Chantel Johnson was born in 1987 and initially planned a career in social work, obtaining her Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington. However, after the tragic death of her brother in Chicago due to gun violence, Chantel turned to agriculture and homesteading as a method of healing her grief. With no formal education in agriculture, Chantel learned from those around her, and in 2017 decided that she wanted to supplement her lifestyle by raising livestock. She reached out to the farming community to see if anyone had land they would be willing to offer Chantel so that she could begin her farming career. Luckily, her community were more than willing to support her and she established herself in Salisbury, North Carolina. She called her farm, Off Grid In Color, and began raising pigs, chickens and turkeys, while also creating outreach events for her community. Chantel has a passion for public speaking and has participated in many talks covering her experiences and homesteading. She aims to create a agriculture wellness center for those in need of healing, and also works as a certified doula.
|0:00:35||Entered into agriculutre in 2016 and defines herself as a homesteader|
|0:01:18||Decided to fund her lifestyle by farming livestock|
|0:01:52||Livestock she raises|
|0:02:11||Discusses the death of her younger brother and how that influenced her to become a homesteader|
|0:03:46||The elements that she believed factored into her brothers death|
|0:05:43||Typical day on the farm at the height of the season|
|0:07:47||Using social media to market her farm|
|0:08:07||Discusses amount of animals she raises at one time|
|0:08:32||Does a majority of the work on her farm alone and the role of the community in her operations|
|0:09:02||BREAK – to let her dog into the house|
|0:09:22||How she engages with the community and how they contribute to the farm|
|0:10:10||Use of social media and her goal to create an agriculture wellness center|
|0:11:31||How she came up with the idea of her “community farm” and the programs she runs to promote this|
|0:13:31||Popularity of homesteading|
|0:14:21||Previous knowledge of agriculture prior to being introduced to homesteading|
|0:15:18||Importance of education in her community outreach|
|0:17:34||How she found the land she is currently using for her farm|
|0:18:12||Issues she has faced in her farming|
|0:19:37||Use of government grants and recently being awarded a Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) grant|
|0:20:17||Crowdfunding from the community to help financially support her farm|
|0:21:58||How she processes her meat with the help of volunteers|
|0:22:30||Discusses her largest expenses in running her farm|
|0:24:02||The use of non-GMO feed for her animals and why she does not use organic feed|
|0:28:45||How she sells her products to the public|
|0:29:42||Selling at the farmers market|
|0:30:31||Organizing a farm-to-table dinner|
|0:31:11||Difficulties she has faced getting her product to the market|
|0:32:24||Urbanization and growth of surrounding areas effects on her farm|
|0:34:04||Moving from being a solitary farmer to being more active in her community and in changes in local agriculture|
|0:35:42||Ways she deviates from conventional farming methods in her small farm|
|0:37:03||Experiences with the volatile weather in Charlotte|
|0:38:14||Obstacles faced by black and brown farmers|
|0:39:09||Organizations focused on serving minority farmers|
|0:40:24||Events she has created that intertwine agriculture and community outreach|
|0:42:22||Other farmers and individuals who are utilizing agriculture in their community outreach|
|0:43:35||Misconceptions by the public on the prices of her produce|
|0:45:49||Misconceptions by the public about homesteading and living off grid|
|0:47:55||Affects of larger coporations selling off-season produce on small, independent farming|
|0:51:33||Ways farmers can bridge the disconnect between the public and their food|
|0:52:22||The physical toll of farming and her plans to sustain her farm long term|
|0:54:29||Dealing with the environmental impact of her farming|
|0:55:02||Advice for those interested in farming|
|0:57:34||End of Interview|
>> Laura Burgess: So hello my name is Nora Burgess. And I’m a graduate student at UNC Charlotte. The date is the third of April, 2019. And the time is 11:21 in the morning. I’m here with Chantelle Johnson at Off Grid In Color farm. Hello, Chantelle.
>> Chantelle Johnson: Hi.
>> Laura Burgess: So I’m going to start off with my first question.
How long have you been farming?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Good question.
>> Chantelle Johnson: I got into agriculture in general, fall of 2016. And then I kinda classed myself as a homesteader. And the way I like to identify homesteader is someone who lives a lifestyle of self sufficiency that might include raising animals, having a garden, doing food preservation, zero waste reduce, reuse, recycle kind of things, caring about the environment.
Kind of doing as much for themselves without the assistance of external resources. And so I did that for about a year until I realized that I needed to find a way to fund my lifestyle. And I decided to fund my lifestyle through a business, cuz that’s another part of being self sufficient is how do you generate your own income.
And I did that by farming livestock. And so I got into that I would say, 2017. So it’s been two years, or three years in general, going on three years in general as far as just being in the agriculture system.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so what kind of livestock do you raise?
>> Chantelle Johnson: I currently raise chicken, meat birds, they call them broilers, turkeys, and hogs, pigs. [LAUGH]
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH] Okay, so what influenced you to kind of go into agriculture and become a homesteader?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Back in 2014 my youngest brother was shot several times in Chicago. And he was paralyzed from the neck down.
And suffered for 15 months. And in August of 2015 he passed over into another world of existence. And it was in my grief for my brother, I felt that the system played a big role in the death for my brother. Like Chicago is really known, in this day and age right now as being as a city full of violence and things like that.
And I think one reason that violence exists in poor communities, particularly poor black communities, is because of lack of resources and opportunities. My brother kinda fell victim to selling drugs and being a gang member and kinda living that lifestyle, which made that choice, that lifestyle an easy choice when you don’t have resources and opportunities.
And here I am chugging my way through Chicago, leaving poverty, going to these expensive universities, getting these degrees. And my brothers are back home suffering. And I’m trying to figure out why we have the same opportunities, why they having such a hard time? So I got into agriculture because I thought about what were the systems that played into his death?
The year he passed away, there was the closing of a number of Chicago public schools. The day he got shot, he was picked up by a police officer because he didn’t sign up for a gun possession registry cuz he was in prison a year before at 17. He was young at the time.
17 in prison, died at 19. So he was supposed to sign up for a gun registry and he didn’t do it. One would think that before you be released for prison that they would sign you up for those things. But instead, they put barriers in place, like you need to get to your parole officer.
Knowing you just got out of prison, you probably don’t have any way to get there. And so he was picked up, and that’s the same day he got shot. Also, he was in a nursing home, just the poor care and things like that when your family, you don’t have money.
And so I just looked at all these things that played into his death, and I said, you know what? The government and corporations don’t give a **** about people, especially brown and black people. Here I am with a quarter million dollar education for my private college I went to my fancy university master’s degree and I’ve got, for what I’m at this really good cushion research job at Durham at the time, and I quit.
I got depressed and I met someone who was homesteading, and I just got lost in the woods. And that’s how I got into it, just by way of surviving the impacts of gun violence, and trying to find a way to deal with the complexities of that, and just heal my heart.
And I just got lost in the woods.
>> Laura Burgess: Wow.
>> Chantelle Johnson: Mm-hm.
>> Laura Burgess: That’s amazing. Can you describe a typical day on the farm for you?
>> Chantelle Johnson: A typical day at the farm for me at the height of the season, let’s just say, I am up I get up relatively early, but I don’t go outside right away like typical farmers.
People always ask me, Chantelle, how early do you get up? I get up early, but I’m not outside with the animals early. At the height of the summer I’m up around 6, doing some meditating, some writing, some reading. I’m trying to be out with the animals between 7:30 and 8.
I’m typically out singing and talking to the animals cuz I really believe in just caring and nurturing them, and honoring their life because they will be sacrificed for meat. And so I usually start with my meat birds because those are the hardest to do, and moving around pens, and watering, and giving feed, and sometimes I might have to move their fence.
I do a pasture rotation here, so that means that I move the animals around the land so they don’t destroy the earth, and so they always have access to fresh bugs and grubs and grass and things like that. And then I might run off and hang out with the pigs for a little while.
Those are my favorite. Get some rub on them and see them grow bigger and bigger every day, and then I might go collect some eggs. I have eggs, I don’t really sell them, but I have them for myself, and for folks who come to the farm and visit, I’ll give them eggs.
So I always go count them to make sure they’re still here cuz they’re just kinda out free in the world. [LAUGH] So are raccoons and opossums.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: And then if it’s turkey season then I go work with them too, and when they’re bigger.
>> Chantelle Johnson: [LAUGH] This is my dog.
I’m gonna let her stay outside cuz she’ll come in and destroy.
>> Laura Burgess: No worries.
>> Chantelle Johnson: So something I’ll go out, and I’ll go work with the turkeys, and those are probably my second favorite animals cuz they’re just so big and so cool and acted pretty intelligent. So that’s a pretty typical, just working with animals.
And then I spend a lot of time on social media showing people what’s going on on the farm, posting about new events. Doing some branding and some marketing and some advertising, going out in a community and doing various events and things like that.
>> Laura Burgess: Brilliant, so how many of these animals do you raise at one time?
>> Chantelle Johnson: At one time. I would say at the height, currently right now I only have a couple of pigs and a A handful egg layers but at the height of the season because we’re able right now. We’ll just get into, at the height of the season at one time I will probably have 200 chickens.
60 turkeys, and probably 6 pigs at a time.
>> Laura Burgess: So do you have any help in terms of what label with you. Or is it just you run this?
>> Chantelle Johnson: I do about 90% of the work on my own.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay.
>> Chantelle Johnson: When it comes to getting my animals to the processors, that’s when I call in reinforcements to come help me.
I don’t have any equipment, my farm, I call it a community farm, is I either run it but the community supports it through their labor, time, money and things like that.
>> Laura Burgess: Do you want to take a break for a second?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, okay. Okay, we’re back from our pause.
And Chantel’s dog joined us and so you mentioned that you describe this as a community farm, so do you have volunteers coming in or do you have events with the community, how do you kind of promote that?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes, I do a combination of all those things, I do a lot of community events.
Some are paid some are not where people can either volunteer to help the flow of that event or just come to any of the free events that I have. Also, when there’s the hottest season I have people come out and volunteer to help with some. The animals that need to be moved, especially during processing time.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay brilliant and I just wondered you use of social media because that’s kind of an interesting area that you wouldn’t think that farms kind of utilize but things uses kind of a very modern style farm. So how do you use that kind of for your operations and your promoting?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Social media for off-breed and color is essential. [LAUGH] This community based farm, if you will, was born out of social media. Just by telling harsh stories like, my gosh, I had to process the bird because it was injured to this is value my strawberry jam to helping women think about their periods.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: I try to cross the gamut, because what I have here, what I’m trying to develop is a Agriculture Wellness Center. And I like to describe to people it’s a home sanctuary for health and wellness. And I want people to come here and I want them to feel peace, and that they can find peace here through various ways.
So I use social media a lot to kind of push that vision, to push that idea to connect people closer to their meat. So, if people come out and meet your meat. I encourage people to meet their local farmers and stay connected.
>> Laura Burgess: Awesome. So, so you say that this farm, to you and it’s purpose is more than just a farm it’s like a wellness center.
Where do you get the idea and how, what kind of like programs are you running that kind of?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Right. I just wanted to, it was born of the idea of a homestead. Which is a lifestyle self sufficiency. And so I really wanted to keep that concept as I went forward to developing a farm.
So the farm is a part of vision as far as having good food. And I do that primarily through raising animals. Using pasture raising tactics. Another thing that I do, I offer Doula services, postpartum and birth Doula services. So, beyond the fact that I want people to eat right and plant good seeds in the world, I want them to also plant good seeds in their wombs.
So I help women birth like a boss. [LAUGH] And I also do community outreach. So right now my farm is on the speaking tour, and I’m going around and talking about the story I share earlier with my brother Richie who passed away. So talking about the impacts of gun violence to farming, and how did I get there.
And how to help people get through their own pains and traumas and turning this a power for themselves. So I do a lot of community outreach in that and community events from farm to table dinners to doing retreats. I have people coming out here and learning how to homestead.
The real Easter egg hunts with kids come out and they gets do a real Easter egg hunt and go get real eggs [LAUGH].
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: Really trying to take some, cool things that we already doing a community and giving it that self sufficiency twist like they say, so I do a number of things like that.
And so those three different components, farm raised goods, Doula services, a community outreach is what I’m using to kind of develop this homestead sanctuary for health and wellness.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so growing expanding on this homestead is that kind of a very popular concept in North Carolina, have you noticed is there other homestead programs are you aware of or something like that?
Or is it any way you’ve experienced it anywhere else that you’ve lived?
>> Chantelle Johnson: I found homestead here in North Carolina, but homesteading is all across America and the world possibly. It’s becoming a more of a trendy thing now, everyone wants to homestead. Now we’ve got urban homesteads popping up, and rural homesteads popping up.
So it’s definitely something that’s going on really big right now. It’s not really big and popular in brown and black communities, and I think as a black woman I’m trying to tap into that. And show people that anyone, everyone can homestead.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so I wanna talk very truthfully about how you came into homesteading?
So did you have any interest in agriculture prior to meeting your ex-partner who kind of introduced you to homesteading? Did you have any ideas about agriculture?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Up to the point before my brother was shot and eventually died and before meeting my partner, beyond just trying to eat healthy, that was the extent of my desire of wanting to be in agriculture.
If it wasn’t for that situation with my brother and then me meeting my ex-partner I don’t think I would have been, I don’t think I would be a farmer now and homesteader right now
>> Laura Burgess: Really, okay and so do you use that the fact that create kind of a lot of people who are in that traditional agriculture there’s a kind of born into this like multi generational farming, and do you kind of utilize this your own experiences with not kind of growing up around agriculture to shape what you’re doing here?
Because like education, for example, like is that a big part? I mean, you say you do a lot of outreach in the community is education of the part of that for you?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Huge part of them, I’m going to some schools this week, I’m going to a Environmental class, they’re talking about home setting.
Cuz we think about the environment, homesteading fits right into that we try to think about how do you be self-sufficient and how do you do that in conjunction with the earth? It’s all about science. And career day, one of my biggest things about just farming in general is that 1% of the American population when it comes to occupation, 1% of the occupations are farmers, just 1%.
And if you wanna break down to how many of those are folks of color, it’s even smaller and black people, smaller and black women, even smaller. [LAUGH] And black women who are livestock farmers even smaller. And so I think education is a huge part of it and one talk I did in Minnesota the professor said I’d like to think What you’re doing is a reversal migration.
If you think about history and think about the Great Migration from the south, black people from the south going to the north and west in a time of industrialization. And finding jobs and trying to run away from racism and finding it in a new way in the cities.
And a lot of people, those things that they learned from slavery and Jim Crow, farming was a huge part of it. But with the Great Migration, we lost a lot of land and things like that, right? And now I’m returning back to the South. Up to this point, before this, I didn’t know anything about farming.
I got my master’s degree in social work. I was trained to be a social worker. To go out and influence policies and help social work organizations run more smoothly. I never thought that I would use that degree for farming, doing social farming and things like that. And it’s been difficult not having land of my own, even currently I don’t have land of my own, but I know the importance and value of having land.
And that’s something that I would like to own soon one day so I can be able to pass that along to my nieces and nephews and children one day.
>> Laura Burgess: So you said that the land that you’re using isn’t, you don’t own it. So how did you kind of come to use this parcel of land?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, I was looking for land to use, pretty much, and just the community came forth, and someone said, hey, I have some land that you can farm on. And I think that’s one amazing way that you can enter into the agriculture field is just by asking. Lots of farmers want help, [LAUGH].
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: So one way to get into it is find a farmer who wants help and helping them achieve their goals and being honest about what you want so you can achieve your own too.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay then, so what are some of the challenges, or strengths, that you found farming in the greater Charlotte or the Piedmont area?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Some of the biggest challenges I have is just land opportunity and access. That’s just huge, just being able to find and afford land has been a big issue. Farming without equipment has been, I don’t own a trailer, I don’t own a truck, and somehow I’m able to raise all these animals.
[LAUGH] That means I have good community building but it still makes it hard to do things on my own accord with air quotes around that. When you don’t have your own things you gotta kind of wait on people to help you out. So just having access to land, opportunity, and equipment that’s needed, and sometimes cash flow can be an issue.
I’m choosing not to really tap into a lot of government assistance and loans and things. Because I think one issue that farmers have is debt, and that’s something that I want to avoid. Which means that growth is slow for me, and I’m okay with that. [LAUGH]
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH] Fair enough.
So talking about kind of how you mitigate the losses, so for your cash flow, and you say that you don’t use any government kind of resources, like loans. What are your kind of takes on these grants that are available? Or is there any community support that has helped subsidize your?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes, I do apply to some grants. I am a recent recipient of the RAFI Grant, which is funds that come from the Tobacco Trust, just awarded that. And those funds will be used specifically for my poultry operation to do added value poultry. So instead of having chicken breasts, and chicken wings, and whole birds, I will also have chicken sausage and ground chicken [LAUGH] and things like that.
So I do at times if I feel like the grant is something that’s not imposing on my liberties [LAUGH] I will apply for it. But for things that I need, I crowdfund them from the community.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay.
>> Chantelle Johnson: So I do a fundraiser, or I do an event, or things like that.
And I always try to offer something that the community gets in exchange for whatever it is that I’m asking for.
>> Laura Burgess: Can you give me an example of?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes, I had a number of pigs that needed to be processed and I did not have enough money to get them processed.
And I also didn’t have enough money to store the meat. So I needed, I think approximately $2,000 to get the hogs processed and to get freezers and things like and needed somewhere to store [LAUGH] the freezers. So I gave people a number of ways that they could participate.
One was through this program called Credibles, which people pretty much it’s paying for your food, you get credit for your food. So say you get $600, you’ll get your $600 back in food plus a $100. So I had a number of people sign up for that kinda program.
They pick how much money they wanted to donate, and then that dictated how much they got back in food plus some. So some folks did that or I offered discounts to them on some of the food programs. They’re like, I have a chicken CSA, if you donate this amount of money, then I’ll discount this amount on your turkey or on your future pork, or things like that.
So doing more bartering and things like that. If you give this, then I will give that, kind of things.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay then, so how do you process the meats, how do you do it if you don’t have the equipment?
>> Chantelle Johnson: I borrow a truck and a trailer or have someone who has a truck and a trailer to take my animals to the processors.
So I have someone who will help me take my pigs to the butcher and then to the poultry processor, too. I know how to process poultry. [LAUGH] But I don’t have the equipment yet. I do now have the funds to buy the equipment. I’m excited about that.
>> Laura Burgess: So what are some of your largest expenses kind of running this farm?
>> Chantelle Johnson: The largest expenses are probably the animal feed for the hogs. I spend lots of money on feed for the hogs, they eat a lot. I think it costs me about right now $1,000 to raise a hog from start to finish.
>> Laura Burgess: So is there a specific reason, just cuz of the pure amount, or is there, do you special feed, like are you farming organically, or-
>> Chantelle Johnson: So I use non-GMO feed, I think the reason why that number sounds scary to people is cuz I also track my time. A lot of farmers don’t track their time, so my time is billed into that $1,000. It’s not all feed or all animal, it’s also my time in labor.
I gotta make some money somehow and I charge myself $25 an hour. So anytime I go out there and interact with the animals, it’s $25 and hour for me to do that. And that number is built in, my time and labor, the cost of the non-GMO feed which I use which is a bit of a specialty.
I could use conventional feed but I’m promoting that the feed is non-GMO so that costs a little bit more. So the animal, the specialty feed, my time and labor, and the cost of getting the animal processed, too. So that’s gas in that $1,000. That’s paying someone to take my hogs is in $1,000.
Getting the animal processed is in that $1,000. So that $1,000 is accounting for a lot, and that’s what it takes for one pig, at least right now.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so your use of non-GMO feed, what is your take on kind of the attitude towards non-GMO versus GMO?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, so I think there’s three levels of feed that you can use for your animals.
There’s conventional, there’s non-GMO, and then there’s organic. GMO means that the seed has been modified. And the way the crop is grown, part of using pesticides and things like that. Non-GMO means that the seed was not genetically modified. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the farmer didn’t use pesticides and things to grow that crop.
And then organic means it’s a not genetically modified seed and that the farmer took some special time to not use those more harmful chemicals to spray. They still spray, people.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: They just have some that’s just maybe not as harmful. And so I chose to go with the middle ground, because I do think about the cost as far as actual money spent on a product.
And so I could have used organic, and my pork chops would not be $10 a pound, they’d probably be 12. Right so thinking about that, and then my bottom line too. So I choose the [INAUDIBLE] because I thought I do wanna think about what I’m putting in my animals.
But just like if you have kids or some like that, you make concessions. Like I would love to have apples, but I can afford applesauce right now.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: So, that’s kind of the road that I took.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, when you kind of expand more and gain more income, do you think you will then go on and kind of start doing organic or is that not something that interests you?
>> Chantelle Johnson: It’s not something that interests me because what is organic really? We have organic Doritos. So If we have organic Doritos, does it really matter if I’m using organic feed for my animals?
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah.
>> Chantelle Johnson: So that’s not something that’s really important to me unless I was trying to become an organic farm and do those kinds of things.
Which I have some issues with that, too.
>> Laura Burgess: Could you expand on why?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, so organic farming is difficult for a small farmers or even me. I consider myself to be a tiny farmer. I’m not out here with a hundred hogs or a thousand chickens and like 200 turkeys.
That sounds like a lot, but that’s not a lot for a small farmer. And me, I just got a couple of, like, the most I might raise this year in hogs is probably ten hogs. I probably won’t raise more than 400 chickens and probably 60 turkeys. That’s a really tiny farm.
I can’t even get, at my feed mill in order to get the discount on the hog feed, which is $11 a bag for a 50 pound bag. But if I want to get it $10 a bag, I would have to buy 40 bags of feed at a time.
I don’t need that, [LAUGH] and plus I don’t have that amount of money at a time to just throw on hog feed.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: So, if you think about it like that, then I definitely can’t afford an organic certification that costs, I don’t know, thousands of dollars.
And then, they want a percentage of your organic sales, right? So not only are you paying to get the cert, which also can take a number of years for you to get your cert, it costs thousand of dollars and every year, they want a percentage of your organic sales.
No, I’m not doing that. And at this stage it’s not worth it because I’m not producing, I’m not a high producing farm. I focus more on quality and education. And so it just doesn’t make sense for me to get something like that.
>> Laura Burgess: That makes complete sense. Do you have anyone that comes to you and asks if your hogs or your meat is organic?
>> Chantelle Johnson: All the time, all the time.
>> Laura Burgess: What do they do when you say, do you explain to them?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Just like I just told you.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah.
>> Chantelle Johnson: And then they are like that makes sense. Because a lot of people don’t think about what does it mean to be organic.
Right, then you tell them the steps you have to take to be organic. And then you talk about, you give them real numbers. I tell people I’m very free with how much it costs me to run things because I want people to know that the true cost of small or tiny farming, and what that means.
And why Walmart can sell you a whole chicken for 92 cents a pound and why I can’t. And why you should question that 92 cents a pound chicken as well. And then when you put in those kind of perspectives, there’s people like, that makes sense. Can we get one of your $6 a pound chickens please?
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH] Yeah, so selling your products, like how do you do it and to who?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes, I primarily sell right now through the Salisbury Rural Farmer’s Market. But I try to really push more wholesale buys from individual customers. I really try to get people to buy in bulk to save more and also it helps me with cash flow.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH] Of course.
>> Chantelle Johnson: So I sell the farmers market and I sell individually to customers and then I might do special events where I go and take meat to special events. And then when I have events on the farm I sell products there too. So those are the three main streams.
>> Laura Burgess: So who do you kind like, is it just individuals, like who do you target for like wholesale? Like do you do it to any restaurants or anything like that?
>> Chantelle Johnson: I don’t really work with restaurants or store, anything like that. You know it would be nice, but that’s not, I really just like to sell directly to customers.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so what have been your experiences of selling your product at the farmer’s market that you use?
>> Chantelle Johnson: It’s been great. I was really well received from the community. Honestly, I think cuz I was just a different face. Honestly I think it was because I was just a black woman and people thought that to be fascinating.
It took a lot of people to realize that it was actually my farm. People was asking me who farms it, is this? Or, shocked about that. But I think I’ve been really well received and really well supported by a community and I’ve been told a number of times how good my meat is.
>> Laura Burgess: That’s great. So,
>> Laura Burgess: You talk about this farm to table that you do in some of your events. I mean, you don’t, you say you don’t sell to restaurants, so how do you do that with your events?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, so, a couple times a year, usually to honor the winter or summer solstice, I do, like, a farm-to-table dinner.
I supply the meat. And then I work with local farmers to get the produce and things like that. And it’s just a party. We just come out here and people are just paying for an experience to be on the farm and just have a farm to table meal.
I promoted on social media like I do everything.
>> Laura Burgess: Mm-hmm.
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, people just come out. Just have a good time.
>> Laura Burgess: Ooh goodness.
>> Chantelle Johnson: [LAUGH]
>> Laura Burgess: So
>> Laura Burgess: What difficulties have you experienced kind of producing and getting your products to the market? If you have experienced any difficulties, I mean, other than-
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, like right now, the farmer’s market starts April 14th in Salisbury, and all I have right now is pork. I have chicken, chicks come in April 16th, but they won’t be available for purchase until June. And a reason for that is just not having the funds at the time to buy the chicks when I needed them to have it.
Not being able to store enough in my freezers. I could have raised 200 at the end of last year, put them in the freezer and had it ready for this year. But just not having that cash flow and a capacity to do that. So just those things, always worried about if I have enough product.
Being able to get the product ready and staff of people so people don’t forget that I sell meat. So I’m always running against you know how you know how can i keep the meat going with with what I have.
>> Laura Burgess: So your experiences within the kind of this location, how has its proximity to uptown Charlotte or other cities kind of impacted your farm?
Do you think kind of the grown urbanization of like this area Is contributing positively to your operations or is it kind of a negative impact?
>> Chantelle Johnson: That’s a great question. I have mixed feelings about it. So Salisbury is what, maybe 35 minutes north of just the very beginning of Charlotte.
So it’s an easy drive. Salisbury is situated right snugly in between Charlotte, Gainsborough and western Salem. So we have the ability to kind of tap into some really awesome urban settings. Also Charlotte is expanding greatly. Either pushing people out who can’t afford to live there or bringing people in who can and now it’s like want to be like in a cool city in the South kinda thing.
And there’s also a lot of development happening in Salisbury there because of it. Which means I’m happy for one because it means more customers for me, more people interested in the local food movement. Also scary cuz that means the land is being developed and not being reserved. So I have mixed feelings about it.
[LAUGH] You know in some respects as a business owner, as someone who’s like looking at trends. I’m like I think Salisbury’s gonna increase its population by like 25% over the next five to ten years. That’s amazing. Like yes. But it’s like, where are these people gonna live? Like right now, I live in Salisbury on the city limits, right?
So I have the ability to farm the way they do. But if they decide that this would be more Salisbury Central, what about my farm, right? So I have those things on my mind all the time.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, so is there any kind of local cooperative opportunities with other farms that you are involved with, or that you’re aware of?
>> Chantelle Johnson: So when I first got started, I kinda stuck to myself. I just wanted to just heal my soul and just raise good food. But I realized that I had a bigger voice, I had a bigger purpose than just that. And so I’ve been trying to connect with more farmers, and not just any farmers but more black and brown farmers, I feel like that’s really important to me.
And now Salisbury is in the process of developing a food council policy which I think is dope and I’m a part of that planning committee for that. To be a part of just really bringing together the various food groups in the county. So we can have a hub and really support each other around the work we do.
So I’m super excited about having a food policy council. I been trying to get myself into more conferences and things like that. Because everything I learned was self taught through someone else, YouTube or just working with other farmers. And now I’m kinda in a point where I really wanna just learn more a little bit more traditionally.
So go on some more farms, farmer conferences and workshops that really tighten up my skills, I’ve been doing that lot too. So those are different ways that are kinda connect with other farmers and getting more connected with the agriculture system here.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so you are trying to kinda gain some of these more traditional skills to kinda, as you say, tighten up your operations here.
Are there any ways that you are aware you deviate from those traditional ways that you think work better or work better for you?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Well, when it comes to traditional farming, hogs are raised in the building, right? My hogs are raised outside. [LAUGH] Which means that my hogs are more susceptible to, maybe, the inclement weather, like the hurricane that happened here last year.
My chickens are more susceptible to getting sick, and things like that. So, when it comes to conventional farming versus how I raise my animals, there’s a huge difference! It would be really difficult to raise animals I raise at the capacity that we produce meat in this country. It would be almost impossible.
Because people like meat, and they want it quick and they want it cheap. So that comes at a price. Now do I think that we can raise more animals to feed our country this way? Yeah, we totally can. That means people have to eat less meat though. They’d have to be okay with that.
Pay a little bit more for it. So I do think that I do deviate from some of the conventional farmers so far as raising my animals outdoor and maybe spend a little bit more on my feed.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so you mentioned the weather. So how have you been kind of dealing with this kind of very temperamental weather that kind of the area is experiencing?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, when a hurricane happened last September people called Chantal, are you okay, are your animals safe, what are you gonna do? I was like, first of all calm down, I’m not on the coast. That was a good thing. And two, because I am a tiny farm and I believe in the power of quality over quantity, [LAUGH] my animals are fine.
The pigs knew exactly what to do better than I knew what to do with them, cuz they didn’t have to compete a lot for resources.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: [LAUGH] And things like that. So I think because I don’t raise a lot of animals at once, that when those kind of things happen, I’m able to do something about it.
Even if I wanted to process them I could without freaking out about it.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay.
>> Chantelle Johnson: So that’s how I dealt with that.
>> Laura Burgess: So I’m just gonna kind of rope back cuz you mentioned that kind of when we were talking about kinda cooperatives, you wanted to kind of connect more with brown and black farmers.
So could you speak to a little bit of their experiences, or what you’ve experienced as well, in this industry or in this area?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Well black farmers tend to have a more difficult time getting loans and things like that and more when it comes to getting loans. Just in general in his country, black and brown people are more likely to be denied a loan than white folks.
And so just hearing those stories, the challenges that they have getting equipment and land and just the things that they need. Once again, I’m not on those scales because I did some things that I heard. And just learning from some of their challenges and how they try, how they get around it or how they work to get some of the things that they have done.
Did I answer your question?
>> Laura Burgess: Yes, That’s fine. Cuz
>> Laura Burgess: Okay so, you said you kind of connect. Is there any kind of like official kind of cooperatives or kind of like committees or something that are within the kinda brown and communities?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah.
>> Laura Burgess: For agriculture?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes so there’s couple of different like organisations and agencies that I know.
Even within the Rafi Grant, told you about, there is a particular person who works directly with minority farmers. There is a minority conference called BUZZ, which is black urban farmers and growers that goes around the country. Last year it was here, in North Carolina, in Durham. And then there’s a number, like there’s black associations, in general, throughout the country that you could be a part of.
There’s like a black sustainability summit that I was a part of a couple of years ago. So there’s definitely a lot of associations, organizations and conferences is devoted to like black and brown minority farmers that I’ve been trying to connect with. Just to really see and learn from them, see what they do and how we can work together to overcome some challenges that we face.
>> Laura Burgess: Great, great. So I wanted to kind of expand on like your community outreach. Could you give me more kind of examples of how you integrate agriculture with this kind of like community I was I said, I got to sell their saw this Community Focus that you have.
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, I think agriculture is such a broad term term that can fit in such a number of different ways. What I try to do is all the time remind people to be self-sufficient. By doing for themselves, and then I also stress the importance of generating your own income.
So like I said, right now, I’m doing this this speaking tour, I’m also organizing for June 10th. It’s like a celebration of like the emancipation of slaves from slavery, I’m organizing, I’m putting together a tent and a movie. We’ll have people come out to the farm and we’re gonna do a movie screening of this film called Mudbound.
And Mudbound is a Netflix original movie that kind of talks about a black man and white man who both fall in the war and came back to their homes and were farming together. And kinda like talk about some of the ratio implications to that. So almost anything I do, if I’m trying to talk about race, I’m talking about farming.
If I’m talking about my babies, I’m talking about agriculture. If I’m talking about careers, I’m talking about agriculture, so almost anything, everything I do, I try to attach food agriculture to it. Cuz to me food is everything and it is in everything that we do. So I always try to find creative ways to address whatever issue I’m trying to address or something I’m trying to promote.
Like even yesterday, I did a post about positive periods on my Instagram and even that. I even said, sometimes what makes our periods painful, is the food we consume, right? If we eat too much sugar, you might get cramps, right? So how can you eat more fruits and vegetables, so you can have a more positive period experience [LAUGH]
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Chantelle Johnson: So those are some various ways how I use community outreach and agriculture education to spread that message.
>> Laura Burgess: Do you see anybody else doing that in the area or anyone that you know intertwining agriculture with outreach?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yeah, I see a lot on my Instagram, people doing workshops or doing their own conferences.
Sometimes I even see, I follow a lot of doula people and I see them trying to address food insecurity issues, even in doula work. How do we help mamas eat better? How do we connect more farmers to the communitie, and things like that. Urban farmers are actually doing, in my opinion a really good job of educating people around that because they have a greater population that they can tap into, that they can persuade.
More than I do, like Salisbury is 30,000 people, Chicago is 2.7 million people. [LAUGH] So I definitely see, because I follow a particular kind of farming. I don’t follow a lot of conventional farmers, I follow homesteaders and a lot of homes that is really try to drive home that message around education and practice and really teaching people the importance of agriculture and sustainable living.
>> Laura Burgess: Mm-hm, so what kind of aspects of farming do you see the community misunderstand or don’t consider? Is part of homesteading or large agriculture?
>> Chantelle Johnson: When it comes to farming, I think what people miss is the price, I spent a lot of time in a farmer’s market. In a farmer’s market educating people about the price of my food.
And why, like I said, my chicken is $6 a pound and for a whole bird in Walmart is $0.92 a pound. So I spend a lot of time educating around. When you have a poultry house that’s as big as from this end of my property to the next.
Almost a football sized field with 10,000 birds in it, and you can, when you scale up, you can reduce you can decrease costs, right? But you provide to fee, you can reduce costs when you genetically modify a bird you can reduce, it can reduce costs. And so, those type of ways, you do it like that, you can have a $0.92 chicken.
[LAUGH] I’m never going to forget the first year I had turkeys, this lady said, $7 a pound for a turkey? I can go to Simply Good and get a turkey for $40, yeah, I was happy that she said she was gonna go to Simply Good. Simply Good is like our local like health food store here in town, super cool.
And she was willing to spend $40 on a turkey opposed to the $20 she would’ve probably spent at Walmart. Okay, I appreciate that. [LAUGH] Step up, [LAUGH] but still she never asks about, okay can you explain to me more about the cost of your product and how do you raise them?
How did you get to that price, cuz I’m very, very open. That costs me $40 to raise a turkey, so I’m damn sure not about to sell no turkey for $40, it costs me $40 to raise it. So once again, that $40 includes my time and labor, what would cost to the process them, all sum up.
And if it cost me $40 to raise it tell the people, if it cost me $40 to raise it, what do you think I should get in return?
>> Chantelle Johnson: What should I get in return, if it cost me $40 to raise it? What should I get in return?
Should I get my $40 back plus 10? Should I just get my $40 back? Cuz if that’s the case, I’m not gonna do it [LAUGH] and things like that. So I think when it comes to the price of food and when it comes to homesteading especially when I’m pushing this whole off grid thing, right.
Now, I live off grid-ish, and what I mean by that is, I manage my own power system. So I use solar panel for my energy and my lights, but I’m still plugged in to my landowners, their well. So and that’s powered by traditional electricity. And sometimes when people think about people living off grid they think about Someone lives in a cave disconnected from the world.
And some people have an issue with that. If you’re off grid, then you shouldn’t use propane, you should use a stick in the woods. Now, come on now, so I get it on both ends. I get people who think I’m in a cave and people who think well you’re not true to being off grid.
Those people I don’t focus on, because you don’t understand my life. [LAUGH] And that doesn’t mean you can’t tap into technologies, it’s just how you use those technologies. And so, when people come to the farm, that’s why I invite people to the farm all the time, when people come into the tiny house, first thing they say is that’s not too bad!
>> Chantelle Johnson: It’s actually pretty big, is this all your stuff? This is it, and I still feel like you got too much stuff in here. [LAUGH] So those are some of the misconceptions that I run into when it comes to just homesteading, living off-grid, and when it comes to people buying food from me, from the farmer’s market and things like that.
>> Laura Burgess: So how do you feel about, I mean price is important, I mean, farmers need to live. I think it’s kind of been a common trend is that agriculture won’t make you a rich man or rich woman. So do you think they, in big companies such as things like Walmart and all these larger, do you think they’re kind of, how do you think they’re affecting the kind of agricultural at the kind of this level, or maybe even at kind of larger, maybe more sort of conventional, but do you see them negatively affecting your operations?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Yes and no, we are both, I used to say we’re not a competition, but in some respects I’m in competition with Walmart and the like. Even Whole Foods, Whole Foods not selling at $0.92 a pound, but they might sell it for 3 or 4 a pound. Or still less than mine [LAUGH] but Yes, as far as they’re producing in my opinion products.
Whether there is fruits and vegetables, and we eat this. This is not quality. They encouraging people to eat out of season. They got watermelons. Watermelons right now in April and watermelons are gonna season until July. And I think when you eat at a season, you don’t give things your body needs during that time of the year.
That’s what your body needs and I want to ask not what it means in the summertime is the reason why we consume certain fruits and vegetables and certain times of the year. So I think it’s giving people false ideas they can have mangoes anytime without understanding where a mango comes from and what does it mean to have a mango in December.
Even when it comes to vegans, you want to have your quinoa. What does it mean to be able get quinoa any time of year when there are people in Ecuador who are having a hard time farming to meet the needs of these boogie eaters in the US. Or when it comes to eating strawberries, the Mexicans are out there picking your strawberries.
There’s no machine out there picking strawberries, you have to hand pick those. So, when it comes to things like that, when it comes to environment, when it comes to real people in agriculture field it makes people disconnected, they don’t know what it takes to pick a strawberry. They don’t know what it takes to raise a chicken, even if you commission a farmer and poultry house, that farmer doesn’t make as much, the money not in raising the animal.
The money is not in raising the animals, the money is in selling the animals. Or even that poultry farmer who has that big **** poultry house with all that fancy equipment is a contracted to Tyson meat, right. And if that person doesn’t produce a good product that farmer can be out of business, right.
If they don’t get to the ways they want or if the flock gets sick. Don’t let your flock get sick. It’s over for that farmer. He or she might not be able to get a contract with anyone. So when it comes to these big corporations and food, they just make people so disconnected because people only think they get the food from the grocery store.
They don’t think about the farmer, they don’t think about the cost of getting that food, and what does it mean. So and for me that means that I have to spend a lot of time educating. This conversation that we’re having I have all of the time, especially at the beginning of the farmer’s market season.
When there’s new people trying to try something new. Why this need, why this? Why buy from the farmer’s market? Why buy local? So when it comes to that definitely it makes it difficult. But when people do come in me that means that they’re thinking a little bit there differently right, and now I have opportunity to persuade a customer to meats differently, right?
What meat meaning, like M-E-A-T. [LAUGH] So, yeah, those are my thoughts on it.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so you highlight this kind of disconnect between the general public and their food. Do you, I mean education, I know it’s a big part of that and as you’ve been speaking, was huge part of it.
Do you think there’s any other things that either the agricultural community or people at the other end can do to kind of bridge this disconnect?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Invite people to your farm. [LAUGH] Invite people to be a participant in the food system. Beyond being a consumer, what other ways can we invite people to be a part of the agriculture system?
Can I come and volunteer, can I come and look at some spreadsheets and numbers? Can I come and be a part of the market and the advertising? How can we get it? How can we reach degree and master’s in school and elementary schools the things like that? I think is we need to find different ways for people to participate beyond just consuming and just doing just verbal educational things and things like that.
People need to get hands on, get their hands dirty. [LAUGH]
>> Laura Burgess: So, how do you sustain something like this in the long run?
>> Chantelle Johnson: I’m thinking about that a lot, I’m 31 years old still young, but these needs will not be young forever. So even when I first got into homesteading I remember when I was 100% off grid, I had jumped down to the creek.
It was five feet down to put water in the bucket to give to the pigs and I remember the pain I felt doing that. One reason why farming isn’t attractive to people is because it’s back breaking labor, it’s a reason why we have immigrants. In the fields picking strawberries, okay?
It’s because it’s really hard work, and so one way that I’m thinking about sustaining this work is building a sustainable community, like my dream would be to have a community fund forty acres. Where I have about ten to 12 people on that land given a certain acreage doing certain kind of agricultural work, that those different agricultural enterprises will sustain the land.
Also because I’m not a very high producing farm, I have to generate income other ways. That’s where these events come in. The speaking tour come in. So I think, when I’m talking about sustainability in agriculture, I think you have to diversify where you’re income’s, where your income comes from and the different products and services that you offer.
Because as much as I would love to just raise pigs. [LAUGH] Just like a cold can wipe out a flood. A cold could wipe out your herd or your pigs. So I think it’s important in any business that you have. You should always think about sustainability and how can the How can a business sustain itself on multiple operations and not just one alone?
>> Laura Burgess: In what ways do you kind of sustain the environment? Cuz I know that’s kind of a big talking point at the moment. Kind of internationally, nationally. How is that spoken about or dealt with in your experiences?
>> Chantelle Johnson: The way I deal with it is not racing around animals, being mindful about my water usage, trying to do a good job of managing the animals around the land, so not leaving them in one spot at a time, so they’re spreading their nitrogen throughout the farm and not in one spot.
So those are the different ways that I try to just take care of the environment with the work that I do.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so what advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into homesteading or kind of get into agriculture?
>> Chantelle Johnson: Just do it, and I know it’s easier said than done.
People come up to me and they have all the excuses in the world. I’ve got debt, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a husband, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got this, I’ve got that. And I just roll my eyes.
>> Chantelle Johnson: Because [LAUGH] all of that is just fear based.
It’s just excuses because we have come to accept the conveniences as they are. We like them, don’t get me wrong, I like having a dishwasher sometimes, but sometimes I wish I had a little bit more space. But I wouldn’t give up my life for the world.
>> Laura Burgess: Those stinkbugs.
>> Chantelle Johnson: I wouldn’t give up my life for anything right now. And I work really hard to maintain the level of liberation that I had. So the best thing I see is to just do it and to start small. So if you wanna start home studying but you live in that high-rise in Manhattan, just get you some pots and plant some herbs, start right there.
If you have ten acres and it’s just sitting there, go out and plow a row and put some carrots in it. Or invite some friends out and have a brainstorming session around a bonfire. There’s so many different ways that you can enter the agriculture system. And it doesn’t have to be buying land, right away.
And I’m a perfect example, I still don’t own no land but I’m still able to raise up 200 chickens, 60 turkeys, and nine hogs. And no equipment. And by myself. So if I can do it, anybody can do it. So you just got do it. You gonna pick on what you want, with what outcome you want.
Here we go, here is the secret. One you have to have vision. Have to believe that there is something you wanna do, you have to be able to see it. Two you need to build a squad. That’s your community, those are the people who are gonna hold you accountable, those are gonna be the core people that support you.
Then you just got to do it. Just got to do it.
>> Chantelle Johnson: Whoever is listening, I want you to know that you are beautiful and you’re amazing.
You have everything within yourself that you need to follow your dreams.
>> Laura Burgess: I think that’s a great way to end the interview. Thank you so much.
>> Chantelle Johnson: [LAUGH] Thank you.