. And so we have started. And so we decided, Shawn and I mostly, we just decided we don't really need to know how much food is taken, we need to know how much food we're getting. And the assumption is, almost all of that is being taken.
We do have some waste, and we probably need to have another, revisit the whole idea of doing a better job of monitoring our waste. But right now, we are not. So Julia does, could give you a monthly report or a cumulative report on how much we receive. And we're pretty good about doing that, because we want to know that all of our donors are recognized and that sort of thing, thank you notes.
>> Rachel McManaman: Right, right. So you mention the intake form the students must fill in.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yes.
>> Rachel McManaman: When they get here.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yes.
>> Rachel McManaman: Is there any criteria in which students must meet in order to receive food.
>> Dr Kim Buch: No, not now. They do sign a food and security pledge, so the intake form does mostly ask for demographics that we've already talked about.
And then it also asked them do they want clothing assistance. And if they do, then Ashley, our other UPAP, she's also one of my students. She reaches out to them and then they sign up for one of our monthly attired for hire events. So there's different questions. Like after Hurricane Florence, we added a question in, per request of the state I believe, to see if, you know, the hurricane had impacted their food and security.
And, at the very end, there is a standard wording that we got, we benchmarked other food pantries when we opened and there's kind of a standard, you know, by taking this food I pledge Food and secure and so it's like. It's just, it's good practice to do that.
And then they just collect the radio button. But you asked what else was on there?
>> Rachel McManaman: Yep, just any criteria.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay. And so when we opened We had our biggest resistance to opening the food pantry on campus was [INAUDIBLE] because they provide food for students. And so they're like, hm.
And so in order to get their buy in and they also donate and support us In order to get that. For the first three or four years we would not, students had to be living off-campus. Since the new dean of students has arrived, Dr. Bailey he has said no that's not appropriate, and so we now have No criteria except UNC Charlotte student.
>> Rachel McManaman: That's awesome.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, but they all do sign the food and security pledge.
>> Rachel McManaman: The food and security pledge. So, we already hit, I'm looking at my questions here, approximately how much of the student population is food insecure, and we said about 25.
>> Dr Kim Buch: 25%, based on a very limited survey.
But Doctor Petersen, she is in anthropology. Her students I think are, they're doing a survey, another survey this year to, you know, to try to get a better handle on that. And just to update that number, so we should be able to, you know, have a little bit better feel for that once your study is complete,
>> Rachel McManaman: Right, right. So walk me through. If I'm a student who needs food from the food pantry, what do I do when I get here? What's the process other than the forms? Walk me through that step by step.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay, did anybody come while you were sitting out there?
>> Rachel McManaman: A few, I saw a few people.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay, so basically what you saw, Sophia is a real experienced greeter. So we have volunteers and/or interns who greet clients as soon as they come in the door. You see it's right there and the first thing that, if we don't recognize them, and the regulars will start signing in, but the volunteers are asked to ask the visitor if he or she has shopped here before.
And if they have, then they just fill out the form, take their bag, and then they start shopping. If they have not, then the volunteer is supposed to get up and show them the shopping areas and review our general rules. We do have rules. Most of them are posted, like the number of items.
You know sometimes we have limits on items that are really high demand, items. Other times we have items that two equals one or four equals one, but in general, our rules are that students take 12 items a visit. But that could end up being more items, because sometimes four items equals one item, and sometimes we have perishable items that we really want to go out fast.
So we don't count some of those items as toward their 12 total. A lot of times, we have that big basket by the freezer. Those all come from chart wells and those are near expiration but still good and those don't count or anything that is expired. We work with the dietitians and chart wells.
And you know most of those are best by dates. They're not bad date, you know it after that day they're not going to be dangerous. And food and security pledge also is a, harmless. So the university is not responsible for, so is everything. But not that we've had anybody complain about, but anyway, so you can leave here with 20 or 30 items You know, on any given visit but it's just the way, it's just a way that's many items are free.
Many count you know in multiples. And then there are some limits and those are posted. So a new shopper would need to kind of get acclimated to that. And then I don't do it when I'm working but you're supposed to halt, the clients are supposed to halt, and you'll see the ones that are regular they automatically hold the bag and then the volunteer is supposed to look in and check on, and every now and then there's somebody who'd like to you know 20.
Of these, and that, you know, we, a lot of times we run out of those we got a huge shipment because power crunch donated as cases, but granola bars and things like that or they go fast. And so sometimes they'll say, you know, they didn't read the sign.
You know, can you say but for the most part, we're very lenient. I work on Tuesdays. I have three regulars, moms, that come in and I know them all now. And if I see something in the freezer like we get food, our campus kitchen's program. Sometimes you know have a giant pork tenderloin frozen or a big jumbo bag of meatballs I'll give those.
Instead of breaking them down and so and especially our clients that we know have families they can take all they want.
>> Rachel McManaman: Do you have several clients with families?
>> Dr Kim Buch: We used to ask that on our intake form. We've experimented with a bunch of different intake forms. And we had so few that that question isn't on there anymore.
But usually, you get to know people And they'll say what they're looking for and stuff. So when we were collecting that as one of our items on our intake form, it was very low percentage, very low. Which also is disrepresentative of the campus population. However, my hunch is and it's an empirical question we should be trying to explore a little bit.
They are probably more dialed into the community resources and so our undergraduate students wouldn't know to even check that out, probably.
>> Rachel McManaman: Right, and what are some of these high demand items that you mentioned?
>> Dr Kim Buch: We run out of cereal really fast. We run out of granola bars really fast.
We run out of canned fruits, whereas, we don't run out of canned vegetables. What else seems to go really fast? Anything snack, we go through lots of international foods. Anything that is from an international grocery gets snatched up really quickly. We try because knowing our clientele, we always have tons of rice.
But any of the specialty rices get taken really fast. I would say we don't go through peanut butter like your regular food pantries that serve families, they go through a lot of peanut butter because of the international. Our peanut butter sits and sits. Canned meats, we serve a lot of vegetarians here.
There are international students. So, anything that really caters to them, they have certain soups that are known to be vegan and vegetarian and they have certain brands that they look for. But in general, the big boxes of cereal, those don't last anytime at all.
>> Rachel McManaman: And what types of food does the pantry provide, other than what you just mentioned?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, pretty much all non-perishable items that you see when you're out there, we're low right now, real low. But because our biggest donor is Loaves and Fishes, so food banks provide to food pantries. I learned that since I've gotten involved, and so, we are a customer of the food bank, and they give us just standard food bank things, canned, perishable.
Excuse me, non-perishable, but we also have other partnerships where we get perishable items. And so, we get bread like what they call day old bread from Publix. A volunteer drops shipments of breads and pastries from Publix on Mondays. We have a partnership now with the Bulb, which is a cool partnership that we get near expiration, mostly fruits and veggies, but also some cheeses and specialty items from Trader Joe's.
That's incredibly popular. When our garden starts producing, which we have had a little bit over the winter but not a lot. When our garden starts producing, we have our own produce. Who else do we get food from? Bread, I mean, we get canned goods regularly now from Harris Teeter.
Harris Teeter just presented us with a $10,000 check last Friday. The media was all here.
>> Rachel McManaman: Wow, congratulations, that's a huge amount of money.
>> Dr Kim Buch: And they have been partnering with us, but that was the first time that they. So, we'll get a lot of their store brand items and just standard non-perishable stuff, but in addition to that now finally we have.
For the first several years we had nothing but non-perishables and now we've been able to branch out a bit.
>> Rachel McManaman: How recent is that?
>> Dr Kim Buch: The Bulb just started this semester. The garden started, as I said, back in, probably didn't get anything really to give away until 2017, even though we started planning sooner.
Publix, I think we've had that about two years. So, it just depends on almost somebody you'll know, somebody like one of the students in Nicole's class, service learning class, like mine, she had a contact at the The Bulb. And so, she turned them on to us. And so things like that.
So, at any given time one partnership may be fading away, Food Lion is no longer working with us. And then another one comes on board, but our kind of our core source of food is Loaves and Fishes and we buy from them at greatly reduced rates. And then most of our stuff comes from student organizations and university offices that use us a designated charity.
>> Rachel McManaman: Right, that's actually one of my questions.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah.
>> Rachel McManaman: [INAUDIBLE] Actually,
>> Dr Kim Buch: Sure.
>> Rachel McManaman: But, I was wondering about the university support and do they support through monetary donations or in kind donations? I know, I was in a sorority here on campus as an undergrad and we were encouraged to volunteer and or donate here.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, good.
>> Rachel McManaman: We know it's here. But what can you speak to that?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, I would say, at least as much as the our Loaves and Fishes and probably more of the food and other things that we give away is, especially clothing closet stuff, is from the campus community.
So, it is the Greek organizations and the other 600 plus student orgs that we have on campus. As well as Psychology, the whole department can adopt the food pantry so that usually over the holidays, business units on campus, or departments on campus engage their employees in something that is service oriented.
And so the pantry benefits a great deal from that. So, most of what we give away is donated through the campus community, not through our partners, but through the campus community. And then individuals, like a woman that works in the College of Business on Tuesday was here, and she just brought a big bag full of frozen veggies and she wanted to stock our freezer.
She said that she was volunteering here one day and our freezer was empty, and it is sometimes. And the students were opening it up and she said, I made a vow, I do not want that to ever happen again. And so she just, as an individual, she comes and donates.
Tons of people donate their gently used professional clothing because. So, the chancellor's wife was one of our early champions of that. And she teamed up with Judy Rose, the athletic director. We got all kinds of very high-end clothing that first year. And then we got a parent's grant.
So, we do buy some new clothing with that, and it's a evolving thing.
>> Rachel McManaman: That's great.
>> Dr Kim Buch: But most of it does come from sororities like yours, and that's where we get our volunteers too.
>> Rachel McManaman: Right.
>> Dr Kim Buch: And it works.
>> Rachel McManaman: And these other partners, you mentioned to me Chartwells, The Bulb And then TIAA?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yes, yeah, TIAA gives us money.
>> Rachel McManaman: So that was my question.
>> Dr Kim Buch: And they bring groups of employees here to work on service projects.
>> Rachel McManaman: So other partners who do not donate might volunteer?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, we have lots of, not a lot of external partners who bring groups because that's just hard to manage, but TIAA is one of them.
And TIAA is in the process, or already did just now, donate a significant donation to our garden. And they may end up being a naming donor for our garden. We've been working with them for a while. I know we've gotten 10,000 plus from them. And then Chartwells donates in kind and nearly expired stuff.
The Swipes, that's coming right straight from Chartwells. Right, can you explain the Swipes program to me? Yeah, and you can Google it, too, you might be interested. It's a national organization called Swipe Out Hunger, started by students. And now it's a big national non-profit, and it's basically students that have unlimited Meal Swipes.
Their meal plan pays for them to eat as many meals as they want. Well, of course, you know, they don't nearly eat three meals a day which they could. And so Chartwells and other providers across the nation that do the same thing as Chartwells, there's a bunch of them, allows students with unlimited meal plans to donate a certain number, it's usually very small, ours is two a semester.
Yeah, and then those donated meals are linked up with students in need and it's literally transferred from one card to another. And it's a national program, which they do amazing things, and it's a good website, too. They've got tons of good information on hunger and food insecurity among college students.
And so it's a good source you might wanna check out.
>> Rachel McManaman: Wow, and so students who are purchasing meals at the cafeteria, rather than swiping their card they can just say-
>> Dr Kim Buch: Well, we have to set up a card reader so volunteers go and set up tables outside of Crown and Sovy.
And we have a sign out and we have student volunteers saying come on over, doesn't cost you anything, donate meals. And everybody says can I donate if I have unlimited, and everybody wants to do it because it costs them nothing, so it's a win-win. But the business model of Chartwells, if everyone on unlimited meals, they tell me, ate three meals a day they'd go broke.
I don't know if that's true, so they have to be very careful in managing that, and I get it. Because your parents when they bought you a meal plan, they wanna know that we're good stewards of that. Because you wanna know that students who are getting those swipes really do need them.
>> Rachel McManaman: And in addition to Chartwells, could you speak on some of the resistance, if you've received any?
>> Dr Kim Buch: It was all about space, I think actually, space was our main barrier in just getting started. I think that higher administration also, when we first were looking for space, they were building Sovy, and that is an obscenely fancy high-end, extravagant silly really, place for college students to go eat.
So I think it was that juxtaposition of that in your face, high end. They're promoting that and they're building that and they're investing in that, the university that is, the decision makers. And then to have publicity around the fact that, and by the way, we have students who need to shop, who don't have enough to eat.
I think there was some of that initially and so we fought a little bit of a push back, I think. Because I think mostly it was people, like university administrators are like me, they thought well college students are privileged you know, they don't need food stamps, they don't need help with eating.
And so after we got past that initial, I think, and then seeing that, there's one at UNC Chapel Hill. There's a food pantry that just opened up at NC State. You know, as long as it's not just our students that have this dirty little secret. So I think there was that nationally, as well as locally, a little bit of that, and I think we're way past that now.
It's just known that this is a problem that is part of part of being a college student. In fact, there's articles written, I when I read that last paper, one of the articles, the title was College is Making our Students Poor. You know, and it's true, so I mean, it's just a reality and I think we've grown into handling it well.
Our administrators aren't embarrassed by that now, but I think it was an issue at the beginning. And I know when I first started getting involved in it, when we first opened, I was very fearful that students would also feel stigmatized. And not want to show up with their fellow students and faculty and staff seeing that they did have this need.
>> Rachel McManaman: Do you have any sense of that?
>> Dr Kim Buch: No, not now, again I think that's part of the progress that's been made. Now we're serving a very very small percentage of students, so we're serving under 2% of the student population. At least that's what I wrote in that first article.
And if the research that I already told you about say that there's 25% of students that at least at some will be or have been food insecure, that's a big gap to 25. So are some of the students not coming because of perceived stigma, that I don't know.
But in terms of my sense is that I get my students here, I was working on Tuesday, one of my students from last year showed up. And she found out it from volunteering here with me last year, and I couldn't remember her name but I remembered. What's your name, and she, it was like yeah.
And all my students were there and some of our volunteers shop before they leave, they sign in and shop, so. My sense is no, but what about all the ones that aren't coming.
>> Rachel McManaman: That's true, that's one thing I noticed when I'm walking, how welcoming everyone is, and the chalkboard.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Isn't that cute?
>> Rachel McManaman: It's really cute.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, Julia did that.
>> Rachel McManaman: I really like it.
>> Dr Kim Buch: I like that too.
>> Rachel McManaman: Does the pantry work with any other neighboring university student pantries?
>> Dr Kim Buch: No but we have benchmarked others and have been benchmarked.
>> Rachel McManaman: Okay, what does that mean?
>> Dr Kim Buch: It means figure out what other people are doing.When we were first looking to open, we benchmarked with Campus Compact and some of the UNC system schools that were members of Campus Compact. And in fact, Campus Compact hosted some webinars for folks who were trying to start food pantries in the UNC system.
Most all of the schools in the UNC system now have an on campus food pantry. And so we benchmarked with them to figure out how do you do it, what are your rules? In some places, like we drove, actually Sean and I took some students up in the van.
Last year to NC State to see what theirs was like because they serve staff also. And I think that's something that we need to move towards at some point. Because we have maintenance staff and adjunct faculty who live below the poverty line. And so we went up to benchmark them.
And then we benchmark VCU, Virginia Commonwealth just because,they gave us all of their,like the food security package and all of their training materials and everything. So and since then, other pantries have benchmarked with us, asked us for our information or literature comparing notes and that sort of thing.
>> Rachel McManaman: Right.
>> Dr Kim Buch: But we don't specifically partner with anyone. Yeah, we just had Johnson C. Wales, is it Johnson C. Wales? No.
>> Rachel McManaman: Johnson & Wales.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Johnson & Wales. Sent two students out last semester too, because they are starting a pantry to benchmark with us.
>> Rachel McManaman: Well I interviewed a couple ladies last week with Food Connection.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah.
>> Rachel McManaman: And they were telling me that they partnered with Jocelyn and Wills and rescued surplus food and delivered it to people who need it. And it seems Like the food distribution network in Charlotte is very supported and very interconnected.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Since 2012, 2014 when this is starting, I mean, it's more than doubled.
I'm not kidding.
>> Rachel McManaman: Wow.
>> Dr Kim Buch: The food reclamation initiatives have more than doubled, I'm certain of it. USC Charlotte started food reclamation 20 years ago, we were early.
>> Rachel McManaman: What's food reclamation?
>> Dr Kim Buch: It's picking up food from our cafeterias, and now is what we do here in our freezers.
This Campus Kitchens is taking food from the [INAUDIBLE] and bringing it over here and packing up and putting it in ready to go meals. But for 20 years before that we had student volunteers with our van as parked in the back that would pick up the food and take it uptown.
We took it up too. We took food to Urban Ministry Center for two decades. And now that we have campus kitchens. Now we still, there's an excess, so we still send food there. But so even though there are programs like that, and have been for a long time, the number of them, and things like the and all this stuff, it's just It's awesome.
And community garden system that's taken off.
>> Rachel McManaman: Yeah so I actually have a colleague who interviewed a past president of the community.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Good.
>> Rachel McManaman: She actually asked me if I could ask you the relationship between the family tree in the community garden. I know you mentioned it a little bit.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay, good.
>> Rachel McManaman: Could elaborate.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay, well it's changed. I don't know if she, was that when it was the Levine Scholars' Garden?
>> Rachel McManaman: I couldn't tell you.
>> Dr Kim Buch: It's the one over behind architecture?
>> Rachel McManaman: I couldn't tell you.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Okay well-
>> Rachel McManaman: It might be.
>> Dr Kim Buch: So that's had a lot of transition.
It was started by a Levine Scholar. The Levine Scholars actually get a fund to start a charity And he this guy I forget his name because it was a long time ago but he started this garden that's behind architecture walked by I just walked by today. I walked through it to invest to get the broccoli, but it started as a community garden.
And it had, and then it changed hands and it got turned over to the garden plot, and they started using that not for a community garden but to train students in gardening.
>> Rachel McManaman: Okay.
>> Dr Kim Buch: And it was a lot of flowers and a yoga pavillion and the hand mix is beautiful.
And then they faded it and so they reach up us and we now have most of the beds and the signage in the garden ceases for the genome and the students pantry and then we have students from here who go over there and bring it back but we also have about 12 raise beds here outside and we're totally on those.
>> Rachel McManaman: So the community garden on campus is more or less an extension of the student pantry.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Except that it started first. It started first and then it evolved away from you know, veggies and serving at the people. Towards,the garden club took it over and they had different goals and but now it's a shared venture and our intern I actually we also have one of our interns like Sophia that is a community garden director.
They're supposed to coordinate with the garden club, the extent of which is happening right now. I don't know but that's the ideal.
>> Rachel McManaman: And so you receive produce. What kind of produce do you recieve?
>> Dr Kim Buch: Over the winter she did really well with broccoli and cabbage and herbs.
And then in the warm weather, we have tomatoes and peppers and things like that that tend to be more popular.
>> Rachel McManaman: Do you tend to get a lot of that fresh produce or is it-?
>> Dr Kim Buch: No but in the summer it's when it all comes. So many of our students are gone, we're only open one day a week so we have enough We do have enough.
And I have a student who was undergraduate research scholar last summer and she was monitoring that. We did some ways, but overall, it's a popular item. We have lots of vegetarians as I said, so those are very popular items. Yeah and you can walk through really any time you're over there is between Robinson and architecture.
okay, I think I know where you talking about. It's got the hammocks.
>> Rachel McManaman: The building around the curve?
>> Dr Kim Buch: There's no building although there's a pavilion and is in it and a garden shed. But it's just a big beautiful garden space with hammocks in. You know, it's cute.
>> Rachel McManaman: Yeah.
>> Dr Kim Buch: And then you'll see the signage in there.
>> Rachel McManaman: Okay. Yeah, I think it was actually the president of the garden club.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah. Yep.
>> Rachel McManaman: That rings a bell.
>> Dr Kim Buch: So we partner with her now, with them.
>> Rachel McManaman: That's fantastic. So I did tell you it would be a 45 minute interview.
We're approaching the time limit, and I consider [CROSSTALK] So thank you for your time.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Yeah, that's great.
>> Rachel McManaman: Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
>> Dr Kim Buch: No I think.
>> Rachel McManaman: I should have asked you.
>> Dr Kim Buch: No. I think you covered all the basis, I hope it fit in well enough with your needs just even though my mind, you know my background isn't about food.
I don't have any expertise in food. I can barely cook. [LAUGH] So you know it wasn't about that or it wasn't even about serving even though I'm a psychologist. It wasn't really about serving at-need people, it was more, I was coming at it from an educator wanting students to learn to serve, and I've done a lot of research in that area.
The impact of service on college students who serve. And it is important you know it enhances specific attitudes. It enhances their, there are studies that show it reduces stereotypes about the homeless, people in poverty, all of that stuff. So it's just good for students to serve. And I did forget to tell you this, I have another student, undergraduate scholar whose research I'm supervising.
She's also one of our interns with Sofia. Sofia is another scholar this summer but our study is not focusing on clients is focusing on volunteers. And I know this anecdotally but the summer we're gonna do the research We serve more students as volunteers than we serve students as clients, and to me that's huge.
>> Rachel McManaman: Interesting, how many student volunteer volunteers do you think you [CROSSTALK]
>> Dr Kim Buch: Well, that's what I am saying, it's an empirical question and we have very bad data. I have stacks of paper forms this high in my office, but now that we've gone on the iPads, I don't know.
But a week now, I'm gonna average it, 4 times 5. 20 plus that are here present. And then we have service learning classes, and learning communities who are doing group projects. This is my students that are creating this resource thing. And we have other students who are working on the partnership with The Bulb.
And we have students that are doing the meal kits, and we have, you know, all kinds. Lots of students that are, graduate courses. Like you, you're being served. We're serving you now, so that you can you enhance your education. And we have lots of other students. Graduate students in Communications give us marketing, you know, do marketing studies on how can we enhance our marketing.
And so, engage scholarship projects, student interns, student orgs. One of our interns, I don't know if she's here today, Autumn, started the Campus Kitchens Project. And she has a whole club. Then they come on Mondays and they package up the food. She drives the van over from Crown and.
And they come in here, and they have their, well, it's not here now. But they have their gloves and their sanitation wipes, and they package it up. And so whole groups of students, orgs, and classes, and learning communities. Not to mention the ones that sign up individually online to engage.
So it's an empirical question, but I am confident in saying that we have impacted more UNC Charlotte students in learning to serve than being served. I think that's awesome.
>> Rachel McManaman: That's really fantastic, that is really fantastic. It really seems like the pantry serves a dual purpose, so much more than just food.
And I think that really speaks to how it functions within the student community, but also the larger community. And creating that sense of caring for one another and community, that's fantastic.
>> Dr Kim Buch: I agree, I agree. So like I say, it wasn't a lot about food, but It wasn't only about food.
>> Rachel McManaman: And that's the best part.
>> Dr Kim Buch: But you know lots more about food than I do, I'm sure, and all of that. It's really exciting, I'm glad you're doing it.
>> Rachel McManaman: Thanks very much. Yeah the one thing that I've really taken from these interviews is the community aspect about it.
It's much less about the food than it is the benefits that come from it. And help helping others, and creating those relationships.
>> Dr Kim Buch: So it's not just here, if that's what you're finding in general. Well that's cool, that's really cool. Cuz I think a lot of times people look at it as much more transactional.
>> Rachel McManaman: Yeah, it's not.
>> Dr Kim Buch: You know, and it's not.
>> Rachel McManaman: Not at all.
>> Dr Kim Buch: Very cool.
>> Rachel McManaman: Thank you so much for coming down here [CROSSTALK]
>> Dr Kim Buch: Thank you, it's a great.
>> Rachel McManaman: It's been so fantastic!
>> Dr Kim Buch: It has been, I love this oral history thing. It's a new research approach.
Audra Ellis is the co-owner of Ellis Farms in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Rick and Audra Ellis decided in 2012 to restart the old Ellis family farm that had shut down in the 1970s. They raise pastured pork and chicken, sorghum to make sorghum molasses which the Ellis’ have been making for over 75 years, and they have Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. Ms. Ellis speaks about learning how to start a farm and farming techniques, as well as her experiences at the area’s farmers’ markets, its customers, and how they have responded to market demand.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:01:13||Ellis Farms and its products|
|0:01:36||The Ellis family sorghum molasses|
|0:04:15||How the Ellis' entered into farming|
|0:07:21||Making changes according to market demand|
|0:08:51||Learning how to farm|
|0:14:09||The challenges of starting a farm|
|0:16:51||Relationship with the State Extension Office|
|0:21:29||A typical day on the farm|
|0:25:05||Interest among the Ellis children|
|0:26:24||Identifying and treating Bumblefoot and other ailments|
|0:30:16||More changes according to market demand|
|0:33:00||Observations about other farms|
|0:36:53||The public understanding of food|
|0:40:25||Entering the farmers' market economy and customer response|
|0:42:21||Dealing with loss from the weather|
|0:44:24||Advertising and using social media|
|0:46:07||The impact of development on farming|
|0:47:53||The loss of dairy farms|
|0:50:11||Guernsey Girl Creamery and competing with box stores|
|0:54:18||Learning to deal with rejection|
|0:55:49||Membership in the American Dairy Goat Association|
|0:56:43||The local farming community|
|1:00:42||Receiving help and helping others|
|1:03:43||What people need to know about farmers and farming|
|1:07:55||The lack of interest among the younger generation|
|1:10:38||The future of Ellis Farms|
|1:12:51||Final thoughts: Supporting local businesses|
|1:16:23||End of Interview|
>> Tom Grover: My name is Tom Grover. This interview is part of the Queens Garden Oral Histories of the Piedmont Foodshed. An oral history project conducted by graduate students from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region.
Today's date is Wednesday, May the 8th, 2019. I am with Audra Ellis at Ellis Farms in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Audra would you please introduce yourself and tell us how long you've been farming.
>> Audra Ellis: Okay, sure. This is Audra Ellis. I am one-half of the ownership of the Ellis Farms.
Ellis Farms is owned by myself and my husband Rick Ellis and we started farming about 2012, I would say, is when we initially started everything out.
>> Tom Grover: Okay, so what is Ellis Farms and what do you produce on it?
>> Audra Ellis: Okay, we primarily raise pasture raised pork and chicken.
We also grow sorghum, which is used to make sorghum syrup or molasses, as some people call it. And my husband's family has been making molasses for probably close to 80 years in this area.
>> Tom Grover: Did you start out with sorghum or-
>> Audra Ellis: We've always made sorghum, the family has always kept that up and even without the produce and the animals and those kinds of things, his family's always grown sorghum and made molasses.
We are actually the last family in the county that still make molasses that in the old fashioned way. I think there's a couple families in Cleveland County that still do it. And a couple families in Gaston County that still do it. But as far as I know, we're the last family in this county that still makes sorghum syrup from molasses.
So we've, like I said, been doing that every season for the past umpteen generations [LAUGH].
>> Tom Grover: I grew up in New York State, upstate New York, and I knew a family that made syrup and is it similar process?
>> Audra Ellis: Well, if you buy molasses in the store, like what you see black strap molasses that molasses, comes as a byproduct from making sugar.
Like white sugar, so sorghum syrup is from the sorghum plant, so it looks like a sugar cane plant and it looks like cane, it's a long. It looks like corn as it's growing up, but then there's not going to be any corn coming off the stalk. It's just a straight stalk with leaves.
So when it's time to harvest, we plant it in like, June, July, harvest in the fall September October-ish time when it starts to get cooler, so we strip the leaves off and then we squeeze the juice out of the stalk. And then to make the syrup you're basically doing a reduction.
So you're cooking that syrup over a fire, over an eight, ten hour period until it reduces down to a dark syrup. So it has a consistency of like maple syrup, maybe a little thicker than pancake syrup, but it's a dark, brown color, almost like an amber color.
>> Tom Grover: Okay, I know they always burn off more sap than they actually get syrup in.
>> Audra Ellis: Hm-mm.
>> Tom Grover: Is it similar with sorghum?
>> Audra Ellis: Similar, cuz we may start out with 160 gallons of juice and end up with 25 gallons of syrup once it's all cooked down.
>> Tom Grover: Okay.
>> Tom Grover: So what then influenced you to become a farmer?
>> Audra Ellis: It was really my fault probably, because I said that I wanted to get a few chickens and when I said few, I had in my mind, like six chickens.
Get a few eggs, and go with that. Once we started with the chickens, then I kept bringing chickens home and well this one's cute, or this one's, you know, I was looking at colors, and feather color, and whether they had feathered legs and bushy hair and all kinds of different, but I never knew how many breeds of chickens there were, til I started wanting to get chickens for eggs.
So we started out with six chickens and then that moved quickly to probably 20 at that point, and it was around that time that I have a couple friends who have goats. So we initially started out with two pygmy goats. But we quickly figured out, basically you're just raising those for fun as a pet.
I had several friends who raised dairy goats. So we sold the pygmies and brought in a pregnant dairy goat and we got her and another goat as her companion, and that's how we got into raising the Nigerian Dwarf breed of dairy goat which is as a miniature dairy goat.
So, once we got those, that gravitated into us getting registered with the American Dairy Goat Association and we started doing some breeding and things like that and around that time, my husband was like, I really want to revamp the family farm. And I was like what are you talking about.
And he was like, well, my papa used to raise vegetables and what they used to call truck farming and he would take his produce all over and sell to various businesses and things like that, and sell from the back of the truck. And he said, you know we've got all this land here.
Like I said in that pre-questionnaire, Ellis Farms is comprised of about, well the original home place was 100 acres. So everybody on the 100 acres is related, so I jokingly call it the compound because we're all family here. So Ellis farms is comprised of about 30 acres outta the 100.
So that's the portion where my home and my father-in-law's home, who lives next door to us, our residences are on those 30 acres and then we farm, I would say probably 25 of that or so. So with that property being where we grew the sorghum and things like that, we decided to expand and we initially did produce.
We we got involved with the local farmer's market. We set up as a vendor. We started selling produce and we were doing pretty well. But what we noticed was that there were other produce vendors. But there was no, there was one beef vendor. There was nobody there that so pork or chicken.
So we started trying to think, okay, we need a business plan here. Do we wanna be one of four people selling produce and all selling from the same thing? Or do we wanna go and start making money and providing a product that nobody else has here. So that's how we got into the pasture pork and chicken and kind of moved away from the produce.
Now we still have garden, That we have, amongst ourselves and family. And if we have overages, we do sell those at the market. But that's when we decided to fence off and start doing pasteurized pork and getting our meat handlers license so that we can process chicken on farm and sell that chicken publicly.
So that's kinda how we gravitated, it was more of a business decision to go from just growing vegetables and selling eggs to, to really getting into it. And, getting our license and we have to be inspected by the state of course, since we sell meat publicly, so getting into that and learning the ins and outs and that.
It's all been a learning process because neither of us have a back ground in agriculture other than just growing a garden and raising cats and dogs. I learned that we learned a lot on YouTube, and I bought books on raising goats and books on raising chickens. And learned how to give a chicken a shot and doctor an injured leg and all those kinda things that it comes with.
But the only formal education we did, which was the best money I ever spent was, I did a it's called a summer short course at Western Piedmont Community College up in the mountains. It was four Saturdays over the summer. And one day was goat day, one was chicken day, one was, can't remember what the third day was, and that was veterinary care day.
And I spent a 100 bucks to do that short course. I learned so much information and doing that and that kinda helped, just give us some more, you know, stuff in the toolbox
>> Tom Grover: Was it, was it put on by the school or?
>> Audra Ellis: It is.
>> Tom Grover: So do they have?
>> Audra Ellis: Western Piedmont has a pretty extensive agricultural program with classes and you can actually get like an associate‘s degree and some certifications through them. They actually have a farm, a campus farm, which is where we did a lot of the hands on classroom work with the goats. They actually have goats in a pasture and caretakers and students that are actually out there working with the goats and things like that.
That was pretty cool. They have a greenhouse and all sorts of stuff.
>> Tom Grover: That's the first I've heard of that
>> Audra Ellis: Really?
>> Tom Grover: Yeah, Yeah I think it's great but I was just wondering if, how did you learn about that?
>> Audra Ellis: I think somebody shared a link on Facebook.
And myself and a friend of mine who also raises goats she has pygmies, and she also has chickens. She was like I'm gonna take this course. Do you wanna take it with me? And to cuz neither one wanted to go by ourselves. So I looked into it. And we saw what they were doing.
And at that time we had chickens, we had goats. The veterinary care piece was good and I was like, yeah this sounds interesting. So we paid our $100 tuition and and went and did it. And it was very informative, very well put on and it's, because it was in the summer, it was helpful.
And on a Saturday so we didn't have to take time off work and things like that. So it's very easily accessible for plain Jane people like me who work every day. But, so that we didn't have to take time off work. And for 100 bucks for all that we got and that series was really good.
>> Tom Grover: Have they offered other programs like that too?
>> Audra Ellis: Yeah, they have a whole series of stuff. They have summer short courses. You can go on their website and see, they do like a business class for farmers and and marketing, and all sorts of things to help small farmers succeed, I guess is the best way.
>> Tom Grover: Based on your experience there, what did you notice with the class? Was it well attended?
>> Audra Ellis: There were probably 15 of us in the summer short course and they were from all over. There were from multiple counties in this region, the mountain western region. Probably because of where the college is situated because it was good hour drive for us to get there.
It was in Marion, I think, where Western Piedmont is? But it was the fact that they had hands on stuff, because they have an own campus farm, that was helpful versus just talking to me in the classroom. And being able to show me how to give injections. And talk to me about what certain diseases look like and show me what to watch for.
And point out different things on the body of the goat that I need to pay attention to. Teach me how to, trim hooves and that's how I learned how to trim goat hooves myself, versus having to get a vet to come out and do it was taking that course, because I didn't know what I was doing.
So learning in that class and I was able to come home and demonstrate and show my husband so he could help me do it. Cuz it takes two of us. One to hold, one to trim. So that was very helpful and I thought the price tag, it was 100 bucks was very affordable for what you get, in the class.
>> Tom Grover: When you were dealing with, getting the meat license, and just in general getting the farm up and running, did you find the experience difficult? Or was it just pretty much straight forward?
>> Audra Ellis: It's sort of half and half. I would say, it would be difficult for someone who is not research savy, like if you didn't know a general idea of where to look or what to search for to find what you need.
If you're not savy in that regard, the information is difficult to find. But I'm college educated. So I kinda can navigate, and research, and find things. And I have a background in criminal justice. That's what my full time employment is. So I investigate things by nature, by trade.
That's what I do. So but if you have no background in that, it could be difficult to find, to find out okay, what are the requirements for a meat handler's license? And how do you get tax exemption status, so you that you don't have to pay sales tax for feed, or supplies, at a tractor supply.
Or cuz we had to file with that, to be tax exempt as a farm and there's paperwork and tax paperwork that you know order to maintain that certification. There's paperwork every year that you have to turn in to maintain your tax exempt status. And there's paperwork you have to turn in for the county, so that your continue to pay farmer's tax on property.
If you're not savvy in navigating that research and that it could be difficult Difficult for a layperson if you don't have a connection that you can call and say, where'd you find this, or how did you locate that? And for me, if I couldn't find it, I have enough people in this community who also have existing farms, that I could call them and say, hey, I'm having difficulty finding this out.
Or have you ever dealt with this before? And people are open and helpful, and everybody kinda bands together and helps one another. But if you didn't have that resource, if you didn't have other farms that you're connected to that have been through the process, or you weren't research savvy, it could be difficult.
>> Tom Grover: Have you dealt with the extension?
>> Audra Ellis: Mm-hm, quite a bit, mm-hm. Our extension used to primarily deal with our farmers markets. But they stepped away from maintaining the farmers markets a couple years ago, and it switched over to the county parks and rec office. So previously, we dealt a lot with the extension because of our relationship with the farmers market.
But we do soil testing, and so we get our soil samples and turn it in with the extension. And if my husband has crop questions, fertilize questions, we have specific agents that specify with that, so he'll call them and ask questions. So we deal with them some, too.
>> Tom Grover: Okay, and your relationship with them is good?
>> Audra Ellis: Mm-hm, mm-hm, yeah, actually, we've developed a good enough relationship with them that, last year, they did a local Lincoln County farm tour, and they asked us to be a part of that. So they did one end to Lincoln County to the other, from the eastern end to the western end.
I think they did four stops in a day, and we were one of the stops. So they had a big charter bus with people on it that brought them in. And we did a wagon tour around the farm, and sold some of our product, and talked about our stuff, and they got to see the animals, and things like that.
>> Tom Grover: When did you start opening the farm up to tours like that?
>> Audra Ellis: Let's see, it was probably a good two or three years after we were established and up and running that we were involved with the Charlotte Area Farm Tour. We did that one year, and then, for whatever reason, I'm not sure why they stopped doing it.
But Rick and I, when we first started out, we went to Chapel Hill and did, I think it's called the Triad Farm Tour, or something along those lines. But we spent the night in the Chapel Hill/Durham area, and it was a two-day thing that our ticket paid for.
And it was on a charter bus, and we spent the night in a motel. And one day, you go to this many farms, and another day, you go to this many farms. And I had a notebook, and I was taking pictures, because that was when we started out.
So that was the best way for us to get information from what other people have tried and failed at or tried and worked, and what worked for them might not work for us. Asking questions and things like that. But that was a really cool thing that we decided to do and spend the money on early on in our journey, I guess, was going to another area that offered farm tours.
Now, of course, these were bigger farms, or medium to large size farms. But we saw chickens, and produce, and lots of different types of production types of businesses. And I took notes, and we came home and put our heads together, and kind of formulated a plan of, okay, what's gonna work for us, and how are we gonna do this?
Cuz the ultimate plan for us is, once we retire from our full-time jobs, our income will probably be from the farm. I can retire from the state in seven years. So my wish list is to have a farm store or a general store type setting. Cuz we've got this area of the property, where we can clear off this corner, and put up a little building with a small parking lot.
And I would love to be able to sell our pork and chicken, and bring in produce from other farmers. And bring in jams and jellies from other small local businesses, and sell it from from here. And that's my retirement plan, I hope, [LAUGH] cuz seven years will pass before I'm ready.
>> Tom Grover: Seems like every day is getting faster and faster. So how would you describe a typical day on the farm?
>> Audra Ellis: Well, again, like I said, we work full time, and we have two kids. So Monday through Friday, Rick works for his cousin, driving a log truck. His family has a logging business, and has for many years.
And so he leaves at 1:30 in the morning, typically, anywhere from 1:30 to 4:30, depending on where the logs have to go. And so either way, I do all the morning feeding, so I set my alarm anywhere between 6:00 and 6:30.
>> Audra Ellis: I get up, I go feed the dog, cuz we have a livestock guardian dog that lives with the goats.
So he gets fed, the goats get fed and watered, the pigs get fed and watered. Anything else incidental that pops up from overnight, I have to deal with. So for instance, currently, it's kidding season for the goats. So if a mama has gone into labor during the night, and we didn't realize it or didn't know, then I've got to assess any emergency that pops up, or deal with that.
Sometimes we have to get up in the middle of the night and address issues. We actually have a camera in the barn. When we had babies being born, we had one mama in one stall, and one mama in another stall. And I could pull it up on my phone and watch, and check on babies, and check and see if somebody had gone into labor.
So we use some technology around here, too [LAUGH]. We don't do it completely old school. But that saves me from having to physically walk to the barn at 2 o'clock in the morning to check on somebody when I can pull it up on my phone. And not everybody does that, so we do [LAUGH].
So I get up and get everything fed, come back here and get the kids up and out the door to school. Then I'm up and out of the door to work, all in the span of an hour, once I get back in the house from feeding. Then in the evening, my husband does the evening feeding.
But if he's coming home from work late, or if something's broken down and he's having to fix it, then there's got to be somebody to pitch in and get the evening feeding done. Because everything's fed twice a day. So yesterday he was working on something, and he said, I need you to feed for me.
So I come in from work, change clothes. And go do what we need to do. The kids are older. Drew is 17, and Addison is almost 11. So they're both at the age where they're very helpful. If I can't get it, and Rick can't get it, then Drew has to go feed.
Addi likes messing with the babies. So when the baby goats are being born she's handing me towels to help clean off faces. And make sure the little ones are breathing and things like that, but it's truly a family. We don't have any employees. It's just the four of us and my father-in-law who is 74.
And he and my husband do all the planting and the ploughing and all that kind of mechanical work, building this or that. It's just us. We don't-
>> Tom Grover: How much interest have the kids shown in farming?
>> Audra Ellis: Drew, none at all. Only because it's a have to for him.
He's involved in the marching band at school, that's his track. He wants to major in music in college so that's where his mindset is. But they both understand that this is what we do, and this is part of the responsibilities in this household is we have a farm.
If vegetables need to be picked or if we need help making molasses or if we need help feeding the animals. Or this Saturday, Drew was in the barn helping me trim hooves, cuz he was the holder. And I was the trimmer because my husband was doing something else on the farm.
So it's a requirement versus a choice. Now the younger one has shown quite a bit of interest in veterinary type of stuff. She's real hands on when I'm having the bumblefoot surgery on a chicken. She's right there wanting to see what I'm doing. And helping with the baby goats when they're being born and asking questions, and she's showing some interest in that.
>> Tom Grover: Can you give just a brief description of what bumblefoot is?
>> Audra Ellis: Sure, bumblefoot is a staph infection basically. But on a chicken you first notice their issue because they'll have a limp, and if you start noticing a limp you're automatically checking to see. Okay, did something bite you, attack you, something, what's wrong with your leg.
So normally when you flip them over and they've got their three claws or whatever. Typically what bumblefoot looks like is a boil or a cyst or a hard corn, almost. Like a person will get a corn on the bottom of their foot so it actually has a core but it's cuz it's staph.
It can be spread to humans. So I have to be really careful when I'm doing it because Clorox wipes and cover everything up and things. But you actually have to cut the core out with either a scalpel, you find scalpels at Tractor Supply, syringes, all that's at Tractor Supply, to try and basically cut the core out.
And then Neosporin, bandage it up with that wrap and send them on their way. But then you just keep checking it and then eventually you can take off the wrap, and it's healed up. But if you don't take out that staph infectionm that bumblefoot area, it can eventually spread to them and cause lameness.
And cause some permanent damage to the feet and the legs of the chicken. So, our chickens are, we raise the meat chickens for production so those are short around here because those are processed at 12 weeks old. But we have egg chickens who could be here two, three, four years even.
So typically, but it's those older egg birds that develop bumblefoot. Because they're here longer and they're out walking. The meat chicken, we don't ever have to worry about that because they're not here long enough. Because they're processed so quickly, but it's normally the egg birds that we have that issue with.
But it's one of those things I learned in that class, was what bumblefoot was and how do you get rid of it. And there's actually multiple videos on YouTube which is how I learned. I'll never forget the first time I did the surgery. I had my tablet propped up with the chicken.
And I would start, stop, rewind, now what did she say, and back up. And trying to get it right. That's how I learned to do it, because vets don't deal with chickens. You won't find an avian vet anywhere around here. So if you have a chicken issue, you gotta figure out how to deal with it yourself, because vets typically don't mess with chickens.
So I learned from other people who have chickens, if you have a chicken with a respiratory issue, and they're struggling to breathe. And they've got bubbles coming out of their nose and they sound like they have rocks in their chest. You know there's a respiratory issue. So that's how I learned what medication at Tractor Supply to go get, how to give them a shot in the breast and all those things.
I learned every bit of that from other people with chickens because vets won't come out and see chickens. You can find a horse vet, a goat vet, a pig vet, a dog and a cat vet, but you won't find one that will do chickens. So you gotta figure it out yourself in order to save money but keep the chicken alive.
There's all sorts of things that you can do.
>> Tom Grover: So have you seen changes in how you've operated the farm? And if there were changes, what drove them?
>> Audra Ellis: Probably the biggest change that we made was when we switched from vegetable production to animal production.
>> Audra Ellis: A, out of necessity, because there were multiple vegetable producers at the farmer's market.
And we didn't want to have to compete with four or five other people when we could concentrate on one thing that we could be good at. So we did that change, but also along with that, we had to downsize. Because we were killing ourselves with the work, and it was hard to do, trying to maintain a huge garden or pasture of vegetables and work full time.
When you're having to get up in the morning and pick before daylight, because you had stuff that needed to come out of the ground before it got too hot. Or by the afternoon it was too big or you had tomatoes splitting on the vine, because you weren't getting them off fast enough.
And it was just a time management thing. We were picking in the morning, picking vegetables in the evening, plus taking care of animals. And we were running ourselves to death because we don't have paid employees to do it for us. And so we were like, we gotta figure something out here, we're killing ourselves.
So that switch kind of all happened at the same time. Where we moved away from the produce and downsized, tremendously downsized the produce. And concentrated more on the meat and the pork. Or the pork and the chicken. Just because we just couldn't do it. Physically, we were exhausted.
And largely because we basically worked full-time. So maybe one day when one of us retires, we can move more towards that and add more to that and start that back again. But, not right now with both of us working full time, there's just not an option. We wouldn't mind having our little garden with my father in law.
And reap the benefits of that, but not for public sale. It's just too hard.
>> Tom Grover: Any of the other farmers that you know, have you seen simillar changes with them as well? Are they scaling back?
>> Audra Ellis: Most of the farmers I know, I met several that do come like commercial farming, like Mitcham farms in the Western end of the county.
They have the contract with Dole and they raise the raspberries. But they concentrate on blackberries. And then the housers have chicken houses. And there is chicken houses, you've got the Tyson, andyou got the other competing, we have those commercial chicken houses. And a lot of those folks farmed other things.
But, big-box stores and things like that and they have to choose to concentrate on, do a contract with Tyson and raise chickens. Or do a contract with Dole and raise blackberries, because whatever else it was that they were doing at the time wasn't profitable, because small farms are dying out.
And selling off, and farms are being sold to build neighborhoods. And you see that all over the place, and it's happened here, where families go out of business because they're not making any money. So I don't foresee us ever going commercial big scale like that. I think my mentality is based on what I see, people, I feel like now care more about what they're eating.
And they care more about what goes into their food. And you see more people asking questions at the farmer's market about, how do you raise your pigs and what do they eat? And where do they live? And that's why we don't mind doing farm tours. I want you to come see where they sleep.
Cuz if you look at somebody who raises commercial pork like Smithfield or some of those other ones. And you do research and you look at the facilities and the conditions that those pigs live in versus at my house and how I know my pigs are treated and what they eat and that kind of thing.
I would much rather eat my pork than what I've seen in my research than eating that pork. Cuz you can ask me questions, but I can't ask that farmer that wrote, I can't ask them anything. Because I don't know them and they're not local, you know what I mean?
So I think that buying local and supporting small local farms, I think that mentality is positive in this area. So I see people going and seeking out farmers markets and trying to support the local folks here in Lincoln County. And are on the outskirts, cuz our products are in Lincoln, Cleveland, and county farm.
So I see people wanting to work together and come together and support local farms and sell their products and things like that. So I don't see us going on the grand scale, huge like that. I like it to be small and manageable. Maybe one day we can hire some people when we retire, but I don't see that happening, because we're just not big enough to have staff, but I like it that way.
>> Tom Grover: Do you think there's a disconnect between the public and their understanding of where the food comes from?
>> Audra Ellis: I think there used to be. I think it's getting better, at least in my experience. Cuz I know when we first started out, selling at the Farmer's Market, you would see people who would question, why's this so expensive?
I can go to the grocery store and get pork chops for nine on a pound or whatever. But again, I go back to how was that pork raised? What did it live in? What did they eat? Depending on what breed of pork you raise, like we raise a heritage breed.
Berkshire, which if you do research, Berkshires are leaner meat pig. And it's more, if you watch Gordon Ramsay on Food Network or any of those food shows, Gordon Ramsay raises Berkshires. Because that's his choice of pork and he's a world renowned chef. So you have to research the breed, you have to research the quality in the meat, the taste of the meat, and whether a more fatty breed or a more lean meat breed.
There's always things that kinda go into it. But I think people are more accepting of it now. And mainly because with media sharing information about videos about under cover operations when they go into these facilities. And they see how they butcher animals and how the animals are kept in confinement and things like that.
I think that's kind of opened people's minds up about using chemicals and different things like that. I mean, we're not certified organic, but we practice as organically as possible because the certification process is very expensive to be certified organic. We only use medications with our animals as a last resort.
If we can't get them healthy any other way, then we will call the vet for consultation from them. What do we need to do to protect, to keep this animal alive? If we can't fix it ourselves, then that's the last resort.
>> Audra Ellis: But I think that people are more open to supporting local businesses, not just farmers, but just local businesses in general.
Because you've got so much competition with big-box stores. The Walmarts and the Targets and all those things that sell groceries, and we're competing with them just like the next person. But I think people are more understanding about Wanting to help,
>> Audra Ellis: Local farmers and small business people in general.
More so now than it used to be when we first started out. I think people's minds have opened up a little bit more.
>> Tom Grover: So how did you get started in with the farmer's markets?
>> Audra Ellis: I mean I knew we had a farmer's market because I would go and I was a purchaser for a long time, and my parents were and my aunt goes to the farmer's market.
So when we started doing the farm, I immediately knew that was one way we had to utilize to market our product was to get out there and sell it. Not just try to sell it from the farm but actually bring it out to other people. I asked people, okay, if I wanna be a vendor at farmer;s market, who do I talk to, and went that way.
So we've expanded this year and we started selling also at the Denver farmer's market to try to capture that end of the county. Which is more towards Lake Norman and that, which is a whole different demographic, really, from this end of the town. Again, because we work full time, we only do markets on Saturdays.
So we're having to, several times in a month, we're at the Lincolnton market. And then once a month we go to the Denver market, so that we can still hit that area. But it was just asking questions.
>> Tom Grover: What's the response been for you with the customers?
>> Audra Ellis: Really good, a lot of people have told us they come to us for our sausage, our breakfast sausage, our Italian sausage, and our pork chops, which are primarily our biggest sellers, are those three things.
And then of course in the fall, we sell out of molasses every single time. And typically, like last year, because we had those monsoon rains and winds come right around the time it was time to process the sorghum, we lost a lot. We probably lost, gosh, a ton of cane just because the wind blew it down and we couldn't save it.
And we had a wait list for molasses and we just had to prioritize. Whoever asked us for molasses first, they were at the top of the list and we literally had a list. And as we would make the molasses and jar it up, I would go down the list and mark off.
And there were people who didn't get any, because we ran out. Because we couldn't salvage what was blown over by the wind. But the fact that people want our product enough to have a waiting list, [LAUGH] that's a lot to be said. And it only comes around once a year.
So normally when we plant the sorghum, I put on our Facebook page and everything, here's the start of it. Make sure you watch and pay attention, and people will know, okay, when are you cooking? As soon as they know that it's almost time to harvest the sorghum, then they'll message me on Facebook, I need four quarts of molasses or I need this.
Cuz people will buy Christmas presents, buy a case at a time, and give it away, because you can't find it around here. It's one of those things that, again like I said, not a lot of people make it anymore. We're the last one in this county that still does it.
So that, the fact that I can get somebody from Denver, and we don't live there, never gone to school there, it's 30, 45 minutes, the other side of the county. They'll seek us out and say somebody told me about your pork chops, I want to get a pack of pork chops.
So word of mouth and advertising, we utilize social media whereas a lot of old time farmers, they don't do that. But if you're gonna reach out to the next generation and get word out about what you're doing, you have to utilize social media because that's how people communicate now.
So we have a website and we have a Facebook page, we have an Instagram. I'm an open book, and people can ask me questions about anything. If people say, can we come out and see the baby goats, sure, we work it around our schedule. But that's the only way for me, I feel like, to get your name out there and get people to try your product, is because you have to be open to answering questions and talking to people.
That's why Rick, he tells me I'm the marketing person, my husband. Because he's the hands in the dirt, the mechanic, the get on the tractor. That's his me time is when he's on the tractor and he plugs his head up with his ear phones and listens to his music while he's plowing.
Whereas I'm the people person, I'm the one that sells at the market, I'm the one who does the advertising on Facebook. But that's just our personalities, I'm the talker, he's not, he'll talk to anybody but he's just more down to earth about it than I am, so.
>> Tom Grover: So, earlier you mentioned a lot of the smaller farms going out of business and selling off for housing.
>> Audra Ellis: Yes, my husband calls them house farms.
>> Tom Grover: House farms? Okay, that is the first time I've heard that.
>> Audra Ellis: You sell farm property and all of a sudden there's a neighborhood, they are growing houses out there. [LAUGH]
>> Tom Grover: How much has that impacted your operations?
>> Audra Ellis: Not any I don't think, but that's just because we're small scale.
It doesn't impact us at all.
>> Tom Grover: Are there any other farmers nearby that this has happened?
>> Audra Ellis: Not on this end, I mean there are some on the western end of the county. I mean, primarily what we've seen it with is family dairy farms. I have a friend, Janet Reeves-Morgan, her family had Reeves Brothers Dairy for many many, many, many years.
And then they had to close up shop. My family had a dairy farm, which was Water's Dairy off of Star Town Road in the central area of the town. And my uncle, they had to close that dairy farm, so I've primarily seen it with dairy industry, more so than crop production or beef production kinda thing.
It's more been the dairy industry, at least in this county, there's a lot of dairy farms have closed down. There's still one or two that I know of on the western end of the county, but I don't of any other than them.
>> Tom Grover: What do you think is the reason behind the dairy farms being so susceptible to that?
>> Audra Ellis: I don't know per se with each individual family what happened and why they had to shut down. But if I had to venture a guess, small time berries can't compete with the big commercial operations. Excuse me, I saw an article. I wanna say it was within the last week or two that compared milk prices.
And it was showing the price for Great Value Walmart milk versus a different brand of milk that was from a local small town dairy, and the price difference between the two. And because Walmart can sell their milk for whatever it is, 2, 2.50 a jug? And versus the small dairy that's organic or whatever different advertisement things on it.
But anyway, that jug of milk is 5 or $6. They can't sustain themselves, unless you have somebody who's specifically marketing and wants that certain type of milk versus the mass produced milk. Because they all come from farms, they all come from dairy cows. But there is a vast difference between the two types of farms that are producing milk and while one can be produced cheaper.
Now on the flip side of that, the farmers that are producing the Walmart milk, they are not getting the money that they should be getting. Because all the money gets filtered out on higher up the food chain. And why they are able to offer the milk at $2 a gallon, but that farmer that helped produce the milk, they're not getting their fair share the cut either, I don't think.
But I have a friend who owns a diary in Cleveland County, Guernsey Girl Creamery. And she's a small diary I think she has less than 15 cows. And she sells milk from the farm. And she makes cheeses and she's an award winning cheesemaker in North Carolina. But she's talked about how people will come to the farm [COUGH] and want to buy her milk but question well, why is this 5 or $6 a jug versus I can go to Walmart and get it for 2?
So she's had those same questions and had those same concerns and then things like that. And she has to explain herself why her milk is priced at what it is, because they work their butts off over there. And in order for them to make any money to make a living and they farm full time, they don't have full time jobs.
This is their job. So they have to have the money to feed the cows and she sells her cheese to restaurants and sells it from the farm and she's opened up a farm store recently. And so she has the community that comes to her for her product to get her butter and her cheeses and her milk.
But they work their tails off and that's why it costs $6 to get her pimento cheese versus going to the store and getting pimento cheese for $2. There's a reason behind it [LAUGH] but some people don't get that, and they just see the price tag. Not what went into to the price tag.
So that's that that's still an ongoing struggle, not just with us. Even with, I've seen people come to the farmers market and they want fresh green beans, but they want to pay BiLo prices for it. They want to pay Walmart prices for it. They don't want to pay what we are asking for it.
And they question, some people will question and they'll turn around and get mad and leave. And we've all experienced that, but some of it's just lack of education. Some of it is, they're set in that commercial commodity price. To me, you get what you pay for. I would much rather pay $2 a pound for fresh green beans.
That I know the person who grew it, and I knew what they did to it, whether they sprayed it or didn't spray it, and picked the bugs off of it. And I talk to them every day, I'd much rather pay $2 a pound for their fresh green beans than to go to BiLo and pay $0.99 a pound for what they say is fresh green beans.
I don't when that was picked, cuz I guarantee you, the farmer's market, they pick those green beans within the day or two before market. Or that morning sometimes, they're out there picking tomatoes and whatever. You can't beat, that's fresh as fresh can be, straight off the vine. But if you get it in the grocery store, how long has it been in that package?
How long's it been sitting there in the refrigerator at the grocery store? I'd much rather pay more just for the taste alone. But some people don't get that. [LAUGH] They'll argue with you about it. And some of them you can't convince them. There's some people they're too set in their ways and you can't convince them of why one is better than the other.
And at some point you just stop convincing them. I can't make you buy my product. I just have to keep the people happy who want to buy the product.
>> Tom Grover: Was that a hard lesson to learn?
>> Audra Ellis: Mm-hm, and I originally it would be hard. You would have people walk away from your table mad because you're asking to pay 7.99 a pound for a pork chops.
And they would say, well I can get that at this price at BiLo. And you try to rationalize with them about why your price is what it is. And then originally when that would happen and they would walk away from your table and not buy anything and they'd get mad and leave the whole market.
And you would feel bad and it will hurt your feelings, but eventually you just kinda have, you can't please everybody. But I know that I have people who are upset when I sell out of pork chops and I don't have any left, and that's the people that I work for.
That's the people that I wanna please and they'll, and I know that they'll keep coming back. But the person who gets mad about it, they don't understand the concept of local farms and farmers markets anyway, if they get mad about the prices that any of us at the market has.
They don't understand the concept of the farmer's market or buying from micro farmers cuz they get mad about the prices that we offer. They've missed the whole point in my opinion.
>> Tom Grover: Do you belong to any kind of organizations or associations?
>> Audra Ellis: We are members of the American Dairy Gate Association.
That's the only, I would think, paid membership thing that we do.
>> Audra Ellis: That, I give him a call, that's only thing I can think of that we pay to be a part of. We like our home loan is through ag first or, which is a branch off a Carolina firm that so, we get, I guess, technically, we're members of that, by virtue of that's where our mortgages through, because we have a farm mortgage.
So we get, benefits from that, and then, access to resources that way.
>> Tom Grover: How would you describe the local farming community? Earlier, said it was, a lot of people that were very helpful.
>> Audra Ellis: My experience on the front end was very nervous, because I didn't know how we would be received as as news farmers coming in.
If you have somebody who we've been doing this for years, and years, and I thought I don't want to step on anybody's toes. I don't want us to show up and plop our goods out on the table, and be competing for their money. And it was mixed, honestly, at the beginning.
There were farmers who embraced us, and we're glad that we were there as a new vendor to bring fresh had people in, I think, there were other farmers at the market who looked to us as we're taking money from them. We're taking away their customers, because now, they're gonna tell him what you have what I have kinda thing, and that, again, played into our decision to switch from produce to meat.
Because it was a competition, when you've got four different farmers who have the same type of tomato. You're all competing for somebody to come and pick your tomato versus their tomato. So, [COUGH], we would see price competitions, and people getting angry, because they're similar to my 50 cents to per pound line, and that's why I was coming to their table, and people could get pretty nasty, pretty slippery, and on the outside looking in, because I was not one of these longtime farmers market people that have been coming for years, I was the new guy, but I watch people.
And I don't like conflict, so I'm like, okay. How do we avoid getting into this tit-for-tat stuff that I was seeing'? And so, that played into our decision as a way out to switch, primarily, into the main. But this past year, or two years ago, there was another port vendor that started coming to the farmer's market, and I made a point.
I remember how it was when we were doing produce. Some people were not happy that were new people there. Some people loved us and accepted us, but there were other people that were not happy that we were a new produce standard. So knowing how that fit, I made a point to introduce myself to that Newport vendor, and welcome them to the market.
And not make it about an us versus them kind of thing, cuz I don't like conflict. And I feel like there's a place for everybody.
>> Tom Grover: How did they take your welcome?
>> Audra Ellis: I felt like it was okay. I mean, I never had an issue with them, or any that was brought to my attention, I'll say that.
But, I think, relationships are what you make of it. And I can say that 95% of the time, our relationships with other farmers have been 100% positive, because we can cut, we can call people and ask for help, or guidance, or have you ever seen this before, have you ever dealt with that before?
And people will help us that have been doing this a lot longer than we have in some regards and spaces, and now, because, we've been in it for a little while. New people that are coming in Mohandas are calling us. And saying, can you help me with this or that?
Or I'd like to raise a couple pigs for my family for me, not even really starting a farm. They just wanna raise some for personal use, but they'll call us, and say, can you help me with? Have you ever dealt with that? That kind of thing. That makes me feel good that whatever it is that we've done, has let people know that we're open to questions, and people can come to us for help.
We don't mind help. We'll help anybody. It's just a community. On Facebook, this week, there was somebody local. I know their child goes to school with my child, and they're in the process of moving, and they need hay for their horses for the trip to move, because they're having to move, and we don't even have horses, but they were like, I can't find anybody that has small bales of hay, the square bales versus the big giant things.
And so, I was like, well, we've got plenty of hay, how much do you need? Five or six bales, how much do you want for it? Nothing, come get it. I mean, you need it, I don't. I don't need three bucks of hay, I mean, it's okay. And so, it's just, I feel like opening yourself up and offering yourself up to help others, you get your rewards at some point later on.
Because what if I need something sometime, and I need to reach out, and ask for something? So I feel like developing those relationships in the community are what's important. If somebody says, hey, can you come help me trim mine? Go, go, whoops, sure. I'll come help you. We barter here.
There's a lady up the road, she has ducks out the ying yang, she is overrun with duck eggs. She's like, can you use these duck eggs. Sure, I bowl, I'm in my aunt's pot and the pigs eat them. I don't like duck. I don't like their texture, but people like.
So we barter. She'll give me a dozen duck eggs, and I give her a couple of packs. Brought worse, or a couple packs of sausages, it all works on the wash, and everybody gets what they need out of the mix.
>> Tom Grover: It doesn't, that's all I'm [INAUDABLE].
>> Audra Ellis: It is.
>> Tom Grover: [LAUGH]
>> Audra Ellis: She has it in, and she calls me the other day, she was like, I know, I just brought you some, but we're stocked up again, do you need these? Cuz she takes them to work, and things like that, [COUGH], but I blow them and give them to the pigs, cuz the pigs are like [SOUND].
[LAUGH] They love the [INAUDIBLE].
>> Tom Grover: Okay, is there an aspect about farming that, think, just people don't quite understand, or I think they should know.
>> Audra Ellis: I think to some people.
>> Audra Ellis: People still think, on some levels that farmers are stupid. Uneducated.
>> Audra Ellis: Things along that line, like why would you choose to be a farmer?
Why didn't you go to school to be a doctor? Or why would you wanna do that? There's still some connotation, I think, that farming is not a reputable means of making a living or, and I've seen people, this is gonna put trouble or not. But I am seeing people talk to vendors at the farmers market like they're stupid.
Just how people, like they're less saying, I guess. Again, it may come back to when people are fussing about the price or something, fussing about something that the vendor is offering. And how they speak to them as if they're less to them because they're a farmer. That bothers me a lot.
Because when I go to the farmer's market to sell my stuff, I look very similar to what I look like now. I have on a T-shirt and blue jeans, most of the time I'll have on my T-shirt, I'll have some pigs on it, I have some chickens on it, sometimes have a ball cap on.
A lot of people to look at me, wouldn't know that I'm a Probation Officer or wouldn't know that I have a Masters degree in Counselling because they assume something about me based on what they see at face value. And so that piece of it still bothers me, that there's a misconception, and I tell people.
There's a farmer on the West Union County who is as country as they come. And he has a high school education but has farmed all his life. He did work full time in another trade but he still farm in that time. And then when he retired from his work, then he started farming full time.
And he is smart as a whip. And my husband has called on him a couple different times to ask questions and things about stuff. But I've seen people talking to him horribly because they assume that he's just a damn farmer. And that piece ticks me off, and I think there's still some education to be had about farmers and you've got to be real smart and know how to fix a tractor.
Because I can tell you I can't fix a tractor. I wouldn't know where to begin if something broke down and it wouldn't move me anymore. Same thing with a car, that's just not my forté. But I mean, I've seen people put stuff together like MacGyver, tweak this, and pop that, put this here, and get it to work.
I wouldn't have been able to think like that. But it takes smarts to do that. I mean, that takes something that a doctor might not can do, you know what I mean? [LAUGH] But that's really the only thing I can think of in that regard. It's just there's still some misconception about farmers, and assumptions about the kind of people who farm.
>> Tom Grover: What are your thoughts on the younger generation in farming. Do you think there is a lack of interest?
>> Audra Ellis: Yep, in the grand scheme, yes. And I think that also plays into why family farms go out of business, is because the younger generation does not want to continue it or they have no interest in it.
And that's not to say that that's a bad thing. That's essentially what happened, originally, to the original Ellis Farm. There where nine siblings and the reason they ceased doing vegetable production or [INAUDIBLE] farming, was several went off to the military. Several had no interest in farming, and they went off to do their own thing.
And only one or two stayed back to do the farm, and then it just became too much and they stopped and went on to something else. So that's a generational thing that has always been a factor, I think. And that's why when my husband came to me and said, I want to start back the family farm, I didn't even know he had a family farm.
I had no clue that they used to farm this property. I just thought they just had a bunch of land. And I had no clue what went on at that time but I do think there is a lesser draw for family farms.
>> Audra Ellis: But obviously, there must still be something going on because North Carolina State still has a pretty huge agriculture degree program.
We used to have people that go to NC State to vet school or to get into the agriculture stuff, so there's obviously still some draw. But I think, in the grand scheme of things, there's a lot less of the younger generation that wants to continue this. I mean, it's a lot of hard work and it's not a way to get rich.
And I think, in todays times and the entitlement generation, that's part of it. It's not a glamorous job, your not gonna get famous over it. And I think it takes a special kind of kid to want to, yeah, I wanna take over my family farm. But those are few and far between.
>> Tom Grover: Where do you see this farm in the future?
>> Audra Ellis: Well, like I said, my long range plan, because I can retire from the state, which is who I'm employed by, in a very short amount of time. My goal is to open up like a farm stand, farm store type of setting on the property.
Because there is not one on this out of town and hopefully continue educating and drawing folks into local raised goods, and needs, and produce, and things like that. And work with other local farmers to stock the store and use their goods and bring it in, bring it in that way.
Not on a grand scale at first but start out small.
>> Audra Ellis: If I could have a wish list, I would have a full on general store type, taking all gas station and turn it into a general store kind of thing. But that's way more, I can retire but who knows when my husband will be able to, or if he'd even want to, or even just I work part time with his cousin that still several years down the road but short term plan in the next 10 years we'll have a farm so I'm here because I'll be I'll be retired and I want to do that more full time and still maybe have a little part time job somewhere else, because I'll have another kid in college at that point.
[INAUDIBLE] But we'll see where that goes. I fully see that we'll still be doing some type of farming, whether it's produce or whether we're still doing pork, who knows? But I see it still occurring.
>> Tom Grover: So are there any questions that you feel I should ask or if there are any final thoughts that you may have in general about farming?
>> Audra Ellis: I just think it's important for people to get out there to the local farmers' markets. Get out there to the local produce stands [COUGH] and support local farms. Do some research, find out why a farm raised egg is more healthier for you than a commercial egg that you buy in a grocery store.
Why is it more healthy to eat from a free-range chicken, versus one that's in a commercial setting? Just look at that kind of stuff. Get out and get to know the folks that are providing their tomatoes and their squash or whatever [COUGH] hardworking people. You should tell some good stories.
>> Audra Ellis: They're just all around good folks that will give you the shirt off your back, but I think it's important to keep money local to boost local economy and give back to local businesses versus spending money in these big box stores because you don't see the benefit of it later on.
It's true when you see them, there's a Facebook post, I think it's a sign that sits outside of a local restaurant. And it says when you buy goods from this local business partner, you're paying for their kid to take dance lessons, or you're paying for their kid to go to summer camp.
Or if you're spending money at Walmart, you don't know the end result of where your money's being spent or what's being done with your money. But if you spend it locally with local businesses, local farms, local craftsmen, because there's other things at the farmers' market besides farm goods, there's people who make soaps and lotions and there's people who do woodworking and crafts and pottery.
So, you're supporting their families by coming and buying from them versus going to Walmart [INAUDIBLE] or wherever. You actually can see face to face, where your money goes. And I think that's important just to support local farms and local craftspeople in general, versus if you have a mother's day gift, go get some nice handmade lotion or soap from somebody at the farmer's market.
Don't go,you know go buy a hanging basket that a farmer grew. Both my hanging baskets came from the farmer's market. My ferns came from the farmer's market. I'd rather support those people than go in and get me some trinket that's gonna sit in my mama's drawer for however many years.
Yeah, I'd much rather go buy her a hanging basket that she can enjoy, things like that, so.
>> Tom Grover: Well, thank you very much for this interview, I appreciate it.
>> Audra Ellis: You're welcome.
>> Tom Grover: Okay.
>> Audra Ellis: Glad you could come.
Carie Deneau is 59 years old, and has been working at Tega Hills Farm for a little over five years. Her primary job duties include product weighing, seeding, and seed transfers to the greenhouses. Prior to her work at Tega Hills Farm, she worked in the health care field and Hospice for just over 20 years, eventually leaving due to burnout to pursue farm work. She once worked at a large-scale produce farm in Delaware in her early 20s, so she had enough early training to help ease her into farming once again when she applied to work at Tega Hills Farm. Topics in this interview include transitioning from her previous field of work to farming, musings on scientific farming and the future of farming, and production of healthy food for introduction back into the American diet.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:39||Introduction, Carie Deneau|
|0:03:18||Starting off in health care and Hospice, and burn out|
|0:04:20||Working on a produce farm in her youth|
|0:05:49||A family member introduces her to Tega Hills Farm|
|0:07:03||Working at Tega Hills Farm|
|0:09:37||Daily/Weekly job duties|
|0:10:49||Enjoyment from producing healthy food to counteract the unhealthy American diet|
|0:12:52||Seasonal produce and work|
|0:14:22||Being a grandmother, church involvement, and home gardening|
|0:15:22||Taking home composting scraps and learning from Mark Robinson|
|0:20:58||The importance of smaller, traditional farms over large scale farms|
|0:25:37||Final thoughts on risk and community|
>> MG: This is Mike Gregory, graduate student at UNC Charlotte in the oral history program. I'm back here at Tega Hills farm talking with another worker on the farm. Her name is Carrie, hi Carrie.
>> CD: Hi.
>> MG: It's nice to be able to talk to you today. Carrie, tell me a little bit about yourself.
We'll get into how you go the Tega Hills Farm in just a little bit. But tell me a little about your background, where are you originally from?
>> CD: I'm originally from Baltimore, Maryland. I was born in 1960.
>> MG: Okay.
>> CD: So I grew up in that era. From there I moved to Ellicott City and graduated from high school in Ellicott City, Maryland.
I graduated in 1978.
>> MG: Okay, so how did you end up in Fort Mill, South Carolina?
>> CD: We moved down here, we lived in Delaware before we moved here. I moved down here in 2008 and my daughter was down here ahead of me. She moved down here to go to Bible College and I came down to visit her while she was in school down here.
We just fell in love with the area, and ended up coming down.
>> MG: Wonderful, did you always know you wanted to get into farming?
>> CD: I think so. I loved it ever since a little girl. I visited my uncle's farm when I was a little girl, and just, I loved that.
I have family on my mom's side who were a lot of farmers. Farmers and teachers. I have an uncle who lived in Middletown, Maryland who was a big dairy farmer. And gardens, they all, all my family always had gardens [LAUGH]
>> MG: Yeah so what kind of gardens did they have?
>> CD: Vegetable and fruit, blueberries, and just, your regular stuff you can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash.
>> MG: And the typical outdoor conventional garden?
>> CD: Yes, yes.
>> MG: So quite the change from going from conventional gardening to suddenly we're here with hydroponics and Greenhouses. it's quite a difference.
>> CD: Yeah, I think the Greenhouse gardening is the way to go. [LAUGH] As opposed to fields and product in fields.
>> MG: It certainly allows for a lot more year-round productivity.
>> CD: Mm-hm, yeah.
>> MG: So tell me a little bit about your background. What did you do after high school and did you immediately get in to, into farming or did you have kind of a life before?
>> CD: No, actually, I was in the healthcare field for a while. I was doing as a CNA and doing home healthcare. Now I entered hospice care for a while, and then I got to the point where I wanted to be back outside and not dealing with fear. I got burned out doing the hospice work.
>> MG: I Imagine.
>> CD: And you're dealing with a lot of with sick people when you're in healthcare and it can wear you down. So I just, I always longed to be back doing this kind of stuff. And I got hired here and just been so happy ever since Did you leave the healthcare field and and go immediately to work here or did you did you do something in between them?
No, I I did that, I came here to here. Yeah, I did have I have worked on a farm there before this farm Okay When I before I moved here I lived in Delaware I worked at a produce farm.
>> MG: At a produce farm?
>> CD: A produce farm, yes, mm-hm.
>> MG: How long did you work at the produce farm?
>> CD: A couple years, yes, but I was younger, I was in my early twenties. And it was a large-scale produce farm, and they had pick your own, and they had market and I liked doing that, and I did that until I got married and started having kids.
And then I took years off when I was raising my kids, and then went into the health care field. When my kids were a little older, I went into that field, but I homeschooled my kids, as well. And so I've spent those years just you know that was my focus.
Then when they were a little older I went back to work.
>> MG: Okay. So. [LAUGH] So when you decided to make the leap.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: From healthcare to wanting to get into farming. And how did you settle on Tega Hills Farm? Tell me about the process, what drew you here?
Or was it one stop of many, trying to get into the field? Just tell me a little bit about that.
>> CD: No, not really, what happened was, a friend, family member kind of like.
>> CD: I ran into her and she was dating a guy who worked here. And so when I ran into her she's just, hey, how are you doing?
Or whatever. You still working with hospice? And I said, well, actually I'm trying to do another job. She said well what do you want to do? And really I kind of said it jokingly, I'm like I want to be a farmer. I almost said it as a joke, but it just kind of came out.
And she said, hey I know of a place that's hiring. Why don't you go down there and talk to them? So I did it, I came down here and that was the story, I got hired, so it's-
>> MG: So what did you think when you came from the more conventional farming to seeing Tega Hills farm and seeing the greenhouses?
It's a non traditional form by Mile standards it's a small farm it's only two acres of land.
>> CD: Yes.
>> MG: But only part of that has Greenhouses on them. So tell me like-
>> CD: It's amazing for the amount of produce it produce on a small amount of land that it has.
To me it was amazing. It was I was. By it. When I first started working here, I was working with the microgreens. With a lady named Pat, who I'm not sure, you probably haven't met her because she's not here today. But she's a lady who's in her 70s and I fell in love with Pat right away.
>> MG: I met her the first time I came to see her. She was picking cilantro, she's a very sweet lady.
>> CD: Yeah, and so her and I worked with the microbrewery, and said, I've had several different positions, over the years that I've been here. But yeah, I was just amazed how things, and I wish I haven't been able to share with you some pictures of the changes I went through the years because they've really done so many improvements around here that it's the transformation is just a joy to be a part of to watch happen.
Like building things and building new markets and the just the things Different things.
>> MG: And you said you've been here for how many years?
>> CD: Five, five years.
>> MG: For five years. When you first came to Tega Hills Farm, did you have any hesitation with working with greenhouses?
Was it a little overwhelming or was it a challenge that you were-
>> CD: No, no it was they taught me what they wanted me to do, just showed me a few times and it's not difficult work to do. It can be strenuous, and it can be, but it's a system, it's really a system, and it runs smoothly when you just keep up with the process.
So, here we got I'm doing seeds, I'm dropping seeds into here, and then in two weeks, they go from here onto the water, so and it's just a system.
>> CD: I know you can't see this but-
>> MG: I've taken plenty of pictures.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: So when we all get to listen to this there will be pictures.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: Yeah, absolutely, so we will get to see it.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: Don't worry.
>> CD: [LAUGH]
>> MG: But tell me what your typical job is here at the farm. I know it may change a little bit depending on the day or the season, but tell us a little bit about what you do.
>> CD: Well, usually in the mornings I'll harvest lettuce, and then in the afternoons, twice a week, I'm the one that packs the orders for the restaurants. And then, cuz I only work part-time, I'm here three days. For two of the days I pack restaurant orders in the afternoon, and then on the other day I plant the seeds, right here, this.
>> MG: Okay.
>> CD: Which is what I'm gonna be doing here while I, yeah. And then, yeah then we harvest in the morning and then in the afternoon I'm either packing or seeding. So that's what I do.
>> MG: Okay. Do you have a particular job here that you you find most enjoyable, or maybe even therapeutic?
Cuz you mentioned you came from healthcare, from where this is-
>> CD: Yes.
>> MG: It's nothing but unfortunately dealing with sick people. And then in hospice, you're dealing with kind of ultimate fate.
>> CD: Right.
>> MG: And now you come here and you're giving life. You're bringing life to things.
>> CD: That's true, yes, yes. Yeah mm-hm. Yes and I love just the idea of producing healthy food. That means a lot to me to be a part of offering something that's gonna be good for people to eat.
>> MG: Yeah.
>> CD: Because I'm one that really believe that the american diet right now is pretty poor.
People just eat a lot of crap, a lot of stuff that's causing people to be sick. Like I was in healthcare it was like, I knew a lot of reasons why people are sick, even young people are sick in the 50s and 60s. I think it's diet related a lot of it.
So I like the fact that I'm helping provide good food.
>> MG: It's why I asked it.
>> CD: [LAUGH] Yeah.
>> MG: If,
>> MG: Come on,
>> MG: How does your job maybe change seasonally, cuz we know that greenhouses are not entirely insulated-
>> CD: Yeah.
>> MG: From the weather. And with you doing seeding and planting.
>> CD: Mm-hm.
>> MG: Does that change, or does how you have to handle that or deal with that change depending on the seasons or weather?
>> CD: Well, the lettuce we grow year round and the micro greens grow year round. And the things that seasonal are the outside beds, where we have things like broccoli and onions and I can't think of everything that's out there, string beans we've grown out there.
But and in house five is where we grow the tomatoes and the peppers, and that's more seasonal.
>> CD: Yeah, I guess in house five they grow eggplant, they're seasonal things. So, like for even right now, in the end of March, and the beginning of April, they're starting to plant the tomatoes and I think it's in house five in a couple weeks we'll be able to start harvesting them.
>> MG: Okay.
>> CD: [CROSSTALK]
>> MG: No, that's fine. You mentioned that you do a lot of the packaging and preparation to send off to some of the chefs that are in Charlotte. Do you get to deal with them directly or do you just hand things off? How does the exchange work?
>> CD: Well, Mindy usually takes the orders and then I get the orders down here. I just pack them in delivery totes, they call them and put them in the cooler with the name of the restaurant in it, and then, somebody else delivers them. So I really don't get to meet chefs or anything like that.
Occasionally one will come in, or if they do a on farm pick-up, I might meet them.
>> MG: Okay. So you said you work here part-time. Do you do something else in the meantime?
>> CD: Well, I'm a grandmother. [LAUGH]
>> MG: That's a job.
>> CD: I'm involved with my church quite a bit and just stay busy.
I do own a little bit of land out in York, so I have about 35 minute drive to get into work, and at home I have garden at home too, so.
>> MG: What all do you grow at home?
>> CD: Well, my goal, or my desire's to grow herbs more than anything.
And I also have a little project that I'm doing it's called Burma composting, where I'm composting with worms. And my goal with that is to use the Burma composting for getting the soil all ready for organic growing.
>> CD: I know really actually in the future I would love to do that on a larger scale, but for now, I'm just in the beginning stages.
>> MG: Is there anything that you've learned, say, during your time here, during your five years here, working at Tega Hills Farm? Cuz you and I conversed a little bit before the interview, and you said science is kind of the future of-
>> CD: Uh-huh.
>> MG: It's the way to go as far as gardening.
Have you learned anything from here that you've been able to apply maybe yourself in your own home garden? Or anything you're looking forward to maybe trying?
>> CD: One of the things that is an advantage of working here, a little perk, is that I can take home The scraps, you know, and use those for composting.
And I also recycle some of the soil that comes from the growing of the microgreens, I can take some of that soil, and use that in a potting mix that I like to make for my home gardens. Mark is a wealth of knowledge, I mean, I can ask him, really, anything about anything.
And he takes the time to just talk to you, and hang out with you. And he's a very, very good employer, I enjoy Mark and Mindy both.
>> MG: Yeah.
>> CD: I'm trying to think of.
>> MG: When we interviewed the two of them not too long ago, Mindy joked that there never seemed to be anything that he didn't think he could do.
He would set his eyes on something, and then just figure out how to try it, and do it.
>> CD: Right, I know, yeah.
>> MG: And I think this is kind of evidenced with the greenhouses, and the amount of microgreens, and experimenting with different kinds of microgreens.
>> CD: Yeah.
You have to have a lot of fortitude to be a farmer, because I've seen crops and different things they've tried not work out. And they have to just press on, keep going through and ride through the losses, and still keep their chin up, and they do. They're awesome.
We have good seasons and bad seasons, and they've lost things, and just had to work through it, just-
>> MG: Could you tell me, maybe, about one of the bad seasons, what happened?
>> CD: [NOISE] Well.
>> CD: Let me see if I can think of something here.
>> CD: There's times, sometimes, when we're harvesting, and we have to clean stuff up.
If, you know, I don't know, there's a disease or something, it does happen from time to time. And then they have to adjust, you know, and figure out what caused it, and work through it. But sometimes, you'll lose some of the product in the process of, you know, just life on the farm.
>> MG: Yeah, I guess its a little harder when you have a greenhouse, and you don't have the vast fields these commercial farms have. Your loss really can affect you in a much smaller farm like this.
>> CD: Yeah.
>> MG: I'm curious, going back to something that we mentioned prior to the interview, which is, science is kinda the way to go as far as farming goes.
Having grown up with conventional farming, and with that thought. And especially now, working here at Tega Hills Farm, where we have these greenhouses, and we have hydroponics, and where do you see farming going in the near future? Do you, let me preface this and say that one aspect we have been exploring, during this whole project, is the encroachment of urbanization.
And moving out farms from the urban environment, and pushing them farther and farther away. But also, in some ways, moving them out entirely. Where you have urban farms that can't really survive via traditional means, but maybe the owners don't have the expertise or the money to convert. And so sometimes, these larger cities, they keep building up and building up, and the farms, they're going away.
Tega Hills Farm is kind of the epitome of an urban farm. We're not just a few feet from a road, and cars going by and there are houses, townhouses across the way there.
>> CD: They haven't been there that long, just came up.
>> MG: And a major grocery store, we've got a Publix there right down the road.
It's building up here. Where do you see these urban farms going? Do you think that they're gonna have to embrace the more scientific farming? Or do you think there's still really a place for the traditional farm?
>> CD: Well, my concern and thoughts are that I think people are too dependent on the large-scale industrial-type farming, and that the local farm is essential to every community.
Like for instance, even here, you can produce a good crop, a good product, and make it financially beneficial to do it without a lot of land. But I just think that the communities need to have the farms. They need to have local, I guess, local sources of produce and food, and not be so dependent on Mexico, and California, and.
So it's just essential that we keep farms going. And that didn't really answer that question, did it?
>> MG: No, you did, and.
>> MG: I'm curious, have you ever thought about maybe what our local farms, like Tega Hills Farm, could do to reach out to the public, to try and turn them away from these big, from consuming from these large commercial enterprises, to the more personable, affordable, smaller local farms?
Cuz I think that one thing that we, as Americans, well for one, we want everything right now, we want it in large quantities. But we also have this misconception that everything that is produced in large scale in these grocery stores is cheaper, when that's not necessarily the case.
>> CD: Right, mm-hm.
>> MG: How do you think we can go about reaching these people, to turn them away from that, or at least, if not turn them away, to get them to come back and look at the small farms?
>> CD: Just education, people have to be educated. There's the other thing about these larger farms, is that they have to pick their produce when it's still, when it's not ripe.
And when it's not ripe, it doesn't have the nutrition in it that it would have if it was allowed to ripen before it was harvested. And just, even all the pesticides and herbicides that have to go into large-scale farming is causing our food to be unhealthy. Unhealthy for people to eat, and it's just spilling over to the healthcare field, like I mentioned earlier.
So just to, people need to value, or understand the value of fresh, local food. And it's just a matter of teaching And people, I think. I mean, you're right about the convenience, people want it convenient, but when people put a value on something, it changes the way they think about it.
>> MG: Yeah, I think we definitely need to get away from the culture of the bottom line. And like you said, go into education. One thing I've thought about, and I'm curious what you think about this, perhaps occasionally bringing people such as yourself into local schools, public schools, to do a presentation on some of our local farms.
>> CD: Mindy does that.
>> MG: She does?
>> CD: Yes, she does.
>> MG: I know they offer tours here. I didn't know that.
>> CD: Yeah, she goes to schools, and does little talks and little demonstrations.
>> MG: Well, every little bit helps.
>> CD: Yeah. Yeah.
>> MG: So, kinda bring things to a close here.
With this project, there will be many people who will have access to these, from students to just general enthusiasts. If there's something that you would like to tell them, something that is an ultimate take-away from what you do here at Tega Hills Farm. Is there anything that you would like to tell them, maybe a personal message, or something for them to think about, related to what you do?
>> CD: I think it's important to dream big and to take risks. And when it comes to farming, or anything, like, you feel called to. It's a God-given desire to take the risk and go for it, and just trust the Lord, that he's with you and he's going to give you what you need to get through it.
Because there'll be hard times. There'll be times when you are prosperous. And it is a risky business, but it's worth the risks. And reach out to others in the community to help get started, but do it. Do it for the sake of your community, do it for the sake of your children.
And just keep the small farms alive, keep them going, keep them in the community.
>> MG: A powerful note to end on.
>> CD: [LAUGH]
>> MG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I know we all really appreciate it.
Mr. Chris Fletcher discusses and recounts his time working on his personal farm in Cabarrus County. He touches on the reasons he began farming, what he currently grows, and why he chooses to sell his product at the farmers market as well as the benefits of buying from one. Other topics also include the future of farming in the region as well as commercialized farming. Mr. Fletcher also explains his involvement in various community organizations and how education factors into the work that he does.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:57||Type of farming Mr. Fletcher does|
|0:01:37||Details of raising cattle as a teenager and past farming experience|
|0:03:07||Recession forces switch to produce growing|
|0:03:52||Why the focus on growing peppers? Challenges of growing peppers|
|0:05:42||Land useage and expansion plans|
|0:08:07||Value added plans|
|0:08:50||Selling at farmers markets and selling to breweries|
|0:11:19||Being a Master Gardener and roles of the master gardeners|
|0:15:57||Urban Plant Festival|
|0:18:27||Other work outside of farming and balancing work|
|0:20:27||Land in clear, land taxes|
|0:22:41||Urban Growth effects on the farm and farming supplies|
|0:24:27||Organic growing and costs|
|0:26:07||Challenges of local weather and weather patterns|
|0:28:07||Plans for potential year long farming and selling|
|0:29:07||Other plants besides peppers being grown|
|0:30:25||Piedmont Culinary Guild|
|0:32:07||Why farmers markets are necessary and pitfalls of commercial farms|
|0:34:27||Best selling peppers|
|0:36:07||No family assistance and future of the farm|
|0:37:07||Views of the current farms in the region and the foodshed|
|0:41:23||Concluding questions, lessons learned|
>> Bradley Holt: Good morning my name is Bradley Holt of UNC Charlotte in the public history department. Today is April 16th, 2019. Today I am sitting down with Chris Fletcher. We are at the Editions Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Downtown Annapolis.
>> Bradley Holt: And so Chris, I'll just let you briefly introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
>> Chris Fletcher: Hi, I'm Chris Fletcher. Born and raised here in Cabarrus County. Been farming for about eight years. But have sorta been doing farming all my life, back through middle school and high school.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and what sort of farming and gardening do you do?
>> Chris Fletcher: Right now, we do all produce. We do a lot of specialty peppers to sell. I probably grow 15 to 20 different varieties of peppers, not all hot. Which, all peppers are not hot. There's a lot of sweet ones, and there are a lot of ones that are considered spice peppers, which have a lot of flavor and a little heat.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and you've been doing that for eight years, the entire length here in Cabarrus County?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, cool, so you mentioned that you did it some in middle school and high school. What was that like, what sort of form did that-
>> Chris Fletcher: What we did then, we raised Shirley cattle.
And we Did the North Carolina State Fair Steer Show a few years. And,
>> Chris Fletcher: This will be my grandmother's brother-in-law, he started showing me how to doing some growing of produce and stuff like that. So I grew a garden, too, at that time in my life.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and do you remember what you grew in that garden?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, the usual corn, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and you told me before the interview it's located near your current plot. It's located here in Cabarrus County between Concord and Mount Pleasant.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, off Cress Road.
>> Bradley Holt: Cress Road, okay, so you mentioned your family was into raising the cattle. Was that something that they'd been doing previous generations, or would that-
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, they had some cattle, not a lot, but they raised a lot of chickens.
>> Bradley Holt: Chickens, okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: For eggs and for stock, I guess you would say, or meat.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, do you still have any animals?
>> Chris Fletcher: No.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So what led you to make the switch kind of as you grew older?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, the recession hurt us pretty bad. We were building some houses and real estate and stuff like that. And with the collapse of that, I knew I had a lot of extra time on my hands.
And I've always had a garden of some size or whatever you want to say. But that's when I started back trying to make some money out of growing stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: So what led you to the peppers, then?
>> Chris Fletcher: Just have always been interested in peppers and the way they grew and I just went on from there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So I wanna talk a little bit more about those peppers because I wasn't really expecting that.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So what sort of challenges do you have growing peppers here, as opposed to maybe some other more common produce?
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean, they're pretty relatively easy to grow.
They have some problems, but not a lot. Last year I had a problem with blossom end rot, which is sometimes caused by calcium deficiency. But it can be caused by too much water or not enough or inconsistent water. And I was able to spray some stuff on the foliage and it broke out.
I didn't raise as many as I was hoping but still produce some in the end.
>> Bradley Holt: Established some of them, yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned it can kinda be inconsistent watering, you said, or-
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, the blossom end rot can be some numerous different things what can cause that to happen.
Too much rain or not enough but they're like most plants like a consistent amount of water.
>> Bradley Holt: When do you normally harvest those?
>> Chris Fletcher: They start around August.
>> Bradley Holt: August.
>> Chris Fletcher: And they'll go until frost.
>> Bradley Holt: Then that would make sense with last year with the tropical systems that rolled through and just flooded everything out.
Did you have any other issues maybe last year with that record breaking rainfall?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really, not that I see associated with the rain.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so you mentioned before the interview that you have about a half acre of land?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, I really have about 16 acres.
But I wanna use, some of it's hay fields that my father in law cuts for his cows and other parts of wood. But I do just about a half an acre of cultivating.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so you have family that still works with cattle?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, he's got a few cows just to keep himself, he just likes to have cows and he's got-
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Got some.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, does anyone else in your immediate family still do farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, only one.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, you're one of a kind here. All right, so since you're only working on a kind of that smaller plot of land, what sort of challenges do you kind of come across as opposed to maybe a larger operation has or maybe even benefits?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I mean for what I've got right now just about all I could do by myself. If I get any bigger or anything, I'll have to hire somebody or something because my wife is retiring from 30 years in the school system this October. So I might have some help there to get a little bigger, but,
>> Chris Fletcher: A bigger operation would kind of stretch me too thin because I can't make a full living on what I get off the farm. I do other jobs.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, how did you get that land? Was it in the family already?
>> Chris Fletcher: It's not like family land from years ago or whatever, which my dad did buy a farm, and brother was living in the older house.
And he gave me ten acres to build my house. And I ended up with 16 in the end cuz by the recession my brother lost his house. My dad let his go back under foreclosure. And so I'm the only one still out there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned that you don't really rely on any outside labor at all, correct?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, but possibly with your wife retired you might be able to expand. Do you have any desire to do that, or are you happy with kind of what you have at the moment?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I'd like to be able to Increase my volume of what I'm growing, cuz I might be trying to do some value-added stuff here soon. And I'll need more of some things and less of others.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And by value added, I mean like taking the hot peppers and making them into hot sauce.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: And drying peppers, and making them into a powder, stuff like that. But I'm just now trying to figure out where I need to be with that, cuz there's a lot of legal stuff you have to go through to just-
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, anytime you're preparing something, yeah.
Speaking of kind of legal and regulations, do you have any that you have to deal with now?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned that you do sell at a farmers market these specialty peppers. How did you start going to the farmers market to sell?
Did they approached you, or did you inquire with them?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I just signed up with them, I needed a place to do, and it was on a waiting list, well not really a waiting list. Didn't have a permanent spot in the market for a couple of years.
And I was moved around in the market when people were there and people wasn't there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and you're at Winecoff?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, Winecoff.
>> Bradley Holt: Winecoff Farmers Market?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, Piedmont Farmers Market.
>> Bradley Holt: Is that with Piedmont, okay.
>> Bradley Holt: Are you at any other farmers markets, or is that the only one?
>> Chris Fletcher: That's the only one.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I do sell some stuff to a couple breweries and a couple chefs in Charlotte, here and there.
>> Bradley Holt: What do the breweries use the product for?
>> Chris Fletcher: I use, I grow,
>> Chris Fletcher: One brewer, he uses some of my habaneros for one beer that he makes.
And I grow some Thai Roselle hibiscus, which is like a Florida cranberry. It's real zesty, and sort of a zing, citrusy type flavor. And they use it in a lot of, I guess, I don’t know if you would call them a sour beer, but not really. They use it with other fruity stuff like strawberries or stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, kind of more of a tart, maybe?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, a tart tasting, which you can make tea out of it, which I' freeze some and make tea out of when I don't have them.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, I’ve seen those pepper beers and stuff, but I’ve never been brave enough to try one one of those.
>> Chris Fletcher: The High Branch, where I sell to him, his Yucatan Stout is very subtle, the heat of the habanero in it, is very subtle. You can have a few drinks of it before you start realizing that it's there.
And it's not bad, which I drink, one brewery had a ghost pepper chili, and it was not good, I mean, it was too hot. And I've had a few other ones that are not good.
>> Bradley Holt: High Branch over by Gibson Mill, right?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, yeah, right across from Cabarrus Brewing.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: All right, so you mentioned that you're a master gardener, what exactly is a master gardener?
>> Chris Fletcher: The master gardeners are a part of the Cooperative Extension Service of, I guess, North Carolina Department of Agriculture. And what they do is help the local extension agent out, perform her duties.
And we also do a fundraiser with the Urban Plant Festival, it was just last Saturday. And the money we raised for that goes to a scholarship to someone going into the horticulture field. And they also give grants out to all the schools or places where they can do a garden or anything associated with horticulture.
And over a period of time, I think they've given out, probably thirty-some thousand dollars or more, worth of grants and stuff like that over the years.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, I've heard a little bit about the extensive service from working on another interview's transcript So what other assistance do you offer to local farmers through the extension service?
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean, the extension aid, Lauren here, she's the one who sorta helps all the farmers out or whatever, around.
She's a good source for stuff. If not, she can figure out where to get it.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Stuff like that. But as far as the master gardeners themselves, they don't really go out and help farmers or anything. It's like I said, they're more just to help her answer the phones when she's not there.
Because people are calling in with questions about stuff all the time. And most of the people are retired, which I was probably the youngest one. And so back during the recession, like that, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go. And I went to the meeting, started liking all the people there, and that's one reason I stayed.
I miss a few meetings here or there, but I do try to help them out. There are a lot of nice people, and smart about different things. Each one of them has, not specialty, but know something about something somebody else might not know about.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, okay, so how did you, you mentioned you kinda started going to the meetings during the recession.
What does it take to become a master gardener?
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean, you don't have to take the course, there's a course that she offers you have to take. But there's some of us, and I've took the course, but there's a few people there that haven't taken the course but still come and help.
And they just can't be on the board or anything like that. They can just help. [LAUGH].
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so just volunteer.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, it's volunteers, that's what it's actually called, the Cabarrus County Master Donor Volunteer Association.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: It's all volunteer.
>> Bradley Holt: Now, is it county based?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah each county has, I don't know if every county has a master gardener thing, but each county has a cooperative extension agent.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, from the Department of Agriculture?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So is there anything else about master gardeners that you think people should know about? Because I don't know if they're exactly well known. Or even if the Cooperative Extension Service is well known even.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I mean it's there, so I mean, it's there provided by the state, I guess, or maybe the county.
I'm not sure who funds whatever.
>> Bradley Holt: ]CROSSTALK]
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, but I mean, it's information there for people in the state of North Carolina to get. I mean, it's free, like the soil samples, if you need your soil tested, they have stuff there to tell you how to take the sample, packs it up and send it to Raleigh.
They do charge for it from December to March, but other than that it's free to have your soil tested
>> Bradley Holt: And soil testing would be for what purpose?
>> Chris Fletcher: To see what your soils lacking, make sure-
>> Bradley Holt: Nutrition and stuff.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, make sure it's got the right pH, and then they'll tell you what needs to be added on there.
You can check a general garden or you can check specific plants, and that'll tell you what you need for that specific plant.
>> Bradley Holt: So it's a valuable resource to small farms and large farms.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, it's there for anybody.
>> Bradley Holt: Anyone, okay. So you mentioned the Urban Plant Festival, what is that exactly?
>> Chris Fletcher: That's how the master growers make their money to give out the Grants and scholarships.
>> Chris Fletcher: And this little pasture was our 14th year of doing it.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And it's sorta changed faces over the years. They started out wanting to be more having people come speak, have people listen.
But then it went on, it wasn't getting much people coming to listen to that so it just basically turned into a big sale, all plants and outdoor stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, where is that held at?
>> Chris Fletcher: It was held at the Piedmont Farmers Market up until last year and this is our second year at the Cabarrus Arena
>> Bradley Holt: That's what, okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: On the fairgrounds, not in the arenas. On the grounds last week and it was a monsoon. [LAUGH]
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah I went up to Piedmont Wine Croft and talked to Eddie.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: And he talked about how they were getting rained out over there from the other day.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah last Saturday morning there was a major monsoon [INAUDIBLE].
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, well it rain from pretty much the time we opened till about 2 :30 and I've had enough at the end so I was packing up. Yeah
>> Bradley Holt: Was there still a decent turnout at that one or-
>> Chris Fletcher: Last year, on a good day we had over 4,000 people come through and this year was right about two.
>> Bradley Holt: 2000?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, how many gardeners take part in that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, there was 90-some vendors. And like I said, not all of them garden. Some of them are hand made stuff.
It's supposed to have something to do with outside, but a lot of the stuff is hand made or whatever [INAUDIBLE]. Still good to come, and 90 vendors, and a couple food trucks and stuff we had, plus some educational areas.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So that, like you said, was just the fundraising to help fund the grants, and- [CROSSTALK]
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, it funds the grants.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and have you personally led any of the classes, or anything like that?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I'm not real good at public speaking. We have a speaker every month at the meeting and I'm brains for Speakers' Forum.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so you mentioned you do other work on the side.
Do you care to tell us what happens?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I do painting and handyman stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I'm for hire. [LAUGH]
>> Bradley Holt: So how do you balance that work along with your farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: Sometimes it's difficult, but other times it works out okay cuz it depends on the job I'm working on.
Right now, I'm sort of, I'm probably three to four weeks behind on my paintings and stuff, so I'm really stretched.
>> Bradley Holt: Thank you for taking the time out to do this. [LAUGH]
>> Chris Fletcher: No problem.
>> Bradley Holt: So has that work, you been doing that work along side farming.
>> Chris Fletcher: Well I clean carpet, I've cleaned carped 30 something years.
And which in those 30 years I was painting and remodeling some external houses and stuff like that and I did work for them like that. And I was getting tired of cleaning. And when my machine broke, that was, I'm done with that now.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I started doing the painting and stuff.
It took me a couple years to get where I'm behind, got people waiting on me to come.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha.
>> Chris Fletcher: So other time, it was hit and miss. Somebody would call, I'd have work to do then it might be a week that I'm having anything to do other than work at the farm or work at my house.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha, so the farm kinda started just to have something to do and maybe supplement your income a little bit.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, and two I was trying to get it on, my land on the farm program for the county so it will help me on my land taxes-
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Or whatever, but it's kind of a little bit rigged, I would guess you would say. I got enough acreage but I don't have enough acreage in the clear.
>> Bradley Holt: And what does that mean?
>> Chris Fletcher: I have to get that ten acres. Unless you have cattle, then you can have, I can do cattle on my sixteen acres.
But I can't because I've only got nine in the open, seven are in the woods.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: To do, unless I just not do cattle, I just have to have 10 [INAUDIBLE] and I would have to clear about an acre and a half of trees to get the 10 acres just to grow my produce or whatever.
So it’s sort of how we, it’s county stuff, it’s government stuff so I guess I shouldn’t say any more.
>> Bradley Holt: And so that’s a tax program. They use a tax relief program.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah for farmers.
>> Bradley Holt: So that's kind of one of the reasons you also.
>> Chris Fletcher: That's what I started, I was thinking about doing that and I found out all this stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Government regulations.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah and I think it was kind of unfair that you don't have to have ten acres in open and have cows because they can go in the woods. But I can grow stuff in the woods if I wanted too. I mean I could grow mushrooms, that would be where you could grow those.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: But I asked them about that and they said well you have to come show us that you have two acres of mushrooms growing in the woods.
>> Bradley Holt: That'd be a lot of mushrooms.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so and if you had done those ten acres, you would have probably had to hire help most likely you think?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I would probably leave it. I'd still leave my fields where they can be cut for hay. Because that is the farm income.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: And you said, do you currently sell hay?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, I've let my [INAUDIBLE] for getting the guy to cut it and bail it and all that, I'm just giving them hay.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I could show you something if I needed to show that I made money of it or benefited from it, begin in the farm program, I could. But there's no need to because it ain't enough.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So in terms of, we're still in the Charlotte Metro area out here in Kannoplis which is just outside of Concord.
As the rapid growth of some of these little cities outside of Charlotte affected your farm in any way?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really.
>> Bradley Holt: No?
>> Chris Fletcher: No.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and what about in terms of like supplies for the farm? So is it easier maybe to get supplies or tougher?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well there’s not really, I mean there’s a few places around there that you can buy farm stuff or whatever.
But I usually, there’s a place in Pittsburgh that I buy a lot of stuff from and I usually make a trip that way one or two times a year. I wanted to get my sweet potatoes and any amendments I need. Because I usually can pick up the sweet potatoes right at the end of February, first of March.
And I can get a load of what I need there then, and then if I need to go back again later in the season, I will. And it's not that far away, I mean really, a few hour drive here or there. But they have some stuff you can't get around here.
Or if you do, it's way high.
>> Bradley Holt: What sort of things?
>> Chris Fletcher: They have all kind of organic stuff. Amendments and stuff you can put in the soil. And they have a lot of different, like you said, they get a lot of different sweet potatoes that you order and I think they do sweet potato slips, and they do garlic, and onions, and stuff like that, just real old school, Southern States.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay. Now you brought up organic, do you grow organically, or are you certified?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well I'm not certified organic, but I try to practice what they do.
>> Bradley Holt: That's seems to be a-
>> Chris Fletcher: Sustainable, is what I can say I do.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, that seems to be a common theme we've heard across a lot of our interviews is, "I'm not certified, but I grow organically." There's some challenges in terms of being certified organic, have you attempted doing that?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I think it's costly.
>> Bradley Holt: Costly, okay, yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: Just something else you're gonna have to add to it. And I've come to find out, by being at market all these times, people don't really care unless, all they care about is whether they're sprayed with anything.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And you spray it with organic stuff too, so a lot of people don't know that. I mean there's organic spray to go on to solve insect problems and there's also non organic stuff too, for insect problems.
>> Bradley Holt: And you use
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, if I wanted If I need to get something off, like the potatoes, Colorado potato beetles, are on them, they have to be sprayed, or they won't make anything.
And I use organic spray on that. But that's probably about the only thing I really spray with something. I mean, there's probably a few other things that I'm not thinking of, right off the top of my head.
>> Bradley Holt: I think you mentioned that the start has pray for when you have the issues.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, but that was a calcium spray.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so it's another-
>> Chris Fletcher: So it's organic spray, it was a foliage spray. It wasn't to kill anything, it was just to give the plant more calcium.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha, okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So we talked a little bit about the weather here, what we, last year again, of the heaviness of rain.
What other challenges does weather here in North Carolina give to you and your farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: Hot, and humid and dry like it goes in spells. We've been saying all year that all this rain we've had, we're not gonna get any this summer. Rain all that's wet, it seems like it always goes we get too much at one time and then not enough.
Cuz last year rain was getting her watered around a lot of places, but not in our place.
>> Bradley Holt: Really?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes and it was really, really dry. And I've started having trouble, well I have trouble with deer all the time, but they were kept at bay with my fence or whatever you wanna call it.
That I had to set up til it was so dry that they said the heck with it or going through.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah
>> Chris Fletcher: And then after that is when it all started raining again. I think we went six to eight weeks without getting rain at our place last year at the first of Summer, which was after the real wet spring, then it was dry.
And then it's rained ever since after it started raining again.
>> Bradley Holt: So you're kinda predicting another dry summer?
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably, I mean, that's the way it goes around here.
>> Bradley Holt: So do you take any water conservation efforts during those dry spells to try to help you out later or?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I do use some drip irrigation to keep the plants alive when it is a drought.
>> Bradley Holt: And do the cold winters Have any effect on you or are you just not really growing much?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah I'm not really growing much there yet. I do have a high tunnel I'm trying to get in operation but it's not there yet.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So-
>> Bradley Holt: You say you sell on that farmer's market seasonally, correct? So just, are you looking to maybe go full year round or you thinking seasonally?
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably not all the way full round. My high tunnel food gets staged, that would extend my season.
>> Bradley Holt: And what exactly is that?
>> Chris Fletcher: It's like a greenhouse but it doesn't have any form of heat, you just grow in the ground underneath it.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha.
>> Chris Fletcher: And you know it's not, if it's cold it gets cold inside there too at night but in the daytime with the sun shinning on it it get's-
>> Bradley Holt: It insulates that heat in there.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: What would you grow in that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably lettuces, and kale, and radishes, and beets, and stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: And you don't grow any of that at the moment, do you?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, I do grow that outside, yeah.
I wait until a certain point to start planting them. There I could probably microgrow those all year except for the very hot of the summer.
>> Bradley Holt: So in addition to the peppers and the kale, lettuce type thing what else do you grow?
>> Chris Fletcher: We grow the Tower's Hill.
I do been growing the last few years a couple of varieties of heirloom corn for them to collect seed. And I do grow some tomatoes which
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably grow some again this year, but I been debating on the years, whether or not to do that, because there's a lot of work in doing tomatoes.
>> Chris Fletcher: And in the summertime I grow squash, zucchini,
>> Chris Fletcher: Beans, peas, stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, do you sell, do you sell all of that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: How much of it do think maybe you sell versus keep? Do you keep any of it, or?
>> Chris Fletcher: I just keep enough to, if I want that for supper, I'll get some.
You know what I mean? I eat what I want to and then try to sell the rest, or give it away to parents or something.
>> Bradley Holt: Does that mean you get to avoid the grocery store pretty often?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really, still some things you have to get there.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned you were part of the cooperative extension service, are you part of any other organizations? Piedmont Culinary Guild, which is a group of farmers, chefs, restaurant tours and artisans and breweries.
>> Chris Fletcher: And we're trying to make people aware of good food. So much stuff now has got e-coli or something on it, you don't know where it's coming from, and they're here to promote local.
>> Bradley Holt: Local growers and producers?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: How do they go about trying to do that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Just education.
>> Bradley Holt: Education?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, they have a symposium in the spring and they have a group of taste makers, which they go around to different farms or restaurants will open their place up, I think it's about 200 of them.
And stuff like this, just trying to educate the public about, and let the public know that there is a lot of food in this area being grown that you can access.
>> Bradley Holt: How did you get started with them?
>> Chris Fletcher: A friend of mine, they were actually getting started and I'm more of the ground floor people.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: A friend of mine told me about it. I went to the little meet up or meeting, that's where it started.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay how long have you been apart of that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Seems like they're three or four years old.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay so.
>> Chris Fletcher: So its relatively new the association.
>> Bradley Holt: So when you're selling at the farmers market, what reasons do you ever talk to people about? Maybe why they're choosing the farmers market over traditional grocery store?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, never have.
>> Bradley Holt: Do they ever bring it up maybe?
>> Chris Fletcher: No but you do see a lot of people, same people coming in there everyday so they know where to get the good stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Good stuff, okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: And so then why do you personally believe farmers' markets are important to the local food shed?
>> Chris Fletcher: Those commercialized food is not sustainable. It eventually collapse, seems like I heard somewhere that it takes, to make one pound of meat, it takes 170 gallons of water.
What you think about that? That's not going to be really sustainable.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, that's.
>> Chris Fletcher: At some point the water's gonna run out.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, we've already seen, I think.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Out west there have been issues with water basins and stuff.
>> Chris Fletcher: Mm-hm. Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you think sustainable farming [CROSSTALK] local and sustainable is the future of.
>> Chris Fletcher: Of food.
>> Bradley Holt: Of food shed.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And two, like the big commercialized Monsanto, they're not good for the American people.
>> Bradley Holt: Why do you feel that is?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well it makes stuff that's round-up ready and they spray it on your food and Biphosphate now, people are saying you can get cancer from it.
>> Bradley Holt: Carcinogen.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, and it's probably not from people spraying it, it's probably from people eating the food that was sprayed with it, that's my opinion.
>> Bradley Holt: So, those chemical sprays, basically those,
>> Chris Fletcher: Insecticides.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, insecticides. You see it's harmful to the food shed. So real quickly, because I just want to go back to the peppers one last time here-
>> Chris Fletcher: All right.
>> Bradley Holt: Because I just, 'Cause I think that's really interesting. So what are some of your best-selling peppers?
>> Chris Fletcher: Corno Di Toro is a good one. It's a sweet bullhorn-looking pepper. I sell a lot of those. I grow those other than the bells, I don't grow the bells, I grow those.
Doing okay of trying to convert my customers to trying that and going with that
>> Bradley Holt: How does it compare to a bell?
>> Chris Fletcher: It's a lot sweeter.
>> Bradley Holt: A lot sweeter?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah. And I grow two different chilis for a guy that makes hot sauce. Carolina espelette and aji dulce peppers.
Espelette's got some heat to it, maybe 5,000 on the Scoville. And the aji dulce looks like a habanero, but doesn't have the heat. It's got a fruity sort of- If you wanna look tough, that's the one you eat and [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, act like it's bad. Now sometimes in the season of things, there will be a little bit that you're not expecting but-
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha.
>> Chris Fletcher: Most of them are not too bad.
>> Chris Fletcher: And makes a good flavor for his sauce.
>> Bradley Holt: And you said the peppers are fairly easy to grow.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, yeah. Pretty much. I have a trail system that I been using and some of the plants need and the other ones don't.
They are sturdy enough they can hold up, the peppers.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay. And I don't remember if I asked you this or not why peppers?
>> Chris Fletcher: Just started liking them and this is something that interested me in the way they all have different shapes and sizes and colors..
>> Bradley Holt: Okay so it was just interesting profits try out this kind of stuck.
>> Chris Fletcher: And I've sort of made a little niche for myself at the market up there people know that they can come to me for different types and stuff of peppers.
>> Bradley Holt: I'll definitely have to come check that out you say you're up there starting next weekend.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I’ll be there next weekend but I won't be there the next.
My daughter's getting married that weekend but after that I should be there but the peppers will not come in until right August, that’s when they’ll start coming in.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned briefly just now that you have a daughter, do you have any other children that take part and help you out?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, just one.
>> Bradley Holt: Just one?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so kind of wrapping things up a little bit here. You mentioned a couple of little goals that you have for your farm, kind of expanding the land maybe a little bit and adding that new winter growing system a little bit.
Kind of what do you see for the future of your farm?
>> Chris Fletcher: I hope I could value add my peppers and maybe just grow those and do that, and something like this. I've already been doing okay with and just keep going with that like I said maybe just grow them exclusively.
>> Bradley Holt: So kind of taper off some of the other.
>> Chris Fletcher: Taper off the other stuff and do that if I can get something value added and I mean hopefully I'll get a lot of stuff then.
>> Bradley Holt: Do you do any rotation with the peppers, like crop rotation?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you already talked a little bit about kind of your stance on local farming versus more commercialized farming. How do you view the current farming or food shed even this region. What are your thoughts on it?
>> Chris Fletcher: I think looking pretty good. There's a lot of people around growing stuff.
Probably needs some publicity or basically the people hoarding actually get it. I mean, a lot of people know about the farmers market. But.
>> Chris Fletcher: There's about a lot of farm, I mean there's quite a few farmers' market. But there's, seems like there should be some in other places too.
Some places got more than others I think downtown Concord would have a good one, you know. Piedmont tried to do one there but it's not really caught on yet and I don't know why.
>> Bradley Holt: I think Eddie Au mentioned there was one down by Afton and that-
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: He said that one had a few issues because there was to much traffic in the area. Do you kind of do that maybe as an issue to if you have too much traffic?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not enough traffic makes customer, you know? The more of them there but, you know, [INAUDIBLE] I don't know what maybe it's referring to just a lot of people out in Afton And there's too many cars.
>> Bradley Holt: I kind of think of it as car traffic.
>> Chris Fletcher: Car traffic? Yeah. And, yeah, I just think the city of downtown Concord ought to benefit from one, which there is one there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: But we only get one vendor to go there. I would try it but in order to get my place there, I don’t want to give it up.
Because if I’m down there and it doesn’t work out for me and I can’t get back to where I was at. So I’m sort of kind of stuck.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha. And maybe that’s where you can expand a little bit and have some extra surplus [INAUDIBLE].
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, somebody else there, yeah.
I just think we just need the farmer's market needs promoted a little bit better. Try then to get people to come to it more so.
>> Bradley Holt: Have you seen an increase in the number of farmers markets and people getting into farming over the past eight years or so?
>> Chris Fletcher: It seems like there's more now but there's a lot of them that still are there when I started too.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay. So long term.
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean there's more than there were when I started, most definitely. But we have lost some, there's a few of them I know that have quit doing it and said they can't make enough money or whatever.
In which, I may be in that same situation at some point. It's not worth doing what I'm doing there but it's not there yet. I think I'm doing okay.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Hasn't been getting worse, it's been better or the same.
>> Bradley Holt: And maybe that's where that value added might help augment that a little.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yea, because that could be stuff that I could sell throughout the year.
>> Bradley Holt: Solving something I'm always looking to get. [LAUGH] So my final question for the day, what lessons have you learned over the year through your farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: Better save up.
>> Bradley Holt: Save up?
>> Chris Fletcher: Save up your energy.
>> Chris Fletcher: Because in the summer, it gets tough out there. Wind and hot sun, and you just got to pace when you're out there.
>> Bradley Holt: You do that all by hand?
>> Chris Fletcher: I got a tractor that I get my stuff ready with but as far as weeding and digging and everything else is all by hand.
And when I get down to late September and October, to pick the peppers, it takes me a good half a day to pick almost all I have. And that's sometimes every two days.
>> Bradley Holt: You're out there every two days.
>> Chris Fletcher: Or picking something, that's one reason towards the end of the year, I'll get down and I don't have anything but peppers at the market, that's all I'll have.
>> Bradley Holt: That's all you have time for.
>> Chris Fletcher: I don't have time to plant anything else, I don't have time to harvest anything else, it's getting them peppers.
>> Bradley Holt: Is there anything else you want to add here at the end of the interview? Anything stand out that you want to say?
>> Chris Fletcher: I don't think I can think of anything else I need to tell you.
>> Bradley Holt: This has been an interview in the Queen's Garden, histories of the Piedmont food shed. Thank you for sitting down with me today and telling me a little bit about your history here and what you do.
>> Chris Fletcher: Thank you.
Shelley Proffitt Eagan is a 46 year-old white female, and has been an owner and operator of Proffitt Family Cattle Company since 2008, that she owns with her father. Her duties include rotating the cattle in the pastures, baling hay, weighing, tagging and keeping records of the herd. She also repairs and moves fences, sells the products and maintains the pastures. She graduated from a Charlotte high school and prior to working on her father’s farm, she lived in Colorado with her husband and two children.
In this interview Shelley Proffitt Eagan discusses her work as an owner/operator of a cattle company for the last 10 years in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Topics include how the farm began, methods used to raise cattle for slaughter, the process to become USDA certified organic, and changes they have made to the farm over the years.
She recounts their rotational grazing process as well as describes the types of grasses the cattle eat. Shelley explains why it is important for the health of the cattle and the grass to rotate the herd. She recounts a memory from a few years ago when a farmer lost a cow because she ate toxic plants in his pasture, and discusses grass management.
Shelley tells of sexism from other farmers that she encountered when she began cattle farming.
|0:00:34||Shelley Proffitt and her parents|
|0:00:39||The farm's beginning|
|0:01:42||How Shelley came to Kings Mountain to be a farmer|
|0:02:48||Starting the grass-fed beef business and becoming the first in NC/SC to be certified organic|
|0:03:34||The farm's acreage and Shelley and Steve's decision to downsize|
|0:06:36||Shelley describes a day on the farm|
|0:08:49||The struggle with caring for geriatric horses|
|0:09:26||Current issues with a cow and her calf|
|0:11:14||Juggling other farm chores while caring for a calf|
|0:12:47||Recent meat shipment from the slaughterhouse and the usual process|
|0:14:24||Pasture rotation and health|
|0:16:18||Importance of rotational grazing for the health of the grass|
|0:18:12||Nutritional needs of the mama herd|
|0:18:32||Importance of rotational grazing for the health of the herd|
|0:21:16||Cow boredom when not rotated enough|
|0:23:05||Necessary to rotate the herd even with plenty of grass|
|0:23:54||Story about the cows getting excited about moving to a new pasture|
|0:24:52||Bulls, safety, and breeding|
|0:30:30||Entrance of Shelley's father Steve, and introductions|
|0:31:13||Further explanations of how heifers and bulls are separated|
|0:32:20||Steve explains how bulls are easier to manage without calving seasons|
|0:32:56||Sharing bulls with another farmer, and the importance of a bull's genetics on breeding|
|0:34:47||Illness from plants, weed management|
|0:38:50||Effects of past winter's excessive rain fall on pasture soil|
|0:43:42||Starting off in early 2000s prior to grass-fed and organic certification; changes in how they farmed|
|0:47:22||Cows in feed lot living a miserable existence; changing farm model for humane livestock treatment|
|0:49:41||Health benefits of grass-fed, organic beef|
|0:50:19||"the feedlot is the great equalizer," Feeding cattle grain changes the flavor profile of the meat|
|0:50:53||Differences in raising grass-fed vs feedlot beef|
|0:52:06||Labor on the farm|
|0:54:00||The life cycle of cattle, from calf to slaughterhouse|
|0:56:16||Slaughter and certified organic practices|
|1:00:01||Deciding which animals to slaughter and which to keep|
|1:00:09||Strict requirements on certified organic beef|
|1:01:06||How to decide which heifers to keep and which to slaughter|
|1:02:51||Advice from a conference: get a meat handler's license, a meat processor and go to farmer's markets|
|1:05:14||Selling meat at a farmers marker|
|1:07:38||General farming misconceptions and agricultural ignorance|
|1:16:25||Unique experiences being a woman farmer; sexism from older male farmers|
|1:19:43||Future of the farm|
>> Luanne Hoverman: This is Luanne Hoverman, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. And today is April 26, 2019. I'm interviewing Shelley Crawford Egan for the Queens Garden, oral histories of the Piedmont food shed. So give you a chance to introduce yourself. Tell us about your background, history of the farm, that sort of thing.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well, I'm the middle child. Parents even in profits. And about 20 years ago, my dad bought this land out here. Started off with about 100 acres. And he had been interested in cows as a young man because he grew up in the era when cowboys were the heroes of TV.
And so he always wanted to be a cowboy as a little kid. He was a baby boomer so he's about 75 now, 76. And so he was finally able to retire and move out into the country, buy land, build a house and a farm and a young man came up and knocked on the door of the house and said hi my name is Paul or whatever.
I forgot his name now but he said I'd like to lease your land and put cows on it and dad said, well were gonna do business together. I'll do it with you, can you teach me what you know about cows? Cuz he didn't know anything about cows. At the time, he just had horses.
And that was kind of the beginning of dad's learning about livestock and how to handle cows. I moved here about ten years ago with my family from Colorado. [COUGH] And my husband and I who had been living in the burbs out there. And one day my kids were arguing who was going to climb the one damn tree in the yard.
And I told my husband, I said it’s a sad state of affairs when the children are arguing over who's gonna get to climb the tree. So we gotta get out of here, I can’t take it anymore. And at that time, I had been coming back here over the summer for weeks at a time staying at the farm with my parents and the summer of 2008, I was here for about two weeks.
I spent the entire time helping dad milk cows and do something [UKNOWN] on fun. And I went back and told my husband, Mike we need to move, dad needs help, you know how to handle animals and livestock. I'd like to get out of Colorado and be back in the south.
And land is cheaper, everybody in the south's really friendly, you'll love it. [LAUGH] So we moved back here that winter. And then sort of established private family farms at the time that winter and started slaughtering grass-fed beef, selling at the farmers market May of 2009 and it really just took off.
It is a huge customer base, a massive demand for not just grass-fed beef but really good grass-fed beef. We had farm certified in fall of 2009, USDA certified organic. We were the first certified organic beef operation in North Carolina and South Carolina at that time.
>> Luanne Hoverman: That's impressive.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Thanks, and we've been doing it ever since.
>> Luanne Hoverman: How many acres do you have?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: We recently downsized and we're down to around 350 now. We had just this winter, this past fall and winter sold an additional 360 acre farm in Blacksburg, South Carolina, and that’s where we had our small farm there, but I was getting too old to mess with it.
I'm really not that old in the grand scheme of things. But it's a really demanding job physically, and it's a long drive down there, longer seeming and we were spread out. For the last ten years, we worked on four properties. It just takes a lot of grass to finish an animal, a cow and get them up to a 1,000 pounds or more on nothing but grass growing out of the ground, it takes a large amount of grass.
You can't strain the grass pasture so the cows can't spend a lot of time on it. So they need to be moving every couple days or as much as you can, that means that you have to physically be on all these farms. And not me just driving out there and counting cows and leaving, but maintaining the fence, checking the fence, calling cows, moving cows, be it horseback, foot, four-wheeler, whatever.
And spreading that across four properties, where there's miles and miles of fence all combined, not people is a pretty physically daunting project. And I just got really tired the last summer. And I turned to dad, I had hauled cows every day for two weeks with minimal help. And I said, I am going to kill somebody if we don`t, we've got to downsize this space.
It just kind of got out of hand. Like one day we had 35 or 40 mama cows and then the next day, a couple years down the road, there's 95. I mean, it just got big and a lot of work. That's great. So now, we're trying to raise as much meat as I can within the confines of this much grass and one other property about two miles down the road.
So between those two properties, it's probably a little more than 350, 375, something like that. So two properties and as many cows as we can have born and raised up on nothing but grass within that amount of grass. That's what we're gonna do, that's the new plan.
>> Luanne Hoverman: How big is your herd right now?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right now we have, I got about 15 yearlings, maybe a couple more, 17 yearlings and then I got about 20 momma cows and then I got about 20 finishers. The mom cows, about half of them have a calf at their side. And before the next couple months, they should all have a calf at their side.
So 80 in total.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So a pretty manageable number right now.
>> Luanne Hoverman: What's a typical day on the farm?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well how do I say it that, wow you must get it so early and like my cow's eating grass that's growing out of the ground. And they're ain't nobody waiting for me to come around with a bucket of anything and that's about how I am.
I'm not into eating animals that are raised up on corn and soy. And so my animals getting on that and the only time I have to get up really early is when I have to go to the farmer's market. Those days are always long so they get down the barn and take care of the horses and get them dressed for the day.
And that would be, it depends on the time of year in the summer we've gotta get moving a little bit earlier if we wanna get something done because it's hot. You cannot really mess with livestock in the heat of the day and summer period, they just will not come out of the shade.
So now every couple of Sundays we saw in way at a finishing herd and we got a, from wherever they are on the property that got to be gotten up, walked through pastures. They are with cane or cow alarm or with them on horseback or set up temporary posts to make fences and get them up to the round pen.
Out about a barn where the scales are and we'll bring them in and around and sort out the one way along. Then look at the weights, look at the birthdays to see how old each one is and decide [COUGH] who's going to slaughter the next day. We always have to do that the day before we go through the processor.
So that takes a couple people and a couple hours. First I usually schedule to do that in the evening hours the day before slaughter. So that might be 7 o'clock in the summer whenever the sun has gotten so it's not so hot because I won't be able to get them to come around in the middle of the day.
If somebody can't do in the evening, we'll do it early in the morning, so maybe we'll get started at 7:00, 7:30, I try not to do that to my hired help on the weekend. On a Sunday but we always have to do that on a Sunday. But as far as what we do every single day, we go down to the barn, we bring horses in, we give them what they need, we let them move.
Our particular horses we've got, it's just like a geriatric center down there for God sakes, I mean they're all old and still rideable. But they are just generally useless and consumers, they give nothing back to the farm whatsoever. I wouldn't mind getting rid of them just because half the time I'm messing with them, I'm thinking about all the other things I really need to be doing.
Like putting up a fence or checking a fence or opening gates and moving cows. So after we get them squared away then we go meet the needs of the cows, like today, we've got a calf down there, something's wrong with the mamas udders. Her teats are blown out and not shaped in the right way, she's got like one of four teats, [COUGH] even something the calf could latch onto and she's about not quite a week old, she's a day shy, this calf.
And over the last several days that has been going on there, and I've given her a bottle in the evening, and she's been sucking a little bit better each day. But that sometimes is hard to do, because then you have to catch the calf, they don't generally see a bottle and think, gee this is something I wanna put in my mouth.
And you gotta kind of like wrestle them to the ground and shove a bottle in their mouth and then hold it there and make them open their mouth. You've gotta, it's not a natural thing that they do until they get that milk in and realize that this is a good thing.
So, anyway, whenever we were arriving this morning, looked over in the pasture and the calf's laying there and the herd's nowhere around. He's not with the herd, she's by herself, sun's out, it's hot, that's a sign that something's not right. So I came up to the house and got a bottle, drove back down there with my daughter's boyfriend who's a young, strong thing.
So [INAUDIBLE] snatched this calf and put this bottle in her mouth. So we did that, didn't take but about 15 minutes, mama saw us messing with the calf and comes over and she was nice, though. She didn't try to kill us or attack us or anything so that went smooth and that's not always the case sometimes they really are trying to kill you if they see you messing with their calf.
And then we went and put the horses back up, we put the tack away, and checked the minerals. Open a gate for the mama herd needs to be moved, they've spend to much time on the one pasture. So, we open the gate so they can work their way into another field, sometimes we'll call them.
If they don't have calves on them, I'll call them and that way I can kinda count them when they come through mostly and then shut the gate behind them. But right now I would not do that because they've all got little calves, so if you call them now, the mamas might come over and then leave their calf and you have to leave the gate open.
And then they end up spread across all these pastures, it's just easier to open a gate, they'll find it, and then they can bring their calf on through. And then once everybody's over there, we go down and check on then we'll shut them over. And then today, Friday, we've got farm store hours and meat came back from the processor today.
So every couple Fridays we get our beef back, the big refrigerated truck, that backs up to the garage door there and brings in a pallet full of meat and we [COUGH] pack it all into these freezers here. And then I display and the farm stores open from 12:00 to 5:00, somebody did just pull up that I don't recognize, and then they buy meat, it's a pretty cool process.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay, does the meat come from the slaughter or the processing plant frozen or is it fresh?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well, today, it was fresh, cuz they just cut it yesterday but they put it in their freezer, and it's only fresh because it wasn't in there long enough. They probably cut it at the end of the day, Thursday, put it in the freezer in those boxes and so it didn't have time to freeze all the way.
But I take it to the farmer's market frozen, if people were adamant about having it fresh I do not commit to that and I'm just, I'm sorry you can't have it fresh because to me it's just I can't guarantee it. I used to try and get them that when people would ask and I would have the processor they'd put some stuff in the freezer and some in the fridge and then either they would deliver me back one or the other but not both.
It just was too much risk and trouble and so I just tell them, if they happen to get here and still not frozen, then that's great for them but I don't make that as an option. See if this guy knows, hang on one second.
>> Luanne Hoverman: So I want to ask about the rotational process.
How it works? Why it's important? How it helps the quality of the meat?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: As far as the moving them constantly?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Moving them, plus the fact that they're eating the grass versus feeding them.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, so they have to be, as far as the finishing herd goes, they're handled in sort of different ways.
There's the mama herd, they have certain nutritional demands, if they have a calf on they need to make milk, so those needs need to be met calorie wise, protein, carbs, all that. The finishing herd are the ones who I'm trying to put weight on them as fast as possible, so they need to be gaining weight every single day hopefully three pounds, four pounds at the best of times.
[COUGH] And when the winter might be closer to pound and a half, two pounds depending on what grass is in front of them. So in order for them to actually make those gains and meet those nutritional demands without corn or grain supplements for energy, they need to be standing in front of palatable, delicious grass that they want to eat.
But if I have them standing in like most farmers, where I've got them standing on a huge field and they've been there for two weeks, they've hit it they've been around to every plant around. When you first let a cow onto a certain patch of grass no matter how big it is they'll come in and put their head down, smell it, everything is about smell to them.
They sample that and then they pretty much work the perimeter and then they'[ll go back and then they go back to that thing that was the most yummy smelling and the most palatable and they'll take a bite off of that. So my theory and the ideal situation for the pastures is they take one bite off of the plants and then I've moved them after that, they've had the one hit on it.
Because at that point, they're not damaging the plant, they're maybe stimulating it to grow some more, depending on when the life cycle. Plant they're eating it. Or they might be simulating root growth and depending on again if it's already gone to seed or not. So what I don't want them to do is be in one place for so many days that they've covered the entire pasture multiple times.
And when they do they'll go back to their really tasty bit and they chew it down smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller, so then it's damaged and set back on its regrowth schedule so long. Like they take one bite out of it, that plants gonna be ready to graze again in two weeks.
They take five bites and they eat it down to nothing, it could be a solid 30 days to 60 days before that plant has time to regrow, to be what it needs to be again. So if they go in and they spend enough time in a place, again, and this is why it means it's bad not to move them constantly, is that so they're setting back and they're stunting the growth of the ones that they need to be eating, that helped them gain weight.
And then by doing that the ones that they don't like, the weeds, they're getting stronger because the competition around them has been set back. So the weeds are getting more nutrients and being certified organic I can't go out there and spray those weeds. I have no, my only toolbox and tool against weeds is to mow them with the bush hog.
That's land management, how I manage the moving of the herds. So if I leave them on there it's just a couple days. I try to, we used to move them every single day, and there was a summer there where I moved them twice a day for about a month.
And it's just there's no point, my mother would be like, quit harassing the cows, just leave them alone. And I' d be like, I'm not harassing the cows. [LAUGH] I'm trying to just put them in front of good grass. But the general rule is that if the grass is growing fast, we move the herd fast, if it's growing slow, we slow them down a little bit.
But they shouldn't spend more than a couple days really anywhere. The mama herd I might give them a little bit more time because if they just had a calf it's kind of a lot to expect them to move with that to another pasture right away. Calves are pretty much within a couple hours of birth they're able to get up walk but it's stressful for them.
So it's beneficial for the grass. Another thing it does is that it moves them away from those manure pads. If they are in a certain area of the pasture, they're gonna poop and pee in that area. Then I can set up a wire, like a temporary electric wire on a spool we roll them up it's like poly wire.
And it has a little fine metallic thread through a plastic wire rolled up on a spool and then I roll it out and hang it on these little plastic step-in stakes so I can create a fence in the middle of the pasture instead of giving them a whole pasture I give them a segment of it.
And then they'll poop and pee in that area, urine has a lot of nitrogen, it's good for the soil, there are newer pads are out there. In certain times of the year when parasites are active in the warmer months of the year, and you leave them in that pasture for a long time then they're gonna be forced to graze once they've hit all the desired graze up close to those manure pads.
And they don't like to do that and they shouldn't be doing that, cuz then they're gonna be more susceptible to ingesting those parasites and have worms. As an organic producer, I can not use chemical de-wormers on my cows. So, and that's something that, for conventional cattlemen, they just cannot get their head around that you would not de-worm them.
It's just not something that they just lived by that now because they're gonna have 40 cows that are living on 40 acres. They'll have them on this field one day, or this field for six months and then move over here for six months, and I just don't operate that way.
My cows don't get worms, I don't make them graze in a way they're susceptible to that, I move them off of that land. [COUGH] So another reason to move them is flies in the summertime. The flies they lay their larva in the manure pads and you can go out there and see the flies all over the manure pads in the heat of the summer.
That's if the flies are getting to be a problem, I move them not just one pasture away but like 30 acres away, so that they are leaving the flies behind. It's now clearly some of them are gonna come, but not a lot. So that's another way, it's a management tool.
It's just moving them every couple days and getting them off of grass after they've had just that one bite, especially on the finishing, it's better for the animal, it's better for the land, it's better for everything.
>> Luanne Hoverman: You mentioned it's important to make sure that they have grass that they want to eat.
Now, as stupid as this sounds, can they get bored?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, if they're left in a place for a week, they're itching to get out of there. Even if there's like knee deep in great grass, they just, ours animals are used to moving around, they get antsy. And one way to keep them moving even in the winter when the grass may be isn't amazing anymore, let's say we're still grazing in December.
They're not getting hay yet because they'll still have grass. A lot of times, I out here we can graze all year around because the grass will be growing as long as the soil is 40 degrees or higher. And in the south, where we are here, you can make it through a lot of the winter before that happens, right?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Mm-hm.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: But as far as the palatability goes, they've kind of hit it. After, we have, as far as the amount of space I give them, they have enough grass so that I know that they can get through the next 24 hours, probably 48 hours without being, feeling trapped at all.
And then the next step so, if I go out there you can see them, if I go out there like even, let's say in heat, if they're ready to go they'll show up and start following me around. If we walk out there with a wire and those stepping stakes and start setting up the fence have to walk back and forth across the pasture several times while we're putting stakes in and the line and I pull up the old fence, they're following us up and down the line waiting for that wire to come up.
They know what's about to happen and even if there's a ton of grass back there they're like, hey we're ready to go. And they're pretty easily trained by routine and calling and such like any animal might be when you reward them with something that they like, like fresh grass, even if the stuff behind them is fine.
I had the finishing herd out on this pasture that's called Melissa's pasture, cuz my sister Melissa used to live in the house on the other side of the pasture, and there's so much grass out there it's beyond what they could possibly make a dent in. The clovers this deep, there's crabgrass, there's fescues, there's all kind of stuff out there, it's ridiculous.
They can't even scratch the surface of it, barely. So, but I need them to continue to be moving because the mama herd is gonna come behind them and kind of do clean-up on that pasture. And right now, the mama herd is like hitting hard where they are, I need like these guys gotta keep moving forward so that the mamas can keep going forward.
Does that make sense?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So even though they don't need to be moved, they're fine, there's just a ridiculous amount of grass out there, I still gotta move them. So I went out the other day and pulled up the wire so they could have the second half of the pasture.
And they're like running because they had been in the same spot for three or four days, so they were just ready for a different view. There's zero reason, For them to leave [LAUGH] where they were but the prospect of new grass it's just fun. And also, they gain better.
I noticed that they looked about the same and then after about two or three days in one spot, it prompts them to graze more. I could go out there and move them in the heat of the day and they'll start eating, when normally they won't eat in the heat of the day.
So I figured that gets one extra grazing in, do it when they would not normally eat.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, how does it work for your bulls? Because they have to kind of be separate, because they can get kind of aggressive, right?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: All bulls, you just have to watch them.
I always tell anybody that's working with me, I know I don't ever want to call anybody's parents and explain to them [COUGH] why my bull hurt their child, or spouse or whatever. And I say do not ever forget that a bull has been bred to do one thing, and it's not like give a crap about you or where you are.
So you always know where the bull is at in the pasture. If there's bull that's on foot in the pasture working in, you need to have access. You should not be out there without pickup trucks, especially if it's a big 40 acre pasture or something. You should not be that far from the fence if you are on foot, you should have a cow stick or something like that.
That being said if I ever have a bull that looks twice at me, they're dead, they go to the slaughter I'm done, there's no second chances on that. That's just not something I mess around with. I care too much about people that work for me and have family and that's not a phone call I'm gonna make.
But we used to have about eight bulls about a year ago. Cuz we had so many animals. And we had been through at the time, there was a time, maybe 2014, when I found out after about four month window that my bull was not working. And a not-working bull means nobody's getting pregnant during that window which means nobody nine months later is having calves for a four-month window.
Which means I got no one coming up slaughter age for a four month window between your staff and that-
>> Luanne Hoverman: Cuz there's only a certain amount of time that they can breed.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: They're real particular, they all come into season every 30 days until they get bred, a cow.
And I think a lot of times they'll stay in. There's more to that than I know. But I know that I couldn't have him not working for that particular time period and we had a lot of cows then. So we went up to Biltmore and bought two big herd bulls who were mature and ready to to work.
They're about three and a half years old, and they were half brothers. So I put them on there and they had the whole herd bred, within geez, 30, 60 days I think. So the lesson, the moral of that story was, that what we decided after that was that we would just start keeping bull calves and raising them up out of our own herd, rather than castrating all the bull calves and the steers.
We would keep a few that looked good at early times and just raise them up with our, and what we would do is when we would wean calves at six to nine months of age, we never weaned them younger than six, for sure. And I'd like to do it closer to eight, seven and eight.
We would keep taking him out of the mama cow and her genetics. We would keep a few of them when they were little and then when, the thing about bulls though is they like to start working when they're six months old. And I can't have them out there breeding with the other mom, then they're interfering with my herd bulls who are trying to actually get work done.
Does that make sense?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Mm-hm.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Like they're messing around with the big bull and the big bull is having to spend energy kicking them off whenever he needs to be breeding. So they need to be removed. So I would take the mamas and the young bull calves to a separate property and just have essentially a bull pen with their mama there.
Or you have to wean them a little bit earlier than you would. And the males are always the big babies, they take weaning worse than the heifers ever do, it's ridiculous. So we kept our own bulls, we would have a bunch of the time and then we'd always put two in to work the herd and we'd get the breeding done at a time.
And that way, I didn't have to worry about one getting broke and you can overwork them, I learn that was another thing we learned the hard way. You cannot put one bull on 50 cows year round. It's just too much, they need to have a break. And then we start implementing calving seasons just for our own frigging personal sanity because when we had 90 cows we were calving year round.
And then, so we calve year round, which means that there was always somebody that now needed be weaned. And so then we'd have to work the herd and pull out the weaned calves. And that mean that there always had to be somebody that needed to be moved from one farm to another.
So after about four or five years, we decided to have two calving seasons, one in the spring and one in the fall, where we'd have two four months season. So we calve four months, be off two calve four months, be off two and so the bulls worked and we took them in and out of those herds, according to that.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Makes sense?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, now do the bulls graze all together like-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Mm-hm.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Cuz I know you can't, unless you're trying to breed them, you don't put the bulls with-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: The cows.
>> Luanne Hoverman: The cows.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So they would be separate, so what I would do is when we wean the young ones, I always have bull pens somewhere and I could put my steers out there.
So what I would do is, when we would wean them all, wean everybody, I have the heifers went to one property. Let's say the heifers as yearlings go to the Creek Ranch and there would be other heifers there, hey dad.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Hey, need any help?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: No, these are not customers, come in and I'll introduce you.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: [LAUGH] All right I guess y'all can introduce yourselves. This is my dad, Steve.
>> Dad: I'm Steve.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Nice to meet you my name's LouAnn.
>> Dad: How you doing?
>> Luanne Hoverman: I'm a graduate student at UNC Charlotte.
>> Dad: Okay.
>> Luanne Hoverman: And this is Mike, he's my husband.
He's also in the class. And we've been interviewing, the whole class has been interviewing area farmers, produce and livestock to get an idea of who supplies the Charlotte food shed.
>> Dad: Okay, we do a little piece of it.
>> Luanne Hoverman: I'm sorry?
>> Dad: We do a little piece of the food shed.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: You wanna sit in dad you can contribute, we're talking about bulls.
>> Dad: Nah, I'll wait, I was just checking.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, you're more than welcome.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I think that you should. Are you gonna take a nap or something or taking- Well, I will be taking a nap shortly.
[LAUGH] Well, they were just asking about bulls and how we manage them and stuff. So we would have all the heifers go to one farm and that meant all the steers would go to the farm where the bulls are. Because steers and the bulls can more or less not have any qualms with each other.
And we might keep one cow or two out there to get the bulls to keep them from standing at the fence fussing. And that would kind of give them something to do but we always said that any time you have a bull pen that every night at sundown there was a bull fight.
Cuz you can look out there right about dusk every night and they would decide it was time to just fight. And that's just, we don't know why, that was the way they live, that's the way they do. So anytime we have a lot of bulls together, they just need to have enough space so that they can postulate to each other and move around without tearing up.
Any offenses or hurting each other. You would not put them into a tight space at all.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Is there anything you want to add to that, Dad?
>> Dad: Well, bulls are a lot easier to manage if you don't want to have a calving season, or if you do have a calving season, like we like, in spring, then you got to find something to do with them whenever they're not breeding the cattle.
And that's the problem, you gotta have a place for them. It's gotta be very secure, you can't have any other cows around. Cuz they'll break out and get to the other cows. And they are managable problems. And now we got a greater of an investment than we've ever had.
We just share our goal with another guy, that's on our old farm down in Blacksburg. And if there was our goal [INAUDIBLE]. And he doesn't have a calving season so he takes care of the bull whenever we don't need him and then we bring him up here.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah and he's got, we know it's genetics cuz we-
>> Dad: We bred him.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: We raised his mama, and we bred him. And so we know what his calves looked like before. And that's a lot easier than the other option. What a lot of guys do is they just buy a new one every year. Now, they use them for a couple months, however long they want their calving season to be and then they'd sell them off and you know it's a sale barn.
>> Dad: We're very particular about our bulls, [INAUDIBLE]. We wanna know what kind of calves they throw, if they can throw a small calf or a good calf. I know why I do that and yes, I would pay a lot of money for a bull. You can't just go to sale barn and buy a [INAUDIBLE] bull.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, and the thing about, if you go to the sale barn you don't know those things about how big their calves are gonna be, which is the most important thing to us. And we don't wanna get some random bull that's gonna make really giant babies, where we're gonna have to go out and pull calves, or mamas might be in a potentially dangerous situation.
That's just a lot of risk.
>> Dad: Yeah, we've found that it's a far better life on the farm if your cows deliver their calves without assistance.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right.
>> Dad: If you have to keep pulling calves all the time, it can make your life miserable and create all sorts of problems.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: All kinds of problems, yeah.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay, I wanna go back to the grass. Are there things that can grow in the grass that can make the cow sick?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Any kind of-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, there's some toxic plants out there. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago there was a real bad drought in this area.
In the late summer, early fall, it didn't rain for two months. And I remember I read about where- Not one of our farmers but some farmer had lost a cow because she ate too much of something called perilla mint. And it looks like a basil plant, a sort of variety of basil and mint, smelly, and it's got an off-putting smell.
And I'm sure that they only ate that plant cuz it was the last thing in that person's pasture. And they were starving, that was a starving cow. Our cows would never be put in that position where they are forced to eat something like that. There are gonna be some toxic things out there, but there's so much other variety of things that they won't.
And then our healthy interest is that they're not gonna eat something, more likely than not, that they shouldn't. I don't really know of other things that are true that toxic to them in this area. That's the only one that I have heard about.
>> Dad: And one more common problem is the things that normally are fine for a cow, like fescue grass and other types of grass, normally are fine.
But with certain weather conditions, like a lot of rain and the frost-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Dad: Make them toxic. Things that they normally eat, like fescue, fescue can be toxic in certain weather conditions.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, yeah, there are certain weather patterns and conditions. There's a particular fungus that grows in the seed head of fescues, infested fescue.
And if they eat a whole lot of it, it can be toxic to them. And some cows seem to be more susceptible to it than others. But if it doesn't rain out here for months at a time, the only thing out there in that pasture is fescue. And it's been the foundation of the cattle industry in the Southeast and that's what will grow and it lives a long time in the winter.
It's drought resistant, and pretty cold tolerant so we have to have it but it's not likely to kill them. [LAUGH]
>> Dad: In our situation, the biggest problem we have with drought, because we're certified organic, is getting the weeds out of our pasture before they can take it over.
Got test by poison.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Dad: So we're constantly battling the weeds in any way that we can.
>> Luanne Hoverman: It sounds like maybe a small goat herd would be-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I know, right? We'll argue this. I've got a new little girl, Bailey, who's helping us on the farm.
And she lives across the street, and she just loves all things farm and she has goats. So she was like, just let me know, I could bring him over here and tie him up, and I'm like anytime you wanna come tie it up I'll understand. I guess she's gonna put him on a leash or something and stake him nearby.
>> Dad: [LAUGH] I saw a picture of one her goats.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: [LAUGH] He's like a bull horn [CROSSTALK] I know. I'm like, I guess you can just stake him into the ground and come back later [LAUGH]. Or they're not gonna stand there and cry [LAUGH]. Are they gonna eat the weed?
>> Dad: We could goat answer for that you don't have control it.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I'm afraid they'll leave the property. Yeah, that's what I'm afraid will happen is that we don't have necessarily goat-proof fencing all over the farm nor do we care to go rebuild all of our exterior fencing for it.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, that makes sense.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: But there are, I have seen not certified organic operations but I know like the multispecies, whenever they move cows, and chickens, and sheep, and goats, they talk about, as far as weed control then that's another method.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Grazing, I know an animal that's gonna hit different things after the cows.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah,
>> Luanne Hoverman: How was this past winter cuz this past winter was very wet. And so, did you have any issues with the amount of rain? I'm sure, I'd like to think it helped people in lush pastures for the cows.
>> Dad: Yeah, the grass is growing along [INAUDIBLE].
The bad thing, they only real bad part is that, we just put them, in winter, slagging through mud puddles and mud holes and mud all over the place. And that just gets old. [INAUDIBLE] And the remnants of it is what they call in the pastures. It's where the cows get on really, really wet soil and they weigh so much they press down the soil.
And it forces all the air out, so between that far apart, and it just creates concrete. So you can walk out there somewhere on the pasture right now and you can't really walk across them [INAUDIBLE]. And it's that concrete and it's not gonna go away for a long, long time.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So that that it's just the day that everything is harder every- All the daily chores are harder- Dad, sit down. All the daily the chores are harder if it's cold and rainy. You have to wear more clothes and so you're wearing pretty heavy boots and heavy, heavy jackets, and the rain is like running off.
You know I mean it just makes everything more difficult, when its heavy raining, the cows, they'll move fine in the rain that's not so much of an issue but the stuff freezes, if it's that way we couldn't really get down the barn without four wheel drive, and you want to drive in the cold and rain because otherwise you are soaked before you can get down there, and at one point we had to haul the animals out.
It's important that we make slaughter dates, you know, like I got to get animals, to even get them up. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to get them from the round pen and onto the gravel because the whole rig was just sliding. We're talking about a 2500 truck and a 25 foot cattle trailer just sliding all sideways.
>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH] Mh-hm.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So, yeah, in four wheel drive. The ground was so saturated. So what we decided to do was we backed the cattle trailer up to the round pen using the tractor. We have a four wheel drive tractor. It's got 90 tires in the front, big 90 tires on the back.
And it has this special hitch attachment where you can put a ball. So you can carry, you can move something that uses, it's like a ball hitch. And then if we couldn't get out, then we could use the tractor to tow up it to solid ground. Set it and trailer down and then hook the tractor up.
But on the upside, we knew that it would be a bummer spring, from on the grass point of view because the ground water takes time. And the spring grass should just boom,which it has. That's been nice. So there's good and bad rain. In the summertime Years ago, it rained and rained and rained one summer.
And the road cropper people were just having a time of it. And the newspaper came out and said, well, how are y'all, what kind of struggles are you having in this rain? I was like, we're growing the **** out of some grass out here, the cows were gaining, I mean, they were gaining three and four pounds a.
Which is remarkable on grass to do that in the heat of the summer. Because the grass was just kept growing. Just kept raining and we kept mowing it and the grass kept growing. I mean it was great, yeah. We were like, we're fine. [LAUGH]
>> Luanne Hoverman: So overall you guys have being in business for about 20 years or almost.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Luanne Hoverman: What kind of changes have you had to make over the years whether it be to how you practice or really anything. Type of cattle, has that changed?
>> Dad: Has what changed?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Luanne Hoverman: The type of cattle.
>> Dad: The type of cattle?
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, like specific breeds.
>> Dad: No, not really. I mean, we have changed a lot in twenty years on this farm, just because we wanted to make changes. But, if nothing, the environment of cattle farming, that never had changed. There's alot of different ways to through a cattle farm and there's still people doing it all kinds of different ways.
>> Luanne Hoverman: No, for example, I just realized. You became certified organic in 2009. So before that, were you basically using organic practices, you just didn't have the certification, or did you change anything to get that.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well that's our initial run counts here, 2001 maybe, 2002.
>> Dad: 2000, 2001 [INAUDIBLE].
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So I would even say a few sentences about what you all did before. We were, he transitioned to grass fed in maybe 2005 or 2006 maybe because I got here in 2008 and there was already a herd you know a herd of that had nothing but grass and so you could probably have them in front organically two years before that but he did cow cap before that.
And also had a soccer operation.
>> Dad: Now we were using chemicals back then that we can't use if you're certified organic. So we weren't really doing it organically. But we grass feed them as much as we can. But there were definitely approaches. We would find calves for awhile at the sale barn and raising them.
I got big 6,700 truckload of calves and it's done way different than what we're doing. We've been doing certified organic cow calf operation where we the calves are born and raised on our farm all the way to slaughter raise. We've been doing that quite a while now.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, keeping the calves as opposed to, most farmers have enough land they can keep a momma herd.
They have a bull come and do the breeding. When the calves get old enough to be weaned they sell them to either another farmer that maybe has a stock in operation and doesn't have moments but just has calves that they know at that point they banned selling the other weight.
But we keep our calves. We just separate them from the mom now so that she can start to get ready for another calf and then instead of moving those calves off the farm we keep them here. But we've, we've had a hard time to get you know the sort of our.
It's easier to find access to those certifiers now than it used to be. When we were first doing it, it took, when we first started, six to nine months just to get a certifier who would come out here and not charge us $10,000. It was just really hard to find.
There wasn't much organic meat anywhere, there was organic, And there were some organic produce. So that was a challenge finding our certifier, and then, we did look at our herd at that point and said you know if we're going to do just grass, we probably want to have a certain kind of animal.
We don't want really big frame animals that are gonna have to eat a ton. We've gone through different philosophies on having framing animals versus ones that are more efficient, and who are maybe not big mamas themselves, but can wean off a big calf. And that depends on if we're selling.
I'm selling steaks at the farmers market, and I want that steak to be big and I don't need a bunch of extra bones on the carcass you know versus if I'm selling wholesale like we sold at a whole foods market for a while and we were getting paid on a hanging weight on the side beef, when that has the bones in it, minus the skull.
And so I need to have a big hanging, heavy carcass. And so framing helps me out in that circumstance. And so in that case it would have been good to have some bigger, framier animals.
>> Luanne Hoverman: So I guess what I'm trying to get to is what made you decide to Make the leap to organic, to go to all that extra effort.
>> Dad: Something I wanted to know, and then Shelly sort of came and implemented it, I just got tired of the traditional role of the farmers. Small farmers like me, we have a cow calf operation, we raise them until they're weaned and then we sell them off to a stockier somewhere.
A stockier operation which especially pays us cash and then from the stockier operation they go out in west cathedral and they spend the last three or four months of their lives in the feed lot out West where the life is just terrible for a cow. They're shoulder to shoulder on a muddy lot.
They're eating out of a feed trough all day.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Standing out in the sun. They got no shade.
>> Dad: They got nothing, they never see grass. They don't have any-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Just stand in mud.
>> Dad: I mean it's just a miserable existence for like the last three or four months of their lives and it always bothered me that I was sending my calves off to a life like that.
So I started thinking about doing it in a better way and more natural way for the cow. And when Shelly came back here we started working on implementing effective changement. Of course when you do that then you gotta have some way to market the cow. When it's slaughtered you gotta have some way to sell it or you can't stay in business, obviously.
And I really didn't have any way to do that until she started going to the farmer's markets and that kind of thing.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah and so if you don't, you know we retain ownership of our animals now, they don't leave the farm until we take them to slaughter.
And the other ways, like he was saying, I used to say all paths lead to the combined animal feeding operation for most weaned calves. You can sell them to a stocker, but then he's gonna sell them to the feed lot. And so we just didn't want to be a part of that whole system.
And the way to do that is to sell the meat ourselves.
>> Luanne Hoverman: That's understandable, sounds like it's very much an ethical calling.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah and this is the kind of meat that we wanna eat and this is the kinda meat I want my family to eat. It just tastes better and so this is just something I always-
>> Dad: Yeah and it's way healthier beef to eat. Healthier for us and the animal itself is also healthier. There's been a lot of research done on that.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: There's been a lot of scientific research on that, the fat profile is a really heathy fat, more omega three's versus omega six's and conventional meat is the fat that you should eat and it just tastes better too so that's a nice plus.
Once you get used to having it and that flavor of the meat, it's really, no other meat has flavor after that, it's all very bland. And I would say that the feed lot is the great equalizer. You can take any animal, any cow from any genetic background, from any farm anywhere in the country, no matter what sex, or shade, or whatever they are, whatever's been done to them before that and if you put them in a feed lot for six months and feed them all exactly the same thing, but the meat is gonna be exactly the same.
And that's kind of the point of feed lots is that there's zero difference in diversity that way, the chef's don't have to know anything about meat anymore.
>> Dad: And it's the cheapest way to raise them now.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: And it's so cheap. Yeah, you don't have to have all of this land, that's the big difference.
>> Dad: People, excuse me, people always wonder, very few people understand that's why grass-fed beef, not to mention organic beef, this is grass-fed beef so much more expensive than conventional beef and it's simply because you have so darn much land to raise a little calf all the way up to slaughter age on grass.
Now you have to have a lot of grass to move them around, got a lot of grass per calf. And in a feed lot, you could put 10,000 calves out there and it gets really cheap. And feed them corn and corn is so cheap because it's raised about ten states in this country.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Not to mention it's very, it's more labor intensive. Because you have to keep moving the cows through the pastures instead of just putting them in a pasture for, like you said, six months, right?
>> Dad: Yeah the labor per cow is way higher.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, speaking of labor, what's your labor force like on the farm?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I got dad here. [LAUGH] And-
>> Dad: I'm not much help, but I'm a little help.
>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: And then we've got a part-timer, we generally keep two part-timers that'll be doing anywhere between 10 and 15 hours a week, maybe 20 hours a week in the hay time.
Whenever we're putting up hay that's real labor intensive hours, a time consuming task in the heat of the summer. Now this year, we've got another person selling with me at the farmers market and so, almost always have that labor with that, so they'll be closer to 15 hours.
>> Dad: We usually have two part-time people and then some family help also.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, we have the family who sort of vacillates between slave labor and, I do pay the teenagers because I want them to like the idea of farming and not be tormented even though I do often make them work, I will pay them to do that.
So that's one of the nice things about having your own business is being able to hire who you want and people who we want to be around and people who are equally passionate about what we're doing.
>> Dad: And we find good people because of the fact that we find people that really wanna do this, not just people looking for work.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Dad: But we have great people working for us, both of them now and we usually do. The bottom is they're always part time because they always have other jobs or they can't afford to work here.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Dad: But we find people that looking for a few hours of work but they really like doing it cause they're so much better employers that way.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Now I'm trying to get a sense of sort of the life cycle, if you will, of your beef. Like how long does it take going from calf to slaughterhouse?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: They're typically, right now we're slaughtering them anywhere from the age of 20 to 24 months, usually 20, 22 is ideal, 22 is really good.
What we have found, we used to slaughter them very young, we've seen kind of younger than that, but what we have found is that they can be a little bit older as long as they're properly fat, which they just took out to be. And when I say fat, that's also saying finished, which means, that finished means that they're fat enough in all the right places that is going to make delicious meat.
That flavor and tenderness comes from them being fat. And so that's really more important than age but typically we've been around 22 months.
>> Dad: Yeah, we rarely don't ever go over 24 months.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.
>> Dad: And the livestock, they spend about seven to nine months with their mama.
They just nurse from their mama and then they're eating grass towards the end of that. And then we'll wean them and we'll send the calves out to our other little farm down the road here where there's nothing but young calves and they'll be there five, six months, and maybe a little more than that.
And then they'll come back and they'll be in our finishing corral here. We've got some over here in the southern pasture, and they're big calves then, and we'll finish them off there.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So there's three different places that they'll be, in that the finishing herd that's here, the last group that they're in, those are the ones that, we're weighing them, we're constantly bringing up to the round pen, monitoring their gains.
We can see how much they've gained from the last time we weighed them. And we know how old they all are and generally which ones are gonna probably get slaughtered next. [SOUND] This is that customer. [SOUND] This is Shelly.
>> Luanne Hoverman: So I wanna go back to the slaughter process.
Which processing plant do you?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: We use Mays Meats right now. And that's in Taylorsville, North Carolina. It's about an hour and a half drive. Like 65 miles or something like that. It's really not far. It's pretty easy to get to, and they're a family owned business. It's been the same employees they've had up there for, gosh they're like lifelong employees, a lot of people up there.
They got certified organic cuz I asked them to. [LAUGH] It took about three years for me to get them to get certified after we got the farm certified and my animals certified. I couldn't claim it on the meat. I couldn't have that stamp on the meat until the processor also got certified.
About the time I got our final audit, and the paperwork came through here, the woman who was in charge of all the paperwork out there, her father was entering the phase of really terrible painful death, long, drawn out death. And so she was just not able to help me with that at the time, so that kinda had to go back on a back burner for a couple of years until she was finally able to spend time on that.
And it was more complicated for them than I thought it would be. I really didn't think there was gonna be anything different in how, for them, as far as being certified organic. But with Bayer, the documentation is more intense. And our animals, when we drop them off, they're not supposed to physically touch any other animal up there.
They cannot be in a pen with any other animals. They can't share water with any other animals, nothing. And so, generally what they they do is when I get there with mine, they take them down straight off the trailer. They don't stand anywhere. They get off the trailer and then they're into the kill shoot immediately.
So that's great for me, because you're talking about an animal who has spent their entire life on an open pasture. And then to be standing in a pen and in a building even if it's a 20 foot ceiling, it's still something they're not used to.
>> Luanne Hoverman: And sounds like you don't really want their last moments to be in a-
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah it doesn't need to be stressful it needs to be calm, they need to be handled calmly. We don't run our cows, when we're sorting and weighing the day before, we train everybody that would work for us in that way, how to move animals, how to apply pressure via your body, how to back away.
So they need to be preferably walking anywhere that they go, no burning of extra calories. [LAUGH] So, occasionally they get excited about something running in their space, but they don't encourage it. Yeah, they lead a really happy, a mellow lifestyle, occasionally you'll get one that's wild. I try to get rid of them out of the herd, the way to do that is to get rid of the mamma, crazy mamma makes crazy calf.
One crazy calf makes the entire crew crazy. And if they're wild, well after I wean then away from their mother, if they cannot keep it together then they're veal. So a couple of times a year or once a year or some years not at all, I'll have veal, grass-fed certified organic veal to sell.
Which is super popular. But only if they are trying to kill me.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay, now, as a non farmer, I'm trying to understand how it works when you decide who you want to breed. Obviously big females, who to sell to the slaughter house, who you keep.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, well, we're in a business of selling a need, so all of my steers, which are castrated bull calves, their whole purpose is to become meat, so they will be always finished that way.
It's something, the only way that they will not become beef is if for some reason they won't fatten out or that there's some impediment to them being a good tasty product. Does that make sense? Like, maybe something befalls them and they get sick and they have to have an antibiotic, they're out.
I generally will not keep them on the property at that point, because they're eating grass and I cannot sell them as organic. And it doesn't matter if they were three days old or three months old, I will not be able to slaughter that animal when they're 22 months old, with the organic stamp on it, period.
Even though the antibiotics are long gone from their system. So that would be one way they would not go into the normal system. The finishing herd, once the heifers and steers are together in the finishing herd is whenever we start. And they're getting older up in age, they'll be here in the finishing herd when they're anywhere from maybe 15 to 22 months old, maybe more like 17 to 22 months.
And I can see how they're growing out and how they're shaping up on the heifers. The heifers are any female that's never had a calf is a heifer, and so I can see how they're looking. Are they straight back line, how they fatten, how slick they are, what their temper is, their disposition.
And at that point I would decide on the females if I wanna keep her and make a mama out of her or if she's just to become beef. And that will be determined on who her mother is, how she looks, and how many mommas I currently have, like do I need one?
Do I need to add some more? Generally in the past we've always added six or seven heifers to the herd every year. And when you do that you will end up with a pretty damn big herd pretty quickly. And we often did that at the expense of meat.
I've got one out there now that's so pretty, I just don't think I can bring myself to take her in. And I need some more mommas anyway. So what I really need to do is take her out of the finishing herd, cause she's just out there getting really fat, and put her in with the mom cows now.
>> Luanne Hoverman: So I met, well I had sent you an email cuz I found your website, and then I talked to you at the Matthew's Farmers Market. How did you get started with selling your meat at the farmers markets?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I went to this conference, back in 2009 in the fall, and it was just a panel up in Nashville, and there were some couple of guys on there who were selling grass-fed meat.
And they said you can do three things, they made it sound so simple. He said first you get a meat handler's license, and then you establish your relationship with a processor, and then you take some meat to the farmers markets. So after I went to that I was like okay, we can do that.
So I called the NCDA. I'm like, hi, I'm Shelly, I need to get a meat handlers license. They send somebody down here to basically make sure that you can fog a mirror and you can get a meat handlers license, anybody can do it. They look at your room to make sure that you don't have rats and dead **** laying around the freezers and that you don't have butter beans in there with what meat you're going to sell.
So a meat handlers license gives you a certification by the state to sell meat, and you cannot have killed it on your farm, unless it's like under a couple chickens. And then the processing, they said call the processor and establish a relationship with the processor. So I called up to May's Meats, I'm like, hi, I'm Shelly.
You haven't met me yet. And of course they're like
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yay, don't care about you. [LAUGH] Don't know you. I mean, they don't like taking seriously up there until I started coming up like we were out soldering. She's four, five cows a month or something. We were up there a lot.
And I pay my bills on time. They went back. So [COUGH] did that. And then so when we finally got meat back from the processor, I mean we had never even had it before. I didn't really even eat any beef before we started doing this. So I had no idea what it was going to taste like or what the difference between conventional meat and grass fed was going to be.
So after we got that first feedback here in the farm, we all set
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Sorry, we just sat down we had like kind of a mixed grill with us strips and we all kind of looked around the table. We were like, okay, here we go and we were all just blown away at how much flavor it had.
We had never had anything like it. It was so damn good. I could not believe it. And I was like, this is fabulous. Then I went up to the farmer's market that weekend with one cooler full of different cuts and the guy, Frank, it was the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Markets.
Older guy Frank, he's retired now, was the manager and he assigned me a spot, paid my ten bucks or whatever it was. And I sold all of the meat that I had in that cooler with a little poster on the table within an hour and a half or something, and it went really fast.
I just didn't realize that there was that much demand for it. So I came back the next week to the farmer's market, same time, and he said, no, I'm sorry, we're full. And I was like, no, no, no. I need to be here, guys. There's people going to be expecting me out here last week.
He's like, well, we're full, there's no space for you. And I was like, okay, so it threw it around for a little bit. My mom was with me. And I found this sweet, little Russian lady who sells homemade bread at the market there, and she was at the end of the building.
And we up to her. And i said, we'll pay your table fee if you let us share this space. And I'll tell everybody to buy your bread. Now, our guest this one cooler, not gonna take a loss and she was really sweet. She let us do them. And then people came back about me the week before and they said, my god, and I first thought was [INAUDIBLE].
And these three people came up and said, that's the best meat I have in my entire life. And I was like scared me to death but there was just not nothing else like it on market at the time. There was some other that the producers go. They weren't really getting the animals fat at the time or they were kind of on some on cows for grasses and they just, it just wasn't great.
But and something about the difference of the genetics or the grass of our animals. It was just so good. And they did a newspaper article about us in that fall. And then next thing you know they were there two people didn't even land at farmers markets, Charlotte, it was amazing.
>> Luanne Hoverman: What are some misunderstood aspects of farming more general agricultural ignorance with the public?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Just the animal modification in general, not all don't forms on animal don't indicate sex. It doesn't have anything to with bull or cow, or heifer, that's a breed specific trait generally.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: All cows, you can milk all cows, that's a fake one.
Even a lot of people, they ask if we have milk. I cannot milk for cows. They're being cows and they're usually different than dairy cows. We've had to milk cow one time to get some milk out of them, or end up had to be able to put it into a gate.
And it's a fight. They do not, can't get up mess with my cows. They're just not tame like a dairy cow. I get that a lot. People want to come and see the farm. There's not a lot to see. The grass is tall and scratchy. You have to wear clothes to have shoes, I mean, like walk out there.
They're big, you can't have your children skipping and run through the fields with cows. My kids can do that, but they know what to do. If something goes crazy and if you are going to start running around, they're going to start running around. So there's the general temperament, when having a big operation like that, they get a lot of animals that are, they just can't handle them in that way, how they act.
Another misconception, we're getting rich. That's a good one. I can't tell you how many people, it's always men, come up at the farmer's market, and you can see the wheels turning in their head that I'm charging $7.50 for a pound of ground beef. And they're like, how many pounds of meat do you get off cow?
How many cows do you slaughter? How many cows you have on the property? And you can see they're trying to add up how much money I'm making, with zero clue as to what goes on on the farm. As far as what it costs to bring this meat to the table.
From an animal having to get pregnant, be pregnant for nine months. And the calf's got to to be at her side for nine months. Then the calf's got to be moved around multiple pastures for the next 15 months, or something. And then I got to call into slaughter.
And I got to pay a thousand or it's more than $1,000 for every animal that we slaughter. It's $1.37 for every pound of meat that I sell that goes to that processor. It's very expensive and then get out then put it in coolers on Saturday morning and drag it up to the farmer's market into your alls table.
So there, you'd come out and see this house and think that this is all none of this is paid for about this land, none of these animals hardly. We pay our part timers and I finally get my truck paid for so dad's never been paid for any of this.
I do pay my kids and I get a little something beyond my trite payment that the farm makes and that's it. You can make money doing it, we tried for a long time to get really big, and then we made good money with Whole Foods, and then that went on for about a year and then, and then they wanted to lower the price.
And they went and found somebody else who would take a lower price and they then came back and pressured me to lower our price. And I was like, yeah, I give all the ****. No, not doing it. I'm just not going to work this hard and make less money.
We were working so hard to meet those quotas and process that many animals and I'm just like crawl into bed with my grocery store and they were like we can give you some loans and you can buy some more land cuz they kept saying what do we need they wanted more.
They wanted more and more and more and that's like, yeah, we went down that road, and I'm not doing it again. I forgot what the question was, what were you talking about initially? Misconceptions, yeah, in the sense that, yeah, that we're making a lot of money.
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Let's see, I think the real, it's that I don't think the people think its easy now.
I think it's very labor intensive but what I think that people maybe never think about, I wouldn't call it a misconception but what I think to never really consider. And I maybe didn't really think a lot about, until they got here, was the livestock. Anytime you have a regular job, you have a tick list in your mind every day of like what you want to get accomplished.
Any time you're working with livestock, they also have their own idea of what they're going to be doing that day that probably has nothing to do with what farmer wants to accomplish. And so any time we go do something with animals whether it's move them from one pasture to another or load them onto the trailer and haul them somewhere.
Or feed bulls, put out minerals or whatever we need to do. They may or may not cooperate. And so you kinda firmly, when I first got here we were still learning how to do a lot of this stuff. And we could go out to try and get something done and get nothing done.
And spend hours in absolute frustration. And this really drove me nuts because, everyday we didn't get something done, was more **** on the next day that needed to get done. Like that just put off and added on to the long list of **** we already had to get done.
Whether it was like broken equipment or livestock or weather, rain when we needed to be cut hay or lightning when he put the fence out. There's just so many variables between livestock and weather led to a lot of frustration that you really cannot let just maybe make you crazy.
You have to release to that whole, I'm definitely gonna get these things done today mentality. You kinda have to be a little more flexible I guess. Cuz I would be like, my God, Dad, we're getting so behind. He's like, we're never gonna, the list's always gonna be there.
You're never caught up. We're never, never, ever, ever Is there a point where there's not ten things that need to be done. It's just a matter, I call it just putting out fires. We spent the first year just frigging putting out fires in one farm or another. How we said could we just keep everybody on the property, like, if you just don't leave.
>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Gosh and that comes from chasing cows, we've chased cows. We had a Shelby farm 200 acres out there and that was up along the Broad River. And there was not a fence on it when we first got the property. And the guy who had farmed it before said they never go across the river.
And we were like okay cool like forty nine cows out there. And Tanner went over there one day and he's like, Shelly, I cannot find cows. And I said, Well just go down where they've been hanging out by a river down there and just call them. And keep looking.
You're gonna have to find them. And so he called and called and called and called. He called me and he said, and he called me, and I could hear him in the background coming. And I said where in the heck were they? He said, they've been on the other side of that river and I mean a long way.
And it was not our property on the other side of the river. I don't know what was over there, nothing but woods and then a road some other distance back. The whole damn heard had just been out there. It was crazy. So we had to go build fence.
Chase cows up and down Broad River with woman and this deep in the water with my phone in one hand up here trying to get them to go out of the river back up. And then I'm gonna have to go cut a fence, and get them to jump the fence to go back onto our property.
That's the kind of thing that will wear you out. So there's a lot of athleticism involved in keeping cows and being a farmer that's something I did not anticipate. I don't think people realize how you gotta keep physically and be strong.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Do you have any unique experiences from being a woman farmer?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well there's a lot of doubters at the beginning when I was doing this because, mostly with older people. Most people in our generation and younger see no reason why women shouldn't be doing this or couldn't. They also most of them have zero to no experience with farming also.
All the old man farmers, which are the only farmers I know, the old ones are all men. They were completely befuddled, you could just see the look on their face. They did not know what to say, or how to talk to me or anything. I mean, I used to speak at the local Cattlemen's Association, and it's almost like, I think they did not believe me.
A couple of them, I remember, they would say, they would look at me and be like, so what do you do? And I'd say I pretty much took everything that anything that needs to be done. That's what I do. And they just furrow their brow and kind of shake their head.
And I was like I don't even know where to start. I mean what am I gonna tell them? [LAUGH] You know I'm like, whatever you do, that's what I'm doing here. And they're like, just can't. They've never, and that's just been the limit of their experience. So there was that.
Had a processor issue one time. I think that was more of he was just a sexist to everybody. Not so much that I was in catle. But what I have found is that people spend even just, a minute talking to me realize that I know what I am talking about.
And I don't have any self doubt about that anymore. Nine times out of ten when I'm talking to other cattlemen, if they seem a little bit, because obviously a woman who knows what I'm talking about, usually they're the one that doesn't know what's really going on. They don't know enough to know that I do know what I'm talking about.
So, but yeah, that's only for some of the older guys that's that an issue. I wouldn't mind being 6'4" and 280 a lot of days when it comes down to roll out of the ground bail of hay. Dad and I, he's a skinny old man, middle aged woman so we'd spend more time than I would like around with equipment we can't move or we're having to do all these other steps to get something accomplished where if we were just a big strong man we could just pick it up and hook it up.
Or I have to wait for my young, strong buy come over and finish the task in the evening. So I could be more efficient at some stuff I need to get done. But yeah, and I don't really have an interest in driving a tractor for eight hours in circles anymore, too old for that.
But that's not male female, that's mostly an age thing. [LAUGH] So it's certainly a liability to be smaller.
>> Luanne Hoverman: Last question, Where do you see the future of the farm?
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I think dad and I, as long as we are still here and able, which I expect to be long time we'll keep doing this.
And we, I'm don't expect to get any bigger, I've already done that. We've done it a couple a different ways enough to know what we want to do and what we don't want to do. We might sell differently. At the end of the month, not having to go to the farmer's markets if I could just sell quarters and halves from the store here that would be ideal and that would be a lot less work.
As much as I enjoy the markets, the continuity of them, the every single Saturday no matter what all year round kinda wears on the family. Kinda just tired, it's just a long day, long drive. And then the only thing I think would change would be is if, once we're no longer able to do it, if one of the kids wants to take over.
They can do whatever they want. I always tell them, you don't have to keep doing this. You could turn this into frigging GMO soybeans if you want, I don't care. It's just whatever. You could raise 10,000 hogs or have a humongous vegetable garden. I don't care. It's land.
You could grown hemp. Whatever you want to do is fine with me. Figure out whoever is in charge and they should be able to make choices. But I've always said that [COUGH] dad will be doing this until he's dead. And then, he'll be 100 and I'll be 75, and he'll be like Shelly come on.
Let's go get those cows.
>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]
>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Let's get out of here. The answer is no. It's just, we'll always do that. So, no matter how old I get, I will always have to awlays be helping him.
>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]
>> Luanne Hoverman: Mm-hm, that was it.
Nadine Ford is a native Charlottean who grew up in the Druid Hills neighborhood. Mrs. Ford’s love for growing things began in her early childhood where she lived on a farm and learned gardening from her parents and grandparents. As she grew up, this love for gardening transcended into a desire to help her community through teaching, sharing and growing food. She found the opportunity to follow this dream when in 2009; she obtained permission to revive an untended community garden in Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood. The garden became a success, reflecting both her spirit and hard work. Nadine Ford was eventually asked to open another garden in her own Druid Hills neighborhood, which she did in 2016. In this interview, Mrs. Ford discusses the history of Charlotte and its inner city, her personal history, and the history of the Little Sugar Creek and Druid Hills gardens. Also, a recent appearance by Mrs. Ford on Charlotte talks with Mike Collins on the topics of “food deserts” and “food insecurity” provides an interesting foundation for this interview, affording Mrs. Ford the opportunity to talk about what was said, and what wasn’t said, about Charlotte’s problems with food access, racism, segregation and displacement. Other topics included in this interview are challenges faced by the gardens, challenges for its volunteer staff, and of the challenges faced by female growers today in particular. Highlights not only include discussions of the growing, donation and distribution of the food from the gardens themselves, but for the opportunities, dialogue, education and advancement provided by those who have volunteered and participated in the gardens growth. Mr. Ford’s descriptions and accounts clearly illustrate the challenges faced by urban farmers and in particular, minorities in the Charlotte region during an era of demographic change and displacement.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:11||Beginning of interview|
|0:01:35||North Carolina Community Garden Partners|
|0:07:17||Definition of food desert|
|0:09:42||Access to food|
|0:10:32||Independent vs. major grocers|
|0:18:15||West Charlotte area, I-77 and separation|
|0:21:52||Change in Charlotte demographics|
|0:22:57||Light rail, bike trails|
|0:24:27||Family history and farms|
|0:26:01||Beginning of community gardens|
|0:28:07||How the gardens operate|
|0:28:45||Druid Hills Garden|
|0:29:53||Plants grown in the gardens|
|0:31:57||Neighboring Gardens and networks|
|0:34:56||All volunteers, support donations|
|0:36:03||Youth, radishes and the jail|
|0:46:37||Challenges for woman in gardening and farming|
|0:49:07||Lack of major grocers in low income areas|
|0:51:57||Work ethic, fear of failure|
|0:54:31||Future of gardening|
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, hi, this is Adam Hussein, I'm a graduate student from UNC Charlotte. Today's date is Thursday, April 18th, 2019. This interview is conducted in the Building at approximate 9:05 AM. I'm here with Nadine Ford of Little Sugar Creek Garden, and we're here to talk about the Queens Garden World History Project, which is through the class of UNCC.
The project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region. Nadine if you would state for the record your full name for us.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Elaine Nadine Ford, but I prefer Nadine.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, and your age only if you want to.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: 56 years old.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, and what is your association with, I guess I had Belmont Garden but Sugar Creek Garden?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: I am the garden manager, I revitalized that garden in 2009 along with staff from Johnson and Wills, and friends from around the city and the county.
>> Adam Hussein: And you also part of North Carolina Community Garden Partners?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yes I am a new board member, I've only been on there for about a month, although I've been an active member since their inception.
>> Adam Hussein: And actually I saw that, and that's where I'm gonna start with before I get into other questions, that you were on Charlotte talks with Mike Collins, and if we could talk a little bit about that.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Sure.
>> Adam Hussein: And could you tell me who was on the panel and what were the main talking points?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Okay, so we had Reggie Singleton, who was the founder and executive director of the Male's Place. Dr. Katherine Metzo, who was a past chair of the Charlotte Food Policy Council, and India Solomon, the mobile market manager for the Bald.
And the original topic was about food deserts, and food insecurity in Charlotte. And we worked to, once we began talking, we realized that he did four shows previously on the same topic. And he came to more or less the same conclusions and the same topic points, so we intentionally tried to steer it away from the norm to talk about things that aren't normally spoken about, the unspeakables.
So you end up in the conversation you heard things such as plant segregation. We talked about sovereignty, land sovereignty. We had a perspective of it coming from the work of community that Charlotte is currently experiencing, but we talked about white supremacy and how a lot of these items go into red-lining.
A lot of these items go into making food access hard for some people. We wanted to get into but we didn't have time, actually the history of using food as control when the British used it against the Irish for the Potato Famine. And even when colonizers used it against enslaved people they would often feed the enslaved people that did well more food.
And the ones that didn't do so well, they would give them minimal food which was kind of counter-productive because the ones that didn't do well may have been weak due to hunger. So you think that they would have given them better food but they didn't. But so the topic was again, how did Charlotte get to where it is and with the food access and how do we solve it.
>> Adam Hussein: Mel, this is your chance to elaborate more to what you didn’t get to say, these topics, I guess he was trying to stick to a narrative but you guys had some points you want to make. So if there’s any you didn’t get to make there this is gonna be in the USCC archives hopefully for 100 years or more, so now’s your chance.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, one of the things that I look at is Charlotte has a fear of its own history. And this is something that I did mention on the show. Tom Hanchett, who is the area specialist on history, wrote a great book that talked about Charlotte history, Sorting Out the New South City Charlotte.
And it explained how Charlotte actually started out as a very integrated city, both racially and economically in the First War. Then, when the Jim Crow Laws hit is when Charlotte gave in, went the way of the South and began the segregation. When you looked at Charlotte make up, you will see you have that Meyer's Park, Eastover wedge.
And he talked about how that was formed, which was basically, people from out of town wanted to invest in Charlotte. Well the planners would guide them to this wedge. This is the wedge they wanted to develop for their well to do, and it allowed the outlying areas to come what may, become ghetto, so to say.
So that was the planned segregation. Then you had the area's Second War, which was a prosperous black neighborhood. It was deemed, right after the Jim Crow laws, the city planners decided they didn't want black people living there. So it didn't happen until the 1960s, and then when it happened, the area was repainted 1960s, 1970s, when the area was torn down, it was repainted as being a ghetto.
Well, my grandmother lived there, and I can promise you she did not live in the ghetto. It was a very mixed income neighborhood that was very prosperous. So we want to talk about that, we also just want to talk about land sovereignty, about the fact that when the land was being divided, you had state colleges that would give white farmers land to grow food, and wouldn't give black people lands to grow food.
So right then and there you start with this food inequity situation. And that's one of the things people don't talk about. They always want to talk about, well how do we get to food here and now? Well let's go back and look at what happened? How do we get here?
Because until you know your history you can't move forward with your future, so.
>> Adam Hussein: So you need to do that to get to the root of the problem, you can't do your thing, you just can't bring food in and solve the problem.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: No you can't, and that's what a lot people try to do.
I liken it to swapping hogs. You just go in, throw food at the hogs the hogs will eat it. And people tend to think if you just go in and throw food at people who don't have it they're going to eat it but it's much more than that.
You have to look at hows and you have to look at medical, you have to look at what is missing from this neighborhood that doesn't have versus this neighborhood that has, and where is that balance? You wanna treat those that don't have with as much dignity and respect as you do those that do have.
And again, these are things that when we talk about the topic of food access, even when you look at the definition of food desert, and this is what I told Mike. Technically it doesn't, it's so nebulous, it makes no sense. A food desert is described by the FDA as an area that lacks food.
And that the nearest grocery store, I've seen it from being half a mile in distance to being a mile in distance. So it depends on where you're looking. But, and as I also told Mike, when I grew up in an area that was called a food desert, I never knew I was in a food desert until the Food Positive Council started up 10, 15 years ago here in Charlotte.
And then I kept hearing this term. Food desert, you live in a food desert. I never went hungry. I don't know of any neighbors that went hungry, because we had that sense of community. If somebody fell upon hard times then the rest of the neighborhood got together to help them out until they made it through.
And it wasn't so much a handout, because it may be if Mr. Martin fell on hard times, well, he's a bricklayer. So while we may,
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Feed him, he would come by and do some brick work for my father, or something. So it was that sense of community, but we don't look at it like that.
We want to honestly look at these organizations that come in, well, we're gonna have a food drive. We're going to give food, but then when you're gone, what's going on?
>> Adam Hussein: So the desert is not so much that people couldn't find food and are starving, is it more like access to healthy foods?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: To me the term food desert is more of a have and have-not situation. I'm going to tell you that you live in a food desert, and I'm going to tell you that you need to do this, that and the other. So it's control, I'm telling you what your situation is, as opposed to, and this is one of the biggest problems we have.
We don't listen to the voices that are in there. So by you telling me I live in a food desert, you're setting me up for almost a psychological warfare. What do you mean I live in a food desert? My god, I'm less than? So it's more than just about food.
Like I said, when they started saying that, I'm like, what are you talking about? We've always had food.
>> Adam Hussein: So it's just a label.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It's just a label and it's designed by outsiders.
>> Adam Hussein: Well, since we're talking about that and fresh food, tell me a little bit about the problems in not having access to fresh and healthy food.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, and then again, you have to look at what's the definition of access? Because now I mean there are so many ways, you can grow your own food. You can get with a neighbor and do a neighbor garden. I don't want to say community garden because that's confusing.
You have delivery services, Amazon will deliver food within two hours if you get the subscription. And sometimes, I wanna say and I'll go back to look to see that they even discount it for people who have a marginal income. You have Uber or Lyft, (I won't take Uber) so you could call and say, hey can I get a car to go to the grocery store?
So what is that concept of access, now what do they mean? And back in the old days when I was a kid, you just got out there and walked to the grocery store. So in my neighborhood there are two grocery stores, that's probably from my house. One is less than a mile, the other one might be two miles at the most.
But the city says I live in a food desert, because they're not major grocery stores. They're not major, they're not a Publix or a Harris Teeter or an Aldi's. So again, why is that definition? What does the concept of a major grocery store have to do versus the store in my neighborhood is Wayne's.
It has all of the same material as a Food Lion, but because it's not a Food Lion, I live in a food desert
>> Adam Hussein: So you don't really feel there's a difference in these independent grocers as far as what food you can get being healthy. Or so forth versus a Harris Teeter or a Food Lion, or anything?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: No, only difference may be the prices
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: May be a little bit more expensive because they don't have that bulk buying. You may not get the freshest of the fresh, but it's not inedible. It's not gonna be as pretty, and that's one thing also with Americans, is that we're used to the pretty fruit.
I went the other day, I was at a Harris Teeter, had to get some food. And they had bananas on sale for $1, the bananas that they wanted to get rid of quickly because they don't look pretty. So I grabbed them and said I'll put them in the freezer for my smoothies.
When I started peeling them, to take the skins off, the banana part was fine. The skin was a little mottled up, but the bananas weren't bruised, I mean, they were great. But again, because Americans are trained, I want that pretty yellow Chiquita banana, I don't want one that has spots on it.
So the food that is still good, but it was gonna go to waste.
>> Adam Hussein: Have you seen the opposite, where you get the food that looks wonderful on the outside. And it's probably come from another country, South America or something by the time it gets here,. And they've made it look pretty, they've coated it or whatever.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And it has no flavor, so tomatoes, for instance, I'm a Southern, and I know when tomato season is here and when it's not. But we've gotten to where we have access to tomatoes 24/7, and if you look at the nutritional value of some of these tomatoes. They don't have any, because they're just like the chickens.
You go out and when I was a kid a six-month-old chicken wasn't but yea big. Now a six month old chicken about the size of a emu, because they pump it up, but it has no flavor, it has no nutritional value. Same thing with all this food you get, they grow it fast, they grow it in a sterile environment, so to say.
In that the soil doesn't they have the
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: The germs, the microbes that give it flavor, so you get this beautiful tomato, it has no flavor. Apples, sometimes I'll get, if it's off-apple season, but I really just want an apple. And I don't get a North Carolina apple, it has no flavor, so avocados.
So it's, yeah, you can get food and it will be pretty, but it won't have flavor. It's off season, it probably won't have much nutritional value, but that's the way we're being trained.
>> Adam Hussein: Going back to the interview, one topic that was interesting was the mentorship for the young men.
Being involved in growing and producing food, I thought that was really interesting. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, so that's Reggie Singleton's project and it started out of the Health Department, the Males Place. He started in 2009, and they have a garden in Fred Alexander Park over off of.
It's on McAllister, it's over off of Beatties Ford Road. And he takes the gentlemen from age 12 to 18, basically his program is to break that prison pipeline. So he teaches these young men how to be men, how to take care of their family. One of the aspects of it is growing food, he's teaching them how to reclaim our heritage of being farmers.
Southern heritage, black heritage, but just being farmers, they are broken up into tribes. In each tribe the gentlemen are called warriors, so each tribe has a section of the garden that they tend to. And they bless the garden with a opening day, they harvest, they work this garden with the crops, with the seeds.
Then they have a harvest day and then they have a closing day. And they'll present at farmers markets, they'll sell at the farmers market and all of the money they raise goes to a big event. So this year they're going to Cuba in June, so all the food that they raise and they sell will go to that event.
So it gives these guys that may normally not have a chance to get out and see the world, it gives them a chance to go out. They've gone to South Africa, like I said they'll go to Cuba, they'll do volunteer work over there. They'll look at gardens over there, or the agriculture so they can bring these things back and tie everything together.
>> Adam Hussein: That sounds like an amazing program.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It is, and they're great guys, for instance But I've known Reggie, we've started at the health department, so I've known him for a while in this program. But, they will come out because he is about letting these young men learn how to give back.
They come out to Magaluf, Sugar Creek and Tilburg with this little tiller, and it took them about half a day to get it rolled on but again, to get to learn how to give back. They've gone to the elders' houses and done lawn care for them, cut the grass and clean up.
So he is making these young men fitting into society or to make sure that they are a benefit to society, and that society benefits them as well.
>> Adam Hussein: Now, how's the participation? It's seems like the incentive to be able to give back and also to make impact other places in the world, would be a great incentive for the participation in the program.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It's very well attended. He has a lot of neighborhood support. So he has the young men coming, he has their parents participating. He gets the elders from around the neighborhood, elected officials often will stop by. So it's very prosperous, and it's a great program. It is a hidden treasure, people are starting to find out about it now.
But it is one of Charlotte's truly hidden jewels.
>> Adam Hussein: And actually, that's the first, when I listen to the, Mike Collins it was the first time I heard about that, I said wow what a great opportunity, not only travel another country but when you're learning about producing food, and you're going to another country, and you're sharing that with somebody else.
I thought that was awesome when I heard that.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, it's a great program.
>> Adam Hussein: Now going back to another topic. So you're talking about the divide, racism that actually created the inequality in the first place. Couple things I ran into also talking to people in and the Lockwood project that I was involved with, also had mentioned that when they built 77, that was a dividing line.
Just give me your thoughts on that.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: So, when the whole area was, sorry about that. The.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Drip Hills Lincoln Heights, Newland Road, that whole west Charlotte area was hugely connected. And this is a pattern across the country.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: For some odd reason, the government gets concerned when like-minded people that they don't want to have together get together.
So for instance, you had at one point where during the Jim Crow years, the progressive white people and the black republicans got together, so when the democrats were the client. And then they got to they start saying, hey look, these are some things we need to do to fix.
So, once the democrats saw that, and they knew they didn't want these people in power, they developed a method to separate them, with the same last ten come up now. Well, to the progressive whites who are usually lower income and does all the black people don't take your jobs.
To the black people I don't know what was I said but, it was enough to put that wedge in there. And then even with blacks from being Republican over to Democrats, things were being said that my father was Republican. And by the time I came up the boat, there was no being a black republican was not, being a republican was not a thing because it was no longer for black people.
Same thing with 77, you have this great industrial area with Charlotte, and in other to from what I was always told, in order to quelch some of that power, they did. They came through and they put 77 right through the black side of town. And when, for what reason, just to, I mean you look at it, it just goes through all the black neighborhoods.
>> Adam Hussein: What about, in relation to that, what about the gentrification and the light rail line now?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, and I don't use the word gentrification, I call it displacement because that's what happened. So, if you want to look at that even that topic in itself. What's going on in Charlotte right now, is housing is very hot the price of housing is very high.
You have the young man transplants what we wanna come, come in and they're fine if they can't afford these higher in neighborhoods. So they still have a decent amount of money, so they're moving into what are now the lower end black neighborhoods. Well, physics, two objects and they occupy the same space at the same time.
So by them going out and buying the black neighborhoods, they're displacing the black people. Or, I'm not going to say black people, the lower income people. Because some of them are white too and brown. So that's one step. And Charlotte to me has always, well not has always.
But since, I remember shift being world insurance came down, that's when Charlotte went from being a southern town to actually losing its identity. And now it seems to me its hooked on being young. So, its doing everything it can to populate this younger generation, its like in Logan's Run, when everybody hit 30.
They buzzed him off, they killed him. I tell people, [LAUGH] Charlotte could do that. I really do. I think once you hit 30, they will get rid of you. So in the Lockwood community which actually started out as a White neighborhood, Lockwood, I think Heights, all these neighborhoods Benefitted from the work being done at what is now Camp Norfin when it was the Model T Ford factory.
So there were red-lined neighborhoods which meant that black people could not purchase a house in that area, but once the Model T Ford Company closed down these people, Were out of jobs, so they moved out, which opened up these neighborhoods for black people to move in.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: So what was the question?
[LAUGH] I got sidetracked. We were talking about, gentrification.
>> Adam Hussein: Yes.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And 77.
>> Adam Hussein: Yes.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And the light rail. So now the light rail is coming through, but the light rail is a little more glitzy. It's cool and it's hip, so it's gonna go and serve that population, it's gonna serve the hip and cool population.
If you even look at the Carolina trail, trail, trail, the bike trail. That doesn't go through, you'd think it would go through lower income neighborhoods so that people can hop on it. And get the places now is again it's going into the higher end glitzy neighborhoods. Charlotte will destruct or what I've seen is there's a lot of destruction, but there's not a lot of repair.
>> Adam Hussein: Make sense.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: [LAUGH]
>> Adam Hussein: It does. it does and I can see why the special people working down town wanna live near the, The rail line in our situation I have one of my sons has actually learned that he's renting a place that's by the light rail he works downtown and he thinks he's it..
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah and its expensive. Yeah.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, yep. So, let's go towards the questions but more towards yourself.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Okay.
>> Adam Hussein: And how you got involved in this And I guess if you could begin with your history about how you learned about growing food and things.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Like I said a few times, probably, I'm from Charlotte.
My maternal grandmother grew up on a self-sustaining farm. The only time they left the farm was to get sugar and fabric. So she taught my mom and my aunts, my uncles, excuse me, how to grow food. My dad's mom was a herbalist and she was also a gardener.
So she taught him how to grow food. With all of that influence around me, I had no choice but to learn how to grow food. If I was really into it, I probably could have learned how to butcher a hog and choke a chicken. But I was like, no.
[LAUGH] We okay with that. You passed on that. I passed on that. Or strangle a chicken. So it was the norm in my family for everybody to have even just a little garden. It didn't have to be big, but to always be in the soil.
>> Adam Hussein: So you each had your own little patch?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: At the house, everybody had to help my mom with her garden. And then, as we grew up and went our separate ways, everybody still has just a little, it might be like three tomatoes. But it's just something about putting plants in the ground and growing things that's edible.
I think my niece, because my nephew just started his garden. She just got her house so she'll probably start hers this year. But I think it's something in our blood. So with that being said, I've always grown food. Just in a small scale for me. The way the garden came about, I was a health inspector.
So I saw food out there and I just saw food out there in ways that being a health inspector you just see food. Then I switched over to solid waste, waste reduction. And after a couple years, first, I worked with businesses to encourage them to recycle. Then an opportunity came up for me to do organic waste reduction, gardens.
And I was driving around one day looking at the community gardens, and I saw the one in the Belmont neighborhood, North Alexander Street, that was abandoned. So I reached out to Park and Rec and was literally like hey, you got this piece over here, can I have it?
And they were like yeah, because nobodies doing anything with it. So I reached out to Don who's my mentor and I said hey, I got this great opportunity to open up this community garden. Can you help me out because this was bigger than my backyard garden. He told me some in and outs, some things to do.
We started enlisting people, like I said, just from the area. Not so much from the Belmont neighborhood, but just from around. And hey, let's go ahead and do this, let's grow some stuff. Totally independent of that, Johnson and Wells chefs reached out to me because they wanted to do, what we had at the time, a master composters program.
Which was a 40 hour program that taught you how to compost and how to teach others to compost. They asked if they could do it. But their work schedule only allowed them to do it on weekends, Saturday mornings. I said, you know what? This is great. We can do it a hands-on approach.
We'll spend four hours in the garden every Saturday. The first hour will be dedicated to education and the next three will be working to revitalize our garden. So we did that. We knew we didn't want to rent the plots to people, we wanted to have a communal feel to it.
You come, you work, you harvest, you eat. And that's how it started out, so even now, we don't rent plots. You come in, we have a punch list every Saturday of things that need to be done. You decide what it is you can do and what you can't do.
If you only know how to pull weeds, then you pull weeds, but you'll learn how to plant seeds. You'll learn how to harvest. You'll learn how to identify issues going on. Our goal is get you in there and then to teach you. And then if you decide that you want to do it on your own and you wanna do a home plot, that's fine.
At least now, you have the tools and the knowledge to get it going. So it's one of three communal plots, I think in Charlotte, of communal gardens. The other one is Druid Hills, which we just started that one, three seasons ago. It's in the Druid Hills neighborhood and that's a communal garden, people come in and help with it.
>> Adam Hussein: How big are the gardens?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Little Sugar Creek is 960 square feet. It used to be a house and what's pretty cool is the fella that used to live there, he's a older guy. He's like 80 something years old. He came by one day two years ago and we see this guy walking around.
We're like, can we help you? And he was with his wife and they just happened to be in the neighborhood and he wanted to see whatever happened to his old home. And so that felt good because he approved of it. He's like I like what you're doing with the property.
It's like thank you. And the Druid Hills has 15 plots, it's raised beds. Eight by four raised beds, so it's 15 of those. Little Sugar Creek is laid out in ground as production, whereas Druid Hills is more your traditional community garden with the wooden beds.
>> Adam Hussein: And what kind of plants are you growing?
Do you grow the same ones at both places?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yes and no, because of land restrictions. Druid Hills is more your traditional tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, flowers, I'm trying to think what else we've got. We do okra over there, that's Druid Hills, whereas Little Sugar Creek is a little more exotic.
So we'll have okra, corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, eggplants, peas of sesame seeds. I'm trying to think of what's on the list of stuff. I would say everything from Druid Hills would have come from Little Sugar Creek but not everything that's at Little Sugar Creek will be at Druid Hills, I think I said it right.
Everything at Druid Hills, we run at Little Sugar Creek outside of Bacchus. But not everything at Little Sugar Creek can be grown at Druid Hills. That was it.
>> Adam Hussein: Having an herbalist in your history, do you grow anything from that influence?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: We do, we have medicinal plots.
So we have St. John’s wort, dill. You can use the dill seeds and mix it with honey to help with internal issues. Peppermint. We have obviously peppermints and spices. Trying to think what else we have going on out there. We have a lot of stuff.
>> Adam Hussein: I know you've networked obviously with other people with some of the same goals and things you have.
Are there any other neighboring gardens that are close by yours that you work with or exchange ideas and so forth?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: So this is one of the cool things about Charlotte, the community gardens scene is very connected. We work with Belmont, the Belmont community garden which is part of Charlotte Greens.
Charlotte Greens is the oldest urban or inner city garden association in Charlotte. So they have the Belmont neighborhood, community garden, Willmore. Bethlehem Center, Genesis Park, two more. The rose place that's in North Davidson, the rose shop that's right by the cat station. Anyway, they have a community garden there.
Or they help with the roses over there. So, Sissy Schoal used to be the head over that. I think she retired so now it's Anna somebody. I haven't spoken with Anna in a while. But I work with them. Of course with Reggie. When we started out, we did a lot with Urban Ministries and Hope Haven.
I just left Assurance Sharing Garden at Assurance Methodist up near Huntersville, so yeah, we have quite a few.
>> Adam Hussein: Do you have any plans? You're involved with these two. Are you expanding beyond these once you get them established?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: If people want, I'll come out and help download, I forgot about downloading.
So probably, but our thing is not just to supply food, but it's also to build a connection. Our biggest pride is that we get a lot of people that may never associate with each other in real life or outside the garden, but once you come into the garden, everybody's equal.
I mean we've got Trump lovers and we've got complete Obama lovers. And we start working the soil, and there are no issues and no problems. We're concentrating on getting these plants to grow. So it's these kind of things that we love to see, that sense of unity and community.
>> Adam Hussein: So you would say growing food brings people together?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It does, mm-hm. You're growing the food and being in the soil. I think more so being in the soil because half the time we're pulling weeds. And we're pulling weeds and we're chit chatting and joking. So it's just the connection back to the earth.
>> Adam Hussein: I will say pulling weeds by yourself is boring.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: My Lord. Yeah.
>> Adam Hussein: So if you've got an interesting conversation going to be pulling weeds, then no problem, no problem. You do say everybody's a volunteer. There are no paid employees, everybody's a volunteer.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Everybody volunteers. We've been fortunate enough that we don't even really pay for our material.
Our seeds, we pay but usually we'll catch donations. We'll have gardeners that may grow too many. We have one woman, Holmes, that lives up in Davidson. She's been great. She loves to grow and she always has a surplus. So she will bring us her surplus of plants. We have another woman, Shannon, that's a realtor.
If she has too many seeds, she'll give me a call, hey, I got too many seeds. Friendship Trace Community Garden has been a really big supporter with seeds. The jail north on Spectrum Drive has a horticulture program that they've supported us since we started. And they are part of the 4H program ag extension.
So a lot of people want to see us succeed and they help us out immensely.
>> Adam Hussein: Yeah, and actually I was gonna ask you about that. Where do people hear about it, and where do you get them from? Actually I did read something about the jail. The Sheriff's department had a program that was really successful in getting them to come out and help out there.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yep, they will, they grow the plants. And one of the coolest things ever was, I guess this was our third year. We partnered with the Trinity Principle. Lots of little kids and we picked up some radish from the jail. Which, radish is very hard to transplant because it's a root crop.
So I'm teaching the children how to, you don't want to disturb it. You basically want to put the whole plot of soil Into the soil and hopefully the radish will take. Well, it did, and they sent back the greatest emails or letters, handwritten letters to the inmates. And those guys they were beaming because here they are in jail, being looked upon by society cuz you're in jail.
You serve no purpose in life. But with them growing them radish seeds, they were able to feed families, that weren't their own. No, they couldn't do directly for their own family. But here, they were able to feed a whole grade of children and their parents. So it's like yeah, you do have a purpose in society in that you're feeding folks.
You're giving these people a chance to taste real homegrown food. And usually, when we talk about that, folks automatically think, when we talk about feeding folks. Well, they're poor people, we gotta feed poor people. No, I have met people that have really nice six figure incomes, and their pantries look like crap.
So, and that was one of the things that I mentioned on Mike Collins' show is that we've lost that sense of education. You can have all the food in the world, we can put food everywhere. But if you don't know how to cook it and you don't know how to prepare it, that's just like me giving you a Maybach, you don't know how to drive.
Here's the keys, a tank full of gas and you don't even know how to turn the car on. What good is it gonna do you?
>> Adam Hussein: And actually that was actually one of my other questions I had coming up. So since you mentioned the importance of the education, you were touching on that, touching a little more about the importance of education, and I guess accomplishment.
And doing good and all the other benefits of education. Could you expand a little bit more on that?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, if you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going. And like I said, one of the things that I've noticed is when we give food to people, and we're dying to say, you want some cucumbers?
Cucumbers, I don't know what to do it. And I do have a tendency to come from a place of need, so I'm, well, what do you mean you don't know what to do with it? You peel it, you put it in some vinegar, and you eat it. But to think, you're so disconnected from your food supply that you don't know what to do with a cucumber, which again, that's kind of obvious.
So if you can't handle a cucumber, then I don't expect you to really be able to handle collard greens. And maybe I see people with so nutritional, and that their diets are like mostly fruits. Well, that's gonna spike your blood sugar. You have to put nuts in there.
Or they'll cook collard greens until they're just all the nutrition's in the pot liquor. And they don't know what to do with the pot liquor. But it is an education of how to harvest the food, how to prepare the food, how to preserve the food. You don't want to just,
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Take, I don't know, say, potatoes. You can freeze potatoes but you wanna blanch them first to make sure the sugar and everything is out, I guess. I don't know why you blanch them. I just know to blanch them.. But people don't know how to do that anymore, so they go to the alternative which is all fast food.
>> Adam Hussein: Now is that, not just growing it, but is that preparation thing part of the education?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yes, we have one woman that's awesome, Hilda. She's from Jamaica. And their eating patterns are totally different from ours. So I would say they're almost more natural, or hers are. So she'll come in and she'll tell us, okay, this is how you wanna do.
She cooks, she grows callaloo, which is a green. All right so this is how you wanna do callaloo. You don't cook it until it's really soggy. In the beginning, because we have the four chefs, they would bring in all these really cool things. And well, this how you cook everything.
One chef, Chef Ellsworth, everything was sauteed with garlic and olive oil. That was her answer for everything. Just sautee it with garlic and olive oil and you'll be fine. Okay. So we do teach preparation. And what we don't know, because some things you know but you don't know how to explain it.
I would send to Kristen Davis who works for NC Cooperative Extension. And because that's what she does, that's her job is local foods and local food preservation and preparation. So we use resources, and we've got people, again, because that's part of education. I don't want you to think that I know everything.
I want you to get out there and talk to others. And find out, on a collaborative, find out what, a collective, what everybody knows. And then use common sense to filter out what you need and what you don't need.
>> Adam Hussein: That makes sense, definitely makes sense. Knowledge is power.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And read up. I have my volunteers when I send out a e-list, I have books that I'll suggest to them. Or if I see a really good article, I'll send it to them because that's how a lot of myths. People think, for instance, with community gardens that if you go into a low income area, you put a community garden that your food access problem is solved.
But it's not because it's a lot of work. You have to, if you're a single parent with three kids, with stair step kids, you don't really have time to go to a plot, turn that soil over. You may not be lucky enough to get free plants, so you have to go and buy plants.
You have to go and buy seeds. You may have to pay a rental fee for that plot. You have to go out there and water that plot. Or if a storm comes you have to wonder what's going on or if I have plants. So it's a lot of work and they're not going to be concerned with that, so.
>> Adam Hussein: And talking about the healthy food, and you mentioned earlier about organic. Do you guys- No. That's not?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: No, because it's to me, organic it's become a label that, it's just, I think it's something you pay for. I mean, you have to jump through the hoops to get it, but at the end of the day, what does it really mean?
We grow our food eco-friendly, which means we companion plant. We pick bugs off with our hands and put them in a box of soapy water. The only time we use chemicals is if we have hornets. And we will pull out the hornet spray and take them down. But for the most part, we have volunteers out there, we didn't need anything else.
We don't need any RoundUp, we go pull weeds.
>> Adam Hussein: And that's part of what they call, there's a difference of being organic certified and just trying to be as organic, I guess that would be natural as possible. And that sounds like that's what you're doing anyway. So it's just not certified organic.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, like they say, our grandparents ate organic food but it was never called organic.
>> Adam Hussein: That's true, that is true. Okay, and let's see. This is a hacker's question and a questionnaire. It's have you experienced any acts of vandalism or setbacks at your gardens?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: We have, but we're part of a park.
So we had somebody go in one day, break into our shed and steal all of our tools. Okay, it happens. It was covered on the news, and people came and helped us out. So we had somebody, that was at Little Sugar Creek. We had somebody cut the fence, break into the shed, and stole a bunch of tables that we had.
It's all okay, it happens. You just know that they needed it for some reason and they got it. That's okay.
>> Adam Hussein: How about the neighbors around your gardens, how do they feel about having the gardens there?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: The one in Belmont is in heavy displacement and change, so it’s different.
We’ve got a different set of neighbors. So the first, when it was in transition, actively going through it, the neighbors were actually happy to see the land being used because it brought a sense of calm to the area. Now we got a lot more dog walkers, and to me it seems almost as if the neighbors are a little more disrespectful in that we've actually had them allow their dogs to poop on our plots.
We have plots outside the fence that we would use to feed people when we weren't there. Well, because they keep letting them use them as bathrooms, we've just converted them to flower beds. So it's kind of irritating in that sense. Druid Hills, the neighbors didn't originally want the garden.
They wanted a fountain, because it's an older neighborhood. It's either, it's mixed, old or young. And the with this. So they wanted a fountain. But because it was a low income area, they were like, well, we're gonna give you a community garden. And they didn't want the community garden, and so they don't mess with the community garden.
We have, I have three or four, three. I have three ladies that help me with it, and we just bring groups in to do the big stuff, so.
>> Adam Hussein: Speaking of ladies, there's actually another student in my class wanted us to ask this question cuz she's studying the angle of women and farming.
And we're asking, are there any unique challenges that women face in the food growing industry?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, outside of, now I'll get this stereotype. If I'm in the garden, and we laugh about this, we have a white guy, Kurt, that's been there for a few years. When people come, they automatically go to him, start asking questions.
And he'll kinda look at them and he'll let them ask the questions. And then he'll point, well, she's the one you need to ask. And without fail, they'll look like what, what? So there is a stereotype that even with the term garden, I think if I would actually call it an urban farm, people would freak out.
Garden, we can say, it's a garden, okay? So okay, it's a lady thing. But with a farm, yeah, because people don't expect that it's not a woman's job even though we are making strides there. It's still looked upon as a white man's territory.
>> Adam Hussein: It's interesting you said that because there was an interview I listened to, and the man, and the farmer and his wife are both in the interview.
And she would interject at places. And then basically at the end she basically she wanted to have her piece cuz the questions, I guess she felt like she was left out, whatever. She said her piece at the end. She said, don't forget about me. I support him. I'm the one that takes care when he's not here and I'll support stuff.
So it's the same thing, that we were so focused on the man that we forget about Forget about the wife or the woman being able to do just as much and we're a fair partner in the operations.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And that's if you look at most cultures, the women are the ones that grow the food.
And if you again, if you research the history even of America, Southern rural gardens, that was what the women did, but- It's just a perception that we have.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, let me go back to a couple questions actually.
>> Adam Hussein: Back to what we talked about earlier in the interview, what you wanna talk about with the Mike Holmes interview.
Why don't you think the major grocery stores don't wanna open up branches in their areas yet, in these areas?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well from what I was told, grocery stores don't make a lot of money off of their food. They make a lot of money off of the, I don’t know the exact term but the paper towels, the cigarettes and the non perishable items.
So, if you put a grocery store and they also wanna look at home ownership. These are the reasons they've always given us. We can't get a store in the Druid Hills neighborhood, because we don't have any area that has adequate parking. We don't have enough home ownership. We don't have a high enough income.
But yet we have a brewery, that is as big as a grocery store that has ample parking. If we had nice walking trails, we wouldn't need the parking because we could walk to the store to get what we need. So we wouldn't have to drive there. But yeah, from what I understand it's just that the grocery stores don't make their money off of selling food.
So I guess if you're not gonna sell food, why go into an area that needs food?
>> Adam Hussein: So I guess it's all about profit.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It's about profit, but at the same time that whole and this is what was mentioned yesterday, was the city could give incentives to independent growers.
There's tons of stories even Talley's Green Groceries which was over in off of East Boulevard, they kept their overhead low by buying in bulk. So if you wanted beans, you went in with your container and you pulled the bulk of beans. So they didn't have to worry about packaging or things like that.
Another there's a co op and I don't remember where it was or where it is. It's the same concept, if you want eggs, they get the flat of eggs, 2,000 in the case. If you want eggs, you go in with your egg holder or your egg carton of 12 carton.
And you pull the eggs from the bulk of the eggs. So if they can give just somebody or group of people in citizens going to this neighborhood say. Hey look, if you build this grocery store we will help you out, let's just try it for a couple years, see how it goes and give them something to do it.
And it's a win win because you've got food in these areas, you're pushing for small businesses in the city. And it actually probably can give the city a sense of identity, because Lord knows it doesn't have one.
>> Adam Hussein: That's a whole other.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: That's a whole other project, I know.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, is there an aspect of our growing food that people wouldn't consider or is misunderstood by the general public?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: They want it to be easy. And they don't understand that it is but it's not. What we'll get people that will start their seeds and then they start, well, my seeds not doing well.
Well, it's nature, you can't control it. Some days you're gonna have a really good crop, some days you're not gonna have a good crop. And that's one of the things that concern me too with I see farmer's markets that or people that wanna put in farmer's markets. Organizations in low income areas which is great during the summer.
Well not the farmer's market but the community gardens, it's great during the summer but what are you gonna feed the people in the winter when you can't grow in these community gardens? But the people are afraid of failure now. And I think that shows up a lot in growing food.
If you're not doing it for profit, like if you're a farmer, yeah, you don't want the failure. But, if you're in the community garden, and you're trying to grow, it's okay to have a failure.
>> Adam Hussein: Do you think the way society is now has an impact about patience?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Society has no patience. They have no patience and everybody wants to be so connected. We'll get people and I've have to do this that went to Facebook every action that they did in the garden so they get nothing done. I'm like, put your Facebook down for a second, put your phone down and look at what you're doing, reconnect to the soil.
I think one of the things that kills me is when you get grown people and they see a bug and they freak out. I'm like, or the little carpenter bees that don't bother anybody. This one lady was professing, I just love nature, and she saw one of those bees and next thing I know she's telling me how she created a solution to kill '.
It's like these bees don't bother you. Why would you want to kill them? Well, cuz they're bees. It is that the automatic, like with snakes. Any snake is a bad snake. No, no copperheads. Yes, take those out. But don't take out black snakes, don't take out garter snakes.
So again, it's that huge disconnection. Kids would rather sit at home playing on video games instead of getting out in the yard getting dirty.
>> Adam Hussein: We need the bees to pollinate for us. What do you see the future for your gardening, say the next five years and next 20 years?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, I think it's only gonna grow. Hopefully, I will retire within the next couple of years, so I can devote even more time to the garden. And I definitely want to and I started working on it a little bit last year to incorporate more history, more Southern history into the garden.
Start doing more heirlooms that are lost or incorporate some open hearth and cooking, something that brings back history. Because I think if people learn our history, they would learn to love our history. And it would actually shape the way Charlotte is going. I also want to, and this is in both gardens, I want to start having more.
I'm not going to say I want because that's always in the future and you never gain it. We have on the books for the fall open conversation, so we may talk about, we call it biscuits and tents, sconces and teas. So everybody can bring a biscuit and tea is biscuit, you bring your favorite biscuit, you bring your favorite tea.
We sit around, we chitchat and we talk about things. Anything from politics to religion, to growing, the unspeakables, start those communications back up. I think one of the things that's happened in society is people are so sensitive because they don't talk about stuff. When I was growing up if you were fat, somebody calls you fat, and you just you might kick their **** a little bit, but it's just different.
It's like nobody knows how to take insults or the truth nowadays. So but as far as how it applies to the garden, we planned, we have on the books more activities to open up communications. So [SOUND] but yeah. So we're only gonna grow. We're only gonna get better, and we'll eventually take over the world.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, well that sounds like a good plan.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, thank you.
>> Adam Hussein: Do you have any pictures or better yet, maybe I could come by you sometime and take some pictures of the gardens?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, we've got tons of pictures, on a Facebook page, I can send you, and you always welcome to come and take pictures of the garden.
>> Adam Hussein: Yeah, if you could send me some pictures too and ones that's okay for us to use. I don't want to use anything that anybody doesn't want me to take and has rights too. But if you have some pictures it's okay for me or for the project to use.
And if you can send those to me it would be great.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Okay, and there's a great aerial, somebody did it with a drone on YouTube that our Charlie Checkers did it. So I think, I mean, it's on YouTube so it's open for anybody. You can probably be in any project.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay yeah, if you could send me the link that would be great. Actually I have some other video and I could maybe put it with a project. And combine the other videos on my project, so that would be great.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: I can do that.
>> Adam Hussein: Well thank you, Nadine, it’s been a pleasure and a great interview and thank you for your time.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: You’re welcome.
>> Adam Hussein: And hope you have a great day.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: All right, you too.
>> Adam Hussein: Thank you.