Emma Hendel discusses her five years as a microgreens farmer and co-owner of Fair Share Farms, LLC in Pfafftown, North Carolina. Ms. Hendel describes why and how she and her husband Elliot Seldner came to North Carolina and started their farm. She explains what microgreens are and why she and Mr. Seldner decided to grow them. Other topics include organic farming methods, Organic Certified vs. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certified, urban sprawl, distribution partners, environmental issues, and social media.
Emma Hendel was a 30-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place at Davidson Town Hall in Davidson, North Carolina. She was born in Maryland in 1988. She was educated at Elizabethtown College and was employed as a teacher and farmer.
|0:00:44||Background of Fair Share Farm|
|0:01:10||Began with a CSA model|
|0:02:06||Beginning of Fair Share Farm|
|0:02:43||Working up to their own farm|
|0:03:37||Deciding what to grow|
|0:04:14||Organic methods, GAP, FSMA|
|0:05:14||Elliot’s desire to work outside|
|0:06:36||Desire for a healthy lifestyle|
|0:07:16||Love of cooking|
|0:08:08||Emma’s family from Winston-Salem|
|0:09:15||Coming to North Carolina to work on other farms|
|0:10:50||Negatives of urban encroachment|
|0:12:01||Potential for positive opportunities of urban encroachment|
|0:13:44||Makeup of farm land (greenhouses, etc)|
|0:15:00||Microgreens (what they are and how they are grown)|
|0:18:30||Type of customers|
|0:19:39||No till (soil care)|
|0:29:07||Getting into Whole Foods|
|0:30:11||Distribute to restaurants|
|0:32:33||Work with small distributers (Freshlist and New Appalachia)|
|0:37:01||Immigrant “guest” workers|
|0:39:11||Challenges as a woman|
|0:43:35||Use of plastic|
|0:45:51||Call out culture online|
|0:49:58||Future of the farm|
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay, today is April 20th, 2019, we are in Davidson, North Carolina. My name is Sarah Wilds, and I am interviewing Emma Hendel. And Emma is co-owner of Fair Share Farm with her husband, Elliott.
>> Emma Hendel: Seldner.
>> Sarah Wilds: Seldner.
>> Sarah Wilds: So Emma, can you just tell me real briefly, sort of a little background information about your farm?
Where it is, when you started, how it started and we’ll go from there.
>> Emma Hendel: So my farm’s name is Fair Share Farm, LLC, and we established it with the mission to feed as many people in North Carolina as we can, growing the best food possible, and being kind to the land and ourselves while doing it.
And so, the name Fair Share Farm actually comes out of the way that we started our business, which was with a CSA model, or a community supported agriculture. So people would purchase a share of produce, which they would receive weekly throughout the season, which is a great model for a farm starting up, because you get a lot of cash flow right away.
So usually in a CSA model, you would pay completely up front and receive a product throughout the season. And so that’s where like the fair share came from, because the customers would be getting their share of our hard work. And it’s a fair deal for everybody, because we’re compensate, we’re being compensated for the work and the effort that we’re putting in.
And so that’s really been important is always charging what the product is worth and not more and not less. And so we started our business in the fall of 2014, so we’re actually coming up on our five year mark, which is a big deal in the small business world.
That sort of like you’re not going anywhere, hopefully like usually up to year three is where it’s like very, very crazy, and then sort of year five is like you can be looking at next steps. Where do you take if from here because you’re established? So, we started in the fall of 2014, my husband was at the time working at another farm, and I was teaching.
>> Emma Hendel: And so, we’d actually been talking with the landowners a year or two previously, but we weren’t ready to go at that time. And then, a couple years and a few months down the road, it was time. So, we reached back out and got in contact with them and set up a lease.
And really in the fall of 2014, that was all preparation, deciding what we were doing, preparing the land to grow things, figuring out the logistics of what’s the soil type, what can we grow here, what do we wanna grow, what do people want, where can we sell our products?
And actually, one big deciding factor on where we were going to focus was the farmer’s market and trying to get into the local farmer’s market. And then being what’s the hole in the market? So that it became clear that salad, micro-greens, people were doing some of that, but no one was really focusing on it.
So that’s where our salad focus came from was to fill a void in the marketplace. And at the suggestion of the market manager to say, hey, I think you should focus on this. We did, and so that is where that focus came from. So we grow a lot of salad, we also grow specialty seasonal produce.
We are not certified organic, but we do follow all of the USDA and USDA guidelines and use only AMRI-approved methods and products. And we keep extensive records because we do have a GAP certification. And so although the FSMA, Food Safety Modernization Act, is not necessarily being applied yet, we are ready.
So we have meticulous record keeping. We believe that the goodness of the product comes from the soil. And so we like to take care of it. And so, I think I answered the question where it was like, where did it come from? What’s our business based on? And so yeah, help me out.
>> Sarah Wilds: That’s great. So from listening to a previous interview on a farming podcast or agricultural podcast, I know Elliott was sort of the driving force behind wanting to farm. Do you know where his passion sort of came from?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, Elliott wanted to be outside. And so when we were in college, it’s really daunting to sort of see your whole life ahead of you.
And when you’re trying to pick and focus on what you’re studying and sort of like envisioning what is the next 40 or 50 work years, working years of my life going to look like? Am I going to be sitting in the cubicle all day? Am I going to be presenting in front of groups?
Am I going to be researching? What really am I going to be doing? And so, for Elliott, I think there was this romantic enchantment with the idea of working outside and forming a community that way and having movement in his life. Because like everybody, we want to be healthy and active.
But I also think, and I don’t think he would mind me saying this, but I think for Elliott, he doesn’t go out and seek exercise. So having exercise and activity built into his daily life was sort of the only way that he saw that he was going to be at all fit and healthy.
>> Sarah Wilds: That’s a good sort of overall strategy.
>> Emma Hendel: [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: You have to physically move around to work, but then you also produce healthy food. And it’s kind of win-win situation.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and I actually now that you say that, that’s another thing I think that do Elliott and myself, too, we both love cooking, love eating.
Our teenage jobs and young adult jobs revolved around food. Both of us have worked as cooks. I’ve worked front of house positions, being a server and doing all sorts of different things, and so cooking is a huge part of our life and our relationship. If we’re spending time together, we’re probably cooking something or eating something or doing a food project.
It really is focused on that because it’s one of the most, in our opinion, it’s one of the most joyful and enjoyable things that we do.
>> Sarah Wilds: So how did you end up specifically outside Winston-Salem? You had contact with the previous owner of the land.
>> Emma Hendel: So Elliott grew up in Connecticut, I grew up in Maryland.
We met in college in Pennsylvania. I grew up visiting Winston-Salem, North Carolina because my mother’s family is based in Winston-Salem. So I have tons of cousins, aunts, uncles. So school breaks were spent visiting. And although my mom moved away from Winston-Salem, she did maintain those relationships and come back and visit and spend time.
And so I grew up visiting Winston-Salem, and it’s funny because I never really saw myself living in Winston-Salem because it wasn’t necessarily a positive experience for me as a child. And by just after working at a couple different farms and moving around after college, we actually came to North Carolina because one of our acquaintances from college then, he was living in Durham, North Carolina and working for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
And so he was like, well, I know you guys are looking for maybe land to start your own farm, or maybe even an employment opportunity, send me your resume and I’ll put it out on the CFSA list serve. And so we sent resumes, they were put out on the list serve, that’s how we got in the initial contact with the land owners and really, like I said, at the time we were probably leaning more towards an employment situation.
And so another farm in Stokes County, North Carolina took us up and offered both of us jobs, and so that’s how we ended up in North Carolina, and then just about a half hour south of that is Winston-Salem. And so when we first moved to North Carolina, we stayed with my godparents.
And while we were looking for housing, etc., and now actually our farm now is a couple neighborhoods over from where they live. So that’s how I got back to North Carolina and Elliot came to North Carolina for the first time. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: So are there any sort of urban issues of being, cuz you said you were right outside Winston-Salem’s city sprawl urban development.
Is that sort of encroaching? Because here in Charlotte the city is really pushing out and devouring the counties.
>> Emma Hendel: It is, it is actually. There’s a ton of farmland for sale all around us. They’re putting in, actually, the new highway that’s going to encircle Winston-Salem is going to, there’s going to be an entrance and exit at the end of our street.
And so that’s really gonna change things. There’s all sorts of new construction, like the type of construction where it’s like buy the plot and design true homes. There’s a lot of true home developments. And so it’s a rapidly changing landscape. But it hasn’t really impacted our farm negatively, because we are still in the county and there is actually a lot of, it could be positive for us because there is a lot of potential for a roadside stand, or what if in the future we setup a demo farm on our current farm property and purchase more land further out.
I mean there’s positives and negatives. I do see the loss of the rural areas as a negative for the area. And urban sprawl is, in my opinion, I don’t find it very attractive and I like the idea of having an urban center but I do think there needs to be a more forward looking sort of vision into how things are going because it’s difficult when you just have all these little suburban things and then there’s chain stuff to pop up to service.
Cuz everybody because everybody wants their little piece of land. And it’s a difficult issue because you want people to be empowered and have their yard and their house and feel a sense of ownership over that, but then at the same time it can be sort of a barrier to entry because there are large houses.
So anyways, that’s sort of getting into a whole other issue.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I think, I found that you have about five acres of land currently?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, probably about, I would say five acres of open land and then two with houses and outbuildings on them, and we lease that from a family.
>> Sarah Wilds: And you have green houses?
>> Emma Hendel: Yes, we have 20 caterpillar coop house structures, so 2,100 foot caterpillar structures. That would be the cheapest in low tech, and then we have two large,
>> Emma Hendel: Coop house structures or high tunnels. And so those are sort of a little bit more sophisticated.
They have the double inflated poly roof and roll up sides, and those are unheated and then we have one commercial greenhouse, which is heated, has electrical service, whole nine yards. And that’s where we do our micro greens and our transplants for the field.
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay. So I guess going off of that, like can you talk a little bit more about micro greens like what they are as opposed to just, I don’t know, collard greens, spinach, kale.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, so there’s sprouts, which we do not grow, but sprouts are not grown in the soil, they’re just basically hydrated seeds, and they’re not exposed to sunlight but, and so you’ll see this often in the grocery stores as mung beans or alfalfa sprouts and things like that.
A micro green is grown in the soil and, well, at least how we grow them, they’re grown in the soil and exposed to sunlight. You can also have hydroponically grown micro-greens that are grown with grow lights, but that’s not how we do it. We do it solar, with soil, and all we do is after they have germinated we just supply water so they’re not getting any other treatments essentially.
It’s just soil, water, sunlight. And so most microgreens are between 10 and about 25 days old. And so a seed has all of the energy it needs to basically get to sexual maturity. So that’s a lot of energy that’s in a seed, and that’s why people are like, seeds and nuts, they’re so healthy for you.
So what a microgreen is, is it’s all that seed and nut energy plus sunlight energy which activates all sorts of different chemical reactions. Which as I am not a biologist, I can’t really explain all of that, but it’s happening and it’s really cool and it makes a really delicious and flavorful product.
And so if you are looking at a microgreen versus a full-grown vegetable depending on the variety, it can have 4-40 times the amount of available nutrition for you. And so it’s a really great way to get a lot of vitamins and good nutrients in maybe a smaller package.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah.
>> Emma Hendel: So it’s like kids really like them cuz they’re cute. And then it’s like you just ate a ton of really good stuff, why don’t you have some more? But they’re also because of that concentrated available nutrition, they have a very concentrated and powerful flavor. [LAUGH] And so that can be a really fun experience too where that is really arugula, that’s the most arugula, arugula flavor-
>> Sarah Wilds: [LAUGH]
>> Emma Hendel: I’ve ever tasted. Another advantage is you can get, there’s a lot of, especially in the legume and sort of more nutty things like sunflowers and pea shoots. There’s a lot of available protein in that. And the University of Maryland did a study, I think, in 2012 with sunflowers and ounce per ounce, they have the same amount of protein as chicken.
So if you have an ounce of sunflower shoot, that’s got the same amount of protein as an ounce of chicken. And so and I think I believe pea shoots are a similar sort of deal. So I mean it’s really great. I’m not a vegan but a lot of our customers are vegan bodybuilders, there’s a market for that.
And people that are really into the wellness trend and movement, a lot of people that are practicing yoga are really into that sort of thing. And so microgreen sorta helped expand the sort of vegetable life for people that are focusing on eating more vegetables and things like that.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, and then that sounds very versatile for vegans, vegan bodybuilders but also those people who want their kids to eat good food or they’re vegetarian or just-
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, cuz you can put it on a sandwich, you can basically put it with anything. Whatever you’re eating, if you wanna grill a piece of salmon, just put a handful of stuff on the bottom of the plate, put the salmon on top.
And you can be done if you want [LAUGH].
>> Sarah Wilds: And it’ll look pretty.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and it’ll look pretty.
>> Sarah Wilds: Great, so I think I saw on your website, you use no-till?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, whenever we can we like to use as little tillage as possible. There are farms that claim to be zero till like they’re never tilling.
We do use tillage to break sod and break new ground. And every once in a while, we might need to till but we focus on trying to till as little as possible because it helps with carbon sequestration. So when you’re tilling, you can be releasing a lot of carbon into the air.
And you’re also disturbing the soil composition. So you’re disturbing like the different layers of soil. You’re chopping up worms, and there’s all sorts of things going on on the microbial level that you’re disturbing. And also tillage can create a problem called hardpan, where when you’re tilling especially in the clay-based soil of the Piedmont, a tiller is probably gonna go about 6 inches down.
And it will actually create a layer of compacted soil underneath that 6 inches which can inhibit the uptake of the deep soil nutrients, so a lot of plants have roots that go down 12, 14 inches three feet. They have a big tap root. And so if they can’t get through that layer of hardpan, they are not gonna have access to a lot of the micronutrients that are deeper down in the soil.
And that action of the taproot bringing up is also bringing up nutrients for later crops and later things. And so what we do is we use a tool called a broadfork, which goes down about 12 inches and that helps break up that layer of hardpan. I mean, it’s essentially like a large garden fork, or it might look like an oversized comb or something like that.
And so that helps break it up like how people have their lawns aerated, it’s the same sort of action.
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay,
>> Sarah Wilds: So you mention before that your gaps are agricultural practi-
>> Emma Hendel: Practices, yeah [LAUGH].
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, what’s the difference between that and working in a certified?
>> Emma Hendel: So being certified organic is about practices in terms of soil management and product use.
So that I’m talking about fertilizers and pesticides. So one thing that is a misconception about being organic is that pesticides and fertilizers are allowed. The restrictions come into play when you’re looking at petroleum-based fertilizers so that would not be allowed under organic certification. But what is allowed is things like BT, which is actually like a cultivated bacteria or like a product that’s called Azero, which is made from chrysanthemum concentrate or name oil or insecticidal soaps.
Or there’s a product called Surround, no, not Surround. Well, there’s a clay-based product that forms a physical barrier on fruits, for like tree fruit production. So pesticides which are derived from,
>> Emma Hendel: Chemicals and ingredients that are available in the environment that are not synthesized and that are going to be less harmful to the environment as well as the soil and certain insects like those are going to be allowed.
But of course, no Roundup, no weed killers,
>> Sarah Wilds: So it’s not just organic, the food itself is being grown organic. It’s the environment it’s been grown in and the materials it’s being grown with are all organic then.
>> Emma Hendel: So if you wanted to start an organic farm today, unless you had from the landowners a letter saying for the past three years either A, nothing has been done to this land.
Or B, this land has only been farmed using certified organic practices and it is certified organic by this other grower already. You’re gonna have to wait three years with your practices. Now when we established our farm, nothing had been done for three years. We wrote an organic plan but it didn’t It didn’t seem worth it to us to invest the money in that.
And then there’s other issues I have with the USDA’s certified organic program just regarding, organic is supposed to be about growing in the soil. But now, they’re allowing hydroponics and all sorts of other things. II don’t really want to go too much into it, because I am not here to trash certified organic at all.
Because being certified organic is what can help people enter into the marketplace. It can be a third party stamp of approval. There’s a lot of positives to being certified organic. For us, it just wasn’t the right fit. Now, certified organic is about soil management, soil practices as well as what products you can and can not use are on your crops and on your soil.
GAP certification is all about food safety. So organic and GAPs probably line up at about 80%. In terms of there is rules about when you can and cannot apply manure based fertilizers, for reasons of food safety. If you are growing a salad green, you can’t go in and spray liquid fish emulsion on it one day and then cut it for market the next day, that doesn’t work.
There’s different rules about when you can apply certain products which overlap. And then where GAPs diverges and has almost, maybe even more stringent guidelines is about signage, employee training, paperwork. I have a whole shelf of paperwork and for every activity on the farm, there’s basically a task ticket.
And it describes exactly, you as the farmer or somebody else that’s our employee. They’re gonna write down, I did this in this field on this day. We have a little diagram that they can circle what part of the field, they write exactly what they did. Sign and date it at the bottom, it goes into a record book.
If somebody injures themselves, you need a band-aid for a cut, you gotta fill out injury and illness report. We have hand washing stations all over the farm available. We have SOPs, standard operating procedures for everything and so it’s just very procedural based. And for certified organic, there’s a lot of records that you have to keep but it’s just not quite at the same level.
For certified organic, it’s more about what are you doing to the soil. What is planted, and for certified organic you have to keep harvest records. There’s just a couple extra pieces of information that are required for GAPs beyond.
>> Sarah Wilds: So that’s how you do organic method? So you’re using all those methods, you’re taking care of the soil?
>> Emma Hendel: With the systems we have in place, we could go and get certified organic really tomorrow or as soon as the certifier could get out there, it would be no sweat.
>> Sarah Wilds: At this point, it’s just a stamp for you.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and we talk about it and we go back and forth all the time, like right now we are in the process of trying to get into Whole Foods.
Whole Foods sells conventional stuff, that’s what we are, is a quote-unquote conventional grower. And they sell conventional things, and they’re like, yeah, great. Your products look good, and it would be sold in the conventional section. It’s like a chicken or the egg situation. I don’t know if we would make enough additional business because of being certified organic to offset the cost in the first year.
But maybe five years from now, that’s the reason that we got a contract with Whole Foods. Or that’s the reason that we got this customer over here, or that’s the reason that we got into this new farmer’s market or something like that. So that’s it’s tough to figure out what is the right path.
>> Sarah Wilds: Who all do you distribute and partner to? I know you’re here in Davidson, I know you’re at the farmer’s market in Old Salem, in Winstom-Salem. What else do you do?
>> Emma Hendel: We actually started our business with restaurant customers and we were delivering living micro green trays to restaurants in Winston-Salem.
Which was something that the chef’s there hadn’t yet seen like other parts of the country, like New York and New England and California like that. That wasn’t a new thing. But in North Carolina, particularly where we were that was something, everyone had seen the cut micro greens. But to bring in a fresh Living tray that a chef could play with and baby and keep around, and that was a new experience for people.
So that was really great to see. And so we started with restaurants, restaurants still make up about 70% of our business. We do the farmer’s market which actually helps drive a lot of restaurant business too. People like to connect and see where their food comes from. So if we had a product at the farmer’s market, people would come up and be like, I saw that at such and such restaurant.
Was that you? Do you sell to them and you can be like, yeah that’s our product. Every time you eat at that restaurant, you’re also supporting our business, and people are like, yeah!
>> Sarah Wilds: We’re like ten miles outside.
>> Emma Hendel: Exactly, and that’s actually why we wanted to expand and have a market in Davidson.
Because we’ve been coming down to Charlotte for the last couple years doing restaurant deliveries. So we wanted to have that connection with the community, and then also We’re hoping to see that when our customers at the farmers market are going out to eat, they are able to tell the wait staff or the chef, yeah, I met Emma at the farmers market.
I’m really glad that you have their product in here. And so, we also work with a couple of small distributors in the area New Appalachia, and also Fresh List. And so, there’s some customers that we have that I find out new ones every day. Because once you sell it to a distributor, you don’t necessarily know where it ends up.
Even if it has your name on it.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, so I’ve heard a little about Fresh List, but can you talk about New Appalachia?
>> Emma Hendel: So New Appalachia is a company that’s actually based in the Asheville area. And so, they collect from small and medium sized growers from western, central, and all over North Carolina.
They also go in to South Carolina for fruit. And so, really, just bringing all sorts of flavors from the mountains to the Piedmont, and from the Piedmont all over the rest of North Carolina. And so, he’s just picking up things from various producers that are in different little micro-climates.
And so, he was delivering bamboo shoots and things like all sorts of foraged items, rare items. And so, just taking the search off the plate of the chef and saying this is the 300 item product list that you can choose from this week, coming from all these different farms.
>> Sarah Wilds: That’s cool.
>> Sarah Wilds: So how do you, obviously the business is owned by you and your husband and you have a few full-time employees. How do you find those employees? Are they all locals from North Carolina?
>> Emma Hendel: All of our employees right now live and have their own lives in Winston-Salem and Kernersville, which is another little nearby town.
Previously, we have employed people that have come and relocated. And this year, we were like we want all local employees. Because we don’t have housing, and we felt it was difficult to have people come and relocate. Because it’s well, how do you jump into a new city life, and maybe it hadn’t really seemed to work out.
But we found that we’ll put ads on Craigslist or Indeed. Actually, we get a lot of employees through word of mouth. And so, we haven’t had trouble finding employees yet, and hopefully we won’t. A lot of time, people that work on the farm work on farms anywhere. They might be just out of college, or on summer vacation from college, or just out of high school.
So young people. And so, most of the time, people that are being employed by farms aren’t necessarily going to spend the rest of their life working at a farm. So what we are striving towards right now is paying people more, giving people more responsibility. And trying to figure out how do we retain people for longer than just a season or a year, and how do they continue to grow with us so that we can have some institutional memory.
>> Emma Hendel: But that might be the way to go. We might find out that that’s not how it works. But we’re willing to give it a try. But most farms that we know of that we’ve worked for that we have contact with, go with the internship model. Sort of like turn and burn sort of deal where it’s like maybe about the experience for the person as opposed to the success of the farm.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I know at least a few firms around here in the Concord area use the H2A labor force. But you said you don’t have housing, and I know that’s part of the program.
>> Emma Hendel: In the future we might have housing, and that could be a route that we go you.
There’s also certain, it’s also I feel like there’s this misconception around the guest worker program. They are compensated at a very good hourly rate, which is more than we pay some of our employees. And so it’s-
>> Sarah Wilds: It’s an internship model?
>> Emma Hendel: Right, and so, that is perhaps a more expensive way to import somebody, but those people that are a part of this program, they are here to work, they are here to make money, and that’s what they’re here to do.
So you’re going to get what you pay for essentially.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, I talked to another farmer and he’s his farm has been employing H2A people.
>> Emma Hendel: Did you talk to Barbee Farms?
>> Sarah Wilds: Yes.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, did you talk with Brent or you talk with his dad?
>> Sarah Wilds: Tommy.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, Tommy.
>> Sarah Wilds: He’s so sweet. But yeah, he had nothing but good things to say about the program.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: And he said basically the same thing. They come and they have one mission. They wanna work, and so they have to satisfy you.
>> Emma Hendel: Exactly
>> Sarah Wilds: And you show them once, and they do it.
>> Emma Hendel: And it’s not, I mean, like a lot of times it’s not about they may have seen it done a different way. Doesn’t matter. This is what you want, this is what I will do sorta deal. And I’ve worked around, not on a crew that has guest workers, but nearby farms with guest workers.
They are getting stuff down. They’re like whoa. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, they don’t mess around.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I guess sort of moving away, I guess, from the nitty-gritty of the farm.
>> Sarah Wilds: Are there any challenges that you face as a woman, or you have seen faced by women in general as farmers?
>> Emma Hendel: Me personally, nothing really beyond surface stuff. Or maybe some machismo or whatever where it’s like you grew that, really? You’re doing that, or you’re driving that big truck? Or how did you do that, where’s your husband? Blah, blah, blah. Just stuff like that. But I mean, honestly, for me personally, no.
Just beyond maybe a verbal questioning, but nothing ever where it’s like a complete road block or like we’re not going to give you a loan because you’re A woman or we’re not going to talk to you or let you into this space because you’re a woman.
>> Sarah Wilds: Mm-hm, well, that’s good.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: Glad to hear that.
>> Sarah Wilds: What about social media? So I know your farm has an Instagram and you send out newsletters. How important is that to your market? Your marketing?
>> Emma Hendel: That’s a good question. I don’t actually know for sure because we’ve always had the social media aspect.
Like it didn’t really exist without it. I started doing the newsletter last year. And I actually think that that has really improved community engagement. I think it gives people a sense of ownership over the products that they’re purchasing because they know what’s going on with the farm in that week.
With Instagram and stuff, you can get a lot of inspiration from other farms. There’s also, I think there’s also a lot of anxiety that can come with putting stuff out there. And I would say 90% of stuff is positive. But that 10% stuff where people might message you, or people might ask a question and be upset that you don’t want to share your proprietary knowledge.
Or something like that where it’s like, you know it’s really great that you’re asking me a question but I think that you need to pay me for the answer. Like that can spark some really negative feelings in people. I mean we share a lot online, maybe even what some people would say are secrets.
Some people are like you share too much, some people are like you don’t share enough. We really try and focus on the positive with what we share. And that is actually something that also draws criticism where people are like everything always looks so great at your farm, and there’s never any rain, and you never talk about any of the problems.
But that’s not what we’re trying to share. We’re not trying to share a pity story. We’re not trying to share negative things, and that’s not what our mission is on Instagram or on Facebook or whatever. But I think that there’s a disconnect where people don’t, sometimes people don’t seem to remember that it’s not the whole story.
And, so even if you might know that, on my social media I don’t share every, well some people do share everything. But if you’re on my social media I don’t share everything. But sometimes people can forget to apply that other people’s sharing on social media. So it’s like maybe I don’t wanna share that or maybe that’s not what I want this page to focus on.
And so that 10% of people that might get catty, or might say weird things, or just might leave a comment where it’s like, eff you, or something like that. A comment that we get a lot on social media is about use of plastic or whatever. And I’m like you’re making this comment on a device with rare earth materials, like I don’t think that we need to go there everybody.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, a little plastic [INAUDIBLE]
>> Emma Hendel: I mean the plastic is what is enabling a lot of small farmers to do really great things. And so there is the argument of you’re going to buy produce in the grocery store. That produce was produced using plastic, it’s packaged in plastic.
But the difference between the produce in the grocery store and the produce that you’re getting from your local farmer be it at the same grocery store, a farmers market or restaurant is yes, plastic was used. But a whole ton of fossil fuels weren’t. And say some things like flown from California or driven from California.
Or even coming from Chile or wherever. I think it can be hard to sort of step back, because there is a crisis going on. But it needs to be more about coming together as opposed to trying to call people out or whataboutism. So there has to be a balance and you have to remember behind every action there’s a reason and a story and a journey that led people there to take it.
>> Sarah Wilds: And one small farm in one small location versus major corporations.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, it’s gonna take corporations, governments, small farms and the individuals all working together. It can’t just be like I feel called to tell everybody how they are living life wrong. In my opinion that’s not going to inspire the change that we need.
>> Sarah Wilds: It’s interesting sort of these call out cultures affecting farms but-
>> Emma Hendel: I would say, I think that’s sort of again like an 80-20 sort of deal. Where it’s 80% of people are going to listen to your story and form their own opinions. 20% of people are already going to have their opinions formed and there’s not going to be much change to that opinion.
>> Sarah Wilds: And they’re just going to let everybody know regardless of who’s sort of on the end.
>> Emma Hendel: That’s right.
>> Sarah Wilds: The other end?
>> Emma Hendel: Right.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah.
>> Emma Hendel: Because that’s more about a personal need to do that sorta thing for your own improvement of your self-image. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: Or whatever is going on.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: With that person.
>> Sarah Wilds: So what are those some other organisations that you partner with? I know you were saying that you were talking with Whole Foods or working with Whole Foods?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, we work with Lowe’s foods, we work with Barbee Farms under Lowes food CSA program.
We also [COUGH] we’re trying to form a relationship with Whole Foods, we’re in our local Lowe’s Foods on the shelf there. We work with Organic Harvest, which is a small grocery store in Charlotte. We also work with Let it Grow Produce and Colony Urban Farms store in Winston and Salem.
Those are two little local grocery stores that sell local products. We also, I’m a member of the Piedmont Culinary Guild. We’re members of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. And I’m actually a member of a Piedmont Triad Food Council. Which is just forming this year and so those are organizations that we work with.
>> Sarah Wilds: And how did you sort of get started with all these organizations? Like a lot of word of mouth, sort of knowing people who connected you or?
>> Emma Hendel: Well CFSA was Our friend Ben and so we became members of CFSA and they actually gave us a grant to pay for our first year GAP certification.
And they offered, as part of our membership we had access to consultation about getting a template for GAP’s paperwork. Having a great woman named Patricia actually came out and looked at our farm and said, these are the changes that you need to make. And so that’s a great organization.
They also have a conference every year for farmers that’s usually held in Durham, and so that’s a great way to connect. Piedmont Culinary Guild I got involved with because of our relationship with chefs and other food and beverage industry members. And so that they also have a conference, a symposium every year that’s held in Johnson & Wales, the culinary school.
And so I’m a part of that organisation to stay in touch on a deeper level with our customers. And then also staying up to date on what’s going on in the food and beverage world. And the food policy council, I actually, I don’t know who necessarily invited me to that, but that was something that I go invited to do.
So I’m excited to see what direction we’re going to go with that.
>> Sarah Wilds: Well, just sort of a wrap up question. Where do you see sort of the future of your farm now that you’ve hit that five year or about to hit that five year mark?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, so I would eventually, we’re in the process of hopefully purchasing the farm that we lease now.
And in the future I would love to purchase some more rural land. And I would love to hand over management of that farm to another farm manager. And design a whole new project in the future, like maybe we’ll grow acres and acres or broccoli, or maybe, who knows what we’ll do.
And maybe even having our farm now becoming like a model farm or an incubator farm, or maybe an agrotourism farm, just because of its location. And so that’s maybe one direction it could go. It could also turn in, we’re still not quite done developing that property in terms of how we’re gonna use it for farms.
Maybe we put in a tree nursery or maybe we put in some cane fruit, or there’s a little bit more that we could do there. One thing that we’ve talked about doing with our land that is unoccupied right now is doing a more serious composting effort. And so we create a lot of compost, which we manage and reuse for various farm things, because we’re doing the microgreens, and that’s in trays.
And then once we use that we dump it into a compost pile and compost it. Anyways, enlarging a composting effort, perhaps even taking in materials from other places maybe, but that presents its own complication because it’s difficult to figure out what you’re taking in and you don’t want.
But the compost that we generate, we know what it is, cuz we use a lot of potting soil. And so a lot of that great organic matter is really good to put back or used to build new growing areas. So that’s one thing. So starting new projects, buying more land, growing more food, that’s what I wanna do.
>> Sarah Wilds: All right, sound like a good goal.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: Right, well, thank you so much for your time.
>> Emma Hendel: You’re welcome.