Tega Hills Farm – Carie Deneau

Carie Deneau is 59 years old, and has been working at Tega Hills Farm for a little over five years. Her primary job duties include product weighing, seeding, and seed transfers to the greenhouses. Prior to her work at Tega Hills Farm, she worked in the health care field and Hospice for just over 20 years, eventually leaving due to burnout to pursue farm work. She once worked at a large-scale produce farm in Delaware in her early 20s, so she had enough early training to help ease her into farming once again when she applied to work at Tega Hills Farm. Topics in this interview include transitioning from her previous field of work to farming, musings on scientific farming and the future of farming, and production of healthy food for introduction back into the American diet.

Tape Log

0:00:11Introduction, Interviewer
0:00:39Introduction, Carie Deneau
0:03:18Starting off in health care and Hospice, and burn out
0:04:20Working on a produce farm in her youth
0:05:49A family member introduces her to Tega Hills Farm
0:07:03Working at Tega Hills Farm
0:09:37Daily/Weekly job duties
0:10:49Enjoyment from producing healthy food to counteract the unhealthy American diet
0:12:52Seasonal produce and work
0:14:22Being a grandmother, church involvement, and home gardening
0:15:22Taking home composting scraps and learning from Mark Robinson
0:20:58The importance of smaller, traditional farms over large scale farms
0:25:37Final thoughts on risk and community



>> MG: This is Mike Gregory, graduate student at UNC Charlotte in the oral history program. I’m back here at Tega Hills farm talking with another worker on the farm. Her name is Carrie, hi Carrie.

>> CD: Hi.

>> MG: It’s nice to be able to talk to you today. Carrie, tell me a little bit about yourself.


We’ll get into how you go the Tega Hills Farm in just a little bit. But tell me a little about your background, where are you originally from?

>> CD: I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland. I was born in 1960.

>> MG: Okay.

>> CD: So I grew up in that era. From there I moved to Ellicott City and graduated from high school in Ellicott City, Maryland.


I graduated in 1978.

>> MG: Okay, so how did you end up in Fort Mill, South Carolina?

>> CD: We moved down here, we lived in Delaware before we moved here. I moved down here in 2008 and my daughter was down here ahead of me. She moved down here to go to Bible College and I came down to visit her while she was in school down here.


We just fell in love with the area, and ended up coming down.

>> MG: Wonderful, did you always know you wanted to get into farming?

>> CD: I think so. I loved it ever since a little girl. I visited my uncle’s farm when I was a little girl, and just, I loved that.


I have family on my mom’s side who were a lot of farmers. Farmers and teachers. I have an uncle who lived in Middletown, Maryland who was a big dairy farmer. And gardens, they all, all my family always had gardens [LAUGH]

>> MG: Yeah so what kind of gardens did they have?


>> CD: Vegetable and fruit, blueberries, and just, your regular stuff you can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash.

>> MG: And the typical outdoor conventional garden?

>> CD: Yes, yes.

>> MG: So quite the change from going from conventional gardening to suddenly we’re here with hydroponics and Greenhouses. it’s quite a difference.


>> CD: Yeah, I think the Greenhouse gardening is the way to go. [LAUGH] As opposed to fields and product in fields.

>> MG: It certainly allows for a lot more year-round productivity.

>> CD: Mm-hm, yeah.

>> MG: So tell me a little bit about your background. What did you do after high school and did you immediately get in to, into farming or did you have kind of a life before?


>> CD: No, actually, I was in the healthcare field for a while. I was doing as a CNA and doing home healthcare. Now I entered hospice care for a while, and then I got to the point where I wanted to be back outside and not dealing with fear. I got burned out doing the hospice work.


>> MG: I Imagine.

>> CD: And you’re dealing with a lot of with sick people when you’re in healthcare and it can wear you down. So I just, I always longed to be back doing this kind of stuff. And I got hired here and just been so happy ever since Did you leave the healthcare field and and go immediately to work here or did you did you do something in between them?


No, I I did that, I came here to here. Yeah, I did have I have worked on a farm there before this farm Okay When I before I moved here I lived in Delaware I worked at a produce farm.

>> MG: At a produce farm?

>> CD: A produce farm, yes, mm-hm.


>> MG: How long did you work at the produce farm?

>> CD: A couple years, yes, but I was younger, I was in my early twenties. And it was a large-scale produce farm, and they had pick your own, and they had market and I liked doing that, and I did that until I got married and started having kids.


And then I took years off when I was raising my kids, and then went into the health care field. When my kids were a little older, I went into that field, but I homeschooled my kids, as well. And so I’ve spent those years just you know that was my focus.


Then when they were a little older I went back to work.

>> MG: Okay. So. [LAUGH] So when you decided to make the leap.

>> CD: Okay.

>> MG: From healthcare to wanting to get into farming. And how did you settle on Tega Hills Farm? Tell me about the process, what drew you here?


Or was it one stop of many, trying to get into the field? Just tell me a little bit about that.

>> CD: No, not really, what happened was, a friend, family member kind of like.

>> CD: I ran into her and she was dating a guy who worked here. And so when I ran into her she’s just, hey, how are you doing?


Or whatever. You still working with hospice? And I said, well, actually I’m trying to do another job. She said well what do you want to do? And really I kind of said it jokingly, I’m like I want to be a farmer. I almost said it as a joke, but it just kind of came out.


And she said, hey I know of a place that’s hiring. Why don’t you go down there and talk to them? So I did it, I came down here and that was the story, I got hired, so it’s-

>> MG: So what did you think when you came from the more conventional farming to seeing Tega Hills farm and seeing the greenhouses?


It’s a non traditional form by Mile standards it’s a small farm it’s only two acres of land.

>> CD: Yes.

>> MG: But only part of that has Greenhouses on them. So tell me like-

>> CD: It’s amazing for the amount of produce it produce on a small amount of land that it has.


To me it was amazing. It was I was. By it. When I first started working here, I was working with the microgreens. With a lady named Pat, who I’m not sure, you probably haven’t met her because she’s not here today. But she’s a lady who’s in her 70s and I fell in love with Pat right away.


>> MG: I met her the first time I came to see her. She was picking cilantro, she’s a very sweet lady.

>> CD: Yeah, and so her and I worked with the microbrewery, and said, I’ve had several different positions, over the years that I’ve been here. But yeah, I was just amazed how things, and I wish I haven’t been able to share with you some pictures of the changes I went through the years because they’ve really done so many improvements around here that it’s the transformation is just a joy to be a part of to watch happen.


Like building things and building new markets and the just the things Different things.

>> MG: And you said you’ve been here for how many years?

>> CD: Five, five years.

>> MG: For five years. When you first came to Tega Hills Farm, did you have any hesitation with working with greenhouses?


Was it a little overwhelming or was it a challenge that you were-

>> CD: No, no it was they taught me what they wanted me to do, just showed me a few times and it’s not difficult work to do. It can be strenuous, and it can be, but it’s a system, it’s really a system, and it runs smoothly when you just keep up with the process.


So, here we got I’m doing seeds, I’m dropping seeds into here, and then in two weeks, they go from here onto the water, so and it’s just a system.

>> CD: I know you can’t see this but-

>> MG: I’ve taken plenty of pictures.

>> CD: Okay.

>> MG: So when we all get to listen to this there will be pictures.


>> CD: Okay.

>> MG: Yeah, absolutely, so we will get to see it.

>> CD: Okay.

>> MG: Don’t worry.

>> CD: [LAUGH]

>> MG: But tell me what your typical job is here at the farm. I know it may change a little bit depending on the day or the season, but tell us a little bit about what you do.


>> CD: Well, usually in the mornings I’ll harvest lettuce, and then in the afternoons, twice a week, I’m the one that packs the orders for the restaurants. And then, cuz I only work part-time, I’m here three days. For two of the days I pack restaurant orders in the afternoon, and then on the other day I plant the seeds, right here, this.


>> MG: Okay.

>> CD: Which is what I’m gonna be doing here while I, yeah. And then, yeah then we harvest in the morning and then in the afternoon I’m either packing or seeding. So that’s what I do.

>> MG: Okay. Do you have a particular job here that you you find most enjoyable, or maybe even therapeutic?


Cuz you mentioned you came from healthcare, from where this is-

>> CD: Yes.

>> MG: It’s nothing but unfortunately dealing with sick people. And then in hospice, you’re dealing with kind of ultimate fate.

>> CD: Right.

>> MG: And now you come here and you’re giving life. You’re bringing life to things.


>> CD: That’s true, yes, yes. Yeah mm-hm. Yes and I love just the idea of producing healthy food. That means a lot to me to be a part of offering something that’s gonna be good for people to eat.

>> MG: Yeah.

>> CD: Because I’m one that really believe that the american diet right now is pretty poor.


People just eat a lot of crap, a lot of stuff that’s causing people to be sick. Like I was in healthcare it was like, I knew a lot of reasons why people are sick, even young people are sick in the 50s and 60s. I think it’s diet related a lot of it.


So I like the fact that I’m helping provide good food.

>> MG: It’s why I asked it.

>> CD: [LAUGH] Yeah.

>> MG: If,

>> MG: Come on,

>> MG: How does your job maybe change seasonally, cuz we know that greenhouses are not entirely insulated-

>> CD: Yeah.

>> MG: From the weather. And with you doing seeding and planting.


>> CD: Mm-hm.

>> MG: Does that change, or does how you have to handle that or deal with that change depending on the seasons or weather?

>> CD: Well, the lettuce we grow year round and the micro greens grow year round. And the things that seasonal are the outside beds, where we have things like broccoli and onions and I can’t think of everything that’s out there, string beans we’ve grown out there.


But and in house five is where we grow the tomatoes and the peppers, and that’s more seasonal.


>> [MUSIC]


>> CD: Yeah, I guess in house five they grow eggplant, they’re seasonal things. So, like for even right now, in the end of March, and the beginning of April, they’re starting to plant the tomatoes and I think it’s in house five in a couple weeks we’ll be able to start harvesting them.


>> MG: Okay.


>> MG: No, that’s fine. You mentioned that you do a lot of the packaging and preparation to send off to some of the chefs that are in Charlotte. Do you get to deal with them directly or do you just hand things off? How does the exchange work?


>> CD: Well, Mindy usually takes the orders and then I get the orders down here. I just pack them in delivery totes, they call them and put them in the cooler with the name of the restaurant in it, and then, somebody else delivers them. So I really don’t get to meet chefs or anything like that.


Occasionally one will come in, or if they do a on farm pick-up, I might meet them.

>> MG: Okay. So you said you work here part-time. Do you do something else in the meantime?

>> CD: Well, I’m a grandmother. [LAUGH]

>> MG: That’s a job.

>> CD: I’m involved with my church quite a bit and just stay busy.


I do own a little bit of land out in York, so I have about 35 minute drive to get into work, and at home I have garden at home too, so.

>> MG: What all do you grow at home?

>> CD: Well, my goal, or my desire’s to grow herbs more than anything.


And I also have a little project that I’m doing it’s called Burma composting, where I’m composting with worms. And my goal with that is to use the Burma composting for getting the soil all ready for organic growing.

>> CD: I know really actually in the future I would love to do that on a larger scale, but for now, I’m just in the beginning stages.


>> MG: Is there anything that you’ve learned, say, during your time here, during your five years here, working at Tega Hills Farm? Cuz you and I conversed a little bit before the interview, and you said science is kind of the future of-

>> CD: Uh-huh.

>> MG: It’s the way to go as far as gardening.


Have you learned anything from here that you’ve been able to apply maybe yourself in your own home garden? Or anything you’re looking forward to maybe trying?

>> CD: One of the things that is an advantage of working here, a little perk, is that I can take home The scraps, you know, and use those for composting.


And I also recycle some of the soil that comes from the growing of the microgreens, I can take some of that soil, and use that in a potting mix that I like to make for my home gardens. Mark is a wealth of knowledge, I mean, I can ask him, really, anything about anything.


And he takes the time to just talk to you, and hang out with you. And he’s a very, very good employer, I enjoy Mark and Mindy both.

>> MG: Yeah.

>> CD: I’m trying to think of.

>> MG: When we interviewed the two of them not too long ago, Mindy joked that there never seemed to be anything that he didn’t think he could do.


He would set his eyes on something, and then just figure out how to try it, and do it.

>> CD: Right, I know, yeah.

>> MG: And I think this is kind of evidenced with the greenhouses, and the amount of microgreens, and experimenting with different kinds of microgreens.

>> CD: Yeah.


You have to have a lot of fortitude to be a farmer, because I’ve seen crops and different things they’ve tried not work out. And they have to just press on, keep going through and ride through the losses, and still keep their chin up, and they do. They’re awesome.


We have good seasons and bad seasons, and they’ve lost things, and just had to work through it, just-

>> MG: Could you tell me, maybe, about one of the bad seasons, what happened?

>> CD: [NOISE] Well.

>> CD: Let me see if I can think of something here.

>> CD: There’s times, sometimes, when we’re harvesting, and we have to clean stuff up.


If, you know, I don’t know, there’s a disease or something, it does happen from time to time. And then they have to adjust, you know, and figure out what caused it, and work through it. But sometimes, you’ll lose some of the product in the process of, you know, just life on the farm.


>> MG: Yeah, I guess its a little harder when you have a greenhouse, and you don’t have the vast fields these commercial farms have. Your loss really can affect you in a much smaller farm like this.

>> CD: Yeah.

>> MG: I’m curious, going back to something that we mentioned prior to the interview, which is, science is kinda the way to go as far as farming goes.


Having grown up with conventional farming, and with that thought. And especially now, working here at Tega Hills Farm, where we have these greenhouses, and we have hydroponics, and where do you see farming going in the near future? Do you, let me preface this and say that one aspect we have been exploring, during this whole project, is the encroachment of urbanization.


And moving out farms from the urban environment, and pushing them farther and farther away. But also, in some ways, moving them out entirely. Where you have urban farms that can’t really survive via traditional means, but maybe the owners don’t have the expertise or the money to convert. And so sometimes, these larger cities, they keep building up and building up, and the farms, they’re going away.


Tega Hills Farm is kind of the epitome of an urban farm. We’re not just a few feet from a road, and cars going by and there are houses, townhouses across the way there.

>> CD: They haven’t been there that long, just came up.

>> MG: And a major grocery store, we’ve got a Publix there right down the road.


It’s building up here. Where do you see these urban farms going? Do you think that they’re gonna have to embrace the more scientific farming? Or do you think there’s still really a place for the traditional farm?

>> CD: Well, my concern and thoughts are that I think people are too dependent on the large-scale industrial-type farming, and that the local farm is essential to every community.


Like for instance, even here, you can produce a good crop, a good product, and make it financially beneficial to do it without a lot of land. But I just think that the communities need to have the farms. They need to have local, I guess, local sources of produce and food, and not be so dependent on Mexico, and California, and.


So it’s just essential that we keep farms going. And that didn’t really answer that question, did it?

>> MG: No, you did, and.

>> MG: I’m curious, have you ever thought about maybe what our local farms, like Tega Hills Farm, could do to reach out to the public, to try and turn them away from these big, from consuming from these large commercial enterprises, to the more personable, affordable, smaller local farms?


Cuz I think that one thing that we, as Americans, well for one, we want everything right now, we want it in large quantities. But we also have this misconception that everything that is produced in large scale in these grocery stores is cheaper, when that’s not necessarily the case.


>> CD: Right, mm-hm.

>> MG: How do you think we can go about reaching these people, to turn them away from that, or at least, if not turn them away, to get them to come back and look at the small farms?

>> CD: Just education, people have to be educated. There’s the other thing about these larger farms, is that they have to pick their produce when it’s still, when it’s not ripe.


And when it’s not ripe, it doesn’t have the nutrition in it that it would have if it was allowed to ripen before it was harvested. And just, even all the pesticides and herbicides that have to go into large-scale farming is causing our food to be unhealthy. Unhealthy for people to eat, and it’s just spilling over to the healthcare field, like I mentioned earlier.


So just to, people need to value, or understand the value of fresh, local food. And it’s just a matter of teaching And people, I think. I mean, you’re right about the convenience, people want it convenient, but when people put a value on something, it changes the way they think about it.


>> MG: Yeah, I think we definitely need to get away from the culture of the bottom line. And like you said, go into education. One thing I’ve thought about, and I’m curious what you think about this, perhaps occasionally bringing people such as yourself into local schools, public schools, to do a presentation on some of our local farms.


>> CD: Mindy does that.

>> MG: She does?

>> CD: Yes, she does.

>> MG: I know they offer tours here. I didn’t know that.

>> CD: Yeah, she goes to schools, and does little talks and little demonstrations.

>> MG: Well, every little bit helps.

>> CD: Yeah. Yeah.

>> MG: So, kinda bring things to a close here.


With this project, there will be many people who will have access to these, from students to just general enthusiasts. If there’s something that you would like to tell them, something that is an ultimate take-away from what you do here at Tega Hills Farm. Is there anything that you would like to tell them, maybe a personal message, or something for them to think about, related to what you do?


>> CD: I think it’s important to dream big and to take risks. And when it comes to farming, or anything, like, you feel called to. It’s a God-given desire to take the risk and go for it, and just trust the Lord, that he’s with you and he’s going to give you what you need to get through it.


Because there’ll be hard times. There’ll be times when you are prosperous. And it is a risky business, but it’s worth the risks. And reach out to others in the community to help get started, but do it. Do it for the sake of your community, do it for the sake of your children.


And just keep the small farms alive, keep them going, keep them in the community.

>> MG: A powerful note to end on.

>> CD: [LAUGH]

>> MG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I know we all really appreciate it.

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