Rickey Hall was born in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 22, 1957 and has lived in West Charlotte for his entire life. Mr. Hall is an important member of numerous neighborhood coalitions and organizations such as the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition and the West Side Community Land Trust. He intends to bring greater food and economic security to West Charlotte through his work with community gardens and the opening of a co-op market called the Three Sisters Market. Throughout the interview, Mr. Hall discusses food insecurity in West Charlotte resulting from food deserts and the importance of the community working internally to combat issues plaguing the area.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:01:13||Family history in Charlotte.|
|0:02:58||Personal experience with gardening.|
|0:03:53||Types of produce grown.|
|0:05:24||Closeness with grandmother and lessons learned from gardening.|
|0:07:42||Gardening in West Charlotte past and present.|
|0:10:52||Food desert in West Charlotte.|
|0:17:29||Role of community gardening in West Boulevard Corridor and the larger strategy.|
|0:22:13||Distance of grocery stores from West Boulevard residents.|
|0:24:32||Gentrification and food access.|
|0:27:20||Mr. Hall's involvement with the documentary, The Farmer That Feeds Us.|
|0:29:37||Mr. Hall describes the Three Sisters Market project.|
|0:34:36||Importance of women as growers and activists in West Charlotte.|
|0:39:08||Urban farming and gardening Mr. Hall is currently involved in.|
|0:41:34||Mr. Hall makes concluding remarks about the importance of his work.|
|0:45:47||Conclusion of interview.|
>> Quinn Whittington: My name is Quinn Whittington, and I'm interviewing Ricky Hall on April 16, 2019. I'm conducting the interview at the West Boulevard Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ricky is an instrumental member of the West Side Community Land Trust and has an extensive history in West Charlotte, on improving food access and preserving the area's unique culture.
This interview is part of The Queen's Garden, Oral Histories of the Piedmont Food Shed. An oral history project conducted by graduate students from University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Public History Program. This project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region.
First off, could you just introduce yourself, state your birthday and place of birth.
>> Ricky Hall: Ricky Hall, born in Charlotte, North Carolina, birth date January 22nd, 1957.
>> Quinn Whittington: You've lived in Charlotte, in West Charlotte specifically, your entire life, I believe. How long has your family lived in the area?
>> Ricky Hall: My family is from Charlotte, North Carolina, primarily, came out of Chester, South Carolina, and my grandmother moved up to Charlotte. And we've certainly been here all of our lives.
>> Quinn Whittington: What sort of work did your family do?
>> Ricky Hall: My mother was a teacher and educator in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
And [INAUDIBLE] early childhood education, where she retired. And my father was employed by Norfolk Southern Railroad where he worked as a rail yard engineer. So those were jobs that they had a lot in life, so they were working class people.
>> Quinn Whittington: And what were their names?
>> Ricky Hall: My father's name is Jerry Hall, and my mother is Carry Hall.
>> Quinn Whittington: And did you have any siblings?
>> Ricky Hall: Yes, I had seven siblings, so there was eight of us, it was five boys and three girls. My oldest brother is deceased but my remaining siblings are still alive and live here in Charlotte.
>> Quinn Whittington: You've already mentioned your family gardening does.
You mentioned your family gardening too, at previous instances.
>> Ricky Hall: My gardening experience started at a very early age with my grandmother in the garden in our backyard. And it was from that garden that we grew vegetables for the family, which she actually canned and it was a part of our food supply every year.
It was just part of the process and it was a part of in the community which I grew up in,which is Reed Park, which is right adjacent to the library, just about every family had a garden. And that garden provided much of the foods that we ate and provided nourishment to us.
>> Quinn Whittington: What kind of stuff did you grow actually?
>> Ricky Hall: That's a good question, my grandmother utilized every space in the garden. So, we had anywhere from greens to cucumbers to cabbage to squash to corn and okra and potatoes and onions and just about every garden vegetable that you could actually grow.
There were two growing seasons, there was a spring garden, and then there was a fall garden. And then the garden in the fall, of course, one of the staples was collard greens. So, we had collard greens and other vegetables in the fall. That was, needless to say, because we came from a working class family and in many ways, just living barely above the poverty line.
We were poor but we weren't poor in terms of good foods to eat. But certainly in terms of the economics during that particular time. And that garden provided the necessary nourishment for our well-being.
>> Quinn Whittington: You worked in the garden. And from what you've told me before, you were pretty close to your grandmother, correct?
>> Ricky Hall: I was very close to my grandmother, and of course, it's a laborious thing to do but also, they are life lessons that you learn from gardening. And it was those life lessons that I learned from my grandmother. In the stories that she told, that I carry with me with fond memory today.
But also it was about learning how to prepare a garden in the how to lay out the section of the garden, determine what you are actually going to plant and then to plant it and watch it grow. And as we are gardening and weeding and thinning out the garden, there were life lessons that she taught me.
That you take the operative part of the garden and you turn it to a speculative science about life lessons and it was with the balance of those life lessons from gardening. As well as the actual physical aspect of gardening and seeing this food grow before your very eyes and then at some point, you reap that harvest.
And from that harvest, you could eat from the ground to the table. But at the same time, that you didn't eat, my grandmother would, and our family would, she would actually can those vegetables. And she would can those fruits. So that during the winter months or the other months, that you could actually go to the shelf and open that can.
Whether it be beans or whatever else and that's what we ate from.
>> Quinn Whittington: [LAUGH] So was your experience with your grandmother, do you think was that a unique experience in West Charlotte or did a lot of people do backyard gardening?
>> Ricky Hall: I would say a lot of people did gardening but it was the experience that I gained from my grandmother that actually informs the work that we're doing today.
And so Those lessons that go from the garden and the hard work of gardening, in terms of, she was actually providing for her family because all of us lived in that little two-bedroom house with my mother and father, and eight siblings. There was literally 13 of us in a two-bedroom house and we were trying to just try and put a roof over our head and help my mom and dad to raise us and, so that we grow and mature and become productive citizens.
And so providing food on the table was a part of that process, and so gardening was a part of it, and my brothers and sisters didn't necessarily gravitate towards actual gardening during that time. And so there was that bond, that relationship that was formed between the two of us, and I learned the intricacies of gardening from her and life lessons that she taught.
One of the things that she always taught me was gardening is hard work, and hard work kill you and one of the things she said was, you may never get rich from gardening but you'll never go hungry. And needless to say that experience of never going hungry from gardening and if you look at it at a macro level, this community being in a food desert has a desire for fresh healthy fruit and vegetable.
And so you take it to another level if you don't have a menu you got to create some processes of providing it. And so from this garden with the rest of our neighbourhood coalition, we're looking to provide fresh healthy vegetables and foods to families. And at the same time, leading that lead up to a larger development building a coop market.
And so it's a graduated effort that's on a community scale but it all goes back to the roots of that gardening experience. And it's used from a collective community standpoint to really make it have a large impact.
>> Quinn Whittington: So you mentioned the food desert, and that's actually something I wanted to talk to you about, how long has the food desert been in place, do you think?
>> Ricky Hall: Well, if you know anything about Charlotte's history,
>> Ricky Hall: There's been a food desert in the West Boulevard Corridor for well over 40 years. And it falls to history, and the pattern of housing development in the community. When, in the 50s and 60s, there were predominantly white communities in the West Boulevard Corridor, then there was a grocery store at Remount West Boulevard.
The predominantly African-American communities starting with most sanctuary Marsfield Drive, and the Capital Drive communities and the Parker Heights community which actually formed the, foundation of the historically African-American communities in this Corridor. Those were we're doing the racial divides, now with the advent of White flight in the late 60s, then the businesses that were here began to leave as well.
And so the West Boulevard Corridor has been without a primary grocery store for over 40 years. And there's been efforts, over this time period to really attract growth store and this is one of the primary community needs. And so back in the late 80s when CityWest Commons was captured by the US attorneys after it was purchased as a part of a drug transaction that got confiscated, we put together a community driven effort to redevelop that shopping center.
And with the idea in mind of attracting a major grocery store a first and second tier grocery store. And after an 11-year effort the shopping center opened, but we did not get a grocery store I mean the shopping center opened but we didn't get a grocery store. All of the major grocers came out looked at the area, looked at the demographics, and they expressed interest, but at the end of the day we were still without a grocery store.
This site, which is at Clinton and West Boulevard, when the housing authority redeveloped a former public housing community, Dalton Village, into a mixed-income community under the Hope VI and started in 98,99 when they received the grant for that. They targeted this site which you see across from the library with the garden there as a site to attract the grocery store because the community expressed the need for it.
And went through the same market analysis and demographic assessment and brought developers and grocers out, and they expressed an interest. And certainly, with the funding that was there, there was expressed interest but at the end of the day the community is build out but there is still no grocery store.
And of course with the redevelopment of Renaissance West, which is closer to Billy Graham and West Boulevard, they were targeting the same effort to try to bring a grocery store but by that time in 2015, the community had said that it was tired of trying to attract traditional mainstream grocers to the area.
And so the idea was born of a co-op grocery store and that's the effort in which we're pursuing today.
>> Quinn Whittington: So the food desert really become a thing after you had already started growing up?
>> Ricky Hall: Yes.
>> Quinn Whittington: Did you have a grocery store close to you before that point?
>> Ricky Hall: Well the only grocery store that we got close to us now within a mile is Walmart on Wilkinson Boulevard. The other grocers are, of course, in the South End area with that burgeoning development, being there's Publix, there's Harris Teeter, and further North, on Ashley Road and Freedom Drive, there is, of course there's a Harveys, which is primarily the only other major grocery there, there's maybe a Compare Foods on Freedom as a part of the,
>> Ricky Hall: New Freedom Community's development there, and outside of the Family Dollars and the convenience stores on this corner.
>> Ricky Hall: There is no other place for this community to shop and so you get to a point where if you've got a problem, then it's up to you to come up with a solution.
And so the community solution is the co-op model, which is showing itself to be very successful in rural areas of the community across the nation. And now they are gaining in popularity, particularly in urban environments. Which are much like the West Boulevard card, in need of grocery amenities along with healthcare amenities as an economic development strategy.
But also, to address the long term need for fresh healthy food investment.
>> Quinn Whittington: Considering the food desert has existed for 40 years, when did community gardening really start picking up in West End? Has it been only recently that it's really started?
>> Ricky Hall: No, I think there was of course, the Park Community started the community garden on Drive.
And of course, had some success there and of course, with leadership changes and volunteer interest, it kind of ebbed and flowed.
>> Ricky Hall: In the West Boulevard corridor specific, we are not definitely depending on community gardens as the panacea for the problem, that's one way. A garden is more than just the provision of healthy food and vegetables.
It's actually the provision of foods as a means of improving health and the social determinants of health. It's also about capturing and creating economic development opportunity, that creates community around solving a long term community need. And it's also a community wealth building strategy and it's a multi-tiered approach that brings all of the 19 communities in the West Boulevard corridor together.
To focus on solving a long-term community need and to do it from a collective community impact perspective.
>> Ricky Hall: That in and of itself is the crux of what this gardening effort is all about. Here's the other thing, if you look at those social determinats, and if you look at where people get access to foods now.
Except for Walmart, and you have as many as four or five Family Dollars, two along the West Boulevard corridor. Approximately, 19 convenience stores on the West Boulevard corridor. What are people getting out of those stores? They're getting processed foods, they're getting high sugar, high fat foods that may satisfy hunger.
But when you look at those markers and those long term determinants of health over time. Processed foods, high fat foods, even alcohol products, tobacco products are the primary drivers of what people are consuming from these locations. And then if you look over 5, 10, 15 years, and you follow those health patterns, then what you're gonna find is that there's a whole lot of heart disease, high blood pressure.
All of those markers that lead to declining physical health overtime as opposed to improved physical health over time. We're going for the enhanced quality of life in affecting those determinants of life from our quality of life perspective. As well as a community impact and a community benefits perspective.
It creates community wealth and creates job opportunities and it allows a springboard for fostering other economic development opportunities. And it's not just to focus on the food aspect as the end all be all but it is a part of a larger strategy, around land use, around transportation, around economic development.
It also addresses the other issues about the healthcare deserts, so it is a multifaceted approach to address long term community.
>> Quinn Whittington: You just you told me where lot of these like the Walmart is, the Publix. For whoever would be listening to this in the future, about how far do people in West Charlotte have to travel to get good food?
>> Ricky Hall: They have to travel more than a mile.
>> Quinn Whittington: More than a mile?
>> Ricky Hall: And that's how you actually determine the food desert. If you have to travel more than a mile to access foods and food options, then you're considered in a food desert. And if you look at the burgeoning development of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, most communities have banks.
>> Ricky Hall: They have healthcare facilities, they have retail development, they have all of those markers that lead to enhanced quality of life. If you look at the West Boulevard corridor, there's no healthcare facility here. There's no bank still actually located. Retail development is sparse.
>> Ricky Hall: Housing and economic development opportunities are starting to grow.
But it's starting to grow towards the higher end. What actually happens is that why should this community be a community that actually improves as demographics change, and not improve for the people who have been historically in this place? That in and of itself is our challenge.
>> Quinn Whittington: And you can see the gentrification that's happening in the West End pretty visibly, if you're driving through specific parts of it, and- It has it's own set of problems but they also have the potential right to bring these banks and stuff that you're talking about and in supermarkets, but what are the problems with gentrification that way it's happening right now, especially as regards to like food access?
>> Ricky Hall: Well here's the problem. The West Boulevard Charter and the West Boulevard Coalition is blessed to have a solid historical foundation, and that foundation goes back to Moss Sanctuary in Zion Church, where you in as far back as 1850 Land was granted for the development of the church and ultimately that church becomes the foundation, a force for an educational facility.
And then the leadership part of that church becoming the foundation for the development of homes, schools, and churches in the area. And that community, that progressive community self help culture becomes the defining feature of creating that community village. That is the village that I grew up in because more sanctuary, Capital Drive.
>> Ricky Hall: Carr Heights, Reed Park, and the Parker Heights community, becomes that village hub. And it's not just the foundation, but it also is the creation of social policy that drives other needs and advancement in human relationships that becomes a progressive spirit in culture of the West Boulevard neighborhood coalition.
>> Ricky Hall: So the foundation of what we are doing is not just a new beginning, it actually is underpinned by the efforts going all the way back over 150 years ago.
>> Quinn Whittington: So you screened the farmer that feeds us.
>> Ricky Hall: Yes.
>> Quinn Whittington: With a couple of weeks back actually.
>> Quinn Whittington: So I mean nd I did interview Zach Wyatt a couple of weeks back as well. One of and he was one of the leads behind the project. How did you become involved with that project specifically?
>> Ricky Hall: Well actually the site for filming of the farm as feed is one.
The predominant sites that is featured is the West Boulevard Corridor, Seeds for Change urban farm was used as the backdrop for a lot of that filming and Zach came out and we were talking about the Carolina farm trucks and we talked about the vision for the Seeds For Change initiative under the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition.
And what are our goals and objectives and it fit in with Zack's documentary of the farm and it feeds us and other efforts that are taking place in the areas like the West Boulevard corridor to address food insecurity. And how do we come together as a collective to begin to understand what the dynamics and the underpinnings of how we got here?
But also, not just to understand that underpinning, but how do we begin to dismantle some of the challenges that this community has. We've talked about the code of law. If you look at the pattern of development, and even with highways and roads and things of that nature, in terms of racial segmentation and separation, then all of this is kind of driven from those challenges that the community creates.
So, how do we unravel it to create more equity and social and economic advancement?
>> Quinn Whittington: You also previously described to us about some I mean bringing greater food access to Charlie region I mean West Wales specifically, and you talked about the Three Sisters Market which is in planning, now wondering if you can just describe that a little bit?
>> Ricky Hall: [LAUGH] The Three Sisters Market
>> Ricky Hall: Is a vision that the West Boulevard Corridor has in terms of addressing the decades old need for fresh healthy food and vegetables in the West Boulevard Corridor, and as I said, it started in 2016, when we came together with Wells Fargo and we talked about creating a collective community impact.
And so we started with four pillars under the coalition strategy, land use and transportation. We started with the civic and community engagement as well as the Seeds for Change Initiative and we started with the vision of having the urban farm as a way of beginning to provide fresh, healthy food and vegetables and in the car and as a part of an educational and youth component, to where we were teaching marketable skills youth in and farming as well as the social and environmental sciences.
And then as a part of the larger vision on this four-acre site of building a co-op market to provide the fruit and vegetables, to provide good paying jobs, as well as to create community wealth. And so the Three Sisters Market in and of itself, is a way in which as a coalition we pay homage to the leadership of African American women.
Going back to that progressive community spirit that was born over 150 years ago. There was three under the first coalition, that I kinda grew up and gravitated under, there were three women, Maggie Freeman, Carrie Graves and Lucile McNeil who represented that leadership and who were instrumental in a lot of the improvements in the community, like Amy Jane.
Neighborhood center, like this West Boulevard Library and other improvements and as that leadership waned and Dorothy Watty picked up the challenge and mantle of leadership. And under her were people like Alfreda Brown and Harriett Mahoney who really took the coalition and ran with it. Ms. Watty was alive in 2015 when we started this initiative and one of her primary words were you teach a person to fish, they eat for day.
I mean, if you give a person a fish, they eat for a day, if you teach them to fish, they eat for life. And so she said then, yes, we can do this. And so the coalition has certainly ran with that challenge and that informs the decision in which we are working on today from a Three Sisters Market perspective.
So we're paying homage to the legacies of female leadership while at the same time recognizing that within the West Boulevard Corridor there were primarily three sister communities that really formed the basis of African-American life from a historical perspective. Morris Sanctuary, Capitol Drive, Cora Heights, Reed Park, and then Parker Heights.
But also, it has so many other connotations associated with it, thus the name Three Sisters Market was born. And when the store opens in 2021 then not only will it have that historical legacy, but it will certainly meet the needs of the community.
>> Quinn Whittington: So I actually wanna build on that because I've noticed a trend and the people who are really significant in your life related to the food access, they're all women.
And the typical image of a farmer for the public or even an urban farmer is an older white man, right, who will own hundreds of acres of land. But with you and the West Charlotte community, it seems like it's a very different image of who the growers are.
And I'm just wondering where the importance of women, how that grew in the West Charlotte community?
>> Ricky Hall: Well, I don't necessarily know where it grew. But I know, for me, it actually happened and I think that it's true. That's not to say that there weren't significant men who actually were a part of that food provision as well.
But I just know that from a community leadership perspective, those women were foundations. They stood out because they came out and they formed, they organized, and they brought about community change. And for me particular, Dorothy Watty, who was my predecessor in the leadership chain as well as Alfreda Brown.
Both are gone now and the only living part of that legacy is Harriett Mahoney. So Dorothy Watty hands the baton to Ricky Hall and Brenda Campbell and the persons who make up that. And so in our time, we're taking it and we're running with it until it's time to hand off to a new round of leadership.
And we think that that new round of leadership will come from those youth that we're working with in the garden. That we touch on in terms of the overall vision and strategy for improvement of quality of life in the West Boulevard Corridor through our four pillar strategy. Whether it be in the land use, in transportation activities, in the housing development activities, in the civic and community engagement activities as well as in the co-op activities.
Because what we do want to see is those youth to come out there and put their hands to the soil. And that in learning these marketable skills and habits become the leadership that actually goes from growing stuff in the ground to actually putting things on the shelf and becoming viable employees within the market.
>> Ricky Hall: That then,
>> Ricky Hall: Begins to get good paying jobs as a result of the market. And then they help to create long-term viability and sustainability for the market that creates community wealth as a result of creating,
>> Ricky Hall: An economic development system that keeps capital in this community to foster opportunity as opposed to the dollars continuing to flow out.
That is what that process is about. But also as the community changes and grows, that it becomes,
>> Ricky Hall: An opportunity for multi-cultural and a diverse community that honors its past, keeps people in place, but also attracts new residents, new economic development opportunities, and new growth and economic viability as a whole.
Whereas Boulevard, in and of itself, has long been thought of as a place to avoid. Now it's becoming an attractive place, as a place to invest. So as investment comes, there's no reason why others have to divest in order to get to a place of visibility and viability.
>> Quinn Whittington: So, it's the skills, in some ways, the skills that your grandmother taught you, like working in the garden, you're trying to pass down to the youth, the people that are working in the urban gardens that you're working on right now as well. And in addition, you're intending to teach them even more skills to be an important part of the community and really build the community up right.
>> Ricky Hall: Mm-hm, mm-hm, absolutely.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay, so I only have a couple more questions, but could you just describe what urban efforts are currently involved? I know you've mentioned a few of them already, but-
>> Ricky Hall: Of course, there's the Rosa Parks Garden over in the Beatties Ford Road Corridor.
And I know there's the Aldersgate,
>> Ricky Hall: Farm that Zach is establishing over on the east side. And all is within that crescent arc of areas that have been long associated with social and economic mobility challenges. And now these arcs are starting to coalesce around, okay, if it didn't happen, does it stay that way?
And now, if it hadn't happened, should we wait on somebody to make it happen or should we make it happen ourselves? And food access is one of the One of those primary needs. And so if we can grow sustainable gardens and we can create sustainable markets. That also leads to high level markets that become physical locations to access good, healthy food and vegetables.
And create supply chains that allow us to go from farm to market to table. And to provide it at an affordable price point. That then begins to affect access to healthy food that then begins to affect those social determinants of health, whether it be high blood pressure or diabetes, all of those negative markers.
But then we begin to see an upward progression of health markers that leads to higher quality of life for families and communities.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay, so that was my last major question. Kind of the big follow-up question, is there anything you wish I had asked or something that you wish you could have talked about?
>> Ricky Hall: No,
>> Ricky Hall: It is for me. And I think that it's a part of community self help. It's part of being positive deviant. It's part of creating solutions for self and community. As opposed to having someone else plan with your future and your life outcomes will be. And while these things have historical underpinnings around race, and it doesn't have to stay that way.
And for the West Boulevard Carter, we're not necessarily talking about what has been. We're actually focused on what can be. And what can be is not just improvements in food access, but food improvements in economic development, improvements in housing, conditions in housing opportunities. They're in a mixed income situation.
Because what I want you to understand now is this, and this is my last remark. Where we are now, we're less than a mile or mile and a quarter from the biggest economic development generator in the city of Charlotte, to our west, and that's the airport. Where we are now, we are less than a mile and a quarter from the central business district of Charlotte.
Where we are now, we're less than a mile from South End, and all of the burgeoning development around the Blue Line. Which really transform and change the South Boulevard Corridor, and really creates gentrification pressures. Where we are now to the west, we are so close, less than two miles away from the river district, which is a big Ballentine-like development that is creating pressures on gentrification coming from that way.
There's realignment in transit patterns from Clinton West here to Ashley Road over to West Tyvola and associated with that. To our south there is economic development that is burgeoning around the old site where the Hornets used to play in the Coliseum, that is really creating this vast economic opportunity.
Why should West Boulevard be a area of, with all of this economic development around us, why has this area been allowed to be that way for so many years? So it's actually a pearl in an ocean of economic development opportunity. And it shouldn't be that the River District and South End come together.
[LAUGH] In this space. And it not provide opportunity for the people who have historically been here. That is where we are. That is what our challenge is. And that is why that progressive culture of community self help must be brought to the table as a part of an inclusive strategy to achieve those goals and objectives of the West Boulevard neighborhood coalition.
It's there, but the drivers have to be the people who are here, and not the people who are now looking to come here.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay.
>> Ricky Hall: That's my.
>> Quinn Whittington: All right, well I just wanna thank you for your time.
>> Ricky Hall: And I'm glad to do it.
>> Quinn Whittington: And I greatly, I greatly appreciate it.
>> Ricky Hall: No problem.
>> Quinn Whittington: All right.
Zack Wyatt was originally born in Texas but grew up in Loudoun County, Virginia where his family worked in farming. He received a degree in business administration from Coastal Carolina University in 2003, moving to Charlotte, North Carolina soon after. Mr. Wyatt currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina and is the executive director of Carolina Farm Trust, a non-profit organization founded in 2015 which seeks to support local farmers and to educate communities on the importance of local food. Mr. Wyatt provides insight into the challenges local farming and spreading his belief in the need for strong local food sources. He also discusses his work on The Farmer That Feeds Us, a documentary which examines the food desert in West Charlotte and how it affects the area’s predominantly black population.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:48||Mr. Wyatt introduces himself.|
|0:01:12||Mr. Wyatt discusses his personal history with farming.|
|0:03:53||Family’s farming history.|
|0:05:09||Moving to Cornelius, NC.|
|0:05:42||College education and business administration.|
|0:07:27||Starting Carolina Farm Trust.|
|0:10:37||Importance of personal farming history in beginning Carolina Farm Trust.|
|0:12:58||Mr. Wyatt discusses the Lomax Incubator Farm PSA.|
|0:13:24||Past and present goals of Carolina Farm Trust.|
|0:18:47||Geographical focus of Carolina Farm Trust.|
|0:20:02||Acquiring and leasing land for the Trust.|
|0:22:36||Acquiring funding as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.|
|0:25:52||Mr. Wyatt’s interest in creating The Farmer that Feeds Us.|
|0:31:21||Mr. Wyatt discusses the planned Three Sisters Market in West Charlotte.|
|0:33:37||Differences and challenges between black-owned farms and white-owned farms.|
|0:36:52||Mr. Wyatt describes challenges farmers he works with face.|
|0:42:37||The importance of urban farming and educating urban communities.|
|0:49:16||Carolina Jubilee, its purpose, and its accomplishments.|
|0:52:05||How Charlotteans can support local farmers.|
|0:53:17||Mr. Wyatt directs a question at the interviewer.|
|0:56:46||Conclusion of interview.|
>> QW: Okay, so my name is Quinn Whittington and I am interviewing Zack Wyatt on April 1st, 2019. I'm conducting the interview at Summit Coffee Company in Davidson, North Carolina. Zack is the executive director of the North Carolina Farm Trust. This interview is part of the Queen's Garden Oral Histories of the Piedmont Food Shed.
An oral history project conducted by graduate students from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's public history program. This project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce, and distribute fresh foods in the greater Charlotte region. So first off, can you just introduce yourself, and maybe say your birthday, and where you were born?
>> ZW: Yeah, my name's Zack Wyatt, and my birthday is January 12, 1980. And I was born in Midland, Texas.
>> QW: [LAUGH] So I actually don't know much about your personal history. I didn't even know exactly where you were born. So, but with your personal history with farming, could you tell me where that interest develops, do you think?
>> ZW: Well I was born in Midland, which is in West Texas. And my family moved to Northern Virginia when I was five. So we moved to a 300 acre old dairy farm. So, the guy had died in the late 70s, I think early 80s, and then there was an attorney my dad knew that handled the property from a group of investors that bought it.
So, we were just kind of caretakers of it, but 300 acres is a lot. So we had to bush hog it every year. The state of Virginia actually paid them not to farm it. But we had a large garden, pigs and chickens, tons of horses. So that was kind of my childhood as you know, kinda growing up in that environment.
Not work and our neighbors had cattle. So that was my world in common sense for a long time. And I think when we all kind of grow up, that's just the common sense that we have. And so it was the greatest restore was definitely they supported our eating habits but I grew up on venison and pork.
And feed from the friends of ours and stuff like that. So the only thing we really bought at the store was just produced that wasn't in season, and chicken.
>> QW: So you have had a like a deep connection with organic foods and locally grown foods since you're-
>> ZW: Yeah I mean, wasn't organic.
I mean, the term organic is just such a vague term these days and I feel like there's more than a marketing point and anything. But yeah, it wasn't organic in our eyes at that time, it was just normal. [LAUGH] I think that's kind of a hard part of trying to differentiate conventional, organic and you need to, and we do as a family.
But it's interesting just looking at the whole concept and saying, here's food grown this way, and here's food grown this way. And it's such a critical part of our health, and the variance between them is huge. And how society looks on it, I always find it very interesting.
>> QW: So was your family into farming prior to the time you were born or was this-
>> ZW: No, and again, I would say, I grew up on a farm. We were not farmers, by any stretch of the meaning. Like I said, we just had a big garden, we had chickens and pigs.
We used the land, but I don't wanna portray something that's not true and kind of understanding farmers who receive 100% income from farming, there's a big distinction. But my dad was from West Texas, my mom was from White Plains, Hartsdale, kind of New York, a little bit West of the New York City.
But my mom left there right at 18 and went out west. So my mom's always been kind of big horse nut. But it was a great way to grow up. It was a lot of hard work and I was glad to go to college, and I knew I didn't want to be out in the field everyday.
[LAUGH] We all have our roles. But it's something that I have a great amount of respect for.
>> QW: So did you move from Texas to, I mean, you're in Cornelius, right?
>> ZW: Yeah, so we moved from West Texas in 1984 to go to Virginia. And so I was four and a half, five at the time.
And then I was there until I graduated high school. And then I went down to Old Dominion University for about a year, and then transferred to Coastal Carolina, down in Myrtle Beach. Graduated in 2003 and then moved to Charlotte that summer, so I’ve been in the Charlotte area for about 15 years or so.
>> QW: What did you do in university and what did you originally go for?
>> ZW: I was always business administration, I’ve always been very entrepreneurship in nature and always wanted to own my own business. And kind of catalyst of all this starting, I had kind of a business partnership back in 2010 to about 2014, that as partnerships sometimes in most the time do kind of blew up on me.
And I kind of got on the losing end of it, and it was kind of a redefining moment. And all this kinda just happened by accident with Carolina Farm Trust. But it is interesting to create something, and build something that you never own. There's part of it I don't like, but then there's a larger part that I do like it.
It's somehow mean, and I didn't know it at the time.
>> QW: So, you moved to North Carolina for University, right? And then-
>> ZW: Well, graduating from Coastal, going back to Northern Virginia meant moving back in with my parents. And that was just not going to happen. So I could take the nickels and dimes to Charlotte and kind of make my way on my own, but I could not do that going from Virginia.
The cost of living was just too expensive. So that was kind of the big deciding factor. We had some college friends that moved here, so it was kind of a collective migration.
>> QW: So do you think going to creating Carolina Farm Trust, it was kind of unexpected for you that you would do that?
>> ZW: Yeah, I never thought ever, I would even work for a nonprofit, let alone start one. When my business partnership kind of blew up, I mean, I went from making about 110,000 a year, one-family income of seven. I mean, my wife and I have five kids, to go in zero all in one day.
So I had to get on EBT and SNAP and kind of go through all that process. And it was just the bubble popped, our bubble popped. And it was just Scary, and very difficult time. And there was just kind of a PSA one morning. My wife was on the computer, and there was a PSA around Lomax Farm, which is an incubator farm in Concord.
And it just stuck with me, and then it just kind of started something, and little smolder of a fire. And there was a lot of TED Talks going on in that early 2015 around food, and the issues we were having, and kinda how crazy our food system was.
And it just kinda got mad, and more mad, and cuz it was just all this talk and millions and millions of dollars around advocacy and litigation and lobbying, and in education. But there was nothing, there was no alternative systems really going in. And so, I'm always a business guy and it's just, are we gonna solve this problem through policy, or are we gonna go solve this by kinda working with our small farming community?
And so, I just went and found some farmers and started talking and started making commitments, I had no business making. And then I needed a vehicle to go do it. And that's kinda what happened and it's evolved a lot over the three and a half years that we've been around.
But other than my children, probably the proudest moment for me personally kind of getting this thing off the ground and the successes that we've had, and the challenges that we face. And it really looking at it from systematic change, and that's really hard. There's a lot of great organizations working really hard on very specific problems but they're band-aids.
But they're very much needed band-aids. But the approach that we're trying to take is foundational and systematic change.
>> QW: So how much of you being, I don't know, growing up in at least gardening or farming, how much of that influenced your jettisoning you into starting a farm trust?
How important was that experience of growing up like that, for you?
>> ZW: A lot, so kind of in the 90s is when the real estate boom was just uncontrollable and Loudoun County, the county that I grew up, is the most northern part of Virginia. It's kind of like the backwards L that kind of juts up into Maryland.
But Northern Virginia really consists of Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington and I was in three counties. And Loudoun was about 80% rural in the 80s, and then kinda getting into the 90s, it just flipped on a dime. And so, kind of seeing all the farmland just being gobbled up by local and national developers and turn into subdivisions.
In a decade, you've just completely transformed the whole county. And when you have developers handing farmers millions of dollars for their land. It's a no brainer from the farmer just because it's hard work, and hey, it doesn't happen every day. But when you look at it from kind of a food system perspective, and take a little bit more of a macro approach, so yeah.
How much can we really afford to this keep letting all this happen? So experiencing that land grabbed was, I mean my dad was a local builder, so kind of understanding all about it and that's kind of where, if you kind of start talking to farmers, especially cattle farmers or livestock, they wanna do it right, you need a lot of land for it.
And that was just kind of something that kind of just triggered and triggered and triggered, so the land is a piece of it, but it's only the first step. So there's a lot of conservation land trusts and stuff out there, and it was more for my approach of, let's get the land into the trust, and then make it accessible out there to the small farming community.
>> QW: So it sounds like what you witnessed in Virginia, maybe we're seeing that happen in Charlotte. And I'm also wondering, you mentioned the Lomax PSA. What did you mean by that?
>> ZW: That was just a public service announcement that Cabarrus County was defunding them. So it's just kind of a public service announcement around the issues they were having and some steps for fundraising to make sure they can still operate.
>> QW: So could you kinda describe what your early goals for the Farm Trust were and how they might have evolved over the years?
>> ZW: Yeah, I mean, the mission initially was to protect farmland and fostering an ecosystem of sustainable farming, and we've kind of added on to the end and to build the next generation of Carolina farmers.
So the average age of the farmer right now nationwide is around 60. And from the moment we began until now, it's very much how can we help our small to medium size farmers get the equipment they need, the infrastructure they need. And the resources that they need to be successful and more sustainable.
Understanding that the profitability side of the sustainability equation is the most important. So it's evolved to more of understanding of the bigger picture of the entire food system and maybe more where we need to play. Distribution is a big issue. Regulation is a big issue but it's not our mission to go try change regulations.
There are other organizations that do that and we wish them the best of luck to do it. Our job is to understand the environment around us and try to, especially with milk, dairy is a prime example of regulation just wanting to keep small farmers small. There's a very small network of farmers who,
>> ZW: Sorry, what do you mean? Go ahead. So regulation is a big issue. But it's not our job to go change it. So it's illegal to sell raw milk to humans in the state of North Carolina, cuz they say it's gonna hurt us or kill us. But when you go to a seafood restaurant and wanna eat oysters and get sick, it's on you.
But for milk, for whatever reason, and mainly just because of the amount of money that's in it. The milk, they don't want a lot of individual dairy farms being able to sell to public. So our role with that would be okay, how do we get a dairy farm pasteurization balance system to sell direct in public?
I said one thing, I really want to figure out how to do in the next year or two because the dairy industry is just being wiped out locally by global supply and driving milk prices down, and So, if we don't act and try to make sure that our local dairy farms survive, then we won't have them anymore.
And then kind of what does that look like, with our food system in general, are we comfortable here locally to rely on a feed system that's 3,000 miles plus long? And then backtracking your head on all the little things that can go wrong. And then what happens? And I think a big wake-up call for me was just when Katrina hit New Orleans.
One day, it's a functioning society, within 24 hours it was completely anarchy. With our food system now, every grocery store is about two to two and a half day turn from being fully stocked to being fully sold out. And then any emergency arises, that two and a half days turns into a couple of hours, what happens if the trucks stop coming?
Where do we eat? There's no answer to that. So really, what we're trying to do is create that answer. And not really trying to completely eradicate the current food system that we have but making sure that we have a regional one. That if we had to, we could rely on it, and does that infrastructure exist?
And as of today, it does not, but I think that's an ultimate goal of ours, over the next many decades to come to try to do.
>> QW: So you definitely want the Charlotte to be a self-sustaining city in the case that something happens and global food network is cut off or whatever but I mean, is that kind of what you’re getting at?
>> ZW: Yeah, Charlotte I think is a great leader, I think Charlotte could be a global leader in food sustainability. And we want Charlotte to be that leader but our reach is the region in North and South Carolina. So within the Carolina boarders, can we feed ourselves town by town, city by city?
That is the ultimate goal.
>> QW: Okay, that actually leads into one of my other questions is, it is called Carolina Farm Trust.
>> ZW: Right.
>> QW: And based on your website it is focused on both the Carolinas. Is a lot of your work spread out throughout the Carolinas or is it, at this point, primarily focused in the Charlotte region?
>> ZW: Primarily focus on the Charlotte region just because we're just so small and we're still kind of in a very neophyte phase. But we've done events in Winston and Reedsville and the triangle. So we're definitely trying to have as much impact as we can as we grow, but we have 20 acres under management right now and seven acres in East Charlotte, two acres is in Statesville.
And then we have 11 acres over on the Union County and Mecklenburg County border. But on the urban farm side, we are just taking the opportunities as they present themselves. Right now Charlotte, we're wanting to kind of create an urban farm network in Charlotte. But if someone said, I mean like the two acres in Statesville.
We got a call and said hey, we have this would you want to get under the lease? And the answer is yes, and will always be yes. So if we get something in Asheville tomorrow, we'll get it and we'll figure out something to do. But it's just really just taking the opportunities as they present themselves.
>> QW: And by get it, do you mean you have to go and purchase the land for, and keep a hold of it and until what do you do?
>> ZW: Well right now, all because we have our own release. The seven acres in East Charleston, the two acres in Statesville are both leased with other nonprofits.
So I'm confident those will be perpetual. The 11 acres in Union County is the private landowner. And we have a ten-year lease on it with an option to buy the first right of refusal. So our hope is to buy that before our lease term is up, that would be a big goal on that front.
But ideally, any way we can get it. If it's donated to us, fantastic. Once we're bigger and have more funding going out and strategically buying, it will be a focus. And then just turning in land that's not being used. And leasing that from either corporations, nonprofits, city, county, state governments, private individuals.
Whatever we can do to kind of get that land under control and into production. And the vision on land use, is if they're in urban areas, we want to make sure we're utilizing every ounce of social capital that we can. So those will be kind of underneath our umbrella.
On rural farm cases, we will lease those back right back out to another farm. Ideally, we would not want to get in the weeds on anything. But it would be irresponsible of us to lease a parcel in an urban area to a farmer. And then say by the way, you have to do all this social capital work.
And not doing a social capital work is not an option. So we hope to hire some farm managers that will manage that, and we will operate them kinda independently from the outside looking in but internally, we'll be there to support them in all their efforts. [BLANK AUDIO]
>> QW: So your organization is 501(c)(3), a nonprofit and you obviously are gonna need a lot of money to bring about a lot of these changes that you want to see.
How are you getting your funding and how do you hope to increase the funding over time?
>> ZW: Well, right now, corporately. Accenture's probably our biggest funder for the last two years. Micro Realty's been a pretty big funder. We've been courting a few corporations, and they're starting, $500 turned into $1,000, $1,000 turned into 5,000.
We have Carolina Jubilee and music festival we've been doing, going into our fifth year. Last year was the first year we've kind of broke even on that. We're hoping that will be a big fundraising arm for us, so it's a crowded nonprofit world out there. As with anything higher, affluent donors, all wanna see track record and see how you're, they don't wanna fund new nonprofits.
And so, it's been a big challenge on the funding side. That will to succeed and strive has to be very strong to kind of get through the early years. But we're starting to talk to some more folks and we're excited about the opportunities in 2019 and the potentials.
So long-term, we really wanna diversify and work with corporations 33% of the time, and generate our own revenue from an operation standpoint. Chronologically, I'm hoping to do that. We have a docuseries that we're working on called The Farmer That Feeds Us. That can be a very good money generator.
And also, proving to the rank-and-file population that we need to exist for their own self-interests. I think the more we can get the average person to do 5, 10, 25, $30 a month with us, that's I know, when we'll be able to do a lot of what we want, that engagement.
But we have to earn that. That's the critical piece, proving to the community, and then to the region, why we need to exist.
>> QW: So actually, you mentioning The Farmer That Feeds Us, that's where I wanna turn to next, because I actually saw it on Thursday, last Thursday.
>> ZW: Cool.
>> QW: So Ricky Hall came over and showed us the new videos. It was fantastic. So for anybody listening it is primarily about the food desert in West Charlotte, and gentrification in the area. And how that might impact urban farmers and even farmers in the areas around Charlotte.
But West Charlotte is predominantly black, and it has very high poverty rates. Now I was just wondering, as you are white and live in Cornelius,
>> QW: How did your interest in that project begin?
>> ZW: Well I did again, going back into the bubble. Basically there's in the terminology if you're kinda looking at public health and it's a crescent.
It's a crescent moon is what they kind of call it which starts in West End and then goes North Charlotte, and then kinda goes into East Charlotte. So it's that northern crescent moon of where a lot of the food insecurity, food access issues, crime, that's the crescent where, that is typically has a negative aura around it.
So I think it was 2016, I got roped into doing kind of this bus tour of West End. And shamefully, I'd never been there prior to. So going on ten years, and just passing it, and going on 77
>> ZW: And it was just a complete, I have this image in my head of what Charlotte was, and it was very much uptown kind of the lake area, South Charlotte, Valentine, Myers Park, South Park, and South End.
>> QW: So the super wealthy areas as well.
>> ZW: Pretty much, I mean, I knew South Boulevard. I lived off South Boulevard when I first moved here, but it was just night and day. But then it took another year and a half for me to kind of get the courage to engage, mainly cuz I was white, and
>> ZW: And the approach was important, and Randy Singleton was one of the first guys I met, and then he introduced me to Natania, and to Dr. Rowe, and Ricky. But it was mainly engaging by listening and not talking. And I think that was just the key of building some of those relationships.
Because as in the film, there's a common theme of white people coming into West End and saying well, you need to do it this way. And have this, we're gonna save whatever, that's not received well. So what we tried to do,
>> ZW: When I was kind of talking with Reggie, we have a dinner series that is predominantly used to kind of execute our mission as we're trying to grow.
We've done quite a few but I've never done one with a black farmer before and it was starting to weigh on me, that we haven't diversified on that. I had asked Reggie, does he know anyone? And, I was going to the Rosa Parks Farmers Market, I met Paul Bloomington.
And then kind of talking where do we wanna do the event and, we want to do it in West End, and then we found the Washburn Estates that Judge Fulton was graciously enough to let us use. So once all that, okay, we have to film it. [LAUGH] We can't not film.
Cuz there's just too much there. There was a lot of stories there once I started kind of meeting everyone. And so, we approached Ortho Carolina [INAUDIBLE] funded the first one and they came in and fund the second one, and John C Smith kicked in a little bit. And so everyone was just extremely nice and, again, it's just built up fear and perception, with all of us, that make us afraid to do things.
And I was that way for two years, cuz I just didn't know how I would be received. And it is nerve-wracking, it still is nerve-wracking, when we kinda show it, and. But it's made it more clear of making sure that you don't let fear prohibit you from engaging.
And there's a lot of ways to engage. And the one thing I would say is if you're wanting to engage with the community, and you don't know too much about, just shut up and listen. Just don't walk in and have all the solutions. And also it's not about someone coming in, and having solutions of bringing them.
It's more of getting to know a community, and understanding the initiatives that they're trying to move forward. And then offering assistance to help them meet their initiatives, and not try to create new ones, or alternative ones, or anything like that. That was just kind of a critical piece of the whole, on why it happened, and how it happened.
And very lucky of Ricky, and a lot of different players that were involved, that just treated me so graciously in the process.
>> QW: So actually Ricky also told us about The Three Sisters Market that they're planning. Are you working with them at all related to that?
>> ZW: No, not directly.
I mean, I hope that we can play a role, eventually maybe being a supplier. And we gave Ricky the docuseries, the episode in editable format and they can use that however they want in their fundraising efforts. I mean, I wish we were big enough where we could drive action a little bit harder around that, but we're not yet.
But as we grow as an organization, whether it's our project or not, it's irrelevant. We want to help,
>> ZW: I'm excited to see what he can make of it and if he can get it off the ground, I mean there's a few grocery stores in the triangle that are very successful.
I think the one in Winston or Greensboro just closed. I'm not, I can't remember if that actually happened or not. But Charlotte, but that's kind of the thing. The whole thing with all of these social and political problems, it's, do you have the will power to make the change on your own?
It's not about **** about the grocery store is not coming. Okay, if they don't wanna come, make them pay for it, that's my attitude. I think that's Ricky's attitude too. If you don't want to come, don't. We can figure it out on our own. It presents itself a whole other layer of challenges but we want to be more of an asset as we grow to help Ricky and organizations like West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition on some of these projects.
>> QW: So I actually want to redirect a little bit back to the voices I heard in the documentary. I mean, in what ways are Black on farms in Charlotte, any different than the one like you grew up on or the ones that you've witnessed that are primarily run by white people?
>> ZW: I don't think any any difference, I'm not, I mean, Bernard Singleton is a black urban farmer. That was in the docuseries, and he's done a tremendous amount with different parcels in West End. He's actually the one that we leased out the 11 acres that we have over in Eden County, so it's him and I think Ben Case and Steve.
Marengo's an african herb that's very popular, it's a big cash crop in its tea and spices, a lot of medicinal purposes and Bernard is certified to grow it and there's just a market right now for it that you could never grow enough to meet the demand. Getting this 11 acres over there, they're putting 5 acres in Maringa.
And it's gonna be a, hopefully, a big asset to Bernard's growth, and Ben's seeds. And then an outlet to grow produce, to go back to West End in a bigger scale. So as far as the, I mean, Paul Brewington, with Brewington Farms in Concord. Is his farm any different than Rowan Road Farm in Gold Hill, with Joanie and Danny Rowan, who are both white?
Is there any difference to them, no. I mean, they're both awesome people, they both work harder than probably anyone we know. I think the challenges, that's the thing. Are the farms different, no, are the way are they able to sell different, maybe. That I don't know, I don't wanna assume anything or project anything that's in
>> ZW: But Paul Bernard's I think they're both successful, I would say. In my talks with, Paul kind of referenced back into the 70's and 80's, trying to take advantage of some government programs that were out there, and being extremely discriminated against on those, and he has a lot more closeness to that story than I do but today, it's my sincere hope that they're on the same level playing field.
>> QW: So, generally, I've gotten in these interviews, prior ones, just farmers talking about a lot of different challenges, primarily that relates to climate or trying to find a market to sell to or finding workers. Through your work, I mean you are aiding farms that are in need. What are the primary challenges that you're seeing?
>> ZW: Well, if you weren't born into a farming family or very wealthy. It's almost impossible to do it. I mean it's just so challenging. I mean in the infrastructure, the land cost equipment. All of that is so expensive, the margins are so thin, the work is so hard.
Mother Nature is your biggest business partner, which you have no control over. And from a farmer, you have to be a great farmer, you have to be a great business person, a marketer, organizational. I mean, there's a lot wrapped up into just, okay, I'm gonna go be a farmer.
>> QW: Mechanic.
>> ZW: Mechanic, being out in the middle of a field with limited resources and having to think outside the box to fix something that broke. Or I mean, all of it, the timing that everything, how much time everything takes. The lack of a workforce that's willing to go out and do that hard work.
The scalability challenges, the distribution side of the business, whether it's direct or wholesale.
>> ZW: All those are just huge challenges and barriers. A comment that always kinda gets brought up, especially in funding conversations, well then, why would anybody want to do it? And that's the surprising part. Is there are a lot of people that want to do it.
There's a lot of people that are doing it. Cuz it's something bigger than going into uptown and punching a clock and it's just a different life choice. So, the cool thing that I look at is, with all those negatives I just kind of talked about, there's still a part of the percentage of the population that is dedicated to go do it.
There is even more percent of the population that would be willing to do it if they had a little bit of help getting started. That's the role we wanna play as an organization.
>> QW: It's funny that you mentioned being asked, why do farmers wanna do what they do?
I actually interviewed Elizabeth Andover in Concorde, and I-
>> ZW: She's on our board.
>> QW: Yeah, yeah, I, I, she was saying a lot of the same thing you're saying and near the end of the interview, I just said, why you do this? And she says cuz it's fun.
>> ZW: Yeah, [LAUGH]
>> QW: And I think that's kind of the impression I'm getting from a lot of farmers in the area, who are, I mean she has a, her family has been in the area for a very long time but she kind of started her own thing.
>> ZW: Yeah, I mean there's a lot of And we're doing a dinner this Sunday, for Fair Share Farm in Bathtown, which is just near Winston-Salem.
Again, they're doing really well, 100% of their income comes from the farm. And we need hundreds more farms like that. So how does technology kinda play a role? How do we do more with less workers? How do hydroponics kinda play into it? How do we make it easier for consumers to buy direct?
Back to the farmer's markets, there's a lot of them popping up and there is a lot of neighborhoods that want them, there's just not a lot of farms to support them. There's not enough infrastructure, if your a farmer going into a farmer's market, that's your livelihood. You don't have time for that market to develop a base of people that come every week, it's either there or not there.
It's hard for farmers to continue to go to one where they're not seeing the revenue. And that's kind of why you have Davidson and Matthews in either account of being the stronger markets and some of the other ones that are cobblestone, not cobblestone but and even Rosa Parks.
There's these challenges because if the farm can't see the revenue almost immediately, it's almost a non starter. Even though they would love to help the food market to get up off the ground and all that. It's just when revenues are that tight, it's just hard.
>> QW: So with Charlotte being such a rapidly growing city.
I mean, you've touched on this already, farm land is being encroached on by suburbs of Charlotte very rapidly. And land is becoming prohibitively expensive for farmers to purchase. So I was just wondering, is urban farming kind of becoming the new thing? Is it becoming kind of necessary for a city like Charlotte to obtain this locally grown food?
>> ZW: Yeah, I think it's the future. We're kinda looking at Europe, and certain Detroit, Boston, the Northeast. We're a species of necessity. So why is Europe a lot farther along with us on food sustainability? Because they had to be, they don't have this luxury of just moving, sprawling as much as we want.
They took the ocean pretty quick. [LAUGH] And within their own borders, so it's kind of having to kind of rethink, okay, how are we gonna do this? The Netherlands are doing some really cool things over there. So on our side, the conglomerates are paving the way, mainly because of their trials and tribulations of the constant recalls
>> ZW: Lettuce, and greens, and avocados, and beef. And I think every week, we hear some sort of large recall of food. And then also, the misinformation of how they're growing it, the pesticides, all the antibiotics and drugs that's in our meats. It's getting to a point of, the whole system is getting stretched, and it's gonna collapse on itself eventually.
So how do you know for a fact what you're eating? Gotta go meet the guy who's growing it or the woman who's growing it. And Charlotte is just very lucky in my opinion, that we do have a strong population density, but we still have a tremendous amount of greenspace within the city limits and even within Mecklenburg County.
So we want to utilize Charlotte as a leader of okay, well how do we build a certain farm network? Is it feasible to say, okay we're gonna feed 1% of the population within the city from a produce perspective. Then how can we get that to five or ten.
And also again, we're asking people to make a behavioral change. And that is the hardest thing to do, and how do we build this relationship back to food. We've gotta bring it to them. You're not gonna get the rank and file population out to just understand rural farms, and how important they are.
You're just not gonna be able to do that. So it's different mediums of the farm that feeds us. It's [INAUDIBLE] Jubilee, and it's working with corporations and green teams and families and schools. Where they don't have to drive a half hour, 45 minutes. They can drive 5 to 10 minutes and go, okay, this is cool.
And once you get someone on this local buying pattern, a potato is monumentally different in taste if you get it from Barbie Farms, per se, than at the grocery store. Now Barbie Farms- at the grocery store you might buy two cuts for 2$. But it's also what you're supporting too, and part of the job that we have is to put a face to all of this.
There will be a part of the population where it's, I don't care, just give me the cheapest eggs you got, it's a commodity. And the hard part of treating a very big piece of survival as a commodity.
>> ZW: It gets devalued, over time. And especially if you look at a animal as a commodity,
>> ZW: It doesn't work out, it'll end up being kind of what it is. What it is now. So it's building this relationship back to food. It's bringing this taste. We just had some celery over the weekend like holy crap. It's just unreal, the difference. Most of the nutrient in industrial ag is about half of what it used to be in the 20s and 30s.
And I think it'd be even more than that. Just because of all the artificial inputs with the soil being just continuing to be taxed on all of it. And it's, am I gonna go to the grocery store and spend $5 on a dozen eggs? No I'm not. But I won't think twice about doing it when I'm making that transaction to a farm that I know I'm supporting them and their family in this overall system that I know we, as a community, need.
It´s not a luxury, it´s a need. That's kind of where, I mean, it's also trying to think kind of where we are in the market, and how many people just don't know. As a society, we have given away the responsibility to feed ourselves. We just gave it away.
And what we're hoping to do is show every individual that we'll have to take the responsibility that. That does not necessarily that everyone has to have their own garden and stuff like that. But it's also to show them that they need their food supply chain as close to their front door as humanly possible.
>> QW: So you mentioned Carolina Jubilee, which that was one of your first big ventures with non-profit. Can you kind of describe what that was? I mean, with everything that you just said, the importance of making people, maybe in the urban Charlotte environment realize the importance of local food.
How did the Jubilee achieve that, do you think?
>> ZW: Well, it hasn't achieved anything yet, really.
>> QW: Okay.
>> ZW: We were still, it was an investment over time. I knew it would be. But again, it's a kind of going back to that behavioral change and we need to get the masses engaged.
And we had to do it. And there needed to be a very subtle way to do that. And we needed to, I mean, I get asked all the time what's our demographic. Well, if you have a pulse, you are our demographic. So we're trying to build the Carolina Farm Trust how it's gonna operate 100 years from now.
And so Carolina Jubilee, by design, is kind of this social contract with the region. It's a music festival, it's camping. It's in a northern Iredell County, which is an extremely heavy agricultural community. And we needed something that we could get people to come to. Music, camping, hey, I like all that, let's have fun.
And then, by the way, you have to be from the Carolinas to be a vendor. You have to be on mission to be a vendor. Music, we go outside the region. But everything else, from beer, wine, distilleries, chefs, if you go, you're gonna be trying something from a Carolina farm by default.
So it's making it normal. There's not a little corner of it, it's the whole thing. So we've been growing that and we wanna utilize that as we grow and we show more. And again, kind of proving to the community that we're worth of existing. That is an event we can do in the masses to showcase that.
And our goal year over year is to get more people to come and support that and support us and have a good time doing it. But also being very comfortable that it's not elitist, or judging, or preaching. You won't find any of that there. The messaging is just very subtle.
And as we grow, if we're asked, yes, but we don't wanna preach about it. We want it to kind of be on its own and let people approach it at the speed that they want.
>> QW: So actually, I just have a couple more questions and then we're done.
But kinda see, I mean, even talking about how local urban farming, what it can do for people in urban centers like Charlotte. But what do you think Charlotteans could do to help local farmers, beyond just buying the goods that they're selling?
>> ZW: Well, buying from the local farms is the biggest thing they can do.
And go to farm-to-table events, go out and volunteer on the farms, and talk to their neighbors and support kind of the movement. But where you spend your dollar every day is the biggest impact you're going to have, plain and simple.
>> QW: And are there any other questions that I should've asked or is there anything you would have liked to talk about that I didn't ask about?
>> ZW: I guess from your classmates in your generation,
>> ZW: How do you feel like you're different?
>> QW: [LAUGH]
>> ZW: Kind of going into this, and obviously, you're taking the class. And what's your interest level in food systems? And what role, I guess, do you see yourself going forward, kind of like career paths and stuff like that.
>> QW: So not necessarily, I can't necessarily speak for my classmates, but I went to university in Boone, North Carolina, I went to Appalachian State. And there's a huge emphasis on local food there. A lot of restaurants there purchase from local producers. They make their food from them. I mean, there's a new store or a new market.
I can't remember what his name is, but he used to sell on the back of a truck, just the produce from local farms. He'd go around, gather it, and then sell it. Now what he does is he has a store right on basically Boone's main street. It's right there, right in front of everybody, and people can just go purchase food there.
Now in Boone, I felt very connected to the local food. I moved to Charlotte, not so much, and I was kind of disappointed about it. What this class has done, though, has made me realize that I was just missing the local food movement here in Charlotte. I'm not sure how I was missing it.
Part of it, I think is just Charlotte is so big. And it wasn't as noticeable for me, living in the North Charlotte area around the university. I feel like if you really wanna get more involved in local food, you need to go down towards like NoDa or some of the wealthier areas, actually, which is kind of an issue I can see.
But beyond that, I mean, what this project has done to help me is it makes me wanna purchase from local farmers instead of going to the Harris Teeter that's just down the road. And I think once I get a better paying job or whatever, that's what I'm gonna start doing.
Now for the purpose of this project, I mean, we're gonna be publishing all the oral histories online. Now for oral history, this is new. Somebody 50 years in the future can look back at these interviews and be like, here's what Charlotte was at this point. And then 50 years in the future this person can say, okay, what has changed?
Has West Charlotte, is it no longer a food desert? How significant is urban farming in the Charlotte area, stuff like that. It's more just a place to put these interviews up as a repository for people to look at in the future, but also currently. I mean, these are gonna be on a website that will be published at the end of the semester.
And the public will have free access to listen to what farmers and producers and people like you are going to be able to talk about. So that's kind of where I see this. And my interest in local food started in Boone, didn't stop in Charlotte, and it's not gonna stop anytime soon.
And I'm sure the same sort of thing is happening with my colleagues, so yeah.
>> ZW: Yeah, I hope to come back to this in ten years and see what progress you've made.
>> QW: [LAUGH] Yeah, hopefully it'll look a lot different.
>> ZW: I hope so, too.
>> QW: So this concluded my interview with Zach Wyatt.
And I just wanna thank you so much for your time.
>> ZW: Thank you.
>> QW: All right.[tabby title='Captioned Audio'] [tabbyending]