Mr. Chris Fletcher discusses and recounts his time working on his personal farm in Cabarrus County. He touches on the reasons he began farming, what he currently grows, and why he chooses to sell his product at the farmers market as well as the benefits of buying from one. Other topics also include the future of farming in the region as well as commercialized farming. Mr. Fletcher also explains his involvement in various community organizations and how education factors into the work that he does.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:57||Type of farming Mr. Fletcher does|
|0:01:37||Details of raising cattle as a teenager and past farming experience|
|0:03:07||Recession forces switch to produce growing|
|0:03:52||Why the focus on growing peppers? Challenges of growing peppers|
|0:05:42||Land useage and expansion plans|
|0:08:07||Value added plans|
|0:08:50||Selling at farmers markets and selling to breweries|
|0:11:19||Being a Master Gardener and roles of the master gardeners|
|0:15:57||Urban Plant Festival|
|0:18:27||Other work outside of farming and balancing work|
|0:20:27||Land in clear, land taxes|
|0:22:41||Urban Growth effects on the farm and farming supplies|
|0:24:27||Organic growing and costs|
|0:26:07||Challenges of local weather and weather patterns|
|0:28:07||Plans for potential year long farming and selling|
|0:29:07||Other plants besides peppers being grown|
|0:30:25||Piedmont Culinary Guild|
|0:32:07||Why farmers markets are necessary and pitfalls of commercial farms|
|0:34:27||Best selling peppers|
|0:36:07||No family assistance and future of the farm|
|0:37:07||Views of the current farms in the region and the foodshed|
|0:41:23||Concluding questions, lessons learned|
>> Bradley Holt: Good morning my name is Bradley Holt of UNC Charlotte in the public history department. Today is April 16th, 2019. Today I am sitting down with Chris Fletcher. We are at the Editions Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Downtown Annapolis.
>> Bradley Holt: And so Chris, I'll just let you briefly introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
>> Chris Fletcher: Hi, I'm Chris Fletcher. Born and raised here in Cabarrus County. Been farming for about eight years. But have sorta been doing farming all my life, back through middle school and high school.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and what sort of farming and gardening do you do?
>> Chris Fletcher: Right now, we do all produce. We do a lot of specialty peppers to sell. I probably grow 15 to 20 different varieties of peppers, not all hot. Which, all peppers are not hot. There's a lot of sweet ones, and there are a lot of ones that are considered spice peppers, which have a lot of flavor and a little heat.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and you've been doing that for eight years, the entire length here in Cabarrus County?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, cool, so you mentioned that you did it some in middle school and high school. What was that like, what sort of form did that-
>> Chris Fletcher: What we did then, we raised Shirley cattle.
And we Did the North Carolina State Fair Steer Show a few years. And,
>> Chris Fletcher: This will be my grandmother's brother-in-law, he started showing me how to doing some growing of produce and stuff like that. So I grew a garden, too, at that time in my life.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and do you remember what you grew in that garden?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, the usual corn, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and you told me before the interview it's located near your current plot. It's located here in Cabarrus County between Concord and Mount Pleasant.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, off Cress Road.
>> Bradley Holt: Cress Road, okay, so you mentioned your family was into raising the cattle. Was that something that they'd been doing previous generations, or would that-
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, they had some cattle, not a lot, but they raised a lot of chickens.
>> Bradley Holt: Chickens, okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: For eggs and for stock, I guess you would say, or meat.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, do you still have any animals?
>> Chris Fletcher: No.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So what led you to make the switch kind of as you grew older?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, the recession hurt us pretty bad. We were building some houses and real estate and stuff like that. And with the collapse of that, I knew I had a lot of extra time on my hands.
And I've always had a garden of some size or whatever you want to say. But that's when I started back trying to make some money out of growing stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: So what led you to the peppers, then?
>> Chris Fletcher: Just have always been interested in peppers and the way they grew and I just went on from there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So I wanna talk a little bit more about those peppers because I wasn't really expecting that.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So what sort of challenges do you have growing peppers here, as opposed to maybe some other more common produce?
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean, they're pretty relatively easy to grow.
They have some problems, but not a lot. Last year I had a problem with blossom end rot, which is sometimes caused by calcium deficiency. But it can be caused by too much water or not enough or inconsistent water. And I was able to spray some stuff on the foliage and it broke out.
I didn't raise as many as I was hoping but still produce some in the end.
>> Bradley Holt: Established some of them, yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned it can kinda be inconsistent watering, you said, or-
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, the blossom end rot can be some numerous different things what can cause that to happen.
Too much rain or not enough but they're like most plants like a consistent amount of water.
>> Bradley Holt: When do you normally harvest those?
>> Chris Fletcher: They start around August.
>> Bradley Holt: August.
>> Chris Fletcher: And they'll go until frost.
>> Bradley Holt: Then that would make sense with last year with the tropical systems that rolled through and just flooded everything out.
Did you have any other issues maybe last year with that record breaking rainfall?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really, not that I see associated with the rain.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so you mentioned before the interview that you have about a half acre of land?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, I really have about 16 acres.
But I wanna use, some of it's hay fields that my father in law cuts for his cows and other parts of wood. But I do just about a half an acre of cultivating.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so you have family that still works with cattle?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, he's got a few cows just to keep himself, he just likes to have cows and he's got-
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Got some.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, does anyone else in your immediate family still do farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, only one.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, you're one of a kind here. All right, so since you're only working on a kind of that smaller plot of land, what sort of challenges do you kind of come across as opposed to maybe a larger operation has or maybe even benefits?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I mean for what I've got right now just about all I could do by myself. If I get any bigger or anything, I'll have to hire somebody or something because my wife is retiring from 30 years in the school system this October. So I might have some help there to get a little bigger, but,
>> Chris Fletcher: A bigger operation would kind of stretch me too thin because I can't make a full living on what I get off the farm. I do other jobs.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, how did you get that land? Was it in the family already?
>> Chris Fletcher: It's not like family land from years ago or whatever, which my dad did buy a farm, and brother was living in the older house.
And he gave me ten acres to build my house. And I ended up with 16 in the end cuz by the recession my brother lost his house. My dad let his go back under foreclosure. And so I'm the only one still out there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned that you don't really rely on any outside labor at all, correct?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, but possibly with your wife retired you might be able to expand. Do you have any desire to do that, or are you happy with kind of what you have at the moment?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I'd like to be able to Increase my volume of what I'm growing, cuz I might be trying to do some value-added stuff here soon. And I'll need more of some things and less of others.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And by value added, I mean like taking the hot peppers and making them into hot sauce.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: And drying peppers, and making them into a powder, stuff like that. But I'm just now trying to figure out where I need to be with that, cuz there's a lot of legal stuff you have to go through to just-
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, anytime you're preparing something, yeah.
Speaking of kind of legal and regulations, do you have any that you have to deal with now?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned that you do sell at a farmers market these specialty peppers. How did you start going to the farmers market to sell?
Did they approached you, or did you inquire with them?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I just signed up with them, I needed a place to do, and it was on a waiting list, well not really a waiting list. Didn't have a permanent spot in the market for a couple of years.
And I was moved around in the market when people were there and people wasn't there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and you're at Winecoff?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, Winecoff.
>> Bradley Holt: Winecoff Farmers Market?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, Piedmont Farmers Market.
>> Bradley Holt: Is that with Piedmont, okay.
>> Bradley Holt: Are you at any other farmers markets, or is that the only one?
>> Chris Fletcher: That's the only one.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I do sell some stuff to a couple breweries and a couple chefs in Charlotte, here and there.
>> Bradley Holt: What do the breweries use the product for?
>> Chris Fletcher: I use, I grow,
>> Chris Fletcher: One brewer, he uses some of my habaneros for one beer that he makes.
And I grow some Thai Roselle hibiscus, which is like a Florida cranberry. It's real zesty, and sort of a zing, citrusy type flavor. And they use it in a lot of, I guess, I don’t know if you would call them a sour beer, but not really. They use it with other fruity stuff like strawberries or stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, kind of more of a tart, maybe?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, a tart tasting, which you can make tea out of it, which I' freeze some and make tea out of when I don't have them.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, I’ve seen those pepper beers and stuff, but I’ve never been brave enough to try one one of those.
>> Chris Fletcher: The High Branch, where I sell to him, his Yucatan Stout is very subtle, the heat of the habanero in it, is very subtle. You can have a few drinks of it before you start realizing that it's there.
And it's not bad, which I drink, one brewery had a ghost pepper chili, and it was not good, I mean, it was too hot. And I've had a few other ones that are not good.
>> Bradley Holt: High Branch over by Gibson Mill, right?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, yeah, right across from Cabarrus Brewing.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: All right, so you mentioned that you're a master gardener, what exactly is a master gardener?
>> Chris Fletcher: The master gardeners are a part of the Cooperative Extension Service of, I guess, North Carolina Department of Agriculture. And what they do is help the local extension agent out, perform her duties.
And we also do a fundraiser with the Urban Plant Festival, it was just last Saturday. And the money we raised for that goes to a scholarship to someone going into the horticulture field. And they also give grants out to all the schools or places where they can do a garden or anything associated with horticulture.
And over a period of time, I think they've given out, probably thirty-some thousand dollars or more, worth of grants and stuff like that over the years.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, I've heard a little bit about the extensive service from working on another interview's transcript So what other assistance do you offer to local farmers through the extension service?
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean, the extension aid, Lauren here, she's the one who sorta helps all the farmers out or whatever, around.
She's a good source for stuff. If not, she can figure out where to get it.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Stuff like that. But as far as the master gardeners themselves, they don't really go out and help farmers or anything. It's like I said, they're more just to help her answer the phones when she's not there.
Because people are calling in with questions about stuff all the time. And most of the people are retired, which I was probably the youngest one. And so back during the recession, like that, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go. And I went to the meeting, started liking all the people there, and that's one reason I stayed.
I miss a few meetings here or there, but I do try to help them out. There are a lot of nice people, and smart about different things. Each one of them has, not specialty, but know something about something somebody else might not know about.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, okay, so how did you, you mentioned you kinda started going to the meetings during the recession.
What does it take to become a master gardener?
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean, you don't have to take the course, there's a course that she offers you have to take. But there's some of us, and I've took the course, but there's a few people there that haven't taken the course but still come and help.
And they just can't be on the board or anything like that. They can just help. [LAUGH].
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so just volunteer.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, it's volunteers, that's what it's actually called, the Cabarrus County Master Donor Volunteer Association.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: It's all volunteer.
>> Bradley Holt: Now, is it county based?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah each county has, I don't know if every county has a master gardener thing, but each county has a cooperative extension agent.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, from the Department of Agriculture?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So is there anything else about master gardeners that you think people should know about? Because I don't know if they're exactly well known. Or even if the Cooperative Extension Service is well known even.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I mean it's there, so I mean, it's there provided by the state, I guess, or maybe the county.
I'm not sure who funds whatever.
>> Bradley Holt: ]CROSSTALK]
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, but I mean, it's information there for people in the state of North Carolina to get. I mean, it's free, like the soil samples, if you need your soil tested, they have stuff there to tell you how to take the sample, packs it up and send it to Raleigh.
They do charge for it from December to March, but other than that it's free to have your soil tested
>> Bradley Holt: And soil testing would be for what purpose?
>> Chris Fletcher: To see what your soils lacking, make sure-
>> Bradley Holt: Nutrition and stuff.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, make sure it's got the right pH, and then they'll tell you what needs to be added on there.
You can check a general garden or you can check specific plants, and that'll tell you what you need for that specific plant.
>> Bradley Holt: So it's a valuable resource to small farms and large farms.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, it's there for anybody.
>> Bradley Holt: Anyone, okay. So you mentioned the Urban Plant Festival, what is that exactly?
>> Chris Fletcher: That's how the master growers make their money to give out the Grants and scholarships.
>> Chris Fletcher: And this little pasture was our 14th year of doing it.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And it's sorta changed faces over the years. They started out wanting to be more having people come speak, have people listen.
But then it went on, it wasn't getting much people coming to listen to that so it just basically turned into a big sale, all plants and outdoor stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, where is that held at?
>> Chris Fletcher: It was held at the Piedmont Farmers Market up until last year and this is our second year at the Cabarrus Arena
>> Bradley Holt: That's what, okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: On the fairgrounds, not in the arenas. On the grounds last week and it was a monsoon. [LAUGH]
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah I went up to Piedmont Wine Croft and talked to Eddie.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: And he talked about how they were getting rained out over there from the other day.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah last Saturday morning there was a major monsoon [INAUDIBLE].
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, well it rain from pretty much the time we opened till about 2 :30 and I've had enough at the end so I was packing up. Yeah
>> Bradley Holt: Was there still a decent turnout at that one or-
>> Chris Fletcher: Last year, on a good day we had over 4,000 people come through and this year was right about two.
>> Bradley Holt: 2000?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, how many gardeners take part in that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, there was 90-some vendors. And like I said, not all of them garden. Some of them are hand made stuff.
It's supposed to have something to do with outside, but a lot of the stuff is hand made or whatever [INAUDIBLE]. Still good to come, and 90 vendors, and a couple food trucks and stuff we had, plus some educational areas.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So that, like you said, was just the fundraising to help fund the grants, and- [CROSSTALK]
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, it funds the grants.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and have you personally led any of the classes, or anything like that?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I'm not real good at public speaking. We have a speaker every month at the meeting and I'm brains for Speakers' Forum.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so you mentioned you do other work on the side.
Do you care to tell us what happens?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I do painting and handyman stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I'm for hire. [LAUGH]
>> Bradley Holt: So how do you balance that work along with your farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: Sometimes it's difficult, but other times it works out okay cuz it depends on the job I'm working on.
Right now, I'm sort of, I'm probably three to four weeks behind on my paintings and stuff, so I'm really stretched.
>> Bradley Holt: Thank you for taking the time out to do this. [LAUGH]
>> Chris Fletcher: No problem.
>> Bradley Holt: So has that work, you been doing that work along side farming.
>> Chris Fletcher: Well I clean carpet, I've cleaned carped 30 something years.
And which in those 30 years I was painting and remodeling some external houses and stuff like that and I did work for them like that. And I was getting tired of cleaning. And when my machine broke, that was, I'm done with that now.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I started doing the painting and stuff.
It took me a couple years to get where I'm behind, got people waiting on me to come.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha.
>> Chris Fletcher: So other time, it was hit and miss. Somebody would call, I'd have work to do then it might be a week that I'm having anything to do other than work at the farm or work at my house.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha, so the farm kinda started just to have something to do and maybe supplement your income a little bit.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, and two I was trying to get it on, my land on the farm program for the county so it will help me on my land taxes-
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Or whatever, but it's kind of a little bit rigged, I would guess you would say. I got enough acreage but I don't have enough acreage in the clear.
>> Bradley Holt: And what does that mean?
>> Chris Fletcher: I have to get that ten acres. Unless you have cattle, then you can have, I can do cattle on my sixteen acres.
But I can't because I've only got nine in the open, seven are in the woods.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: To do, unless I just not do cattle, I just have to have 10 [INAUDIBLE] and I would have to clear about an acre and a half of trees to get the 10 acres just to grow my produce or whatever.
So it’s sort of how we, it’s county stuff, it’s government stuff so I guess I shouldn’t say any more.
>> Bradley Holt: And so that’s a tax program. They use a tax relief program.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah for farmers.
>> Bradley Holt: So that's kind of one of the reasons you also.
>> Chris Fletcher: That's what I started, I was thinking about doing that and I found out all this stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Government regulations.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah and I think it was kind of unfair that you don't have to have ten acres in open and have cows because they can go in the woods. But I can grow stuff in the woods if I wanted too. I mean I could grow mushrooms, that would be where you could grow those.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: But I asked them about that and they said well you have to come show us that you have two acres of mushrooms growing in the woods.
>> Bradley Holt: That'd be a lot of mushrooms.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so and if you had done those ten acres, you would have probably had to hire help most likely you think?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I would probably leave it. I'd still leave my fields where they can be cut for hay. Because that is the farm income.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: And you said, do you currently sell hay?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well, I've let my [INAUDIBLE] for getting the guy to cut it and bail it and all that, I'm just giving them hay.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: I could show you something if I needed to show that I made money of it or benefited from it, begin in the farm program, I could. But there's no need to because it ain't enough.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So in terms of, we're still in the Charlotte Metro area out here in Kannoplis which is just outside of Concord.
As the rapid growth of some of these little cities outside of Charlotte affected your farm in any way?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really.
>> Bradley Holt: No?
>> Chris Fletcher: No.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, and what about in terms of like supplies for the farm? So is it easier maybe to get supplies or tougher?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well there’s not really, I mean there’s a few places around there that you can buy farm stuff or whatever.
But I usually, there’s a place in Pittsburgh that I buy a lot of stuff from and I usually make a trip that way one or two times a year. I wanted to get my sweet potatoes and any amendments I need. Because I usually can pick up the sweet potatoes right at the end of February, first of March.
And I can get a load of what I need there then, and then if I need to go back again later in the season, I will. And it's not that far away, I mean really, a few hour drive here or there. But they have some stuff you can't get around here.
Or if you do, it's way high.
>> Bradley Holt: What sort of things?
>> Chris Fletcher: They have all kind of organic stuff. Amendments and stuff you can put in the soil. And they have a lot of different, like you said, they get a lot of different sweet potatoes that you order and I think they do sweet potato slips, and they do garlic, and onions, and stuff like that, just real old school, Southern States.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay. Now you brought up organic, do you grow organically, or are you certified?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well I'm not certified organic, but I try to practice what they do.
>> Bradley Holt: That's seems to be a-
>> Chris Fletcher: Sustainable, is what I can say I do.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, that seems to be a common theme we've heard across a lot of our interviews is, "I'm not certified, but I grow organically." There's some challenges in terms of being certified organic, have you attempted doing that?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I think it's costly.
>> Bradley Holt: Costly, okay, yeah.
>> Chris Fletcher: Just something else you're gonna have to add to it. And I've come to find out, by being at market all these times, people don't really care unless, all they care about is whether they're sprayed with anything.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And you spray it with organic stuff too, so a lot of people don't know that. I mean there's organic spray to go on to solve insect problems and there's also non organic stuff too, for insect problems.
>> Bradley Holt: And you use
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, if I wanted If I need to get something off, like the potatoes, Colorado potato beetles, are on them, they have to be sprayed, or they won't make anything.
And I use organic spray on that. But that's probably about the only thing I really spray with something. I mean, there's probably a few other things that I'm not thinking of, right off the top of my head.
>> Bradley Holt: I think you mentioned that the start has pray for when you have the issues.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, but that was a calcium spray.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so it's another-
>> Chris Fletcher: So it's organic spray, it was a foliage spray. It wasn't to kill anything, it was just to give the plant more calcium.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha, okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So we talked a little bit about the weather here, what we, last year again, of the heaviness of rain.
What other challenges does weather here in North Carolina give to you and your farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: Hot, and humid and dry like it goes in spells. We've been saying all year that all this rain we've had, we're not gonna get any this summer. Rain all that's wet, it seems like it always goes we get too much at one time and then not enough.
Cuz last year rain was getting her watered around a lot of places, but not in our place.
>> Bradley Holt: Really?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes and it was really, really dry. And I've started having trouble, well I have trouble with deer all the time, but they were kept at bay with my fence or whatever you wanna call it.
That I had to set up til it was so dry that they said the heck with it or going through.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah
>> Chris Fletcher: And then after that is when it all started raining again. I think we went six to eight weeks without getting rain at our place last year at the first of Summer, which was after the real wet spring, then it was dry.
And then it's rained ever since after it started raining again.
>> Bradley Holt: So you're kinda predicting another dry summer?
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably, I mean, that's the way it goes around here.
>> Bradley Holt: So do you take any water conservation efforts during those dry spells to try to help you out later or?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, I do use some drip irrigation to keep the plants alive when it is a drought.
>> Bradley Holt: And do the cold winters Have any effect on you or are you just not really growing much?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah I'm not really growing much there yet. I do have a high tunnel I'm trying to get in operation but it's not there yet.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: So-
>> Bradley Holt: You say you sell on that farmer's market seasonally, correct? So just, are you looking to maybe go full year round or you thinking seasonally?
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably not all the way full round. My high tunnel food gets staged, that would extend my season.
>> Bradley Holt: And what exactly is that?
>> Chris Fletcher: It's like a greenhouse but it doesn't have any form of heat, you just grow in the ground underneath it.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha.
>> Chris Fletcher: And you know it's not, if it's cold it gets cold inside there too at night but in the daytime with the sun shinning on it it get's-
>> Bradley Holt: It insulates that heat in there.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Bradley Holt: What would you grow in that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably lettuces, and kale, and radishes, and beets, and stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: And you don't grow any of that at the moment, do you?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yes, I do grow that outside, yeah.
I wait until a certain point to start planting them. There I could probably microgrow those all year except for the very hot of the summer.
>> Bradley Holt: So in addition to the peppers and the kale, lettuce type thing what else do you grow?
>> Chris Fletcher: We grow the Tower's Hill.
I do been growing the last few years a couple of varieties of heirloom corn for them to collect seed. And I do grow some tomatoes which
>> Chris Fletcher: Probably grow some again this year, but I been debating on the years, whether or not to do that, because there's a lot of work in doing tomatoes.
>> Chris Fletcher: And in the summertime I grow squash, zucchini,
>> Chris Fletcher: Beans, peas, stuff like that.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, do you sell, do you sell all of that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: How much of it do think maybe you sell versus keep? Do you keep any of it, or?
>> Chris Fletcher: I just keep enough to, if I want that for supper, I'll get some.
You know what I mean? I eat what I want to and then try to sell the rest, or give it away to parents or something.
>> Bradley Holt: Does that mean you get to avoid the grocery store pretty often?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not really, still some things you have to get there.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned you were part of the cooperative extension service, are you part of any other organizations? Piedmont Culinary Guild, which is a group of farmers, chefs, restaurant tours and artisans and breweries.
>> Chris Fletcher: And we're trying to make people aware of good food. So much stuff now has got e-coli or something on it, you don't know where it's coming from, and they're here to promote local.
>> Bradley Holt: Local growers and producers?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: How do they go about trying to do that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Just education.
>> Bradley Holt: Education?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, they have a symposium in the spring and they have a group of taste makers, which they go around to different farms or restaurants will open their place up, I think it's about 200 of them.
And stuff like this, just trying to educate the public about, and let the public know that there is a lot of food in this area being grown that you can access.
>> Bradley Holt: How did you get started with them?
>> Chris Fletcher: A friend of mine, they were actually getting started and I'm more of the ground floor people.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: A friend of mine told me about it. I went to the little meet up or meeting, that's where it started.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay how long have you been apart of that?
>> Chris Fletcher: Seems like they're three or four years old.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay so.
>> Chris Fletcher: So its relatively new the association.
>> Bradley Holt: So when you're selling at the farmers market, what reasons do you ever talk to people about? Maybe why they're choosing the farmers market over traditional grocery store?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, never have.
>> Bradley Holt: Do they ever bring it up maybe?
>> Chris Fletcher: No but you do see a lot of people, same people coming in there everyday so they know where to get the good stuff.
>> Bradley Holt: Good stuff, okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: And so then why do you personally believe farmers' markets are important to the local food shed?
>> Chris Fletcher: Those commercialized food is not sustainable. It eventually collapse, seems like I heard somewhere that it takes, to make one pound of meat, it takes 170 gallons of water.
What you think about that? That's not going to be really sustainable.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, that's.
>> Chris Fletcher: At some point the water's gonna run out.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, we've already seen, I think.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Out west there have been issues with water basins and stuff.
>> Chris Fletcher: Mm-hm. Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you think sustainable farming [CROSSTALK] local and sustainable is the future of.
>> Chris Fletcher: Of food.
>> Bradley Holt: Of food shed.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: And two, like the big commercialized Monsanto, they're not good for the American people.
>> Bradley Holt: Why do you feel that is?
>> Chris Fletcher: Well it makes stuff that's round-up ready and they spray it on your food and Biphosphate now, people are saying you can get cancer from it.
>> Bradley Holt: Carcinogen.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, and it's probably not from people spraying it, it's probably from people eating the food that was sprayed with it, that's my opinion.
>> Bradley Holt: So, those chemical sprays, basically those,
>> Chris Fletcher: Insecticides.
>> Bradley Holt: Yeah, insecticides. You see it's harmful to the food shed. So real quickly, because I just want to go back to the peppers one last time here-
>> Chris Fletcher: All right.
>> Bradley Holt: Because I just, 'Cause I think that's really interesting. So what are some of your best-selling peppers?
>> Chris Fletcher: Corno Di Toro is a good one. It's a sweet bullhorn-looking pepper. I sell a lot of those. I grow those other than the bells, I don't grow the bells, I grow those.
Doing okay of trying to convert my customers to trying that and going with that
>> Bradley Holt: How does it compare to a bell?
>> Chris Fletcher: It's a lot sweeter.
>> Bradley Holt: A lot sweeter?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah. And I grow two different chilis for a guy that makes hot sauce. Carolina espelette and aji dulce peppers.
Espelette's got some heat to it, maybe 5,000 on the Scoville. And the aji dulce looks like a habanero, but doesn't have the heat. It's got a fruity sort of- If you wanna look tough, that's the one you eat and [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, act like it's bad. Now sometimes in the season of things, there will be a little bit that you're not expecting but-
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha.
>> Chris Fletcher: Most of them are not too bad.
>> Chris Fletcher: And makes a good flavor for his sauce.
>> Bradley Holt: And you said the peppers are fairly easy to grow.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, yeah. Pretty much. I have a trail system that I been using and some of the plants need and the other ones don't.
They are sturdy enough they can hold up, the peppers.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay. And I don't remember if I asked you this or not why peppers?
>> Chris Fletcher: Just started liking them and this is something that interested me in the way they all have different shapes and sizes and colors..
>> Bradley Holt: Okay so it was just interesting profits try out this kind of stuck.
>> Chris Fletcher: And I've sort of made a little niche for myself at the market up there people know that they can come to me for different types and stuff of peppers.
>> Bradley Holt: I'll definitely have to come check that out you say you're up there starting next weekend.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, I’ll be there next weekend but I won't be there the next.
My daughter's getting married that weekend but after that I should be there but the peppers will not come in until right August, that’s when they’ll start coming in.
>> Bradley Holt: So you mentioned briefly just now that you have a daughter, do you have any other children that take part and help you out?
>> Chris Fletcher: No, just one.
>> Bradley Holt: Just one?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so kind of wrapping things up a little bit here. You mentioned a couple of little goals that you have for your farm, kind of expanding the land maybe a little bit and adding that new winter growing system a little bit.
Kind of what do you see for the future of your farm?
>> Chris Fletcher: I hope I could value add my peppers and maybe just grow those and do that, and something like this. I've already been doing okay with and just keep going with that like I said maybe just grow them exclusively.
>> Bradley Holt: So kind of taper off some of the other.
>> Chris Fletcher: Taper off the other stuff and do that if I can get something value added and I mean hopefully I'll get a lot of stuff then.
>> Bradley Holt: Do you do any rotation with the peppers, like crop rotation?
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: So you already talked a little bit about kind of your stance on local farming versus more commercialized farming. How do you view the current farming or food shed even this region. What are your thoughts on it?
>> Chris Fletcher: I think looking pretty good. There's a lot of people around growing stuff.
Probably needs some publicity or basically the people hoarding actually get it. I mean, a lot of people know about the farmers market. But.
>> Chris Fletcher: There's about a lot of farm, I mean there's quite a few farmers' market. But there's, seems like there should be some in other places too.
Some places got more than others I think downtown Concord would have a good one, you know. Piedmont tried to do one there but it's not really caught on yet and I don't know why.
>> Bradley Holt: I think Eddie Au mentioned there was one down by Afton and that-
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah.
>> Bradley Holt: He said that one had a few issues because there was to much traffic in the area. Do you kind of do that maybe as an issue to if you have too much traffic?
>> Chris Fletcher: Not enough traffic makes customer, you know? The more of them there but, you know, [INAUDIBLE] I don't know what maybe it's referring to just a lot of people out in Afton And there's too many cars.
>> Bradley Holt: I kind of think of it as car traffic.
>> Chris Fletcher: Car traffic? Yeah. And, yeah, I just think the city of downtown Concord ought to benefit from one, which there is one there.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: But we only get one vendor to go there. I would try it but in order to get my place there, I don’t want to give it up.
Because if I’m down there and it doesn’t work out for me and I can’t get back to where I was at. So I’m sort of kind of stuck.
>> Bradley Holt: Gotcha. And maybe that’s where you can expand a little bit and have some extra surplus [INAUDIBLE].
>> Chris Fletcher: Yeah, somebody else there, yeah.
I just think we just need the farmer's market needs promoted a little bit better. Try then to get people to come to it more so.
>> Bradley Holt: Have you seen an increase in the number of farmers markets and people getting into farming over the past eight years or so?
>> Chris Fletcher: It seems like there's more now but there's a lot of them that still are there when I started too.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay. So long term.
>> Chris Fletcher: I mean there's more than there were when I started, most definitely. But we have lost some, there's a few of them I know that have quit doing it and said they can't make enough money or whatever.
In which, I may be in that same situation at some point. It's not worth doing what I'm doing there but it's not there yet. I think I'm doing okay.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay.
>> Chris Fletcher: Hasn't been getting worse, it's been better or the same.
>> Bradley Holt: And maybe that's where that value added might help augment that a little.
>> Chris Fletcher: Yea, because that could be stuff that I could sell throughout the year.
>> Bradley Holt: Solving something I'm always looking to get. [LAUGH] So my final question for the day, what lessons have you learned over the year through your farming?
>> Chris Fletcher: Better save up.
>> Bradley Holt: Save up?
>> Chris Fletcher: Save up your energy.
>> Chris Fletcher: Because in the summer, it gets tough out there. Wind and hot sun, and you just got to pace when you're out there.
>> Bradley Holt: You do that all by hand?
>> Chris Fletcher: I got a tractor that I get my stuff ready with but as far as weeding and digging and everything else is all by hand.
And when I get down to late September and October, to pick the peppers, it takes me a good half a day to pick almost all I have. And that's sometimes every two days.
>> Bradley Holt: You're out there every two days.
>> Chris Fletcher: Or picking something, that's one reason towards the end of the year, I'll get down and I don't have anything but peppers at the market, that's all I'll have.
>> Bradley Holt: That's all you have time for.
>> Chris Fletcher: I don't have time to plant anything else, I don't have time to harvest anything else, it's getting them peppers.
>> Bradley Holt: Is there anything else you want to add here at the end of the interview? Anything stand out that you want to say?
>> Chris Fletcher: I don't think I can think of anything else I need to tell you.
>> Bradley Holt: This has been an interview in the Queen's Garden, histories of the Piedmont food shed. Thank you for sitting down with me today and telling me a little bit about your history here and what you do.
>> Chris Fletcher: Thank you.
Doug Carrigan is the fourth generation owner of Carrigan Farms in Mooresville, North Carolina. His family has been farming their land in Moorseville since 1902. During his interview, Doug discusses the evolution of his farm through the generations and of farming and the farmer. He discusses the vital role that word of mouth, whether through social media or otherwise plays in growing his business, and how he diversified and grown his farm from a produce farm to what he terms a “private park” that has a swimming quarry, pick your own produce, and events such as weddings and their haunted trail.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:23||History of family and farm|
|0:01:57||Evolution of the farmer|
|0:04:01||Moved to Direct Marketing started in 1975|
|0:04:53||Demand driven growing|
|0:05:27||Agritainment Phase of Farming|
|0:06:32||Farm to table at Carrigan|
|0:07:46||Sell beauty of the farm|
|0:08:52||80/20 rule of farmers feeding people|
|0:09:26||Marketing Integral to Production|
|0:10:52||Managing Social Media|
|0:12:15||Agro-tourism started in 1975/ Farm to Table Info|
|0:13:08||Farmer by trade/ Wedding Planner by default|
|0:13:47||Duties of him and wife|
|0:15:32||How to become the best|
|0:16:53||Day on the farm, Farming seasonal|
|0:18:55||Crew of the Farm- Equipment of Farm|
|0:27:24||Not Organic but use organic practices|
|0:33:12||No Till and Sod Planting|
|0:34:52||Government always your business partner|
|0:36:47||Diverse portfolio of income|
|0:38:09||Married to Mother Nature|
|0:40:12||Waste on Farm/ Dollars per Acre Back|
|0:42:06||Giving to Gleaners|
|0:42:44||Community Supported Agriculture|
|0:43:27||Future of His Farm- Day Camp|
|0:44:46||Thoughts on American Food Consumption|
|0:47:41||Future of His Farm-Full Fledged Restaurant|
|0:49:12||Evolving Habits of People|
|0:50:02||Organizations involved in|
|0:51:54||Bees on Farm|
|0:54:07||Misconceptions of Farming|
|0:58:12||Advice to new farmers|
|1:02:47||Homegrown Tomatoes/ Produce|
>> KL: So I'm Kristina Lance and I'm interviewing Doug here at the farm. And we're gonna get started. Doug, will you first just tell me just a little bit about your background and your farm?
>> LDC: Well, we're sitting in a house that was built in 1852. I'm a family of farmers.
I'm the fourth generation to live in this house. We came over from Scotland, Ireland in 1750s before the country was ever a country. We've been farmers virtually all before and for hopefully generation to come. The fifth generation lives in this house too and hopefully he's gonna be enrolled at NC State this fall.
And he'll come back and continue on with the same old tradition.
>> LDC: I grew up on a dairy farm, my dad grew up on a dairy farm and a cotton farm, and granddad on a cotton farm, so on and so forth. Same piece of dirt right here. Been in our family since 1902.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: We settled within probably 10 miles in here in the 1750s and hadn't gone much further than that. So we're about as deeply engrained in the Piedmont as anybody can be unless you're a Cherokee Indian or something. So but other than that we just farm, we're married to the land first and we live off the land, we eat out of it.
And the stuff that it produces we sell it for money and take that buy other things with it too. So that's our only source of livelihood. Like it, enjoy it. Some days make 2 bucks an hour, some days 20, some days 200. I just keep coming in cuz I like it, enjoy it.
>> KL: So, can you tell me a little bit about how over the year the different kind of farming, things that you do seasonally?
>> LDC: Well, I say there's the evolution of the farmer. And the first thing a farmer will produce, commodities, which are corn, wheat, soybeans, cattle, hogs, chickens, whatever.
And those are commodities. You take them to the market and say, what will you give me today for them? When I was growing up I remember we're riding on a wagon, little kid, we'd harvest wheat, take it up to the elevator in Mooresville, the flour mill. Finally waiting in line because every other farmer was there with the same old stuff, trying to sell it at the same time.
What are you paying for wheat today? He says well we're paying $3 a bushel. Well it cost me 3.50 to grow it. Well we're still paying $3 a bushel. I didn't like that and that's not a way to get rich, it's not a way to stay alive and continue farming.
So I said mentally, I didn't know it at the time, but I made a good notice that I'm gonna figure out how to control the price on this. And so I went to school, majored in horticulture cuz I always loved the garden and other stuff. Cows are okay, but in the dairy business, they're a 24 hours a day, gotta milk twice a day, 365 days a year.
There's no break, no let-up. Growing up the biggest vacation I ever took was Mertyl Beach or White Lake or the mountains and that's it. My granddaddy probably didn't go, I think he went to Virginia and South Carolina. That's about as far as he ever went away from home cuz he never could, he just stay at the farm.
Well, the evolution of the farmer continues on. Then once you go to the commodity production, then you go to the wholesale production of maybe vegetables and stuff. You can produce a truckload of squash, which I grew ten acres of yellow squash, which is quite a bit. And took those to Food Lion, sold them, generated some extra income.
But again, the price fluctuates up or down. They tell you what they're going to give you today for them, okay?
>> LDC: The whole time we were headed in the direct market phase of it. Back in '75, I guess. Growing up I had a stand out here. I would pull up a card table and I would go pull sweet corn and sell it right beside the road for $1 or $2 a dozen when I was 13, 14 years old.
So that was the first step at retailing, and you get a little extra cash that way, it was good. And I set the price and got it. And then after I got out of college, we came in and we'd grow and pick your own strawberries and other stuff and vegetables.
And we would sell those directly to consumer. Cuz we were at a busy location on a main highway here. So there's people coming by, if I can get a dollar from every car that drives by, I can get filthy rich. But, I don't get every one of them but I'll get my share.
So, all of a sudden we came in and started growing and selling retail to the public. And I said I'm going to grow what the public wants, I'll be demand driven. So the customer decides what they want and then I'll produce it, figure it out. And try to grow a lot of different things that maybe everybody else doesn't grow.
Apples, they grow in the mountains well because of elevation and other stuff. But we could grow them down here not quite as good but a whole lot closer than the mountains. So all of a sudden there's a market to do that. Same thing on pumpkins and strawberries and other stuff.
So we try to pick the, I guess select crops or demand crops that people want and we will produce them. And then if we produce too many, we can't sell them. So if we produce just enough, it works out right. So we've done that. Now after you get into the retail production area, the next phase is the agritainment.
The people come out and pick strawberries because they want the strawberries, because they want the experience. It's a little bit of both. And early on in 71 it's was they want strawberries. The housewives were picking five gallons of strawberries, take them home, I call cram them, jam them.
They would cram them in a freezer bag or put them in the jam. Well, most housewives today, the only thing they can make is reservations. They can't make a pie, they can't make jam, so they want a few to eat. So it's more the experience right now. And as we move on up the evolutionary scale of a farmer,
>> LDC: Back in 88, we saw that people wanted people to prepare food for them. Well, we're in the farming business so that's a food business, so we got into, we have a beautiful spot at our farm, the rock quarry. And we do farm to table or farm to fork or farm to face, whatever you wanna call it.
So a lot of times we'll pick the strawberries today, slice them up and put them on a piece of homemade pound cake and they go wild. And they'll give you 2 or $3 for strawberries and the pound cake to go with it. But then all of a sudden we'll have fresh asparagus that I just picked the first batch yesterday.
Quite delicious, and nobody grows fresh asparagus around, and still not much at all, we've been growing them since 88. But Southerners didn't want to eat fresh asparagus. So I'd have to beat them over the head to get them to try it, cuz they're used to can asparagus back in the 80s.
Well, nowadays, they're eaten fresh all the time but we got all the Yankees that are coming down here and it's our Southern obligation to relieve them of their burden of money. So we just gotta give them a little something in return for it. And the fresh asparagus that they grew up with, they want it here, so we sell quite a bit of it.
But then we'll take it and sell it three or four of them. Spears of it on a plate for a wedding dinner or graduation party or birthday party or whatever. And we get a little more for it that way. So that's where we are right now. Also we sell the beauty of the farm which is another evolution that happened.
Most people that live in the city, perhaps like you do, they've got a quarter acre lot, at best. They've got neighbors on both sides of them. If they invite more than three people over, they run out of room for parking in their yard and in their backyard too.
And so we've got a lot of space. And so we essentially Have become a private park where people can come and play for a day, leave a few dollars and a few footprints. And they come away with a great experience and something in their hands or their belly and they're happy.
And that's the evolution farming, that's what we're headed. And we're always looking for the next level where it's gonna go to. We're making a living at it, and we can still stay on the land, and that's the key. When my granddaddy first started, we were probably, I guess, one farmer out of was feeding, well one out of, gosh, four people was a farmer back whenever he was starting.
And now there is probably 1 out of 130 or so. And so I'm feeding 130 people on the average. There are some they're feeding more, some less. But on average, I think the average farmer is feeding about 130. But again, about 20% of the farmers are producing about 80% of the production.
That's the same in a lot of other businesses, too.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: 80-20 rule.
>> KL: So I noticed on your retail here, do you have restaurants that you partner with? Or just word of mouth? Or a little bit of everything?
>> LDC: The marketing is an integral part of the operation as the production, and most farmers don't get that.
They like to produce, take it to the market, here, it's done, walk away. Well I have to work at the marketing. And earlier on newspaper was a primary mode of advertising. We haven't done a newspaper ad in probably, gosh, eight or ten years. Radio, again down, we're almost 100% social media right now.
We do partner with some restaurants, some of the higher end good stuff. They want some quality product, and we work with those, like Fork in Davidson. Tim Grodey is a Cracker Jack chef in this area, and there's a couple others around that we work with and do stuff for.
They like the fresh quality product, and they like being associated with us and us with them. So they will put our name in their menu, and we're happy to toss their name around too cuz they've got, it's associated with quality. And early on on my business card it says, where quality comes first, and that's been the motto from the start.
Quality will always sell, price is second.
>> KL: So tell me a little bit more about social media. What do you guys do? Do you have Facebook?
>> LDC: All of it.
>> KL: Things like that. All of it?
>> LDC: All of it, okay.
>> KL: And how do you manage that?
Cuz I know social media-
>> LDC: Well I'm an old soul, and I can't even turn the computer on, okay. But I know what I want it to do, keep up with what's happening. And we're on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever it is, and whatever's coming next. And does it matter?
I keep my ears to the ground. I see what's happening. I travel sometimes. I watch what other people are doing on the plane, on the train, in the mall, at dinner, you're watching and seeing what's going on. If you go to a restaurant dinner, you have four people, a lot of times you'll see three of them on their phones, sitting there doing stuff while they're waiting on something.
That's not very much of a social interaction.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But it's what they're doing, so the phone is another body part. It's like a brain or a heart to a lot of people, and they won't give it up. So that is one way to access them. Now word of mouth is probably your best advertising, period.
And how that gets disseminated, via Snapchat, via this, that, whatever, it doesn't really matter. But someone will tell somebody if they have a good time, they can't keep it to themselves.
>> KL: Yeah, [LAUGH] so I know you said you kinda got involved in the agrotourism part, and all of that.
When did that start? Did you start that in 75, or has it grown, okay?
>> LDC: Right in 75, right from the get go. We were doing it before it was cool, before it ever had a name. We were doing farm-to-table before they ever called it farm-to-table. So for that, do you have a restaurant or do you just have little things that you make specially down at kinda the quarry area?
We've got a commercial food grade kitchen that we prepare the food in. And we have big grills that we cook it on down there. A lot of the special events, they like the sizzle as much as they do the steak, and so you gotta put the show on for them too.
We initially started out doing a pig picking, chicken picking, cuz we'd do them in the South probably once a month just for fun. And then we said, well if we mowed the grass and put on a clean shirt, maybe we could charge for the same stuff, and so we did and we moved on.
And one day in 88 one little gal says, have you ever thought about having a wedding here? And you never make any money when you say no, only when you say yes. And so we didn't know what we were doing. We do probably 80 plus weddings a year right now.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: I'm a farmer by trade and a wedding planner by default.
>> KL: [LAUGH] Well that's amazing. So do you cook or do you have-
>> LDC: Yes.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: I wear a lot of hats, okay.
>> KL: You need a lot of hats, yeah. [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But then again, I have other people that wear a lot of hats too.
>> KL: Okay.
>> LDC: My wife, she does primarily the computer, social end. She's a little younger than I am, and so she's a little more in tune with that. I do most of the production, although she does production too. And I create the marketing programs and this and that and tell her where I want to go a lot of times.
And right now I know that for certain, every crop or every marketing opportunity we have, there is a certain demographic group that I'm trying to target. And so I figure those out. Right now for our quarry and our open swim in particularly, it's soccer mom and her 2.8 kids.
All right, and she is my customer so I'm gonna take care of her. Now it's constantly evolving. For a pumpkin hay ride, it's the two to eight year old kid that comes out and picks a pumpkin. For my haunted trail it's 12 to 22, female more than male but both.
>> KL: Really, interesting.
>> LDC: Well they make the decision when to come, and the guy says, okay.
>> KL: [LAUGH] Fair, very fair. I actually got to do your haunted trail a couple of years ago, and it is phenomenal. Just the, it was huge.
>> LDC: Yes.
>> KL: And I'm from Tennessee, and they don't have, or I hadn't experienced anything that big and diverse kind of.
>> LDC: You've gotta be the best at whatever you do.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: There's room at the top in every profession. And unless you get there, when you're on the bottom the scenery's always the same, you're always looking up.
>> KL: So how do you go about kind of doing the research to know the demographic and get to the top and make sure that yours is the best?
Do you visit other farms? Do you just kind of pay attention? Is it just experience? You've-
>> LDC: All of the above. All of the above, [LAUGH] One thing I do, first of all, I have a background. I majored in horticulture, so I understand fruits and vegetables and how they work.
I'm always reading the trade journals, going to trade shows. I've been to two, three this year, seeing what the cutting edge is, and hopefully it's not the bleeding edge, there is a difference there. So you can be too far ahead. We were in Florida. There's a robotic strawberry harvester down there.
We've been spending about, we got about four or five million dollars into it right now. But it will ultimately change the scope of agriculture. But a robotic harvester to pick strawberries is quite amazing. Then the guy's got 1,600 acres of farm down there, he's growing strawberries on. [SOUND] Excuse me one second here.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> KL: So I know you wear a lot of hats and everything. Can you tell me, it may be not typical, but a regular day on the farm or kind of what you do in a day, and how you do it?
>> LDC: Well, we are seasonal. In the winter we get to play a little.
So we work real hard, we work seven days a week.
>> LDC: We work seven days a week from, probably, about mid March until about mid November, at the farm. We don't really take much of a break at all, occasionally if you get two rainy days in a row, you maybe escape out for a little bit.
But, in the winter we get to play. So now we're back, this is mid March. We're getting back into the scope of things, so I wake up about 4, 4:30 in the morning. I do about an hour or two of nothing but figuring things out and watching the news and the weather, and so on and so forth.
And when it gets light, we're starting to work and get ready to do stuff. Got a crew that comes in, and depending on what's going on, we're scouting the fields and watching the weather, and we notice we've got a few aphids, so we gotta spray for those. Last night we had to irrigate for frost.
We were up at two in the morning turning the water on to save the starry blossoms that are just starting out there. It'll be apples next and we're working on doing some improvements for weddings that are coming up, a wedding come up on Friday, one of the first of the year.
And so there's just, everyday it's a different story. We picked two pounds of asparagus yesterday. But then we had to spray to keep the weeds down yesterday too. And so today it might be planting some beets. Everyday, there's something that goes usually in the ground, or something that comes our of the ground.
And you're fertilizing, spraying, watching the weather, trying to improve the land, market stranded, make phone calls, take phone calls. It's just.
>> LDC: There's so many different things that can happen on any given day.
>> KL: Right, so tell me a little bit about your crew. I know you said sometimes you'll have 8 or 10 or 12, sometimes you'll have 50.
Where do you find them? How do you get them? Do you have trusted people that you keep all the time? Do you have a farm manager? Things like that.
>> LDC: Early on when we started it was just me, and I brought a little help in. A given farmer, most of the farming in the area is done by one, or two, or three people on a farm.
And they, when my granddad started out farming, he had himself, and mule or two, and whatever children he had to work the fields. And he had the ability to work ten acres of corn per year and that's all he could manage, to plant and cultivate with the mule, and feed, and roll, and pick, okay?
Now, a farmer will spend one, actually 45 minutes, man hours per acre of corn is grown. We've substituted capital in the form of a big John Deere tractor, or combine, or planters, or sprayers, or other stuff. It can cover vast amount of acreage with one time. So today, to be a productive corn farmer, you need about $1 million worth of capital equipment.
And if you don't have that, you're not at the efficient production level at the moment. A good combine is probably a quarter million dollars. A sprayer Is very close to that, it will spread over 80 to 100 feet with one pass. So the main hour per person, per acre, is a lot less than it used to be.
And that's the efficiency, and that's why America is probably one of the most efficient food producers in the world, because we substituted capital for labor. Now, at the farm, and the stuff that we're doing, which is the horticultural crops, fruits and vegetables, they require a lot more hand labor.
So we're, we have a varied crew right here. We've got a couple of mid-managers. We've got one guy that does probably 80% of the job, is nothing but IT. I didn't have an IT guy ten years ago, fifteen, twenty years ago, didn't know what it was. And so we got a guy on board that does a lot of that.
He does some other stuff, too, but the social media, social marketing, that's an integral part of it. So we got that in house. And so we do a lot of it. We also got one guy that's more production oriented, two guys that are more production oriented. One, I call it general handyman and can fix about everything, build big shape, do.
Got three or four guys that are production, they're Hispanic. They, well, the youngest of them has been with me probably about eight years. The oldest's been with me 32 or 33 years. So it's not my gut because they're here every day seven days a week. Well no, they work six days a week.
Primarily, but they're here all the time, and we're consistent for them. But they want a job, they like it, they come here, and we pay them enough that they keep coming back again. So it's not too much, but it's enough for them, and they're happy, and they're good, but they do mainly production.
And we also have some, I call, frontline or marketing type crowd. A lot of high school for that, some housewife, but the high school model, we get a lot of 14 and 15 year olds, 16 year olds that come in here, first job, we get them, we try to get them smart.
We can put the training on them. Most of them are gonna be college-bound. I'd say 90% are college-bound, 95. They come in, they work their sophomore year in high school, junior, senior. Then they'll go off to college and we'll get them to come back for a year or two.
So we get them for three to five years minimum, usually, when we get one like that. But every year we have to hire six or eight, cuz we get six or eight that are leaving. But over the last forty years of hiring high school, I've got, I can name a handful of people that are doctors now, and lawyers, and quite successful in their own rights.
But it's good talent that is smart, untrained, but it's gonna be highly successful on down the line. We're getting them before they know they're good yet.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: And then we had to put some training on them, work them, and they usually have good values and good work ethics from their parents, and their parents are usually successful.
They wanna have a job, and that's how they move up, and so, though we got them at all gender, age, color. [LAUGH] It doesn't really matter, we just, we got them all. But usually they come from successful families and they're smart and they're doing well in school. And some are poor, some are very wealthy and don't have to work but they choose to, but we get all types.
>> KL: Okay.
>> LDC: But that's generally the work mix. There's a couple, two or three, Kelly and myself are the main managers. We got a couple mid-managers that we can delegate to. Then we got some production that does the producing of the crops. And there's the marketing side of it.
And lot of those are high school. But sometimes the high school is production too.
>> KL: Do you bring on wait staff and stuff for the weddings that you do, and-
>> LDC: We train everything internally. We're very vertically integrated. We like to do everything in house that we can.
If we only do it once every now and then, hire somebody that knows that they're doing. But if we're doing it every day, we're gonna be vertically integrated. We're gonna do it from top to bottom, we're going to do it. We have lifeguards at a quarry. We do a lot of open swim in the quarry.
There's a place, beautiful swimming, and we weren't doing it and we said we could do it, so here it is. And we've got probably up to 35 lifeguards that are certified and trained, and we train them ourselves. Kelly is a Red Cross lifeguard, instructor, trainer. So she's kinda the pinnacle of that, so she can train them all from a to z.
And so we train them all the way we want them, the way they need to be. They're certified, they're good, and those lifeguards in turn become wait staff. Cuz if you're not doing a wedding then you're doing a swim party, but you're not doing swim party means you're doing a wedding.
So if you keep enough of them, you gotta keep,
>> LDC: Well with high school you gotta keep ten on the books to keep seven or eight coming in cuz one of them, I've got a ball game, I've got soccer, I've got dance, I've got this. Okay, that's fine.
And so we really don't schedule them, per se. We just put a big spreadsheet up and say, we need this many and at this time. You sign in when you want to work. And so they pick and choose what they want, and it works quite well that way.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: Then you don't have to manage them. But a lot of times, we'll say we need two seniors and two juniors, and then the rest, whoever. And the guy that's been here three years knows what to do, but the guy that's a newbie, they don't know anything.
And so, but they're learning, and then two years from now they'll be moved up the line too. That's kind of the way we work that part.
>> KL: That's smart because you're not managing day to day schedules for the kids, clock in at this time, clock out at this time, all that, kind of like-
>> LDC: Drives you crazy, so let them drive themselves crazy. And if they're scheduled for a day and something comes up in their schedule, they call one of their friends to reschedule and get somebody in their place. If they don't show up and they told me they're coming, they're on the **** list real fast.
>> KL: Yeah [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But if you've got a replacement, that's fine, that's of your equal sorts.
>> KL: Right, okay, so I know you said there's swimming, doing different things. Do you guys farm organic or?
>> LDC: No, we use organic practices, but we're not certified organic and never will be.
>> LDC: People vote with their pocketbook with their food. Organic is growing, but it's still less than 2% of the total food marketplace business. And so when you come in and say, I can buy tomatoes for four dollars a pound that are organic or two dollars a pound that are not, most people vote with their pocketbook, okay.
We love organic methods, we just put out about 90 tons of organic matter on the farm the other day because it's good and it's good for the land, good for the soil. It's just another tool in the toolbox. If your kids, if you're a mom and you have kids, when they get sick do you give them homeopathic treatment?
Maybe to start with, but if they've got tuberculosis or pneumonia, you're gonna go to the doctor and say, I want some high priced drugs to make them well. And that's just chemicals to make your kids well. You're not gonna let them go, I'm just gonna use organic methods on them and watch them die.
It's the same with my crops and plants. I'm gonna take care of them, whatever is needed. And if it's legal and good. Everything we use has been passed by FDA, USDA, so on and so forth. The streptomycin that we use to prevent fire blight on our apples is the same streptomycin that's used for the Streptococcus that's in your throat.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Just one works on a bacterium in the plant, one works on a bacterium in your body. And it's okay for that. One of the big names, not just organic, but is the proper term today is GMO's, or genetically modified organisms. Well that's another tool in the toolbox.
Gregory Mendel, if you're a student of history you might know who he was. He was one of the first guys to crack the genetic code right there, he took peas, he had wrinkled and smooth, so on and so forth. He crossed back and forth to figure out what they did and they did, so he started figuring genetics out.
And that was back in probably the late 1700s, I think, early 1800s, something like that, and now we've moved on up. We've figured out how to take the gene out of that and put it into that and work. And there's gonna be dramatically more revolutions right now because of the crisper gene.
I don't know if you know what that is, but it's a clustered regulated, uneven regulated palindromes or something. I forgot the exact acronym for it, but it's a good technique. You can take a piece of bacteria, slide one gene in out of this species, insert it in here.
It just clips and splices and slides into this, and all of a sudden we can pick up some disease resistant or this and that. Well only because the media said, that's not good, GMOs. Well there's two sides to every coin here. All of the sudden when they're able to do that and let's say they're able to do that to someone and put insulin production back in all the diabetics and they don't have to take shots anymore.
The line will be so long for people waiting in line to get that treatment of a genetically modified organism so they don't have to do this, that you can't reach it far enough, I guarantee it. And so all the stuff will be falling by the wayside. There's some good genetically modified rice right now that they put a vitamin A gene in it, and it prevents blindness in certain parts of Africa because they don't have enough vitamin A.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: And so it's just another delivery system to deliver some of the form of the stuff that's there. And it's gonna improve lives dramatically. I mean it's a revolution that's here now, there's a lot of people saying, we don't know, we don't know. Well get used to it, we do know.
The GMOs, the National Geographic last year came out with over 100 Nobel laureates, which are not the slackers in the world.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: That basically said it's perfectly good, it's perfectly safe, the rest of you got your head in the sand.
>> KL: So do you use GMOs here?
>> LDC: Yes, we use everything. We use all of the tools in the tool box.
>> KL: You gotta do what you gotta do to-
>> LDC: We don't do what we have to do, we do what is best to do.
>> KL: Right.
>> LDC: Okay? If we can take corn, in which we got one, that resists corn earworms, and we can plant that, then we don't have to spray it.
So we're using less chemicals by inserting this gene in there that as soon as the bug takes a bite of it, he gets sick. So it goes right into the plant to start with. It makes the plant essentially resistant to that corn earworm, and that's in essence what it is.
Now, also they have stacked traits. They put that trait in. They also put a trait in that says it's Roundup resistant, so that we can spray the corn with Roundup and we don't want to spray with other herbicides. We don't want to use a tractor with diesel fuel to kill all the weeds by and so it becomes more efficient process with less inputs by man.
So we decrease our footprint on earth, and increase the production. We have soil that we've been no-tilling, that means it doesn't till. We don't have a plow and plow it up and so and so forth like my granddad did every year. I've got fields I haven't plowed in 25 years.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: And we just don't. We do it with chemicals and cultural practices with a sod planter that will plant in there. And our yields are going up, not down. They're going up and our organic matter is going up, not down. So we're better for the environment.
The Soil and Water Conservation Service was a service created in the 20s, 30s, because Americans were plowing the land. The good to be grains would wash away big gullies on farms, the dust bowl back in the 30s. They were plowing the soil, blew all away. Well now we're sod planting.
We keep something on the ground at all times, there's always a cover on the ground. We have next to zero erosion. The new modern practice of sod planting has essentially put the Soil and Water Conservation Service out of business.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Because if everybody did that there'd be virtually no erosion.
We probably till about less than 10 acres a year. And so it’s just a new production practice, it's there. It’s been the cutting edge since the late ‘80s and it will be for the foreseeable future. That’s pretty cool. So tell me a little bit about, you've talked a bit about different organizations and stuff.
>> KL: Do you deal a lot with government? And how does different regulations affect you as a farmer?
>> LDC: Well, the government is always your business partner. I don't really like them all the time. The government is there to do things for people collectively that individuals can't do on their own.
Now I don't participate in the government programs that say, if you don't produce this, you will get this amount of money or so on and so forth. There's some farm bill programs that basically are safety nets to keep the farmer in business. Now every government has been and always will be involved in agriculture because it's politically infeasible to have anything otherwise.
Because Egyptians came in and said if we don't store the food, people will eat it all now or get rid of it and won't produce enough, and then when we have a bad year then we're going to have to take care of them and they're going to revolt.
Russia, the reason they fell out in the 80s, was because they didn't have enough bread in the grocery stores. Their collective farming didn't work, so they had to switch their models back around to be self sufficient with food. Japan still subsidizes their rice production. We can grow rice a third cheaper than they can in Japan, but they are not gonna be dependent on American rice cuz that is a staple in their diet.
And so the government has to say, we're gonna keep a base of food production out here all the time for our food security. Now that's okay. So the farmers are kind of married to the govenrment in that regard. I jumped outside the lines. I said, I don't want to be involved in these programs.
I'm on my own, there's no safety net. I'll be demand oriented. I'll plant what the market wants, and if it goes south on me, okay. I keep a diverse portfolio of income sources, and that would be spring strawberries, asparagus, lettuce comes in. That's a spring crop, then I come into the summer vegetable crops.
Then I come into, say, apples and I come into pumpkins, and then I've got broccoli, the fall crop. I've also got the agritourism bit, the swimming at our quarry, the weddings, the company picnics, which take part of those food production too, to be fed to. So we take all those different areas.
Every year we know one of them is going to do very poorly and lot of times it's not because of me, it's because of Mother Nature. Last year we picked strawberries for three weeks, great picking. Five inches of rain, another three inches of rain and the stormy season was over and done.
We got our money back and a little some after, but not much. Two years ago we had a great crop of apples, did well. This past year we had a, just a barely, made a little bit off the apples, not much. So every year one crop's gonna do great and one's gonna do poor.
We don't know what it is until it's all over. And hopefully we'll have more on the plus side than the minus side. And then we'll have more money left over to do something else with it.
>> KL: So how much does weather affect farming?
>> LDC: Weather, as a farmer I'm married to Mother Nature.
I mean she is my first wife, I could tell you that. She does what she wants to do, and my job is to push the odds in my favor so I can get a little more of it. If she wants to send a bug and a disease over to get me, I better be putting some chemical on the spray and keep that away.
But if she doesn't give me rain, I've go $100,000 worth of irrigation system that I could put water on. But I can't take it off. This past year we were probably, i think last year we were up about 18 inches over normal, which really killed our fall broccoli, cauliflower, kale crop.
We got next to zero out here. They just drowned it out. Never had that happen. I've had years that I planted pumpkins and I would have them blooming in little pumpkins and they never had rain on them. The whole time either you're getting completely from seed up to little baby pumpkin before it ever got his first rain.
So Mother Nature, she gives and she takes away too. And so we just have to push those odds in our favor. The irrigation system is my insurance policy. Last year they did a water survey, as far as what my irrigation uses was last year. And I said, I think I irrigated once or twice last year and that was it., because we had rain.
We made 92 bushels of soy beans on upland unirrigated ground. We were the second highest in the state last year. Right here in Mooresville, North Carolina. And that's not your typical soybean growing area, but we slayed it because we had the right genetics, the right soils, the right stuff, and we got the right rainfall.
>> KL: Wow, so I know you produce a lot, and I've heard that there's a lot of kind of waste, marketable produce versus usable, edible, but not marketable. How do you combat some of the waste of farm? And the excess, or with your strawberries, if they get mushy from all the rain, you can't sell them, is there something else you can do?
>> LDC: In production agriculture, when you're producing for the market, you have seconds or off brand stuff, and sometimes they can have a value, or they have no value. A cucumber with a worm in it has zero value, okay? So therefore, there's zero tolerance if you bite into a pickle, and you got a worm in it, even if there's a whole jar out.
Okay, so there's zero tolerance right there, so we have to eliminate certain things like that. Now, I don't equate the production with anything. I look at how many dollars per acre, or per square foot I get back from that, because I have pick your own apples. A lot of people will come in and pick an apple, if it's not perfect, they'll throw it on the ground.
Okay, I don't like that, and a lot of people get upset. I went to an apple growers meeting, the guys were up there, they were making. The top guys were making 4, $5,000 an acre on their apples, as far as their gross sales back to them. Well I was getting 8 to 10 back for mine, so all of a sudden, I'm getting double the dollars back in, but I'm selling half as many apples.
And I've got a third of the crop that's on the ground. I don't care if they pick them and throw them out, or pick them and eat them, as long as I get paid for them, so it doesn't really matter to me.
>> KL: Do you partner with any Gleaners or anything like that?
>> LDC: Yes, we've given tons, literally tons of produce to the Gleaners, okay? And that's a St. Andrews church-based association that works, and works quite well. There's volunteers that come in and harvest and pick, and then take it to soup kitchens and other stuff, and literally times, okay?
>> KL: [LAUGH] Do you partner with other farm organizations or anything?
Do you participate in any of the community?
>> LDC: You call them CSAs?
>> KL: Yes, CSAs.
>> LDC: Community supported agriculture. The bottom line, there's people that don't have a farm, so they come in and pay a year, monthly, weekly stipend, or whatever so much a year. And they basically say, we'll take a percentage of your crop production, and it's basically share some of the risk.
So if you don't get a lot of production, you don't get a lot in your basket this week. But it has to be good value. It's just another way of marketing, another way of sometimes sharing the risk. We haven't gone in that direction yet, I don't feel it's the most efficient way to market your crop to the customers.
Some people were quite successful with it, and it works with them. I just choose to have the people come to me, just to have the experience and other stuff. I'm as much experience as I am just putting food in your belly. Now, in the future, we see opportunity, I could come in and do a day care where kids from 7 to 17, which would basically be 7 to 12.
When you go to camp, you come out for in the morning eight o'clock, and don't leave till five o'clock. We'll teach you how to grow a garden which your mom and dad don't know how, and we'll let you plant something every week. We will let you harvest something every week.
And we'll have it with our restaurant deal that we'll feed you. You'll pick fresh sweet corn, and eat it right now, and nothing's better. We eat like this on the farm, and we could do that with the kids. And then all of a sudden, give them a basket of whatever they picked today to take home with a recipe.
So you can tell mom, here's how you fix your brussels sprouts, which, a lot of people don't eat them. But they're good, and they're good for you. Here's how you do this. And so all of a sudden, the goal is to,
>> LDC: Change people's habits, such that they will eat healthier and eat better.
America is they consume way too many calories, they're way overweight, they're way out of shape, and they gotta start eating better. And we're having to drag them kicking and screaming to get there. And they don't wanna be, but they're often gonna be, or they're gonna be pushing up daisies quicker than not.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So you gotta change, or else you're gonna get left behind. And that's what we see already, and I see certain, I see the trends coming. It's not a trend, but it's just a behavior that has to happen, because if it doesn't, we're gonna eat ourselves to the grave, one fork at a time.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So if you travel to Europe, go to Italy, you'll be amazed. Eat like they do, drink like they do, we were there for ten days, and we both lost a pound a piece.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Because they don't drink soft drinks. They drink distilled or sparkling water, they drink wine.
They don't walk around with french fries and donuts.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But they eat fruit and vegetables. They don't eat big massive plates of it either, so America has got a lot going for it. They don't have everything going for it.
>> KL: So tell me a little bit about the Charlotte Blue Shed, and what you think of that?
And where you think Charlotte is heading, especially with the rapid growth, in terms of food and food production.
>> LDC: The cities never will be able to produce their own food, they can produce certain amounts. And surprisingly, you can take a small area and produce a lot of stuff if you want to.
And some may, they won't do it for the cost savings, they'll do it for the quality standpoint, if anything. But most of the people that are on the outlying areas, but if you can put it on the back of a truck, it'll make it to a market, and it'll get there.
So all your grocery store shelves, your farmers markets, your CSAs, having them take a weekend, come up, pick their own fruits and vegetables. That works too, so there's a bunch of different ways people can get their food, one way or the other. In America, food's very cheap. America's spending probably less than 10% of their disposable income, or 10% income on food.
Which, if you go to certain parts of the world, it's in the 20, 30, 40% range of your total disposable income. So food's real cheap, calories are real cheap.
>> KL: So how do you see your farm growing in the next five to ten years, besides the [INAUDIBLE]?
>> LDC: Well, that's one way, it's a possibility.
We're doing special events right now, but I foresee a full-fledged restaurant at some point in time. And matter of fact, this year, this winter, we did. We went to two or three different cities, and I call it restaurant hopped. We checked out some different restaurants, and saw what made them work, what made them tick.
Why and how can we do that here now? I'm creating the the vision of where we need to go, and we're in this right here. Hopefully, they'll be wonderful, hopefully inaccurate and get it going. But I'm trying to lay the groundwork and what makes people come to a place?
And why do you get up and go to a restaurant? And why do you go to this and for what reasons? And those are the things that we were trying to figure out and we've got a better handle on it right now. But we're in the food business and it goes all the way from the seed right to the palate.
And you gotta figure out what makes all that work, all the way. I understand science well, but the psychology, that's more important. And matter of fact, he's going to college to major in horticulture. But it's gonna be mandatory that he's gonna take some psych and soc courses, okay?
>> KL: [LAUGH] You've gotta understand people. And if you're serving people to have a good idea of how to serve them, and how to get them to come.
>> LDC: But their habits are always evolving and changing too. Because when I started out southerners were not eating freshing asparagus, they were eating canned.
And now they're eating fresh, and they don't eat canned at all.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: And again, brussel sprouts weren't on the horizon, but now they're quite good. Kale, we grew in our garden when I was growing up. We ate it all the time, but now it's become quite popular, one of the superfoods.
So there's a evolution that's happening. So people are actually trying to do better. And some of them are really doing better, and some of them are not yet. But when I see you come to our farm, and you bring a bag of Cheetos, I'm going like, something's wrong here, eat an apple.
>> KL: Yeah, so do you partner with any other farms? Or anything for knowledge? Are you part of any associations in the area?
>> LDC: I'm a part of a lot of organizations. I was president of the North American Strawberry Growers Association back in 88, I guess, that was a long time ago.
But still, and I know all of the players, and I go to all these meetings. I just got back from one in Orlando from the Strawberry Growers. That was an international symposium, so I know people throughout the world in certain businesses and stuff. And you have to keep up with what they're doing, and where things are headed, and all of that good stuff.
And we do association things, farm direct market associations, and all of that. But we go to all kinds of conventions. We have a haunted trailer that you mentioned you had been to. We just got back last weekend from St. Louis from a haunted attraction, a haunt show. And there was probably 4,000 haunters there from throughout the country.
They were there, and we were all sitting around and going to meetings and learning how to scare people and this and that. That's another part of that agritourism, that we got the space and land. It's fun, and it's just another unique way to stay on the land.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: Yeah, we can do that. But we were picking up some scares, and we stole a few ideas from some folks and gave away a few ideas, and it works. But I got people I can call who really flew out the country, if I've got a question about some haunted aspects.
Again, I have people call me about certain things that I know about too. Everybody's really dumb about some things and really smart about some things so just knowing who asks for what.
>> KL: This is kind of a weird question, but-
>> LDC: Go ahead.
>> KL: I interviewed a beekeeper.
Do you guys allow beekeepers to put up hives on your property? Cuz I know sometimes they'll-
>> LDC: Got one right now.
>> KL: You do?
>> LDC: We do, yeah, for sure, yeah. And that's, everything we have, if you like strawberries and cantaloupes and watermelons and apples and peaches and oranges, if you don't like them you gotta like honey bees.
Cuz I mean, honey bees pollinate all those crops and they're there for that. And they are my biggest work force. About 20,000 bees in each hive and it takes six, or eight, or ten hives to pollinate a crop. So there's a 100,000 work force out there working for me.
And they're out there working today, right now. They're working on strawberries and apples are due. And in about ten days, they'll be tearing up the apples to crop, so.
>> KL: Do you do the beekeeping yourself, or?
>> LDC: I don't, I've got a beekeeper that, bees are no good without flowers.
Flowers are no good without bees, so I've got the flowers.
>> LDC: I know how, can do it, but I'm too busy with other stuff this time of year. And so I've got a beekeeping company that does it and he basically takes care of the bees. And he likes it as a hobby to do, which is fine and dandy.
And then I, in turn, take something, sell it for him or buy it from it and sell it for him. And it works because I've got the people too. They like local honey, and it works, and it's good. I've got another guy that if I don't, he will just bring hives in.
I will rent them from him just to pollinate the crops. And I've done that for pumpkins in the past. I pay him, $60, $80, $90 a hive just to bring them in for the four-week, five-week period I need to pollinate the crop.
>> KL: That's amazing.
>> LDC: Yeah.
>> KL: That's reallly cool.
>> LDC: Have to have bees.
>> KL: Yeah [LAUGH] that's what they were saying, is that if the honeybees go, a third of all farmers' crops would go. And not just as necessary.
>> LDC: For sure, yeah they are necessary. They're not a want, they're a need okay? They have to have them.
>> KL: So just a couple of concluding questions cuz I know you're busy.
>> LDC: It's okay.
>> KL: Is there any kind of aspect of farming that people wouldn't consider or is misunderstood by the general public?
>> LDC: There's a whole lot of misconceptions, and it's mainly because most people are two, three, or more generations removed from the farm.
When my granddaddy was growing up, everybody had somebody they knew that was in the farming business. An uncle, aunt,a cousin, a brother or a family member that was involved in farming nowadays they so far removed. You can't complain about farmers with your mouth full though, cuz you got something to eat and we're feeding you.
Most people say, I don't want sprays. Well, I don't either, but I sure don't want the pests to take all of it away and have nothing. So there's always a trade-off that you have to have, benefit versus risk. The chemicals, there's three Cs. There's a cultivar, a cultural practice, and a chemical.
You change any one of those three and you change the whole dynamics of the that crop. Now, any crop gravitates to area that's most climatically correct for that given crop. We can't grow olives here because they get frost on and get killed. And they'll grow in the dry Mediterranean type climates.
But they'd love to grow apples in or peas in. So each farmer has to maximize what he's got. But most people's misconceptions come Particularly when we're so mobile right now. We get people call me in January and it's a holiday weekend. Well I want to come and pick strawberries and it's in January.
Now you laugh because you are from Tennessee and you know that in January no strawberries growing. But they moved from Southern California to Southern Florida, and they pick them all winter long.
>> LDC: And so, they don't have a clue that it's geographical and not, well I always see them in stories all the time.
So you should have them too.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: You know, and so that's one of the big misconceptions that they'reso far removed. They don't think they get the food from the farm it comes from the food line. But look where food line got it, that's the key. The other thing is the chemicals that we use they are a necessary part for most all of the crops.
If you, and water, California particularly complains that agriculture using 90% of the water. It probably is, but which is more important, your green grass in your yard or something in your refrigerator? They'll have to decide and ultimately there will come a day when they're still fighting over water out there, and we don't have to fight over it here as much.
We can still produce quite good without it.
>> KL: And then what advice would you give for people who are just starting out in farming, or wanna start out in farming? How do you sustain something for the long run?
>> LDC: You have to have a profit to be sustainable.
I started out and got down the road with an organic farmer and he said well you're not sustainable. Well he's been retired for eight years and I'm still at it because I could produce. He was having to do it all by hand, [INAUDIBLE] work, and his body's just wore out.
And so he wasn't using the chemicals, and I am, and so I can do it. And it works, it works quite well. So I'm very sustainable. For a new guy jumping in, you gotta have persistence, and you gotta have motivation. There's room in every field. I know farmers that started out with next to nothing, and they've come up.
I had a family land base, but I rented it from them. I rented from my granddaddy. I did not go out and say, hey, just give it to me. And then I end up buying it from my dad, or bought my brother's and my sister's share of that, and I do it by working and making it.
So you can do it. I actually bought more land too along the way. So land is like a carpenter without a tool. Farming without land is like a carpenter without the tools. So you got the land. And a lot of the people in the urban areas, particularly Charlotte, will come out and say, you've got 250 acres, you're rich, you're this, that.
Well, if I sell my land, I'm not a farmer, I'm done. The land is only as good as what it'll produce. If it will produce fruits and vegetables, or crops, then that's the value of the land, to me. I'm just the caretaker for this generation. I'll come and take care of it.
I'll pass that land on to the next generation. Hopefully, they'll make it more productive, produce more stuff, then they'll be able to make a living off of it that's commensurate with a history teacher or professor or whatever it is. Or a car salesman or a nurse or whatever.
All we want to do is just make a living like everybody else, and that's it. But we like to go out and eat. But we have a hard time doing it, because we eat so good at the farm. Hard to find better than what you can get. I had the freshest berries, it was like one hour old, last night.
It was so sweet and so good. It was just really delicious.
>> KL: Yeah, you can't find homegrown tomatoes, I love tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes, there's nothing better.
>> LDC: This is one thing that we see when we actually watch people, say, at a wedding or a company picnic. We'll take a hamburger, grill it, have some fresh onions that were growing out of the garden.
Big, thick slice of sweet onion and a good piece of lettuce right off the farm and a good homegrown tomato. You put it out there and they'll go, wow, these tomatoes are red and they are delicious. And they're not talking about the hamburger. They're talking about the tomato that was on it.
Well, that's the only way we eat it. Like when we have sweet corn, we turn the water on to get it boiling, and then we go pick the corn, and that's fresh. Okay, any food that most of Charlotte or any of the rest of the people get in the grocery stores, it's a week old when they get it.
Now they think it's fresh, but if that asparagus was picked in California on Monday, then it got on a truck, it rode three days to get here, which got here at best by Wednesday or Thursday. Went to the food warehouse, [INAUDIBLE] Food Lion, sat in there for a day at best.
Got on another truck to go out to the regional store. Which sat in their cooler for a day because they had already had a box from the last day, they put it out first. And so by the time your getting it, you're getting week old produce, at best.
And then you set it in your refrigerator for two days because you only go to the store twice a week or once a week. And it might be two weeks old when you eat it, and you go well this taste good but it doesn't taste as good as what I had at the farm.
Well no wonder, you're eating leftovers man.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So that's how we've shortened the time frame from the time it comes off of the field or the plant to your plate. And by doing that it really increases the quality. And it's very evident by watching the people and what they say do that.
And that's the quality comes first, price comes second. They will pay more dollars to get that because they go, wow, that was a great eating experience.
>> KL: Yeah, I will, I know I will, absolutely. If I can find a home grown tomato I would have them all the time versus the stuff you can get in the store.
Cuz it's jus not the same.
>> LDC: Went to Florida, went to Homestead, Florida, which is producing the winter production there for tomatoes right now. There's acres and acres of tomatoes down there. Well, found one guy down there that was not picking them green. Put in the box so they'd ride for three days from there to wherever and then ripen on the shelf or the back of the store along the way.
Homegrown tomatoes right down there. So good, brought a handful of them home. It was like, welcome back to July in March. But,
>> LDC: People vote with their pocketbook and they vote for quality. And that's how we survive. They can tell the difference.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> KL: So are there any other questions that I should have asked you that I haven't asked?
>> LDC: No,
>> LDC: As farmers we will produce any type of food that US customers want. And you tell us what you want. If you want all organic, we'll do it, but you've gotta be willing to pay for it. Cuz if I'm gonna take a third less yield, then you've gotta give me a third more in price to do that.
And I still think that most people vote with their pocketbook. Mentally they can say they want this or that, but when it comes down to it. Yeah I like to drive a Cadillac, but nope I just have to drive an old Ford or Chevy.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: That's fine.
>> KL: Makes complete sense to me.
>> LDC: Well and most people it does, they just don't think about it in those terms. It's their education that, again, you don't have to like farmers, but don't complain with your mouth full. Cuz we're gonna feed you every day.
>> KL: That's it, I like that, I like that.
Okay, well thank you so much for your time, I really appreaciate you, I'm gonna go and stop this.
>> LDC: Thanks for coming.
Aaron Newton is a food advocate born and raised in Concord, NC. He works as the Lomax Farm Manager for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, where he oversees new farmer training and coordinates other participants at the Elma C. Lomax Research and Education Farm. He also serves as an Ambassador for Steward, a business platform helping small-to-mid size sustainable farmers raise financing online through a crowdfunding.
Aaron is the coauthor of A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil from New Society Publishers 2009. He is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Cabarrus County Farm and Food Council and a past member of the Board of Directors of the Piedmont Farmers Market. He previously served as the Development Coordinator for the Cannon Memorial YMCA Share the Harvest Community Farm. Aaron earned a bachelor's degree in Landscape Architecture from the College of Design at North Carolina State University. Aaron serves on the Executive Steering Committee for the Children WIN - Wellness Initiative Network for Atrium Health Care System Northeast. Aaron runs long distances, practices yoga and rides a bike.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:01:07||Blume Project of Harrisburg|
|0:01:33||Background information, his college education|
|0:01:58||Shift to agriculture, including overseeing Lomax Farms|
|0:02:27||2014, his part in the Carolina Far Steward Association|
|0:02:36||Leaving Lomax soon for new position at Steward, a fundraising platform|
|0:02:59||Explains what Steward is|
|0:03:43||education initiatives at Lomax, the research to be done with Steward|
|0:05:31||Charlotte area not ready for urban farming, his reflection on the village of Blume's failure. Problem with zoning and mixed us|
|0:08:15||The demand from the real estate market|
|0:08:36||Further explaining why Charlotte is not ready yet|
|0:09:00||the expensive cost of farming in Charlotte, the need of acres to survive and high property values|
|0:10:22||advantages of the urban farms in Charlotte|
|0:11:25||Explanation of what he wanted from the Blume project|
|0:12:05||people moving to where the agriculture is|
|0:13:17||need new category of zoning to have mixed use|
|0:14:47||Detroit as example of urban farming and renewal|
|0:17:00||farm training at Lomax. Push for education of farming|
|0:18:06||Lack of understand of the general public about agriculture and healthy foods|
|0:18:53||6th grade program, bringing the local schools to see the farm|
|0:19:49||use of space as place to learn. Ben Street.|
|0:20:17||Health crisis among the young|
|0:21:11||seeing over 900 students a year|
|0:21:47||involving Davidson college for college-aged students, bring in high schools too|
|0:24:06||farming as a career|
|0:25:12||shifting away from family farms|
|0:25:43||systems of farming collaboration, farm infrastructure left behind for others|
|0:27:09||Farm as part of community, people cyclically replace|
|0:27:43||The loneliness of the job|
|0:28:09||Farming conditions do not appeal to the youth|
|0:28:49||family farms in decline, and will continue in that trend|
|0:38:14||lack of connection to farming, distracted by phone, car, social media|
|0:32:21||people running away from screens, looking for authentic experiences|
|0:33:05||people going to Lomax|
|0:33:29||gardening as a hobby has benefits too|
|0:34:10||people want authentic connection to the natural world|
|0:34:27||demographics of the people in the farm|
|0:35:24||Farming does not make a lot of money, need additional income|
|0:35:52||must be willing to work a lot for little, family must be supportive|
|0:36:23||some lose interest in farming and get out of it after a while|
|0:36:46||General population not helping farms by continuing to buy processed foods|
|0:37:48||many reasons for not supporting directly|
|0:38:04||value does not equal prince when it comes to food|
|0:38:31||cost of cheap food over time, diabetes, health concerns|
|0:39:06||true cost of processed foods stripped due to subsidizies|
|0:40:09||cost of eating poorly, true cost of it|
|0:40:44||people need more education and exposure on the foods they eat|
|0:41:14||freshness of foods in stores, bred for longevity|
|0:42:13||strawberries use to not always be in stores - seasonal|
|0:42:46||cultural shift away from knowing about seasonal foods, don't know any better|
|0:44:10||reaching different age groups|
|0:44:29||The education of Lomax as part of state curriculum|
|0:46:33||Charlotte behind Asheville and the Triangle by means of agriculture support|
|0:47:01||Nowhere near rockbottom when it comes to obesity and land development, will get worse|
|0:47:41||not optimistic, some are trying to address it|
|0:48:25||climate change, volatile weather. Will be an issue|
|0:49:15||Future will depend on the tolerance of today's youth and if they can influence change|
|0:49:50||explanation of Charlotte lagging behind|
|0:50:22||Charlotte has never been agriculture oriented|
|0:52:37||places like Asheville and the Triangle have more supporters of local agriculture|
|0:53:37||Supporters have been a fringe group in Charlotte, not as big|
|0:53:46||Hopes people can influence and change the future for the better|
>> Aaron: Okay.
>> Mick: Well I'm **** King with the UNCC Charlotte's Queen City Garden Oral Histories of and I have Aaron Newton with me with Lomax Farms. And would you take a second to tell us something about yourself, how you got into this and maybe something about this organization?
>> Aaron: Sure. My name is Aaron Newton. I work for Carolina Farms Stewardship Association. We are a 40-year-old nonprofit organization based out of Pittsboro, North Carolina, that's been doing food advocacy, food education and farm services work in the Carolinas, both North and South Carolina for 40 years. I am a native of Concord, got involved with the Elma C Lomax incubator farm in 2009 when it started up.
This is our tenth year anniversary. In 2014, the farm formerly run by county government and cooperative extension. In 2014 the farm was, operations of the farm were handed over to Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. So at the time I was working for the county and I sort of came with the farm and transferred employment to the nonprofit to help operate the farm.
My background is in landscape architecture, so I turned farm fields into subdivisions for about a decade, and then,
>> Aaron: Briefly attempted to try and design communities differently, to include agriculture, among other components, and,
>> Aaron: So this part of the world wasn't ready for that yet, so I ended up shifting my attention entirely to agriculture.
Spent a couple of years growing vegetables commercially.
>> Aaron: Here, actually, and then transitioned into a position as the local food systems program coordinator for Carreras County, which included overseeing the operations here at Lomax Farm. And then as I mentioned, when operational management transferred to Caroline Farm Stewardship Association in 2014 I transferred as well.
And I'm actually in the process of phasing my self out, so my employment here will end in May.
>> Mick: Okay.
>> Aaron: And I will move on to other stuff.
>> Mick: Do you have an idea of what that would be?
>> Aaron: Yeah I plan to work and I have already started to work part-time for a company called Steward.
>> Mick: Okay.
>> Aaron: Which is a crowd funding platform for loaning money to farmers all across the world, that launched just a few weeks ago. And so I've been working a little for them since last June, and helping set up their platform which went live just a few weeks ago.
And we hope to loan $1 billion to farmers over the next ten years, and to create a network not only for connecting investors, large but also small and medium scale investors, with farmers who need access to capital. But also, there are a lot of other plans. First, the network's develop for,
>> Aaron: How to better system, how to make more effective the farmers here in the US and abroad.
>> Mick: So more of the teaching element that I see that Lomax has been trying to do, some more education.
>> Aaron: Potentially, I'll give you a couple of examples. When the business, when the corporation was created for Steward, the founder, Dan Miller also created a nonprofit foundation.
The Steward foundation is gonna focus initially on research, so farms within the Steward network can apply for a grant of up to $2500 to do on-farm research. And we're not talking about academic research to be published and forgotten. We're talking about applied research to be shared. So you have a great idea as a farmer but to actually get the numbers and get the data, there's a cost, at least in time, which translates to money.
So being able to have that offset of cost to be able to put in the effort to record the yield, or the pest load, or the hours worked, or whatever it is, is important, so that is meaningful. So that's an example of Steward thinking about how to use the network of farmers for a greater end.
But I think the targets' gonna be established farmers and everyone can always learn more. But I think we're not gonna focus on new and beginning farmers who need a good deal more education and resources. Maybe in the future, but that's the work that I have been doing, and it's very interesting work, and rewarding in some senses, but it also can be frustrating work.
And frankly I'd be happy to take a break, and spend a little bit more time working with more established farmers.
>> Mick: Earlier in your statement, you said that this part of the world's not ready for, you mean intermingled urban and farming? Is that what you're talking about earlier?
>> Aaron: Absolutely.
>> Mick: May I ask why you think that?
>> Aaron: Because I designed a project like that and it’s actually still up. It has a presence on YouTube. It was called the Village of Blume, B-L-U-M-E. And partners and I developed and designed this community for a parcel of land in Harrisburg, North Carolina, it's between here and Charlotte.
And the city of Harrisburg didn't know what to do with it because we said, what we're gonna do ag and residential. We're gonna have a school, we're gonna mix uses even further and have a commercial retail component. We wanna do a complete street concept where you have trails and walk-ride component to the transportation.
Active solar, water capture, we're gonna combine all these things, and their heads exploded. Single-use zoning didn't allow for that to happen easily. So they were difficult to work with, and ultimately the project died. But also, frankly some of the neighbors just wanted this particular piece of property to just remain in pasture.
They just wanted to look at farmland, or they wanted what they thought would feel rural, which they thought would be one acre lots, which doesn't feel rural. And so, ultimately what's funny is the project was developed under the name Blume. But it's just cookie cutter crab subdivision at one acre a lot.
And you could drive through there and,
>> Aaron: It's just a future get up. But the interesting thing is for, that was probably at least 10 years ago. For the first five years I continued to get the occasional email or call from someone who had seen it or heard about it, and thought it might exist and wanted to buy it.
So I think there are some people, and we may be closer now, so there were some buyers who were interested in the concept. But if you to talk about that concept to someone in development, you get nothing. They're not interested in trying to work outside the existing single-use zoning framework.
And frankly, you can put up,
>> Aaron: Some pretty crappy stuff. The demand is so high with people moving into the area that someone's going to run it by us. So why go to the trouble to do anything special, has been the mentality that I've seen within the development community.
I am hoping to do something that does incorporate a lot more aspects of health and wellness, including food production, within community design. But I think if I do that, it's unlikely it will be in the Charlotte area. Just cuz, again, I don't think the development community is ready.
And I'm not sure that the general population is.
>> Mick: You're kind of negative on the idea of maybe more urban farms growing up in Charlotte, then? Or do you mean the mixed-use as in, it's really planned out to be that way?
>> Aaron: Yeah, so the general knock on urban farms is that the closer you get to population densities, the more expensive the real estate.
And you gotta pay for it somehow. So paying for it with something like agriculture is difficult, where you need typically larger acreages to produce enough money to pay the property taxes. And that's true in Charlotte as it is true anywhere else. Where you see urban agriculture work well is in areas where quite frankly, the property values have dropped.
Because something has happened to the urban environment to the extent that no one or much fewer people want to live there, like the demand has dropped off. Detroit is a great example. We walk around downtown Detroit and there's land everywhere, because everyone's moved out of the neighborhoods. Once those neighborhoods repopulate and the demand for those properties goes up, then it's much more lucrative to put a house on it than to put a garden farm on it.
So the flip side of that is the closer you can, people eat food so the more people you have, the closer you are to those people. The higher your concentration, your population density, the more customers you have. So being closer to food, to the end user, the end consumer, the eater is best.
So yeah, and also, people fall in love with land, so like if you can get a couple of people falling in love with this farm for sure, people would fall in love with their urban farms. And more people are maybe in closer proximity to fall in love with the urban farms, so it's certainly doable within the Charlotte region.
But I was speaking more about that mix of use. So can we take a 500-acre farm field and continue active agriculture within that community to serve that population? Then you can start to layer on other uses like education, farmer education, general ag education for the population which desperately needs that, research and experimentation.
All of those could happen on part of that 500-acre farm, even if you developed the residential and other components within that 500-acre parcel.
>> Mick: So you're not talking about dividing up the 500 acre, you're talking about having a 500-acre, have different implements within it, but also a community still around it that thrives of this 500 acre?
Or are you talking about mixing the 500 acre itself?
>> Aaron: I think you would mix uses within the 500 acre.
>> Mick: Okay. You're always gonna have people coming in from outside-
>> Aaron: Right. And people from out going from within going out. But I think that the greatest advantage to a community like that would be to amenitize the farm and the agricultural activity, right?
So imagine a golf course community but with a farm instead of a golf course. Here's Andres Dwayne and you've said golf. Agriculture is the new black. And where agriculture is the new golf is what he said. Which you know, what he meant was let's you know people move to a golf course community so they can play golf.
People would move to an agriculturally focused community because they wanted a part of that lifestyle. Whether it was farm living or access to fresh foods or access to activities for their kids on the farm so to speak, yeah. So you'd be using it as a marketing tool as well as a functioning part of the community.
>> Mick: And that would take a different community, than a, I guess you mentioned earlier, the urban, where it's more, look at downtown Charlotte. Or uptown Charlotte really, It's mostly for banking and everything else. I guess I could see how it'd be hard to implement a farming community within those city bounds.
Why did Harrisburg fail? I know you said it was development and single use, but if it did become a mixed use, do you see it would ever taken up there? Or is it just too far removed from the ideals around here, too?
>> Aaron: They didn't have, it was a square peg and all they had were round holes.
>> Mick: Okay.
>> Aaron: Single use zoning didn't let us. If it's agriculture, then it goes in the agricultural zoning area. If it's residential, it goes within the residential zoning area.
>> Mick: You have to get the city basically to rezone that.
>> Aaron: But not only re zone it, but create an entirely new category of zoning.
That's one thing-
>> Mick: Category for?
>> Aaron: There's no category for what we're gonna do. Ag and residential and commercial retail with school. There's no, that doesn't exist. You can get into mixed use zoning is what they call it, but at that time, especially there wasn't a framework for it.
So anytime you propose something that's completely as there be dragons on the map, it's just like there's nothing, we don't know what that is, that was difficult. There wasn't even that they were adversarial to it, not to the city itself. They just didn't have a way to fit it with in the framework of their land use development plan.
What they did have was a residential component. So we could continue ag, they were fine with that. We'll rezone it into residential, which is I guess ultimately what happened. But this is what residential looks like, a house on acre, a house on two acres, or multi-family, multiple units on a compartment condo or stuff.
We handle all of that, but if you wanna have this right next to a 50-acre farm field, right next to a shopping center, all within the same parcel [SOUND], that just exploded their heads.
>> Mick: So how did Detroit, because I know they're revitalizing by making more urban gardens, maybe I think communal farms, and stuff like that.
Did they create a whole new zoning, or it's just a personal property, garden-wise?
>> Aaron: I don't know what the zoning, planning, and the zoning structure looks like for Detroit. I've been there and walked around downtown I spent a day and a half there just agritourising. But some of these are commercial production scale farms.
Either way, gardening is for yourself. Farming is for others. So these are definitely farms, even if they were smaller scale. My guess is that the city tried to promote agricultural use, came in and just said, you're allowed commercial scale production now within this area in addition to residential.
So you can build a house here or you can take lot, instead of building a house, and farm there.
>> Mick: And this may touch upon what I read from the site, when you were talking about, do you think this was also from a push towards not only self-sustaining people in these areas that are growing food themselves?
But they're also growing healthier foods, organic and they're improving their well being.
>> Mick: I know you guys are trying to do that as well. Can you tell me a little bit more of what Lomax, and I guess the Stewart Association is doing around here with promoting wellness?
>> Aaron: I guess you'd have to be a little more specific.
>> Mick: Yeah, sorry about that. I'm talking about educational part of I guess, besides farming that I've seen your farming training, I saw that you guys were doing more about,
>> Mick: Five minutes here, about the well-being of healthier foods. Do you see an improvement on that, as well?
>> Aaron: Well, what I can say is that we've recently changed names even.
What we've seen is an add in the number of people who wanna train to grow commercially. But what we've seen simultaneously is more people are interested in general agricultural education. So what I mean by that is, and a lot of it's around kids, okay, in 1950 about a third of the population of the United States grew up on a farm.
So one out of three of us just got this agricultural education, just by being born, right? And in our part of our country, that percentage would have even been higher.
>> Aaron: Fast forward for several decades now, that percentage have been less that 2% of the people grow all of the food that we eat in this country.
So what we've done is raised a generation of people, more than one, let's say 30 years, the last 30 years or so, the vast majority of the people, almost all Americans, less than 2%, really do not have a good, hands-on understanding about agriculture. Not even like where does the egg come from sort of thing.
And so that's a problem, that's coupled with other problems, that's coupled with other unfortunate circumstances to mean a less healthy United States of America. So there's plenty of ways that you can address that issue. But one of them is to help people understand what food looks like, where it comes from, and who does the work.
And a lot of people are interested in that for themselves and their families, but especially for their kids and the general public. And so that's what the education part is about. We'll have almost 1,000 six.graders visit us this spring. This is the second year of our pilot program to eventually get every sixth grader in the county out at the farm.
And that's a comprehensive program which would include, you know what? The elementary school level, it has a focus on gardens, and high school level has a focus on differentiating interests around food science, so the culinary arts or production or environmental stewardship. So there's many of career tracks there.
But at the middle school level, it's about a visit to the county fair with a focus on agriculture and then [INAUDIBLE] here. So that's an example of that student outdoor immersive learning at Lomax. The acronym is SOIL.
>> Mick: Yeah, I did see that.
>> Aaron: So that's happening more and more.
>> Mick: Okay.
>> Aaron: And then this is our fourth year as a USDA certified organic farm doing commercial vegetable production research. So that's been an increased focus. So we still have folks who are using this space to get a farm business started. Ben Streep came in and left while you and I were talking.
A recent graduate of ours was still using the greenhouse and the cooler. So that's still happening in the background, but meanwhile we were trying to meet a larger demand for people who wanna come and learn more about ag, adults but especially children. So doing more of that and then also doing the research.
But the kids stuff is focused a lot on wellness, we see more than a third of the kids in Cabarrus County graduate from high school at an overweight or obese status. So,
>> Aaron: Good luck in life.
>> Mick: [LAUGH]
>> Aaron: If you're already knocking down the door of some sort of dietary disease at 18 years old, and that's a third of our population.
So we're not the sole answer to that issue, but it is one of many ways to try and help people at a younger age, young people to think about what they eat. And maybe they're more likely to think about what they eat if they have come into contact with the systems that produce their food and the people who wanna do that work.
>> Mick: So what kind of demand do you get from schools? You said 1,000 six graders?
>> Aaron: So yeah, we're working, last year we had about 550. The first year in our pilot program we added a middle school and increased that number to around 900. And then we have been contacted by other private schools in the area.
Province A school sent me an email yesterday trying to find time to bring their kids out at some point in the year. So yeah, so there are others. Meanwhile, this will be our second year hosting interns from Davidson College, so also trying to get involved,
>> Aaron: From that elementary, middle school age on up through college age.
This year for those 1,000 or so six graders who were coming through the farm we've actually enlisted the help of a local high school. So those kids are designing some of the activities that the sixth graders do while they're here. So the idea is that then as the sixth graders age up into high school they'll be the ones coming back to further program the activities for the next generation of sixth graders.
And so you stack that with the elementary school exposure to gardens and some of the other opportunities at the high school level to differentiate into food or environmentally related fields. And you start to reinforce this theme that human life on Earth is based on natural systems. Those natural systems provide the benefits to make our lives possible, including the food that we eat.
And that food takes stewardship of the land and those natural resources, and that's the work that farmers do and that's how they grow the food that we all eat.
>> Mick: So you're helping to educate them on also farm living as well, besides healthy living. Would you try and recruit some of them later on, maybe after high school to have like an intern?
>> Aaron: I can't even say that this is our new recruitment process, starting in sixth grade. The truth is, very few of them will go on to become farmers. And that's okay, that's fine. But I think the thing that we need more right now than more farmers is a better appreciation for real food and good food.
So that's really what I see as the greatest benefit is if these students in the general population at large would come to.
>> Aaron: To put a higher,
>> Aaron: Emphasis on good food, real food, vegetables and quality protein.
>> Mick: Yeah.
>> Aaron: Yeah, that's the ideal outcome. And then if a few of them decide that they wanna do that for themselves, that's great.
I think it's unlikely that the model, I think it's unlikely Why would agriculture be any different than most professions? And by that, I mean people these days take on a career path, and they do that work for a while and then they shift and do something else. And I think that's exactly what we're gonna see in agriculture.
>> Mick: Cuz I believe someone that wrote on the website came from banking or something like that. Was that Street or was that someone else who came from Charlotte to, said something about he was sitting in front of his computer as a day job and then moved over to farming.
So you'll see more of that later on maybe with-
>> Aaron: It sounds like Ben but it wasn't banking, but it was a day job in front of a computer. Yes, so doing something else and then farming. My guess is that he will do farming for awhile and then he will go do something else.
For some reason people think, well, once you're a farmer then you're gonna die on a tractor at 90 years old. And your kids, who are also farmers, are gonna run out and jump on the tractor, and continue plowing that road, before they then go and bury your body and finish the fieldwork.
And then their kids, your grandkids, are also gonna farm that land, that is not gonna happen. I think, largely, those days are over. So what are the new systems that are gonna take the place of the sort of land ownership for generations kind of model. And that's the work that I think will be interesting to follow for the next few decades, is what are the systems for farming in collaboration with each other?
What are the systems that allow people to farm, quote, unquote farm for a little while and then leave that work and go and do something different. We do not have to create a brand new farm with all the infrastructure every time someone wants to farm. And then ten years later when that person moves on, all that effort is wasted and lost.
And maybe they can sell that farm, but maybe not. Right, what would a system look like where you, Nathan, could say, I want to farm, receive that training, grow food for a living for five years. Then get an offer to go and follow a journalism career or become a musician, or whatever it is, and then step away from that.
>> Aaron: But in leaving, open up a place for someone else who is ready to step into agriculture, to take your place. To use the infrastructure that was left behind. All right, so I think that collaborative farming systems like this could work well in the future as ways for people to engage without the committment of doing it for the rest of their lives.
>> Mick: So the farms become the stewards of the land so to speak?
>> Aaron: Yes, yes, and what does that third party look like? So now we go back to our conversation about the community development. So, if you've designed a community with a farm as a part of that community and the community takes ownership of the farm, they can steward the land and the resources, the infrastructure.
The people do the physical work, that can change without this massive overhaul and legal, all that ****. We just, as someone leaves, this community that quote, unquote, owns the farm, can replace that person or those people with new people, that can do that work of farming. And then when those people, excuse me.
And when those people are done, they also can be replaced by other people who wanna do that work. And also it can be a lonely job to do that work by yourself, where land prices are low enough so you can afford. All right, so now you're way outside of the urban area, much lower densities of population.
You're working very often by yourself, or nearly by yourself, all day, day in and day out. Does that sound super appealing to young people? It does not. So what are systems where you can work in coordination, collaboration with others? In close proximity to others and then again when you're ready to step away from that work, you can do it.
Go do something else.
>> Mick: So the idea of family farms, do you think is probably gonna be disappearing? Do you think only like, I don't mean strong, but I mean, the very, like the Hall family or the Hodges family farms, I believe Hodges and Belmont? The Hall family just sold off 4 million, I think it was.
So do you think the idea of family farms that maybe have been passed down, they're slowly gonna go away because the kids are just interested in something else?
>> Aaron: That's already happened.
>> Mick: Yeah.
>> Aaron: Yeah, so put that one in the books. There will always be-
>> Mick: Family farms so to speak.
>> Aaron: Yeah, there will always be exceptions but that number has been declining for decades. And that trend is not gonna turn around. What I'm suggesting is the new farmers, the people who did not grow up on farms, who then want to get into farming are not gonna start legacies of generations to come on their farms, you know?
I think Joe Rolland's a great example. So Joe trained here, went and farmed for almost ten years, now he's leaving farming. His daughter's not gonna farm the land that they farmed. His daughter is gonna be able to do something else. So, the Porters, a local family here with a more conventional farm and agritourism business, their kids are staying on the farm to do the wedding stuff and then also to run the calf cow operation and the other stuff that they do.
So the Porters are an exception. Will their grandkids stay here in farm? Maybe, and I think that we'll always have a few of those. But I think we will continue to see the trend of family farms, the number of family farms decreasing. And I think the folks who are coming into farming from outside of farming background, are unlikely to stay on land that they purchase for multiple generations.
>> Mick: Do you think it's a lack of maybe not heritage, but connection to old, familial careers? The younger generation is just like, well my grandfather was a farmer, I don't wanna do it, I'll just like to be somewhere else or just sell the land? Or do you think that people that are getting into farming have some sort of connection that, this is what people did back then, maybe you wanna try this out for a little while for a career?
Or what is drawing some of these people into try farming for ten years so to speak?
>> Aaron: Well, there's few questions there. I think that there is a lack of connection for lots of reasons, the automobile, the television, the cell phone, social media. I mean, there's a number of reasons why most of us are less connected to the real physical world than others in past generations.
I think we've commodified food, for sure. We've commodified just about everything else, too. So we've definitely created sort of a throw-away society, where people do not get attached to place or even to things. So that's true. I think what's drawing people to farming is a desire for, well, so very often there's a health and wellness aspect.
Whether we're talking about people who wanna eat differently, and who show up here, so to speak, who come to this movement. Because either they're sick or someone close to them is sick. One of our growers here started a career in farming in his late thirties with multiple sclerosis.
Dylan's a good example of someone who started because he saw the health benefits of eating this way and wanted to be a part of it.
>> Mick: All right.
>> Aaron: I think that,
>> Aaron: I think that people are running away from the screens. I mean, some people, they sense the artificialness of the connections over social media and the lack of authentic experience online.
And that consumer culture is overwhelming, the lack of connection with the natural world and natural systems. Just being **** bored and sitting in front of a computer, and feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Yeah, those people show up here. What we've tried to do is help them understand that they can engage in food assistance work without becoming a commercial farmer, right?
Just cuz you're running away from something doesn't mean you're running to farming. To try and help them understand that, for some people, yes, that's the right thing to do. But hey, gardening has been and continues to be a worthwhile hype. It provides food for you and your family and you get outside and fresh air and some light and learn things, and get to observe the natural world.
And there's nothing wrong with that, so promoting gardening, or just becoming an advocate, so beginning to change your eating habits and then therefore your shopping habits. And therefore the people that you're coming in contact with, getting to know the folks who grow your food and then potentially becoming an advocate.
For places like these replaces or other people doing these kind of work. And so yeah, so I think that's why the people are showing up here because they want an authentic connection to the natural world, natural system. They don't wanna [INAUDIBLE] screen anymore. So we're trying to help them navigate what might be the best next step for them.
>> Mick: And I know Dylan and Ben were somewhat younger. What kind of demographics are we talking about with the people that are coming in or so to speak.
>> Aaron: I mean Dylan's in his mid 40s so he's not younger. He came here in his late 30s, maybe might have even been 40.
Ben just turned 30 so Ben's been around the farm in some form or fashion for a while so he was mid 20s. We had a fellow here a few years ago. His name was Cody Hamill. Cody Came here at 20, turned 22 his first year here at the farm.
So left UNCC to come and start a farming career. Farmed like gangbusters for two years,
>> Aaron: Then decided he needed to shift, which worked for the sheriff's department. Yeah, I think that was mostly about,
>> Aaron: I don't know what that was about. But I know that a lot of growers, this is not a business where you're gonna make a lot of money.
75% of all farmers in the US have all-farm income, right? And this is including the great big farmers. The vast majority of farmers have either other work that they do or someone else in the household that is earning money. With that which they wouldn't be able to continue to support their farming careers, which is unfortunate but that is the system as it exists.
So I think that's a big deal. It's like, are you willing to work really hard to net $25 to $30 thousand a year? And if you are, is your wife willing to let you? Are you willing to spend that amount of time, engaged in work as opposed to engaged with your kids, or engaged in some other activity that that you enjoy?
And a lot of people are for a little while and then,
>> Aaron: Aren't.
>> Aaron: So I don't and I don't fault them for that but yeah, I think that,
>> Aaron: It is difficult work to continue to do for relatively small amount of money. And the general public hasn't helped in that they continue to eat pretty poorly.
And eat a lot of processed food crap, which is mostly commodity and it's mostly corn and soy, processed and either cheap meat or cheese puffs. So as long as we're all drinking coke, eating chicken mcnuggets from McDonald's, eating cheese puffs, then how much support can we actually get for a local vegetable and protein growers?
And that's just kind of the way that we are. I don't necessarily fault those people either but,
>> Aaron: They're not creating a market for vegetable growers.
>> Mick: Is it because of the draw to I mean the processed foods definitely are cheaper? Do you think just the pennies that some of these people are just counting to make sure that they have enough food for the week?
Or do you think there’s not a draw for let’s go to the farmer’s market on the crack of dawn on a Saturday to do their grocery shopping?
>> Aaron: Like anything else, it’s unlikely there’s a single reason.
>> Mick: Sure.
>> Aaron: Some of the reasons include,
>> Aaron: Well, [LAUGH] one of them is a misunderstanding of the difference.
Value and price are not the same and people confuse them. They think they're getting good value from something because it is cheap. In food, it's very often if it is cheap, it is not good for you. So let me put it this way. If you had to pay for a part of your future, diabetes control or diabetes medication every time you drink a Coca-Cola would be more expensive.
Right, the average person with diabetes, that costs $14,000 a year. So when you were developing diabetes, which is directly related to your sugar intake, if you had to pay that cost every time you bought something that was high sugar then you probably wouldn't buy it,. If that's your focus is on cost, but we don't.
We strip out a lot of the true cost that would be better described as value from food. We do that by subsidizing the production of corn and soy and wheat and rice. But the vast majority of the agricultural portion of The Farm Bill goes to support corn, soy, rice, and wheat production.
So we make that production those of that really cheap. Then you have cheap feedstock for processed food. We have, and then there's health care. Right, so there's a reason why the cost of food is a percentage of income or a percentage of our monthly budgets has gone down from roughly 30 some odd percent in the first part of last century to less than 10% now.
And then health care has roughly mirrored that change. Where we used to spend less than 10% it's gone up to around a third or, I don't know the numbers these days but, yeah. So,
>> Aaron: The externalities, so the cost of eating poorly in terms of our health, the natural systems, the cost that we are conveying to future generations, none of these are being paid up front at the cash register.
We're hiding the true cost of food, so food seems cheaper. But yeah, there's some people who just look at the bottom line.
>> Mick: So it's more education.
>> Aaron: It's more education, and it's exposure. People talk about, I have a 13 and 11 year old daughter, they love vegetables, some more than others.
But they both eat beets, and now I'll talk about that with people, and they're like, my kids would never eat beets. And the main reason that I can figure out from most of those conversations is, that kids have never had beets that didn't taste like crap. If you eat canned beets, yeah, canned beets taste like ****.
You're not gonna wanna keep eating, yeah, I don't wanna eat canned beets. But if we go and if I pick you beets from here, that I pull them from the ground and you take them home and cook them, they're gonna taste better. So not only is it about freshness, but it's also about the particular beets that we're growing.
Are we growing them to be able to last a long time and be shipped for a great distance, or are we growing them because they taste better, right? So we've bred for disease resistance, and we've bred for transportability, and for shelf life. That's why tomatoes taste like crap, or at least the ones you'll get in the grocery store.
Cuz they're picked green in Florida and shipped to North Carolina. And they're bred so that they can survive that. So yeah, so I think that's it. I think that's another reason is just taste and quality, which is part of education.
>> Aaron: And also, I think anything that happens for even a reasonable amount of time gets incorporated into our culture.
I am 44, I'm just old enough to remember when strawberries weren't in the grocery store all year round, okay? Strawberries, when they came in, and you had them for, I don't know, four to six weeks, maybe longer. And then they kind of went away, and you'd had enough by then that you're like, I got my strawberries in, and I'm good.
And then you don't really think about strawberries again until the next year. And food was seasonal, and that has changed, but if you talked about that with someone who is even 25 or 30 years old now, that doesn't translate. So it didn't take that long for that cultural shift, and there are others.
So if you grew up eating a certain way, that is now your normal. And if that does not include fresh fruits and vegetables, quality proteins, then you just don't know any other. You don't know what you don't know.
>> Mick: Right.
>> Mick: So what you, I mean.
>> Mick: Are you guys teaching that here, with the kids, about eating healthier or experiencing the farm to see, this is what food actually looks like?
Would you advocate for saying that should be part of the state curriculum as well? So I don't know about your generation, but mine had health and gym as three years of our, I think either high school or middle school. And I know they teach you basic food pyramid, but nothing about local or organically grown stuff as well.
And do you think you'd be a proponent of that as well, by putting it into state schools to teach them? Cuz obviously, that's where most students are gonna be exposed to it.
>> Aaron: The system I described earlier would fit that.
>> Mick: Fit that.
>> Aaron: Yeah, so how do you approach different age groups?
How do you build a continuum of learning from elementary to later in life? But yeah, I think the,
>> Aaron: I think to make that work in today, you have to stack those functions. So in other words, it can't be a standalone curriculum, it has to be embedded within the other stuff that they're learning in school, which works perfectly.
If you wanna understand science, we'll do it out here in the field. And you wanna understand physics, or fluid dynamics? We'll do the liquid fertilizer injections through the drip system that we have out there. Look, I'm not just talking about chlorophyll and nutrient uptake. You want to do, man, you want to do the greenhouse and the controlled environments we use, let's talk about air flow, let's talk about tech.
It's certainly math if we're talking about production planning, it's all about how many, how far, when, timing. And then translates into harvest, which translates into dollars, there's a ton of math there. So math, science, and communication. If you can't communicate well, you're gonna have difficult time selling your product.
So the reading, writing, and arithmetic, you build that in so that you're learning about good food while you're learning about the other stuff. Then, yeah, I think that's where people are successful,
>> Aaron: Quote unquote food in schools. I think they expect the schools to have some sort of other standalone.
Food systems curriculum is too much to ask.
>> Mick: Maybe, I don't know. I won't take up too much more of your time.
>> Mick: So in closing, what are your thoughts on the future of farming in the Charlotte Concord Piedmont area? And that's a loaded question, but.
>> Aaron: Charlotte has remained, during the last decade, when I've been involved in this work, and having grown up here and lived here most of my life.
Charlotte remains a good decade behind actual the triangle area. I think a lot of that you mentioned earlier in the banking industry. A lot of has been focused on other industries including banking, instead of on a more traditional industry like agriculture, so I think that's part of it.
For the future,
>> Aaron: I think we are nowhere near rock bottom. I think we'll see the number of kids graduating from high school in that overweight to obese category increased, at least for the foreseeable future, the near future. I think in terms of land use, for the foreseeable future we are likely to see a continuation of the steady stream of moving here and eating up the farmland for residential and support industries.
>> Aaron: Yeah, so that part, I'm not very optimistic about. At a certain point, I think it's entirely possible that the population will be unhealthy enough that, and you already see this in pockets. That certain people, especially influential people and influential groups are starting to take notice and say hey, we're going in the wrong direction.
To the extent that those people and those groups can get traction And try and address the situation, I think that remains to be seen on what the time table would be around that, getting any significant traction.
>> Aaron: Climate change is the big question mark. Cuz if we continue to have the volatile weather that I've seen increase in just the ten years that I've been doing this work.
Wow, that's gonna make things that much more difficult. It rained, we didn't see three days without rain from September through about two weeks ago, which made things more difficult. But we could deal with the steady increase in moisture maybe, we would just change what we do or change what was possible.
But then this year, the result could be hotter and drier conditions and the next year wet again. So that volatility is a wildcard.
>> Aaron: So yes, I think it depends on the tolerance especially of younger people, when they decide that they want to try and fix their health.
To the extent to which they understand their reliance on natural systems that need protecting. I think that will be the biggest influencer on if and when we start to see a turn around in some of these indicators. So not super optimistic, but you never know.
>> Mick: One small follow up I just thought about, so you were mentioning that Charlotte's behind Asheville.
Do you think it's a change of identity that we used to have as a farming community all the way back towards 17, 1800s, Charlotte was just a farm town?
>> Mick: I don't think we'll ever get it back, do you?
>> Aaron: I don't know if we ever had it.
I don't know enough about the history going that far back but it seems to me when one of the two major thoroughfares through your downtown. When it's trade and Tryon Street seems to me that maybe from the very beginning, you were trade and business-oriented, and not agricultural-oriented. And it's not to say that there weren't a lot of farms in the surrounding area, but I'm not sure we ever were focused on agriculture.
To your greater point, the surrounding area, I'll just say the metro area. We're 22 miles right now, northeast of downtown Charlotte. To the extent that we have an agricultural heritage as a region, I think that there are times in our history over the last 40 or 50 or 60 years.
And this is not unique to Charlotte where we've just focused on other stuff.
>> Aaron: Post World War II boom and suburbanization of the population. We moved away from agriculture and moved away from textiles.
>> Aaron: I don't see us going back to that, I don't even think of that is driving the difference.
I just see people in the Asheville area and in the triangle area, and not everybody, the triangle is big and there's plenty of people who give a **** about good food. But to the extent that they have more focus on agriculture in those communities. It is this willingness of the people who are involved to make that a priority in their lives and for some that is growing.
For others, it is just eating and doing things differently. You're supporting local farms, going to your farmer's market on Saturday, or getting access to local food in the many other ways that are,
>> both: [CROSSTALK]
>> Mick: CSAs and stuff.
>> Aaron: You drive to Pittsboro, which is a small town in the triangle, and go to Chatham Marketplace and see the food that is available there.
And see the community of people who are engaged in making a point to spend more money on food, to support local agriculture. But then to sit and talk and engage with each other as mutual supporters of agriculture. Not even in support of the farmer who's growing their food, but just support of each other.
>> Aaron: That sense of community around agriculture and food is what I see has developed there and I don't even really know why. But it has developed to a greater extent in those communities and it hasn't in Charlotte. I wish I could give you a good answer but I can't as to why that hasn't happened.
I've sat in a room multiple times with roughly the same 20 people and tried to figure out how to put together a food council, which we have now. Charlotte has one, and we have one here, and how to further the interests. And those people are doing good work but that is still very much a fringe component of our culture.
To a much greater extent here in Charlotte, than it is maybe in other areas. And I still do hope, even if I'm somewhat pessimistic, I still hold out hope that those people again will begin to build traction. Others, especially younger folks, will continue to buy in and support that kind of a revitalization of the food economy and in doing so, maybe we do catch up with.
Concord just passed Asheville as the 11th largest city in the state of North Carolina, so there's that.
>> both: [LAUGH]
>> Mick: Great, thank you so much for taking your time and doing this. This was great.
>> Aaron: You're welcome, I appreciate the opportunity.
>> Mick: That's all for now.
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]
David Correll recounts his family farm’s history dating back to the late nineteenth century as he discusses how the farm has changed over its long history. He outlines how his father and uncle spent their time on the farm growing tomatoes for extra pocket money. This operation grew larger and is now the largest crop Correll Farms produces. David reflects on the changes to the farms operations from issues such as a downturn in the dairy industry resulting in them selling their cattle in 2005 after over 50 years as a Grade A dairy farm. He also explains how the fateful 9/11 attack could have drastically affected their farm. David covers topic such as the changes in safety processes in farming, organic farming, GMOs, and the impact of international agricultural markets on the farming industry in America. His experiences include constructing a hydroponic system and chemical mixing station on his farm in attempts to successfully produce healthy crops and find new ways for people to farm. He also talks extensively on farmers markets, and their future in Charlotte. He ends his interview reflecting on the future of agriculture.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:33||Childhood on the farm and his college education|
|0:01:10||Dicusses crop and livestock production on the farm|
|0:02:31||History of the Correll Farms|
|0:05:55||Talton, David's grandfather, started a Grade A Dairy in 1938|
|0:06:34||In 2005, they sold their dairy cows and focused on vegetables|
|0:06:53||His father and uncle's experiences of growing tomatoes in the 1950s|
|0:07:37||His father and uncle formed Correll Brothers Farm|
|0:08:17||Expansion and transition of Correll Brothers Farm into Correll Farms LLC|
|0:09:20||Increased production of vegetables and started participating in retail|
|0:10:04||His routine on the farm (on the day of the interview)|
|0:11:26||Changes in farm's operations over the years|
|0:14:51||Discusses the process of selling land during September 2001, and possible ramifications from 9/11 on the sale|
|0:18:15||Working with neighboring farm to work on rented land they had previously sold|
|0:19:01||His passion for dairy farming and the reasons behind their move away from the industry|
|0:21:56||Sustainability in agriculture and reasons why they do not farm organically|
|0:24:10||Misconceptions about organic farming|
|0:26:01||Changes in the chemicals and processes used in farming throughout the years|
|0:27:14||Dicusses the chemical mixing facility they built on the farm|
|0:27:48||The continuations and changes to food safety in agriculture|
|0:29:24||Impacts of the international agriculture industries on the US|
|0:30:38||International and national competition to selling his produce|
|0:34:21||Changes in the economy and its effect on his farm|
|0:35:17||Shifting to more retail due to population growth in the area|
|0:36:02||Escalation in land prices in the Charlotte area|
|0:39:02||Reasons behind installing a chemical mixing facility|
|0:41:06||Establishment of the Old Fashion Home Delivery program (CSA)|
|0:43:59||Experiences with their CSA program|
|0:46:31||Uses of social media in promoting their farm|
|0:49:33||Changes in their wholesale of tomatoes|
|0:51:35||Experiences with farmers markets in the area|
|0:53:09||Joined Fresh List in 2018 as a new avenue of sales|
|0:56:42||Participating in local fairs|
|0:59:31||Working with the Water and Soil Conservation and Natural Resources Conservation Service|
|1:01:34||Getting a Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) grant and the requirements|
|1:02:44||Setting up a hydroponic system|
|1:04:24||Working with the North Carolina Agritunity on the hydroponic system|
|1:06:42||Detailing what a hydroponic system is and how it did not work for the farm|
|1:08:42||Family work on the farm during the winter months|
|1:10:03||Hispanic workers on the farm as well as highschoolers and teachers working over the summer|
|1:12:46||Details how he hires hispanic laborers for the farm and why he hasnt used the H2A program|
|1:15:58||Misconceptions of GMOs|
|1:19:47||Biggest issue he has faced growing GMO sweetcorn and the ways he educates his consumers|
|1:22:52||The future for his farm|
|1:23:45||Increasing wholesale and how wholesale markets have changed|
|1:24:46||Increase in farmers markets and the impact on the farmers|
|1:25:47||Plans to establish a retail stand of his own|
|1:27:53||Agriculture is getting tougher in the current economy|
>> Laura: Okay. Hello, my name is Laura Burgess, and I'm a graduate student at UNC Charlotte. The date is the 29th of March 2019. The time is 5:26 PM. I'm here with David Correll at Correll Farms. Hello, David.
>> David: Hi.
>> Laura: So let me just begin with my first question.
So how long have you been a farmer?
>> David: I guess I've been a farmer all my life. I grew up here on the farm. I was born in 1974 here in Saulsbury, which is about 15 minutes from the farm and returned to the farm a few days after birth and had been playing in the dirt here ever since.
I graduated from college in 1996 so I actually started full time on the farm around the 1st of June 1996.
>> Laura: So a while. [LAUGH] So what kind of crops or livestock do you grow?
>> David: Currently, our farm, we're growing about 20 acres of tomatoes, that's our main crop.
We also grow about 150 acres of field crops, corn and soy beans depending on the year and the rotation. Around half and half each of those. So around 75 acres of each of those. We've got 27 head of beef cattle that we graze about 40 acres of pasture.
We do cow calf operations, so we sell all of our calves as stockers. Or as the females a lot of those go as replacement heifers to other farmers. To their herds. And we grow about 40 acres of hay crops each year. And then we also do about six to eight more acres of vegetables, which are just various vegetables, about three or four acres of sweet corn.
And then the balance of that is in spring greens, squash, cucumbers, cantaloupes and many different things that we use for retail.
>> Laura: Okay.
>> David: At farmers markets and through our CSA.
>> Laura: Okay. So can you tell me a little bit of history about farms. I know it's the 6th generation.
>> David: Right.
>> Laura: So can you tell me a bit more about that?
>> David: Yeah, I'm actually the 5th generation here on the farm and my kids are the 6th. Our farm was purchased in the late 1800s by Martha Isabelle Corell. Martha was married a widower in around 1879.
He had had children by a previous marriage. And so when she married him, he had children from his first marriage that were older and they had my great, great, actually just my great grandfather Towton. Well, no, yeah. Get's a little confusing. They had a son, Franklin Edgar Correll.
He was born in 1880. Her husband passed away shortly after Franklin was born. So she was widowed, had a son, the children by the previous marriage actually inherited the family farm of his. And so Martha was left with a son and really nothing, no home place, nothing to do.
Because everything, by the times back then, everything was inherited by the oldest son. So she actually in the late 1800s, purchased this track of land, which at that time was about 40 acres. For her and her son, Franklin Edgar. Franklin, so Franklin inherited the farm from her. He married Josie Bell Killian who was actually was his wife.
And they had a son Hubert Towton Correll in 1905 and that was my grandfather. He was the oldest of I guess about six children. And so the farm was passed on to him. He had brothers that farmed as well. Two of them actually purchased, well one brother purchased an adjoining farm to us.
A sister, she and her husband, she married a gentleman that had a farm. About half a mile from here. One of the brothers, Franklin, was a World War two veteran that went on to North Carolina State and was a professor at North Carolina State. One sister moved away and married a gentleman in Pennsylvania.
So Granddad Talton was left here on the farm, to manage the home farm. He started by raising some produce back in the 20s. And then started milking a few cows. And in 1938 Granddad started Grade A Dairy.
>> David: My father was born in 1943, my uncle in 1944.
Granddad always said he was too young for World War one and too old for World War two. So he never was drafted or went to war. Cuz he was just kinda in that strange age bracket at that point, he's just too young or too old. So he started the Grade A Dairy in 1938 and continued to have a dairy until 2005.
In 2005 we sell the milk and herd the cattle and switched to primary vegetables. The kind of funny thing is, my father and my uncle, in the late 50s when they were turning 16 and wanted some spending money, my granddad encouraged them to start growing tomatoes. They wanted spending money, they needed something to add to the farm so he said, you know, why don't you grow some tomatoes.
Because he had grown them back in the 20s when he was around and there are some other tomato growers here in the community. So they started planting a few tomatoes and along with having the dairy cattle. And they continue to have the tomatoes my dad put that first crop and in 1959, so we're still we've been continuously growing tomatoes here since then.
My uncle Tawton Jr. how to work on the farm. He and dad after granddad retired formed Correll Brothers Farm and so he and dad farmed together. I guess they started that in the late 70's it actually changed to Correll Brothers Farm. With the two of them managing the farm and operation.
In 2001 my dad and uncle had inherited some land that my grandfather has bought in the 60's. That's about three miles from the home farm here, and- [SOUND]
Is he picking her up?
>> Laura: Yeah, it's fine.
>> David: So the land that they had inherited is about 100 acres.
My dad and uncle agreed to sell that property. And my dad was able to use his share of that money to purchase my uncle's share of the home farm and the buildings and the cattle and everything here at the farm. So that was the best way that we could transition from the two brothers owning the farm to my parents owning the farm exclusively at that point.
So the farm was transferred to, at the time of that sale we change the farm name to Carrell Farms LLC. Formed the LLC with my mother and father and I as the three partners in Carrell Farms LLC. In 2005, we continue to milk cows till 2005 and in 2005 we decided to sell the milking cows and increase our amount of vegetables we're selling and growing.
And also start doing some retail on the tomatoes and added the beef cattle in 05.
>> Laura: Okay, awesome. Well it's a very extensive history, thank you. So can you describe a typical day on the farm, in the summer?
>> David: [CROSSTALK]
>> Laura: Yeah, so around about this time, I know it's difficult, it depends.
But say today, what was, what did you do?
>> David: Today was a good day. It's spring and we've had a really wet winter and early spring. So we're getting ready to start preparing ground for our corn crop. My uncle would spent the day tilling some ground and getting it ready for planting corn here in about three weeks.
I spent my day, first part of the day in the greenhouse. We're growing our tomato plants in greenhouse now, that we'll set out sometime around the middle of April. So I spent the day working in the greenhouse and watering the plants, and fertilizing them and continuing to get them growing.
My uncle came in and had a piece broke on a piece of the tillage equipment that he had. So he spent a few hours working on that. It's never a typical day. And I think that's what I enjoy about the farming. Is there's never, it's funny, my wife asked what are you gonna do today?
And I said, we're gonna use my plan, but that's probably not what gonna happen. [LAUGH] But then when it's all said and done.
>> Laura: Yeah, fair enough. So please, a long, long standing farm. Can you tell me more about the farming operations, and how they've changed over the years?
>> David: It's changed a lot. My grandfather, when he started milking cattle in 38, he put in a milking parlor to milk the cattle. He could milk well two cows at a time, he had two cows on each side of the parlor. And so he'd milk two cows, and then he could shift over and milk two more.
In the early 70s I guess they put in a parlor in a that they could milk five cows at a time. And thought that was really moving up. And speed up operations. In the late, mid to late 80s, we put in a parlor that we can milk 12 cows at a time, six on each side.
[COUGH] And the unique thing is, the cows were always milked within about 40 foot of where they were during that whole period. My granddad's original parlor.
>> David: We had closed and built the single five parlor over there in the 70s.
>> David: And actually, it was built right beside that other one.
When we got ready to expand the double six parlor, we actually remodeled the whole parlor that my grandfather had started with in 38. They had my dad, well, my grandfather was actually a partner in Rowan Milk Transport as well. So we had a local dairy here, Rowan Dairy, that my grandfather.
In addition to milking cows he also drove the milk truck and picked up milk at other farms in the community and took the milk in to Salisbury. As that changed in about 1970 they bought their first tractor trailer tanker for rolling milk transport. A funny story is, my mom and dad went to Wisconsin to pick that first trailer up, and both of my sets of grandparents were upset.
And standing there is my dad, and mom got ready to go on this journey to Madison, Wisconsin to pick up a new tanker trailer. And mom and dad got in the truck, and drove off. And mom said to my dad said, if we'd have told him I was pregnant with Brian who is my brother before they left.
He said they'd never have let us leave. So mom and dad left there in 70. That would've been in 1970 to go pick up the first tractor trailer to haul milk. And my dad actually drove the milk truck a lot. My uncle did more of the work with the cattle.
>> David: So in that partnership, they were able to work through that and actually be a part of that mill column business as well. Through the early 80s I guess.
>> Laura: I'm just gonna go back, cuz obviously this has been here for so long. I wonder, did, for example, World War one or World War two affect the farm in any way?
Or any kind of big events kind of throughout its history? If you could think of a specific example.
>> David: There's not been really huge impacts. I guess the blessing for us is when in the 2000s when we were prepared to sell the land and it was going to be the opportunity for the farm to transition from two brothers to one.
Which is the only way that it was gonna give me the opportunity to come back to the farm. The problem with farms and the transition of farms now is the value of the farm is so high. The equity's here, but it's really hard to ever make enough money to be able to buy out another partner.
And so we had the opportunity to sell that 100 acres of land which It'd only been in the family for about 40 years. In order to a company that was gonna put in maybe a gas powered electrical generating plant. And it was tough to be able to figure that out, to see whether we wanted to let that land go, to be able to do that or not.
But the decision was made, all the paperwork was worked up to sell the property. And the company that had the auction on the property was called Entergy out of Louisiana. They had to pick the option up on that property before September 9th. On September 9th, they picked up the option on that property and on September 11th was the bombing of the World Trade Center.
So it's kinda unique. If that bombing had happened two days earlier, there's a really good chance that that company, and they told us this all along, that there is a really good chance they wouldn't have picked up that option on that property because of they would've probably extended it, but probably maybe not picked up that option at that time.
So we are really blessed. Well, I feel that we're really blessed that we were able to make that transition. But that event in itself, had it happened two days earlier or three days earlier, could have probably, and it maybe changed the way everything is now as far as how we would have made the transition from Carrell Brothers to Carrell Farms.
>> Laura: You wouldn't think something like that would affect farming in another state.
>> David: Right, but it was just the fact of the uncertainty of those weeks and months that followed that. That company had no idea what might happen after that. Putting in another generating plant probably wouldn't have happened.
But the irony of it is they never built the plant anyway.
>> Laura: I was just about to ask that. [LAUGH]
>> David: And we actually farmed that land up until 2016. We rented it from the power company. In the fall of 2018, they actually have put solar panels on part of that farm.
There are still some open land there that will be farmed, but we have a neighbor that we work really closely with that's actually gonna do that, continue to farm about half of that 100 acres with us, as we transition and my dad got older and my uncle's older.
At this point, they're 76 and 74. I'm not as passionate about growing corn and soybeans and row crops like that. So the ability to have another farmer work that ground and everything makes me glad that he's able to do that and I can stay here and concentrate on the vegetables and that sort of thing.
>> Laura: Is that your passion, then, growing vegetables?
>> David: I really enjoy it. It's funny, my degree is in animal science from NC State. So I went to college with intentions of coming back home and dairy farming, which is what I did for nine years. But the economy of the dairy business, we were milking around 120 dairy cattle.
>> David: The dairy economy was changing at that point, and really we would've needed to expanded the dairy herd to probably in the 4 to 500 cow range to have been profitable in the way we were doing things. We actually had the top herd of dairy cattle in North Carolina and the Southeast in the 2000s.
We had the highest milk production of any herd in the Southeast. The first herd in North Carolina for their cows to average over a 100 pounds of milk per day. So, it was pretty hard. It was a pretty tough decision to say it was time to sell the cows.
As the years have gone by, we're 14 years removed from that almost now, the dairy economy has not changed. It's tougher now to be a dairy farmer than it was in 2005 when we decided to sell, and it just solidifies our decision to have sold them when we did.
We sold at a time where we were still able to get a premium for our cattle, and,
>> David: Pretty happy that that's the way it turned out. I do miss the dairy cattle. I miss the daily challenge of, with a plant you plant a new variety of tomatoes or a new vegetable and it's three months, four months before you really know whether you did something right.
With the dairy cattle, the challenge always was I could tweak a feed ration, I could change what I was doing a little bit, and within two or three days I could tell whether I'd done something right or not. So it was the science of dairy farming was a lot of fun.
And I miss that daily challenge of what's gonna happen if I do this. It makes you a mad scientist when you're a dairy farmer. The vegetables, you still have those changes you make and decisions you make and they'll impact things, but it's not the instant gratification or instant deflation that the dairy cattle had.
>> Laura: Yeah, of course. [LAUGH] So talking about the vegetables you grow, do you farm organically?
>> David: We do not.
>> David: The question of organic or not is something that we get every day at the farmer's market. It's a question we get all the time. Sustainability is a buzzword now in the farming industry, and especially in the produce industry, and one of the keys to sustainability is the ability to continue the farm, to continue to grow things, and to be profitable as well as protecting the soil, protecting the environment for future generations.
And for us, on the scale that we are, I think it's really tough to farm totally organically, especially with the tomatoes. The tomatoes have so much disease pressure that it's really tough to use the organic chemicals and sprays to handle everything. With that being said, we scout our fields every week.
We target what pests there and we try to use the most in evasive thing that we can to handle those pests. I think a lot of folks look at organic farmers and think of a guy with a straw hat and overalls on and a hoe in his hand.
I wore overalls all day today. But I think on a larger scale organically grown produce probably is truly no safer than what we're doing. The organic guys are using a lot of different sprays. Just because they're carbon-based doesn't necessarily mean that they're a safer product for the consumer or for the farmer to use either.
And that's one of the biggest misconceptions is that the organic guys don't use any spray.
>> David: Especially when you look at the large-scale organic producers, they're probably spraying fields. More often than we are. So, we made the commitment to protect the environment, to protect the sustainability of the farm, and to use, I think, everything we have, whether it's fertilizer's, whether it's sprays, farming practices and everything else.
We call it our tool box. You have all these items in your toolbox. Whether an organic spray or inorganic spray or certain type of fertilizer and I think you have to for us, we open the toolbox, and we try to find the best product that we can use for what we're doing to maintain the sustainability, to protect the environment, and to protect the farm.
And that's a tough thing to do a lot of days, cuz that's where it adds to that mental level of what you do and we talked about the dairy cows earlier and how that was a challenge and how you could change things on a daily basis. And that's kind of my new challenge that we look at is research looking at what the best product is to use each and every day.
>> Laura: So you would say that this increased interest in organic produce, and obviously the buzzword of sustainability has kind of influenced the way you farm?
>> David: I think a lot has changed since the 60's when farmers that a one point, were using some chemicals that were pretty nasty.
They were available, they were, it was just, it's what everybody did. I think as a younger farmer, the chemical companies and everybody else have really changed their processes. I think the research, the work with FDA and with USDA, on products is totally different than it was 40 or 50 years ago.
Every product that we have now has gone through so much scrutiny. It's gone through so much testing and time and
>> David: And research that I think we can feel a lot more comfortable now with what we're using than what the older guys did 50 years ago.
>> David: It's as simple as here on the farm now we have a chemical mixing facility that we mix our sprays for our tomatoes and our vegetable crops in.
It's a self-contained facility that we're able to fill up the sprayers. We've got gloves, we've got a respirator, I've got everything that I need, as far as what the label reads to be able to mix those sprays safely. We're spraying now with tractors with cabs on them. I don't know that produce safety is a lot different than it was back 30 years ago.
I think those guys were still doing things that was safe for people to consume. There wasn't an issue with consumer safety. But I think there was a lot of producer safety. The guys were spraying with some pretty crazy stuff, like DDT and everything else years and years ago.
With open air tractors. We are spraying now with a cab tractor. That has air filter that filters the cab air as it comes in and everything else. So the chance of those things harming us are a lot less. Every spray we use has a reentry period of time that we can't go back in the field after we spray it.
It's got a post-harvest interval, that after spraying certain things you can't harvest the crop for a day or two. And we adhere to that extremely strictly, and probably go a day or two longer most of the time than what's required. To ensure that we've got a safe product to go out.
But I don't think food safety has changed that much. I think our food supply here in the US is as safe as anywhere in the world. And as you look at it, we're producing. Food for the world now, but the world's also producing food for the US. There's no seasonality in the grocery stores anymore.
There's apples available 365 days a year. There's lettuce available 365 days a year. There's people buying green beans here that are grown in South America. There's people buying all these products, are available year round at the grocery store.
>> David: And so the US, I think, is doing a great job of producing a safe product.
I think some of the questionable things may come from, are other governments that are bringing produce into the US year round are they following the stricter guidelines as we are. So I think that the global aspect of agriculture is probably what scares me worse than the US.
>> Laura: Yeah.
>> David: Part of agriculture.
>> Laura: So talking about this kind of new global agricultural kind of, I guess in some respects, food ways from wherever, have you seen that affect how you do in terms of selling your produce? Because now there's more competition in some ways.
>> David: It makes it a little challenge.
We're selling tomatoes as our primary crop. And
>> David: And they're in the really year round now. There's tomatoes from Mexico coming into the United States. It used to be when we grew tomatoes you know even 25 or 30 years ago our competition was California, Florida, South Carolina.
>> David: And later in the season Virginia and Ohio.
Now we have a new player. There's a tremendous amount of tomatoes grown in greenhouses in Canada that are coming South. There's a tremendous amount of tomatoes grown in Mexico that are coming North into the United States. So it used to be. And I can remember when I was a kid.
Some of our tomato buyers here, we get offers from people in California that said, hey, I'm going to send you a truck load of tomatoes. And I say, well we don't need tomatoes, they we're going to send you one anyway. All we need out of it is the freight.
Which might not be a dollar or two a box. So we had to really watch some of that competition coming in from California that might totally wreck a tomato market that we had. Now, we have to watch tomatoes coming from, there's potential for it coming from two more nations not just the states.
And So, globally, we have an issue with that. And even on the farmer's market level, a simple crop like okra, that's a Southern staple.
>> David: You can see in the farmer's market. If some of the farmer's markets allow producers to buy some things to sell along with the crops that they're growing, they can get okra out of Florida as early as mid-April.
We can't have any okra grown here till around the middle of June. So you see a crop that comes into a market, like a farmer's market, that's coming from out of state that people are gonna buy and people are gonna love cuz they can get it early. It's not something that grocery stores carry a lot, but it's something that people crave.
So sometimes we see a crop like that, that's brought to the farmer's market. The customer base is not excited about it when they can get local okra. They've had their availability to buy okra for the last two months. And so it's kind of that way with tomatoes. We used to have a tremendous amount of folks that would come for locally grown tomatoes.
>> David: Because they haven't had a great tomato for in a month, since the last fall. But now they're able to buy tomatoes year-round in the grocery stores, so there's not some of that initial demand for a local product like it was. I can remember, gosh, when I was a kid, in the late 70s, our first tomatoes we'd sell for $50 a bushel.
Thatâs $1 a pound wholesale, which was great. Now our first tomatoes, 40 years later, we get $50 a bushel for a few of those first ones. So when you look at how the economy's changed and everything, when you're getting the same thing for a product you got 40 years ago.
With the increased cost of everything else around us from fuel to fertilizer to all the crop inputs, and living expenses, it's getting tougher and tougher to make a living doing it.
>> Laura: I'm sure. So what's some of the challenges or strengths of farming in the Charlotte area that you've seen.
>> David: I think as the population grows, I think our transition to doing more retail and doing more our old-fashioned home delivery, which is our CSA type program. I think we'll be able to, just with the increase in population, we should be able to, as we penetrate that market more, to be able to increase sales here from that.
>> David: And I think that's the biggest advantage to the growing population and the growing climate here in the Charlotte area. I think the biggest disadvantage is, as the population grows, prices for farm land continue to escalate. And a lot of that it is caused by some folks that may have farmland in that Charlotte regional area, that are selling that land, and they're moving north or south.
But for us, it would be them moving north and purchasing land,
>> David: Because there's a lot of tax advantages to if you sell land, to purchase more land. So they're able to sell land at a tremendously high price down in that Charlotte area. And then they're coming up here to buy land.
And so it's inflated the price of land here, just because they have excess money to spend. An example is my uncle's farm that's across the road here from us. It's a 100-acre tract that we would have really liked to have purchased. But that land wound up selling for around $7,500 an acre, which, for a 100-acre tract, sounds like a lot.
Sounds like maybe not such a terrible deal except the only access to the property is going across a railroad track. And so there's one way in, and one way out of that property. So it's not a property that would ever be developable, because it's only got that one access road into it.
The guy that bought it lived in the Davidson area, and had a large tract of land that adjoined Davidson College, and was able to sell that land for 40, $50,000 an acre. So he had a tremendous excess of money to be able to buy land in this area.
So that land went for $7500 an acre, whereas it's okay farmland, not what I would consider great farmland. Its rolling hills would be better for pastureland as far as an agricultural use. And at that, at 2,500 to $3,000 an acre would be the most the true farmer could be able to spend on that property.
So that's where there gets to be a disconnect in what we're able to do to expand or to increase here, really based just on land prices.
>> Laura: Of course, so you mentioned that, I'm gonna get back to one thing and then continue. You mentioned the chemical mix facility, is that a requirement of that size farm or?
>> David: It's not a requirement whatsoever. The North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Service, which is a North Carolina government funded group, has money available for cost share for them to help pay for improvements that will help soil and water quality here in North Carolina. We applied for some help in funding that facility.
It was a facility that I felt like that if I have intentions of being here on the farm for a long time. I have kids that are sixth generation that both at this point are interested in coming back to the farm, or staying on the farm and continuing to change our business, but to keep continue farming.
And I felt like that was a real need here. We have tour groups here from time to time. We're not an agrotourism location, but we have a lot of school groups that come out just to To see the farm and that sort of thing, and for us to have to a building where we could mix those facilities, keep all our pesticides looked up in a locked room that's climate controled.
So we don't have a decrease in quality of those products from year to year. It seemed like a no-brainer, especially with some help with those cost share funds to be able to assist us in building that.
>> Laura: Okay then, and so now I'm gonna work back. So you mentioned the CSAs.
So I wonder, how long have you been doing that program?
>> David: This will be our sixth year that we've been doing that. We call ours our old fashioned home delivery program. My wife and I actually were on our way home from a meeting in Pennsylvania several years ago, and we were trying to think of ways to expand the operation, to expand sales and everything.
Because as my dad and uncle get a little older, managing the 20 acres of tomatoes is getting tougher and tougher all the time. It just takes so much man power, so much labor and management, that it's a harder thing for me to manage all that. So we were looking at ways to expand, and I love growing the variety of produce that we do.
>> David: I say everything from artichokes to zucchini, we grow anything and everything you can kinda think of that'll grow here.
>> David: And so we started talking about it, and thinking about how we wanted to work that program into our operation. And decided we'd call it the old-fashioned home delivery, kind of modeled after when the milkman used to bring milk to the door.
Kinda as a nod back to our days of being part of the whole Rowan Dairy here and Rowan County and Rowan Creamery before that. With still a lot of old guys here in the community that used to work for those coops and one gentleman that goes to church with us was one of the delivery men.
So that's how we decided to term it. We started the first year with around 30 customers in the Solsberry area. Have increased some every year. Last year we had around 90 families. We actually expanded last year into the Davidson Huntersville Cornelius area. And I think that's something that'll be interesting to see how it grows.
You see a lot of farms that do four or five hundred of those CSAs each year. I do not think I want to get that big with it, but it's a great opportunity especially this time of year. We're taking in the funding, the customer's pre-pay for the CSAs so during this late winter, springtime period
>> David: The income that's coming in from that, is what we can use for operating expenses to get us into the summer. Until we're really starting to sell a tremendous amount of tomatoes, and that sort of thing. So it's been a great fit as far as operational income, to be coming in early in the spring.
>> Laura: Great so your overall experience of that has been good then? You really-
>> David: It's good, it's fun for us. It adds a fun aspect to delivering to people's homes, and getting to know folks. And the interactions that we've had with the different families that receive our basket each week.
We do package ours in baskets, so a lot of folks just put it in a box, but we have a nice display, when folks get their basket, we hope it looks good, it's all filled in a basket and pretty. So we get a lot of Facebook likes, and social media shares and likes from organically through that, from people saying look what I got today on my porch.
So it's a good experience. It's been great to get to know the customers. We run for 15 weeks, we start late April and go through the month of July. And the reason for that, we've kind of found it about a 15 week season, we're able to give our customers a little bit of everything that we grow.
So they get the full experience of early season greens, and radishes, and turnips, and broccoli, and cauliflower. And then we transition in June to more squash, cucumbers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, watermelons, okra, peppers and that sorta thing. So they kinda get the full picture of what we grow. But they're also not getting worn out from getting too much of the same thing every week.
So the 15 weeks kind of gives them that summer full of vegetables. If they choose to, they can come shop with us at the farmer's markets. For August and September while we're still going to markets, but, they don't get tired of us doing it for 15 weeks. I think some folks that do 20 and 25 week CSAs, the people by the end of the time sort of, it begins to wear on them that gosh, we've got another basket here.
So with this we shorten the season, and that affords us time to, our children show sheep at the county fair, state fair. And different things and kind of gives us an opportunity not to have that on our plate. When fair seasons come and as we're trying to get corn and soy beans and that sort of thing harvested as well.
>> Laura: Okay, so you mentioned social media. Do you utilize that quite a lot in terms of trying to get your farm out there?
>> David: We do, we have a Facebook page, Correll Farms Red Barn Market, that we try to interact a lot with our customers on. My son, Talton who is 12 does Farming with Talton videos which are a lot of fun.
He is a born salesman, and it's funny we see 1500, 1000, 1500 views on those, depending on how they're shared, and how they're liked and how they go out. And his tagline for the videos always start with kinda him with his back to the camera and turning to it and saying, hello there I didn't see you,
>> Laura: [LAUGH]
>> David: Welcome to Farming with Talton. And it's so hilarious people will come out of the market, he'll be with me and they will be like hello I didn't see you, I mean it's his tag line, it's great, and it's kinda spurred its own little [LAUGH] thing for him.
It's hilarious to be in town, and people be like are you Talton from Farming with Talton? And it's like yeah that's me.
>> Laura: We're gonna have to check that out.
>> David: He's great, he does a great job with it and we had a lot of fun trying to share things.
It's simple things for us that we don't think about, but maybe how to pick a ripe watermelon. And it might be how peppers turn from green to red, or green to yellow. A lot or people think maybe peppers start out red. Well, a pepper has to start as green and transition to those colors.
He's also got some laying hens, and so a lot of his videos are about his chickens, and how he interacts with them. So it's always fun to do that, and I think that adds to our social media aspect a lot. People get tired of seeing pictures tomatoes or pictures of this and that because videos keep people engaged in our Facebook.
We have a website that we setup a couple years ago that we get a lot of traffic to we use it primarily for sales for our CSA for our delivery program. Don't really update it as much through the year. We try to drive people to the Facebook page to get their up to date information.
But you know, if we pick a lot of sweet corn and we're going to have corn or something different at the market on a Saturdays, we always try to post that. And try to encourage folks to come out and see us.
>> Laura: Great, so farmers' markets, as well as farmers' markets that had trouble last year.
Is there any other points of selling your produce.
>> David: Sales.
>> Laura: Yeah, sales, yeah.
>> David: Yeah, the tomatoes are probably 95% wholesale. Our tomatoes currently we have a buyer in Charlotesville Virginia that's buying probably 30 to 40% of our tomato crop. We have another buyer in Winston Salem that is probably buying somewhere in that range as well.
One in Ashville that buys some, and one in
>> David: Cane of Virginia. We used to sell a tremendous amount of tomatoes what we call the top of the mountain. That's going up 77 to and that area. There was a big group of produce wholesalers up in that area at one time and in the mid 80s we would take truckloads of tomatoes up there everyday.
Those guys have shrank in number tremendously. So we were blessed being able to find the gentlemen in Charlottesville that has handled a lot of our tomatoes. It's interesting growing up we put a 100 bushes on a pickup truck with a cover on the back and haul them an hour and a half or so.
About a load or two of those a day. Now we're packing everything in 25-pound boxes, and we've got a truck that we can haul 700 boxes on to go to Charlottesville and some of those areas. So, a lot more ease in In handling the tomatoes being on a pallet, being in boxes.
But we're also having to start going just a little bit further out than what we did back years ago, to actually move the product.
>> Laura: So do you do a lot of farmer's markets?
>> David: We're currently doing the Davidson farmers market and the Salisbury farmers market. Both of those are Saturday morning markets, both very good markets.
And that's another reason that we started our delivery program. But you have produce the first of the week that it's really hard to find a farmer's market that is, I'll say good on the earlier mid-week. People tend to buy their vegetables on Saturdays. Those markets are generally very good.
And any market that we've tried, Tuesdays, Wednesdays are pretty tough. You can sell some product, but it's a third of what a Saturday is. So it gets pretty hard to justify going to. Up until last year we sold at a Thursday evening market in Statesville. That was a good market for us but we were able to we increased our delivery numbers by about 25 families last year, so we just didn't have.
Enough product to retain that market. And it was a market that declined the last several years. So we were able to stop going to it.
>> Laura: So, is there any kind of local cooperative, opportunities with other farmers that you've been involved with or have you seen any in the area?
>> David: We started in 2018 working with freshly established Charlotte. They are an aggregator of produce for restaurants in the Charlotte area. We've tried in years' past to do some restaurant sales. But restaurants are a real challenge. One challenge is the chefs keep totally different hours than the farmers.
So that takes me 11 o'clock at night to say what they needed that week, while I was in bed and wake me up. And then I'd think about it at 6:00 in the morning when I got up to respond to them, and then dang if I wouldn't wake them up cuz they were in bed at that time.
And chefs to me by nature are a difficult group of people to deal with. They're great folks but they want everything ready that day. They're so used to being able to order from their wholesale distributors whatever they need that week. It's just like the grocery store they can order tomatoes year round.
They can get squash, cucumbers, whatever year round. But it's really hard for them even the higher end restaurants. And it's getting better to understand the seasonality of local produce. And, so this group, Fresh List out of Charlotte, started in 2017. And really got their foot in the door in '18.
But there's about 60-80 restaurants, I think, that they work with on a weekly basis. We send them on Thursdays a list of products we'll have available for them that week. And they send that to the restaurants. The restaurants place an order with them, and they call us on Monday or Tuesday and place their order to pick up Wednesday.
And then they take all this aggregated produce from several different farms and go into the restaurants. Where the restaurants are able to get a larger percentage of their produce from. Because they they're aggregating produce from several different farms, maybe 20 different farms, that each of us kind of have a unique group of produce that we're able to sell to them.
And that's been a good group to work with. I think that's the kind of thing that's gonna be able to get local produce in more and more restaurants. But it's also able to free us up to not have to make individual calls to restaurants. And Charlotte is just a hair too far for us.
We're about an hour from downtown Charlotte. So to be able to go, and it would take a day to go to those six rate different restaurants. Whereas now, our produce may be in 15 or 20 restaurants, but we're not leaving the farm. They're coming and picking that produce up, and delivering it to
>> Laura: Okay. Oops. I'm gonna roll back to another thing mentioned which I hadn't really thought about. It's these fairs cuz they're so fascinating. Do you do a lot of these fairs cuz you said that you'd like to freed off for this?
>> David: We did two or three county fairs and in the state fair each year, showing livestock.
The kids have shown goats, chickens, primarily sheep at these fairs. And it's just a lot of a good time, especially the state fair. That's in Raleigh in October each year. It's kinda great for me especially. I mean, the kids love it. They love interacting with the animals. But also they've got friends that will go spend several days in the barn at the fair grounds.
And they're able to play and everything. But it's also great for Cheryl, and my wife and I, being both graduates from NC State with animal science and agriculture degrees. So many of our friends have kids the same age. So it's almost like a reunion every year for us to be able to go.
And visit with folks, that we may not see but once a year but we catch up and especially before Facebook came along. These folks really had no idea what was happening with them every year or a year and so. The fairs are a great way for us to educate the public.
For them to see agriculture and to touch and feel what is happening on a daily basis on a farm. But it's also a reunion for us. I'm currently livestock director and on the board for Rowan County fair here in Salisbury. So I'm managing all the livestock shows and taking any treats for the shows and selecting judges and that sort of thing.
That's one way that I see that we're touching the community and being able to provide something. There's nothing like a good county fair or state fair for people really takes experience agriculture. The rides are there and the foods there. But if you really talk to the general public, viewing the agriculture and seeing the animals, we always take a.
Being on the Fair Board I can kind of find out how many entries they have in some of the produce categories and that kind of thing. And if there's things that are missing we try to take some of those items here from the farm to fill up the display and to be able to show folks.
I did account.
>> Laura: So you mentioned earlier that when construction of the chemical mix of service are used among subsidized-
>> David: All right.
>> Laura: Farming. So is there any other local government or community support that you've used, in terms of expanding your farm?
>> David: [COUGH] The soil and water conservation folks and NRCS, which is Natural Resources Conservation Service, which NRCS is a federally funded program.
Both of those programs gear money towards farms in a cost share program. Which I think is important. It makes the farmer put skin in the game. It makes the farmer look at what he really needs. So it's not money that's just coming. As a grant to pay for the full thing.
But we use them. Have used funds there to put in grass waterways around the farm to keep soil erosion down. We've used moneys through that for heavy use areas in our pasture that, and waters in the pasture that help keep our cattle out of the streams. And out of the branches and that sort of thing to help water that's flowing downstream.
So we're sending water through the farm It's just as good of quality when it passes through here then it was when it got here. Potentially better a lot of time. So those programs are government sponsored programs that really have helped improve. Maybe not so much our farm, but farms that are, farms and communities that are passed to us.
The only real grant opportunities that we've had, we several years ago received a grant from RAFI, which is the Rural Agricultural Foundation for. That they received money from the tobacco buyout or from the golden leaf foundation. Back years ago when they were encouraging farmers to stop growing tobacco.
There was a lot of funds that were put in to be able to help farmers transition to other crops, instead of tobacco. We never grew tobacco here on our farm, so it's kinda strange that we got a grant through them, but they were working on finding alternative. You could write a grant if there was something you could see as an alternative way to grow things.
But then you had to have cooperative extension services involvement. You had to be able to allow tours of what you were doing, and writing reports on what you were doing. So that if there was farmers who were looking to transition from tobacco, that they'd have some data points to be able to share.
Hey, this worked, or this didn't, or this was a new idea that you might want to consider. We got some money from them to help fund a hydroponic system here. To be able to grow some plants in the water, in the tunnel of a hydroponic system. These are utilizing vertical hydroponics.
And it was a unique system. That we never could get to work here.
>> Laura: How are they?
>> David: It's a system that in Florida works really well outdoors. They're able to grow a lot of strawberries in this system, and some lettuces, and that sort of thing. But here we we're really never able to make it work.
>> David: Not exactly a failure but it's something that I'm glad, it was a neat program. We were able to report that it wouldn't work very well here. Not on a scale for. That I thought that other farmers should do.
>> Laura: Uh-huh.
>> David: So honesty in the reporting was pretty important to us.
However, we did get some side benefits from it. Because this is a vertical hydroponic system
>> David: You could plant, harvest and grow things without bending, without stooping, without doing anything else. Because everything was from about 18 inches to about 6'0 high. Where we found a real use for it, we actually wound up working with North Carolina Agritunity that works with disabled farmers.
That works with VA hospitals. That works with other groups with people with disabilities. That they came and saw the system, and some of them have implemented that kind of system in training people that were maybe veterans at VA hospitals that were able to go out and get their hands in some dirt.
They could grow some things. Whereas we were looking at it from a profitability standpoint, they were looking at it as an opportunity for folks to get their hands dirty that couldn't get down in the garden and grow things. I actually have a friend that was a younger farmer.
He was in his 40s and had a stroke. And Chris loved to farm, he loved to do, was going to some farmer's markets and that sort of thing, and had a stroke and basically lost the use of one side of his body. I invited Chris out, and I said, look, man, this is what you need.
And he fell in love with the system, put some up outside. I told him some things that I thought he could change that would make the system work where he could maybe use it to grow some things. And Chris was able to continue doing a little bit of farming and to at least grow his own vegetables using this system.
And he couldn't get down, he couldn't get in the dirt on the ground. But he was able to use this system to do that. So it's kind of a blessing that we got it, because I think it probably helped a lot. Maybe not a tremendous amount, but it helped some people not in production ag.
But it helped some of these other folks that you really weren't thinking about when I wrote the grant. We were writing the grant to try to make some more money, but that didn't happen. But it's helped some people along the way that you maybe wouldn't have thought about, so.
>> Laura: Just to someone who doesn't quite know what that is, do you wanna explain a bit more about?
>> David: What this is is there's a series of styrofoam pots that are stacked together, four to five pots in a stack. And the pots are about 14 inches square. And so they're stacked.
They're put on a pipe where they're stacked. The first pot is about 18 inches off the ground at the bottom. And then the next pot just sits on top catty-cornered on top of that pot. So they're stacked up where the corners are exposed of these styrofoam pots, and the plants are planted in the corners.
So you've got in a 14 square inch area, you've actually got five or six pots. So you've got from 20 to 24 plants in this small, very small space. So in a 30 by 48 greenhouse we had room for about 2,500 plants.
>> Laura: Wow!
>> David: Because they're in rows, and pretty densely placed in there.
We grew strawberries in it one fall with some limited success. And we grew some lettuce in there with some limited success. But what we found is we really couldn't extend our season and provide these things earlier by using this system. We could grow things in about the same season that we could grow them outside.
And so, we, with us being set up to grow outside, we could actually grow stuff maybe faster and a little better outside. So it just made sense for us to do that instead of in that greenhouse.
>> Laura: So do you have a labor force working? I'm assuming you have a labor force working on the farm.
>> David: We do, as of right now.
>> David: During this time of year when we're just kinda getting everything rolling, my uncle is still able to work full time.
>> David: He's here full time. He's not able to charge forward real fast. But he's got things he does. He does a lot of work with the cattle.
He does a lot of my tractor driving jobs. He's working up ground and kind of my extra set of hands here through the fall and the winter and early spring. My brother works for me here as an hourly employee now, as needed. He's starting, probably in a few weeks, he'll pretty well be full time through the first of November.
My dad's had some real health problems over the last three years, so he's not able to do a lot. But he's out and about some, and at least, thank goodness he's able to give a lot of advice, and to do some of that physical labor he's not able to do now.
But we also have a group of Hispanics here on the farm. Right now there's four Hispanics that are working. They work hourly probably from November to,
>> David: I'd say till we plant the tomatoes in mid April. They probably haven't worked more than 50 or 60 hours each during that time.
But they'll start once we set the tomatoes in the field. They'll be working full time doing that. We're in a position, our main Hispanic worker is Paulino. And Paulino's been here since 88. He's 62 years old now. His brother's here, Pedro, who is in his late 50s. Pedro's wife, Lucia, is here.
She's been here since,
>> David: Since the late 90s. And then we have another gentleman that's here, that's been here now for two or three years. They live here on the farm year round. Even though they're not working for us, we still continue to provide them housing during the wintertime.
They do pay the utilities during the winter, but not when they're working for us full time in the summer. But Paulino is able to, in the summer, we'll have easily about eight Hispanic laborers here all the time including the four that are here year round basically. Then we'll have, I've got another retired tomato farmer.
Johnny has worked for us the last four seasons. He's gonna be called in the wintertime, too, if we need some extra help. But he comes in and helps us, especially when we're harvesting and grading tomatoes and packing them. And then we've got a couple of high school kids that'll come and work for us.
And we've got a few ladies that are teachers during the school year that are looking for some summer work that help us. And then my wife does a lot of the deliveries and does all the paperwork for the deliveries, and that sort of stuff. So we just sort of all get it done as we go.
>> Laura: How do you find your workers?
>> David: Our Hispanic labor, I call it the friends and family of Paulino plan.
>> Laura: [LAUGH]
>> David: Paulino will let me know, he and I will talk, and talk about how many folks we need. He's got a huge family here, they're all actually all from El Salvador.
>> David: Paulino has been able to always find legal good labor for us to hire. So we haven't had to use any of the government programs like the H2A program yet to do. We're kinda in a unique position. We've been living here year round and working for us. We're not paying as high wage as what the H2A workers make.
So we're actually saving some money on our labor costs. We're on our labor by the hour doing that. But with Paulino and Pedro, we see in their late 50's and 60's, they're also probably not as productive as if we had some younger folks coming in from the H2A labors.
So that's a challenge that we have that they're not able to work as quickly and as strongly maybe as some of these laborers that we could bring in through H2A program. But Paulino's been here since I was 14 years old. Been here 30 years, so he's, he's almost like an uncle to me.
He's been around. I took some Spanish in high school, I took some Spanish in college and I've been with him so much when I was in high school, I was in the field all summer working side by side with him, and Paulino doesn't speak any English, he doesn't try to speak English.
And so, our method of communication is all in Spanish, good or bad.
>> David: And so, that's, they're family, they're family. I'll sit down with them and go back to their homes, and sit down and talk couple evenings a week and hang out with them. And we try to treat them like family, so.
>> Laura: Okay, so, is there any aspect of farming that you think people donât consider or misunderstand from your experience of talking with the community who aren't in agriculture?
>> David: I think the biggest issue today in 2019 is GMO products. I think there's a huge misunderstanding, we've talked about social media some, and social media tends to perpetuate a lot of falsehood about farming, a lot of, It begins to perpetuate a whole lot of falsehoods about farming, a lot of things that as a farmer, I think we're our own worst enemy because we won't combat false falsehoods.
It's a lot easier to get mad and say I can't believe they said that. Than it is to challenge folks back and try to really educate people. GMO's have been around for a long time. We're probably the most studied thing in the world over the last 20 years.
As to the health aspects of GMOs to the and to the ability to continue to feed this world that we're living in, GMOs are probably gonna be a key to be able to do that, with the increased production levels, with the increased. Everybody thinks of GMOs as just products that you can spray around up on the, to use as a weed killer.
There's GMO oranges coming out that are. There's just some diseases that have done a tremendous amount of damage to the Florida citrus crop. So, for us to be able to continue to grow different products and to grow products that have been here in the US forever, some of these GMOs are gonna be a key to be able to combat some diseases that have come in that are challenges.
There's a lot of studies out there that have shown that the activists use to show GMOs as bad. But I've done research after research. Personally, I've read not only, I try to read both sides of the issue. I read a book a few months ago that was an anti-GMO book, and trying to read those things to see where consumers are coming from on some other things.
And it's always interesting, the anti-GMO information that's out there, absolutely none of it is science-based. It's scientific theory but there's no true scientific research that have gone through the scientific model, that I have seen, that are, that have proven anything wrong with GMOs. There are scenarios that are out there that people perpetuate and that sort of thing.
But none of it is actually using a true scientific model with a control group and a. In another group that shows if there's anything wrong and then you read data from trial after trail that have been done with correct scientific method that have shown there's no issues. Our crop here that I have the most challenges with is a GMO sweetcorn that we raise and we go to a farmer's market and there's customers that will say is this GMO?
In my answer, I'm always totally honest with our consumers and my answer is yes and when they get ready to turn away? I say can I tell you about it? And that's where farmers have to educate the consumers. We grow a GMO sweet corn that is resistant to Roundup, but also the main reason we grow it is it's resistant and has the Bt gene in it that protects it from corn earworms.
With that corn, we never spray any insecticides on it, because it has that Bt gene in it.
>> David: Corn that is not GMO, in the summer here, has to have probably eight or ten sprays,
>> David: Of some insecticides that, they're not that bad. I mean, they're not what I would consider a really dangerous or a bad insecticide, but they take about eight sprays of this pesticide.
So for me I would prefer growing the GMO, than having something that I have to spray eight times during the season to ensure a product that is safe, and healthy, and everything else. And the problem is the consumers want non-GMO sweet corn that's never had a spray on it, but they don't want a worm.
And so they can't have the cake and eat it too on that. So there's a level of understanding that the consumers have to have that they can't have that. It just doesn't happen. Not in the south, not in July and August, you're not gonna have corn without worm in it sometimes, and,
>> David: So most of the time if the customer will give me a couple minutes of their time, they will wind up buying it. But they have just seen that they need this, they wanna ask the question, but they don't really know why they're asking it. And so that's where we have to educate them, why farmers need to speak out as to why we do do some things that we do.
>> Laura: Right, so what is the future that you see for your farm? And then I'm gonna ask a more expansive one, on farming in Charlotte? So whichever one you want to tackle.
>> David: Right, here on our farm, that's the tough question.
>> David: I truly see myself as farming continuously for,
>> David: For my lifetime. My kids are 12 and 15, I would like nothing more than for them to be able to stay on the farm and to earn a living on the farm as they do. But there's a lot of challenges in that, and,
>> David: I think being able to retail more of our products or to get an increase of our wholesale, whether it's through the restaurants or through retail, will be a key to being able to do it.
Because as we see with the wholesale markets, the profit margin keeps decreasing. And there's really no control as we get into the global markets, as we talked about. Farmers don't set their price on any of these wholesale products anymore. Produce is becoming a commodity, just like corn and soybeans, that is priced on a global market.
You get what you get that day for it depending on how much of it's out there. With retail you can have a little more control on what you're doing, and that sort of thing. So I think we will continue to transition a little more to the retail, but in saying that too, well, this area is becoming more and more saturated with farmer's markets.
Over the last 10 years I bet I've been asked to go to 20 different farmer's markets, new farmer's markets. Hey, we're starting one at a hospital. Hey, we're starting one in downtown Charlotte. Hey, we're starting a new market in Morrisville, we're starting one here and there. And every time we do that, every time a new market opens it dilutes an existing market.
Because you're taking customers that have been buying produce somewhere to go to a new market.
>> David: And so it may end up being a survival of the fittest kinda thing, where eventually some of these markets are gonna close. It's gonna increase the ability of the existing markets to get a little stronger, but,
>> David: I would see ten years from now we would probably have a stand alone retail place here on the farm somewhere. If not actually on the farm, in the Salisbury area. Where we're able to retail products that we grow plus possibly some other farmers as well.
>> David: And possibly more year round basis.
I think we have to look at, we've typically not grown any produce that we sell from November to mid April.
>> David: I think we're gonna have to try to find ways and products that we can grow continuously through the year,
>> David: In order to increase income through the farm.
If both kids want to stay on the farm, you have to look at adding enough things to be able to generate enough money for them to be able to do it. And I think that with cost of insurance, with cost of everything else that we look at now.
I think that's where we're gonna have to look at some expansion in some of the produce we grow instead of some of corn and soy beans, because corn and soy beans are great products to grow. They're a great thing to grow in rotation with some vegetables, but the profitability of them has gone down tremendously over the years.
So we're gonna have to look at utilizing what we have and expanding some of those retail markets and that sort of thing, to be able to do that.
>> Laura: And I'll end it with this last question, and is there anything else you want to add? Is there any questions you thought I should've asked, or?
>> David: No, I think it's getting tougher. I think it's getting tougher for all agriculture.
>> David: And it's maybe not just agriculture, but it's everybody. If you look at prices and everything else, and if we're talking about how commodity prices and agriculture prices haven't changed very much in 40 years For a farm and a farm family to survive, it just takes so much more income now than it did 40 years ago.
My parents had a $200 or $300 a month house payment. They had a $20 phone bill and a $50 phone book. We look at what expenses we have as a family now with a thousand dollar month house payment.
>> David: A phone bill that includes your Internet that's $130 a month.
If I told my parents 40 years ago we'd pay $70 a month to watch TV, then they'd say you were crazy.
>> Laura: [LAUGH]
>> David: All those things add up so fast now. That we've got to try to figure out a way to increase profitability on the farm. And increase money generated so much just to be able to live like our parents did.
And that goes for everybody whether you're a doctor, a lawyer, a farmer or whatever. But I think that's where the challenges is gonna come the increase in farm income has lagged behind. A lot of other aspects, and we have to get to a point where the farmers can demand enough from their crops to be able to get a living wage.
>> Laura: Mm-hm.
>> David: We have so much money invested here our return on investment [COUGH] is just not high enough. And that's where it's so much easier for farmers to get out and stop farming than it is to continue. We've probably with land value, equipment value.
>> David: And everything else, there's probably a couple million dollar investment here.
And that's a tremendous amount for the return that we get on our investment each year. And so we have to look at ways and hope as we move forward that we can increase that return on investment. It's crazy over year. Insurance calls to that kinda thing, health insurance gets to be It's a tough thing.
Our health insurance is close to $2,000 a month. That's what it actually costs us.
>> Laura: Wow.
>> David: So to generate enough to pay for that is, I mean, that's just the economic challenge of the business we're in that makes it tougher for self employed folks. For folks that are trying to survive on land, that's an added cost that you just don't think about.
>> Laura: Mm-hm, okay. Thank you. Well thank you David for your time today, and we'll end it there.
Emma Hendel discusses her five years as a microgreens farmer and co-owner of Fair Share Farms, LLC in Pfafftown, North Carolina. Ms. Hendel describes why and how she and her husband Elliot Seldner came to North Carolina and started their farm. She explains what microgreens are and why she and Mr. Seldner decided to grow them. Other topics include organic farming methods, Organic Certified vs. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certified, urban sprawl, distribution partners, environmental issues, and social media.
Emma Hendel was a 30-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place at Davidson Town Hall in Davidson, North Carolina. She was born in Maryland in 1988. She was educated at Elizabethtown College and was employed as a teacher and farmer.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:44||Background of Fair Share Farm|
|0:01:10||Began with a CSA model|
|0:02:06||Beginning of Fair Share Farm|
|0:02:43||Working up to their own farm|
|0:03:37||Deciding what to grow|
|0:04:14||Organic methods, GAP, FSMA|
|0:05:14||Elliot's desire to work outside|
|0:06:36||Desire for a healthy lifestyle|
|0:07:16||Love of cooking|
|0:08:08||Emma's family from Winston-Salem|
|0:09:15||Coming to North Carolina to work on other farms|
|0:10:50||Negatives of urban encroachment|
|0:12:01||Potential for positive opportunities of urban encroachment|
|0:13:44||Makeup of farm land (greenhouses, etc)|
|0:15:00||Microgreens (what they are and how they are grown)|
|0:18:30||Type of customers|
|0:19:39||No till (soil care)|
|0:29:07||Getting into Whole Foods|
|0:30:11||Distribute to restaurants|
|0:32:33||Work with small distributers (Freshlist and New Appalachia)|
|0:37:01||Immigrant "guest" workers|
|0:39:11||Challenges as a woman|
|0:43:35||Use of plastic|
|0:45:51||Call out culture online|
|0:49:58||Future of the farm|
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay, today is April 20th, 2019, we are in Davidson, North Carolina. My name is Sarah Wilds, and I am interviewing Emma Hendel. And Emma is co-owner of Fair Share Farm with her husband, Elliott.
>> Emma Hendel: Seldner.
>> Sarah Wilds: Seldner.
>> Sarah Wilds: So Emma, can you just tell me real briefly, sort of a little background information about your farm?
Where it is, when you started, how it started and we'll go from there.
>> Emma Hendel: So my farm's name is Fair Share Farm, LLC, and we established it with the mission to feed as many people in North Carolina as we can, growing the best food possible, and being kind to the land and ourselves while doing it.
And so, the name Fair Share Farm actually comes out of the way that we started our business, which was with a CSA model, or a community supported agriculture. So people would purchase a share of produce, which they would receive weekly throughout the season, which is a great model for a farm starting up, because you get a lot of cash flow right away.
So usually in a CSA model, you would pay completely up front and receive a product throughout the season. And so that's where like the fair share came from, because the customers would be getting their share of our hard work. And it's a fair deal for everybody, because we're compensate, we're being compensated for the work and the effort that we're putting in.
And so that's really been important is always charging what the product is worth and not more and not less. And so we started our business in the fall of 2014, so we're actually coming up on our five year mark, which is a big deal in the small business world.
That sort of like you're not going anywhere, hopefully like usually up to year three is where it's like very, very crazy, and then sort of year five is like you can be looking at next steps. Where do you take if from here because you're established? So, we started in the fall of 2014, my husband was at the time working at another farm, and I was teaching.
>> Emma Hendel: And so, we'd actually been talking with the landowners a year or two previously, but we weren't ready to go at that time. And then, a couple years and a few months down the road, it was time. So, we reached back out and got in contact with them and set up a lease.
And really in the fall of 2014, that was all preparation, deciding what we were doing, preparing the land to grow things, figuring out the logistics of what's the soil type, what can we grow here, what do we wanna grow, what do people want, where can we sell our products?
And actually, one big deciding factor on where we were going to focus was the farmer's market and trying to get into the local farmer's market. And then being what's the hole in the market? So that it became clear that salad, micro-greens, people were doing some of that, but no one was really focusing on it.
So that's where our salad focus came from was to fill a void in the marketplace. And at the suggestion of the market manager to say, hey, I think you should focus on this. We did, and so that is where that focus came from. So we grow a lot of salad, we also grow specialty seasonal produce.
We are not certified organic, but we do follow all of the USDA and USDA guidelines and use only AMRI-approved methods and products. And we keep extensive records because we do have a GAP certification. And so although the FSMA, Food Safety Modernization Act, is not necessarily being applied yet, we are ready.
So we have meticulous record keeping. We believe that the goodness of the product comes from the soil. And so we like to take care of it. And so, I think I answered the question where it was like, where did it come from? What's our business based on? And so yeah, help me out.
>> Sarah Wilds: That's great. So from listening to a previous interview on a farming podcast or agricultural podcast, I know Elliott was sort of the driving force behind wanting to farm. Do you know where his passion sort of came from?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, Elliott wanted to be outside. And so when we were in college, it’s really daunting to sort of see your whole life ahead of you.
And when you’re trying to pick and focus on what you’re studying and sort of like envisioning what is the next 40 or 50 work years, working years of my life going to look like? Am I going to be sitting in the cubicle all day? Am I going to be presenting in front of groups?
Am I going to be researching? What really am I going to be doing? And so, for Elliott, I think there was this romantic enchantment with the idea of working outside and forming a community that way and having movement in his life. Because like everybody, we want to be healthy and active.
But I also think, and I don’t think he would mind me saying this, but I think for Elliott, he doesn’t go out and seek exercise. So having exercise and activity built into his daily life was sort of the only way that he saw that he was going to be at all fit and healthy.
>> Sarah Wilds: That's a good sort of overall strategy.
>> Emma Hendel: [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: You have to physically move around to work, but then you also produce healthy food. And it's kind of win-win situation.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and I actually now that you say that, that's another thing I think that do Elliott and myself, too, we both love cooking, love eating.
Our teenage jobs and young adult jobs revolved around food. Both of us have worked as cooks. I've worked front of house positions, being a server and doing all sorts of different things, and so cooking is a huge part of our life and our relationship. If we're spending time together, we're probably cooking something or eating something or doing a food project.
It really is focused on that because it's one of the most, in our opinion, it's one of the most joyful and enjoyable things that we do.
>> Sarah Wilds: So how did you end up specifically outside Winston-Salem? You had contact with the previous owner of the land.
>> Emma Hendel: So Elliott grew up in Connecticut, I grew up in Maryland.
We met in college in Pennsylvania. I grew up visiting Winston-Salem, North Carolina because my mother's family is based in Winston-Salem. So I have tons of cousins, aunts, uncles. So school breaks were spent visiting. And although my mom moved away from Winston-Salem, she did maintain those relationships and come back and visit and spend time.
And so I grew up visiting Winston-Salem, and it's funny because I never really saw myself living in Winston-Salem because it wasn't necessarily a positive experience for me as a child. And by just after working at a couple different farms and moving around after college, we actually came to North Carolina because one of our acquaintances from college then, he was living in Durham, North Carolina and working for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
And so he was like, well, I know you guys are looking for maybe land to start your own farm, or maybe even an employment opportunity, send me your resume and I'll put it out on the CFSA list serve. And so we sent resumes, they were put out on the list serve, that's how we got in the initial contact with the land owners and really, like I said, at the time we were probably leaning more towards an employment situation.
And so another farm in Stokes County, North Carolina took us up and offered both of us jobs, and so that's how we ended up in North Carolina, and then just about a half hour south of that is Winston-Salem. And so when we first moved to North Carolina, we stayed with my godparents.
And while we were looking for housing, etc., and now actually our farm now is a couple neighborhoods over from where they live. So that's how I got back to North Carolina and Elliot came to North Carolina for the first time. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: So are there any sort of urban issues of being, cuz you said you were right outside Winston-Salem's city sprawl urban development.
Is that sort of encroaching? Because here in Charlotte the city is really pushing out and devouring the counties.
>> Emma Hendel: It is, it is actually. There's a ton of farmland for sale all around us. They're putting in, actually, the new highway that's going to encircle Winston-Salem is going to, there's going to be an entrance and exit at the end of our street.
And so that's really gonna change things. There's all sorts of new construction, like the type of construction where it's like buy the plot and design true homes. There's a lot of true home developments. And so it's a rapidly changing landscape. But it hasn't really impacted our farm negatively, because we are still in the county and there is actually a lot of, it could be positive for us because there is a lot of potential for a roadside stand, or what if in the future we setup a demo farm on our current farm property and purchase more land further out.
I mean there's positives and negatives. I do see the loss of the rural areas as a negative for the area. And urban sprawl is, in my opinion, I don't find it very attractive and I like the idea of having an urban center but I do think there needs to be a more forward looking sort of vision into how things are going because it's difficult when you just have all these little suburban things and then there's chain stuff to pop up to service.
Cuz everybody because everybody wants their little piece of land. And it's a difficult issue because you want people to be empowered and have their yard and their house and feel a sense of ownership over that, but then at the same time it can be sort of a barrier to entry because there are large houses.
So anyways, that's sort of getting into a whole other issue.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I think, I found that you have about five acres of land currently?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, probably about, I would say five acres of open land and then two with houses and outbuildings on them, and we lease that from a family.
>> Sarah Wilds: And you have green houses?
>> Emma Hendel: Yes, we have 20 caterpillar coop house structures, so 2,100 foot caterpillar structures. That would be the cheapest in low tech, and then we have two large,
>> Emma Hendel: Coop house structures or high tunnels. And so those are sort of a little bit more sophisticated.
They have the double inflated poly roof and roll up sides, and those are unheated and then we have one commercial greenhouse, which is heated, has electrical service, whole nine yards. And that's where we do our micro greens and our transplants for the field.
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay. So I guess going off of that, like can you talk a little bit more about micro greens like what they are as opposed to just, I don't know, collard greens, spinach, kale.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, so there's sprouts, which we do not grow, but sprouts are not grown in the soil, they're just basically hydrated seeds, and they're not exposed to sunlight but, and so you'll see this often in the grocery stores as mung beans or alfalfa sprouts and things like that.
A micro green is grown in the soil and, well, at least how we grow them, they're grown in the soil and exposed to sunlight. You can also have hydroponically grown micro-greens that are grown with grow lights, but that's not how we do it. We do it solar, with soil, and all we do is after they have germinated we just supply water so they're not getting any other treatments essentially.
It's just soil, water, sunlight. And so most microgreens are between 10 and about 25 days old. And so a seed has all of the energy it needs to basically get to sexual maturity. So that's a lot of energy that's in a seed, and that's why people are like, seeds and nuts, they're so healthy for you.
So what a microgreen is, is it's all that seed and nut energy plus sunlight energy which activates all sorts of different chemical reactions. Which as I am not a biologist, I can't really explain all of that, but it's happening and it's really cool and it makes a really delicious and flavorful product.
And so if you are looking at a microgreen versus a full-grown vegetable depending on the variety, it can have 4-40 times the amount of available nutrition for you. And so it's a really great way to get a lot of vitamins and good nutrients in maybe a smaller package.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah.
>> Emma Hendel: So it's like kids really like them cuz they're cute. And then it's like you just ate a ton of really good stuff, why don't you have some more? But they're also because of that concentrated available nutrition, they have a very concentrated and powerful flavor. [LAUGH] And so that can be a really fun experience too where that is really arugula, that's the most arugula, arugula flavor-
>> Sarah Wilds: [LAUGH]
>> Emma Hendel: I've ever tasted. Another advantage is you can get, there's a lot of, especially in the legume and sort of more nutty things like sunflowers and pea shoots. There's a lot of available protein in that. And the University of Maryland did a study, I think, in 2012 with sunflowers and ounce per ounce, they have the same amount of protein as chicken.
So if you have an ounce of sunflower shoot, that's got the same amount of protein as an ounce of chicken. And so and I think I believe pea shoots are a similar sort of deal. So I mean it's really great. I'm not a vegan but a lot of our customers are vegan bodybuilders, there's a market for that.
And people that are really into the wellness trend and movement, a lot of people that are practicing yoga are really into that sort of thing. And so microgreen sorta helped expand the sort of vegetable life for people that are focusing on eating more vegetables and things like that.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, and then that sounds very versatile for vegans, vegan bodybuilders but also those people who want their kids to eat good food or they're vegetarian or just-
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, cuz you can put it on a sandwich, you can basically put it with anything. Whatever you're eating, if you wanna grill a piece of salmon, just put a handful of stuff on the bottom of the plate, put the salmon on top.
And you can be done if you want [LAUGH].
>> Sarah Wilds: And it'll look pretty.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and it'll look pretty.
>> Sarah Wilds: Great, so I think I saw on your website, you use no-till?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, whenever we can we like to use as little tillage as possible. There are farms that claim to be zero till like they're never tilling.
We do use tillage to break sod and break new ground. And every once in a while, we might need to till but we focus on trying to till as little as possible because it helps with carbon sequestration. So when you're tilling, you can be releasing a lot of carbon into the air.
And you're also disturbing the soil composition. So you're disturbing like the different layers of soil. You're chopping up worms, and there's all sorts of things going on on the microbial level that you're disturbing. And also tillage can create a problem called hardpan, where when you're tilling especially in the clay-based soil of the Piedmont, a tiller is probably gonna go about 6 inches down.
And it will actually create a layer of compacted soil underneath that 6 inches which can inhibit the uptake of the deep soil nutrients, so a lot of plants have roots that go down 12, 14 inches three feet. They have a big tap root. And so if they can't get through that layer of hardpan, they are not gonna have access to a lot of the micronutrients that are deeper down in the soil.
And that action of the taproot bringing up is also bringing up nutrients for later crops and later things. And so what we do is we use a tool called a broadfork, which goes down about 12 inches and that helps break up that layer of hardpan. I mean, it’s essentially like a large garden fork, or it might look like an oversized comb or something like that.
And so that helps break it up like how people have their lawns aerated, it's the same sort of action.
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay,
>> Sarah Wilds: So you mention before that your gaps are agricultural practi-
>> Emma Hendel: Practices, yeah [LAUGH].
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, what's the difference between that and working in a certified?
>> Emma Hendel: So being certified organic is about practices in terms of soil management and product use.
So that I'm talking about fertilizers and pesticides. So one thing that is a misconception about being organic is that pesticides and fertilizers are allowed. The restrictions come into play when you're looking at petroleum-based fertilizers so that would not be allowed under organic certification. But what is allowed is things like BT, which is actually like a cultivated bacteria or like a product that's called Azero, which is made from chrysanthemum concentrate or name oil or insecticidal soaps.
Or there's a product called Surround, no, not Surround. Well, there's a clay-based product that forms a physical barrier on fruits, for like tree fruit production. So pesticides which are derived from,
>> Emma Hendel: Chemicals and ingredients that are available in the environment that are not synthesized and that are going to be less harmful to the environment as well as the soil and certain insects like those are going to be allowed.
But of course, no Roundup, no weed killers,
>> Sarah Wilds: So it's not just organic, the food itself is being grown organic. It's the environment it's been grown in and the materials it's being grown with are all organic then.
>> Emma Hendel: So if you wanted to start an organic farm today, unless you had from the landowners a letter saying for the past three years either A, nothing has been done to this land.
Or B, this land has only been farmed using certified organic practices and it is certified organic by this other grower already. You're gonna have to wait three years with your practices. Now when we established our farm, nothing had been done for three years. We wrote an organic plan but it didn't It didn't seem worth it to us to invest the money in that.
And then there's other issues I have with the USDA's certified organic program just regarding, organic is supposed to be about growing in the soil. But now, they're allowing hydroponics and all sorts of other things. II don't really want to go too much into it, because I am not here to trash certified organic at all.
Because being certified organic is what can help people enter into the marketplace. It can be a third party stamp of approval. There's a lot of positives to being certified organic. For us, it just wasn't the right fit. Now, certified organic is about soil management, soil practices as well as what products you can and can not use are on your crops and on your soil.
GAP certification is all about food safety. So organic and GAPs probably line up at about 80%. In terms of there is rules about when you can and cannot apply manure based fertilizers, for reasons of food safety. If you are growing a salad green, you can't go in and spray liquid fish emulsion on it one day and then cut it for market the next day, that doesn't work.
There's different rules about when you can apply certain products which overlap. And then where GAPs diverges and has almost, maybe even more stringent guidelines is about signage, employee training, paperwork. I have a whole shelf of paperwork and for every activity on the farm, there's basically a task ticket.
And it describes exactly, you as the farmer or somebody else that's our employee. They're gonna write down, I did this in this field on this day. We have a little diagram that they can circle what part of the field, they write exactly what they did. Sign and date it at the bottom, it goes into a record book.
If somebody injures themselves, you need a band-aid for a cut, you gotta fill out injury and illness report. We have hand washing stations all over the farm available. We have SOPs, standard operating procedures for everything and so it's just very procedural based. And for certified organic, there's a lot of records that you have to keep but it's just not quite at the same level.
For certified organic, it's more about what are you doing to the soil. What is planted, and for certified organic you have to keep harvest records. There's just a couple extra pieces of information that are required for GAPs beyond.
>> Sarah Wilds: So that's how you do organic method? So you're using all those methods, you're taking care of the soil?
>> Emma Hendel: With the systems we have in place, we could go and get certified organic really tomorrow or as soon as the certifier could get out there, it would be no sweat.
>> Sarah Wilds: At this point, it's just a stamp for you.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and we talk about it and we go back and forth all the time, like right now we are in the process of trying to get into Whole Foods.
Whole Foods sells conventional stuff, that's what we are, is a quote-unquote conventional grower. And they sell conventional things, and they're like, yeah, great. Your products look good, and it would be sold in the conventional section. It's like a chicken or the egg situation. I don't know if we would make enough additional business because of being certified organic to offset the cost in the first year.
But maybe five years from now, that's the reason that we got a contract with Whole Foods. Or that's the reason that we got this customer over here, or that's the reason that we got into this new farmer's market or something like that. So that's it's tough to figure out what is the right path.
>> Sarah Wilds: Who all do you distribute and partner to? I know you're here in Davidson, I know you're at the farmer's market in Old Salem, in Winstom-Salem. What else do you do?
>> Emma Hendel: We actually started our business with restaurant customers and we were delivering living micro green trays to restaurants in Winston-Salem.
Which was something that the chef's there hadn't yet seen like other parts of the country, like New York and New England and California like that. That wasn't a new thing. But in North Carolina, particularly where we were that was something, everyone had seen the cut micro greens. But to bring in a fresh Living tray that a chef could play with and baby and keep around, and that was a new experience for people.
So that was really great to see. And so we started with restaurants, restaurants still make up about 70% of our business. We do the farmer's market which actually helps drive a lot of restaurant business too. People like to connect and see where their food comes from. So if we had a product at the farmer's market, people would come up and be like, I saw that at such and such restaurant.
Was that you? Do you sell to them and you can be like, yeah that's our product. Every time you eat at that restaurant, you're also supporting our business, and people are like, yeah!
>> Sarah Wilds: We're like ten miles outside.
>> Emma Hendel: Exactly, and that's actually why we wanted to expand and have a market in Davidson.
Because we've been coming down to Charlotte for the last couple years doing restaurant deliveries. So we wanted to have that connection with the community, and then also We're hoping to see that when our customers at the farmers market are going out to eat, they are able to tell the wait staff or the chef, yeah, I met Emma at the farmers market.
I’m really glad that you have their product in here. And so, we also work with a couple of small distributors in the area New Appalachia, and also Fresh List. And so, there's some customers that we have that I find out new ones every day. Because once you sell it to a distributor, you don't necessarily know where it ends up.
Even if it has your name on it.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, so I've heard a little about Fresh List, but can you talk about New Appalachia?
>> Emma Hendel: So New Appalachia is a company that's actually based in the Asheville area. And so, they collect from small and medium sized growers from western, central, and all over North Carolina.
They also go in to South Carolina for fruit. And so, really, just bringing all sorts of flavors from the mountains to the Piedmont, and from the Piedmont all over the rest of North Carolina. And so, he's just picking up things from various producers that are in different little micro-climates.
And so, he was delivering bamboo shoots and things like all sorts of foraged items, rare items. And so, just taking the search off the plate of the chef and saying this is the 300 item product list that you can choose from this week, coming from all these different farms.
>> Sarah Wilds: That's cool.
>> Sarah Wilds: So how do you, obviously the business is owned by you and your husband and you have a few full-time employees. How do you find those employees? Are they all locals from North Carolina?
>> Emma Hendel: All of our employees right now live and have their own lives in Winston-Salem and Kernersville, which is another little nearby town.
Previously, we have employed people that have come and relocated. And this year, we were like we want all local employees. Because we don't have housing, and we felt it was difficult to have people come and relocate. Because it's well, how do you jump into a new city life, and maybe it hadn't really seemed to work out.
But we found that we'll put ads on Craigslist or Indeed. Actually, we get a lot of employees through word of mouth. And so, we haven't had trouble finding employees yet, and hopefully we won't. A lot of time, people that work on the farm work on farms anywhere. They might be just out of college, or on summer vacation from college, or just out of high school.
So young people. And so, most of the time, people that are being employed by farms aren't necessarily going to spend the rest of their life working at a farm. So what we are striving towards right now is paying people more, giving people more responsibility. And trying to figure out how do we retain people for longer than just a season or a year, and how do they continue to grow with us so that we can have some institutional memory.
>> Emma Hendel: But that might be the way to go. We might find out that that's not how it works. But we're willing to give it a try. But most farms that we know of that we've worked for that we have contact with, go with the internship model. Sort of like turn and burn sort of deal where it's like maybe about the experience for the person as opposed to the success of the farm.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I know at least a few firms around here in the Concord area use the H2A labor force. But you said you don't have housing, and I know that's part of the program.
>> Emma Hendel: In the future we might have housing, and that could be a route that we go you.
There's also certain, it's also I feel like there's this misconception around the guest worker program. They are compensated at a very good hourly rate, which is more than we pay some of our employees. And so it's-
>> Sarah Wilds: It's an internship model?
>> Emma Hendel: Right, and so, that is perhaps a more expensive way to import somebody, but those people that are a part of this program, they are here to work, they are here to make money, and that's what they're here to do.
So you're going to get what you pay for essentially.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, I talked to another farmer and he's his farm has been employing H2A people.
>> Emma Hendel: Did you talk to Barbee Farms?
>> Sarah Wilds: Yes.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, did you talk with Brent or you talk with his dad?
>> Sarah Wilds: Tommy.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, Tommy.
>> Sarah Wilds: He's so sweet. But yeah, he had nothing but good things to say about the program.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: And he said basically the same thing. They come and they have one mission. They wanna work, and so they have to satisfy you.
>> Emma Hendel: Exactly
>> Sarah Wilds: And you show them once, and they do it.
>> Emma Hendel: And it's not, I mean, like a lot of times it's not about they may have seen it done a different way. Doesn't matter. This is what you want, this is what I will do sorta deal. And I've worked around, not on a crew that has guest workers, but nearby farms with guest workers.
They are getting stuff down. They're like whoa. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, they don't mess around.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I guess sort of moving away, I guess, from the nitty-gritty of the farm.
>> Sarah Wilds: Are there any challenges that you face as a woman, or you have seen faced by women in general as farmers?
>> Emma Hendel: Me personally, nothing really beyond surface stuff. Or maybe some machismo or whatever where it's like you grew that, really? You're doing that, or you're driving that big truck? Or how did you do that, where's your husband? Blah, blah, blah. Just stuff like that. But I mean, honestly, for me personally, no.
Just beyond maybe a verbal questioning, but nothing ever where it's like a complete road block or like we're not going to give you a loan because you're A woman or we're not going to talk to you or let you into this space because you're a woman.
>> Sarah Wilds: Mm-hm, well, that's good.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: Glad to hear that.
>> Sarah Wilds: What about social media? So I know your farm has an Instagram and you send out newsletters. How important is that to your market? Your marketing?
>> Emma Hendel: That's a good question. I don't actually know for sure because we've always had the social media aspect.
Like it didn't really exist without it. I started doing the newsletter last year. And I actually think that that has really improved community engagement. I think it gives people a sense of ownership over the products that they're purchasing because they know what's going on with the farm in that week.
With Instagram and stuff, you can get a lot of inspiration from other farms. There's also, I think there's also a lot of anxiety that can come with putting stuff out there. And I would say 90% of stuff is positive. But that 10% stuff where people might message you, or people might ask a question and be upset that you don't want to share your proprietary knowledge.
Or something like that where it's like, you know it's really great that you're asking me a question but I think that you need to pay me for the answer. Like that can spark some really negative feelings in people. I mean we share a lot online, maybe even what some people would say are secrets.
Some people are like you share too much, some people are like you don't share enough. We really try and focus on the positive with what we share. And that is actually something that also draws criticism where people are like everything always looks so great at your farm, and there's never any rain, and you never talk about any of the problems.
But that's not what we're trying to share. We're not trying to share a pity story. We're not trying to share negative things, and that's not what our mission is on Instagram or on Facebook or whatever. But I think that there's a disconnect where people don't, sometimes people don't seem to remember that it's not the whole story.
And, so even if you might know that, on my social media I don't share every, well some people do share everything. But if you're on my social media I don't share everything. But sometimes people can forget to apply that other people's sharing on social media. So it's like maybe I don't wanna share that or maybe that's not what I want this page to focus on.
And so that 10% of people that might get catty, or might say weird things, or just might leave a comment where it's like, eff you, or something like that. A comment that we get a lot on social media is about use of plastic or whatever. And I'm like you're making this comment on a device with rare earth materials, like I don't think that we need to go there everybody.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, a little plastic [INAUDIBLE]
>> Emma Hendel: I mean the plastic is what is enabling a lot of small farmers to do really great things. And so there is the argument of you're going to buy produce in the grocery store. That produce was produced using plastic, it's packaged in plastic.
But the difference between the produce in the grocery store and the produce that you're getting from your local farmer be it at the same grocery store, a farmers market or restaurant is yes, plastic was used. But a whole ton of fossil fuels weren't. And say some things like flown from California or driven from California.
Or even coming from Chile or wherever. I think it can be hard to sort of step back, because there is a crisis going on. But it needs to be more about coming together as opposed to trying to call people out or whataboutism. So there has to be a balance and you have to remember behind every action there’s a reason and a story and a journey that led people there to take it.
>> Sarah Wilds: And one small farm in one small location versus major corporations.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, it's gonna take corporations, governments, small farms and the individuals all working together. It can't just be like I feel called to tell everybody how they are living life wrong. In my opinion that's not going to inspire the change that we need.
>> Sarah Wilds: It's interesting sort of these call out cultures affecting farms but-
>> Emma Hendel: I would say, I think that's sort of again like an 80-20 sort of deal. Where it's 80% of people are going to listen to your story and form their own opinions. 20% of people are already going to have their opinions formed and there's not going to be much change to that opinion.
>> Sarah Wilds: And they're just going to let everybody know regardless of who's sort of on the end.
>> Emma Hendel: That's right.
>> Sarah Wilds: The other end?
>> Emma Hendel: Right.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah.
>> Emma Hendel: Because that's more about a personal need to do that sorta thing for your own improvement of your self-image. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: Or whatever is going on.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: With that person.
>> Sarah Wilds: So what are those some other organisations that you partner with? I know you were saying that you were talking with Whole Foods or working with Whole Foods?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, we work with Lowe's foods, we work with Barbee Farms under Lowes food CSA program.
We also [COUGH] we're trying to form a relationship with Whole Foods, we're in our local Lowe's Foods on the shelf there. We work with Organic Harvest, which is a small grocery store in Charlotte. We also work with Let it Grow Produce and Colony Urban Farms store in Winston and Salem.
Those are two little local grocery stores that sell local products. We also, I'm a member of the Piedmont Culinary Guild. We're members of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. And I'm actually a member of a Piedmont Triad Food Council. Which is just forming this year and so those are organizations that we work with.
>> Sarah Wilds: And how did you sort of get started with all these organizations? Like a lot of word of mouth, sort of knowing people who connected you or?
>> Emma Hendel: Well CFSA was Our friend Ben and so we became members of CFSA and they actually gave us a grant to pay for our first year GAP certification.
And they offered, as part of our membership we had access to consultation about getting a template for GAP's paperwork. Having a great woman named Patricia actually came out and looked at our farm and said, these are the changes that you need to make. And so that's a great organization.
They also have a conference every year for farmers that's usually held in Durham, and so that's a great way to connect. Piedmont Culinary Guild I got involved with because of our relationship with chefs and other food and beverage industry members. And so that they also have a conference, a symposium every year that's held in Johnson & Wales, the culinary school.
And so I'm a part of that organisation to stay in touch on a deeper level with our customers. And then also staying up to date on what's going on in the food and beverage world. And the food policy council, I actually, I don't know who necessarily invited me to that, but that was something that I go invited to do.
So I'm excited to see what direction we're going to go with that.
>> Sarah Wilds: Well, just sort of a wrap up question. Where do you see sort of the future of your farm now that you've hit that five year or about to hit that five year mark?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, so I would eventually, we're in the process of hopefully purchasing the farm that we lease now.
And in the future I would love to purchase some more rural land. And I would love to hand over management of that farm to another farm manager. And design a whole new project in the future, like maybe we'll grow acres and acres or broccoli, or maybe, who knows what we'll do.
And maybe even having our farm now becoming like a model farm or an incubator farm, or maybe an agrotourism farm, just because of its location. And so that's maybe one direction it could go. It could also turn in, we're still not quite done developing that property in terms of how we're gonna use it for farms.
Maybe we put in a tree nursery or maybe we put in some cane fruit, or there's a little bit more that we could do there. One thing that we've talked about doing with our land that is unoccupied right now is doing a more serious composting effort. And so we create a lot of compost, which we manage and reuse for various farm things, because we're doing the microgreens, and that's in trays.
And then once we use that we dump it into a compost pile and compost it. Anyways, enlarging a composting effort, perhaps even taking in materials from other places maybe, but that presents its own complication because it's difficult to figure out what you're taking in and you don't want.
But the compost that we generate, we know what it is, cuz we use a lot of potting soil. And so a lot of that great organic matter is really good to put back or used to build new growing areas. So that's one thing. So starting new projects, buying more land, growing more food, that's what I wanna do.
>> Sarah Wilds: All right, sound like a good goal.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: Right, well, thank you so much for your time.
>> Emma Hendel: You're welcome.
In this interview, Lara Hall, who owns Hall Family Farms with her husband Kevin, describes the history of the farm dating back to the 1920’s. The farm’s original size, location and current status are also discussed. The farm originally grew cotton and leased land to sharecroppers, but the present owners have tried to grow everything from trees, lettuce and cantaloupes to the current crops of strawberries and pumpkins. The Halls, (both former engineers) now focus on agritourism rather than retailing or wholesaling their products. Many important topics were discussed in the interview including the history and the legacy of the farm, its interaction with the local community, and the challenges that the farm faces in its day to day operations. Some of these challenges include rainy weather conditions; shortage of labor experienced by their vendors due to immigration laws (but not the Hall’s themselves); and how they deal with pests. Highlights of the interview included discussions of the processes growing the strawberries and pumpkins, advantages of urban and spot farming, and the use of GPS on farms. Additionally it is interesting to hear how Kevin Hall puts his engineering skills to use by making equipment for the farm. And most importantly there is obvious joy in Mrs. Hall’s voice as she talks about the educational benefits the children get when they visit their farm. This interview clearly illustrates the trials and triumphs of urban farming as the Halls have found a way to survive without having to face competition from corporate farming.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:01:21||Size and location of farm|
|0:01:47||History of farm|
|0:02:47||Discusses sale of farm|
|0:04:07||Education and work history of Lara and Kevin|
|0:05:08||Decides to get in strawberry growing|
|0:05:40||Talks about first year of growing|
|0:06:27||Process of growing strawberries|
|0:08:09||Use of workers and employees|
|0:08:43||Planting and growing Pumpkins|
|0:09:55||Growing cantelope in first years|
|0:10:47||Farm stand on location before strawberry field|
|0:11:21||Trying farmer's markets|
|0:14:32||Beginning of school groups visiting farm|
|0:15:37||Strawberry Season opening and how that is determined|
|0:17:47||Pumpkin season, length vs strawberry season|
|0:18:17||Education of owners and application to farm|
|0:19:27||Hayrides and birthday parties|
|0:19:54||Farm is sole income|
|0:22:17||Discusses organic farming|
|0:23:25||Advantages of small farm-spot farming|
|0:24:27||What typical day is like|
|0:25:12||How weather has affected crops|
|0:27:01||Changes in farming business, effect of immigration laws-effect on labor|
|0:28:20||Climate change effect|
|0:29:47||Pumpkin period and supply|
|0:30:35||Benefit of location|
|0:32:21||Design of corn maze|
|0:34:27||Use of GPS in farming|
|0:34:47||North Carolina Strawberry Association, North Carolina Agritory Association|
|0:35:25||Modern drip Irrigation|
|0:36:45||Different kinds pests to deal with: deer, geese aphids|
|0:38:47||Learning about farming|
|0:39:07||costs of farming|
|0:40:17||Agritourism in future, expansion|
|0:41:22||Working with children that visit the farm, educational benefits|
|0:43:21||Future of Farming in Charlotte|
>> Hi this is I have to say I'm a graduate student from you and C.C. and I'm here with Laura Hall of all farms and we're doing the interview the picnic table at the far and today we're here to talk about the queen's garden oral history project which seeks to collect the stories of those who grow cultivate produce and distribute fresh food in the Greater Charlotte region and lower if you would stay for the record.
Your name and what is your Ross ocean with all family. Name is Larry Hall and I need one and actually I have a question for you Are you related to Sam Hall not to you know that Bush invited South Carolina that we are not OK Do you want to make sure it was actually some way to recommend I interviewed him also yes and I was curious so if there was a connection now on now to take it just a coincidence Yeah OK OK And obviously we are wrong at your farm so you're located here in Providence Rhode your Ballantine How big is your farm and what is an incompetent.
Farm is located in downtown Union and province west Johnston road it's about 40 acres and weak racer agrees pumpkins 18 and anger tourism are angry and. Point me right. OK And. What just what about the history of the farm. The reasons I'm sorry to cross the street I'm injured way.
In around early $1000.00 hundreds run 191120 it went it was about $500.00 acres and it went all the way down down time hotel it was primarily going cotton and tape and it. See a part of it was sold to Governor Marston in the fifty's and then the last of it was sold.
The main farm in 1942 that here is Family Fortunes Grange to develop down and now we have the 40 acres left and that has been sold to no one OK actually it's been asked and later on the same time you brought that up I'd say you know in the observer of the story the story by the tell us this actually the process of probably something going on for a few years yes we knew when we started our fire in 2007 that we were not going to be here permanently down and the family let us now that when their grandparents who have lived here all their lives cast away they're going to sell the farm that the last grandparent passed away in 2011 so it's taken a still 2019 to find a buyer and sell the actual farm and analyze that in March of this if you're sold the farm how long are you continue operating before you know we will do our last crop of pumpkins and October and then we'll take a year off to develop the new farm and then whine and will reopen again probably in 2021 and that's our plan will be the same type of farm with the same you know yes same products strawberries and pumpkins Yes we're going to start with this same.
Small business see how it goes and then we'll expand if we if we want to we want to keep going and that's gone sounds great so you seem to enjoy really doing this yes yet it's not a lot of fun or a lot more about your husband's background and what you did before you got him.
Going to school. He's a mechanical engineer and. We graduated in 93 and 94. Corning. 2 years after. The program. Their 1st child. Trees. To do. Its job varies on the advice of his uncle. Who's using. This. Here. First year like. Crazy because it was just meant. To. Everything.
Another 20. Yes. We get in early October to. 30. Dollars. During that time. To do that to get them ready and we do have to you in the one time we have to do cross protection we have to put these big can't see them right now but they're like they're big blanket.
They're big white papers blankets 6. Bags. And then in the summer time we have to get my husband has to get the fields ready for. Me to come and build them now we have to get ready. A lot of. Labor intensive. So it's all hands planted in. We do we have.
For over 20 years. We actually. Have to. Part company. When you do it yourself. They were here for. Different. Track. 10. We knew they were always going to try to sell it like you said. If they were out there always there was always we're not here permanently. They were talking about here.
It's been interesting it's been nice. If you're here people can want. To come in here for years you've been marking from neighborhoods around here so you see the relations with your neighbors are really good now yes I like having the 4 here yes. 4 years he started. The 1st 4 years we had.
Pumpkins and then the next year we started with the corn. The the speaker that was the only thing really. Was that there was noise there recently some planes. It's been a really good relationship with the neighbors. For the program but you have more you bring in. Groups of students and other groups come in and they pick strawberries.
Tell me about what you do there in the corn maze and all that. Came together and it was. My daughter my middle daughter. And her local school to come out. To see. How we do. You. Rotate. Stations. Started with one school. Playground. Yes. You know. About. Yes. But it's.
Very. Harder to get those groups. 3rd. Because. They're. We think I do or. Less great that you're able to do this yes go back and I was reading on the website too that your manufacturing Yes well. Actually. I switched completely to. Where. The and that's that's that's where I work in manufacturing such cases.
But as interesting as. We get reinforcing for construction at. All different business yeah actually we've been lacking an engineer. Engineer. Would do that to us yet. Actually profit off about. Tonight. Understandable. Orchard or an organic. Or take up the products. I mean. Like we got yes if we let it out here and we grew lettuce we never spray to let us and after that we must go with commercial chemical fertilizers that we.
Would use underground and so we want to get stores there's organic certified or just organic methods was so right why use mostly organic or try not to use you know you know too much kind of chemical for allies or a little right and we try to. Somewhat yes you could say you say somewhat that what we take we that.
Pride. Whereas the small. Brain. We can. Let's move on talk about a typical day on the farm I guess you know with very. Very severe tutor and the different crops that you grow and the differences but let's just take for now French and since this is really getting close to the time you just made it to open season and just a time limit about what you're doing to get for care as far as I guess you know the crops themselves get an employee's lined up there buy ready.
For sustenance for the 1st week established players start. You know have a lot of stories yet you know well will do is we'll at the tense tables the now tent will get the hay ride routes set up because we have to see why right that we have decorations and mash that's not.
Will know the grass has. To the Iraqi get everything ready to fight again plant wise he does we just play pray for sunny weather. Over here that we sure have a lot of life yet which actually my next question. To this is up up in other interviews is where the winner is.
Always going to. Care about. The. Land. And if you can see more recently but we had a little lake over there and there's probably won't get picked that is Rose really get picked when it's like that. The rain hasn't been the big thing so much as the warmer weather and then the late the leaf Frost lately this.
That has been the worst time. Because it's ability to light high heat. We've had him under cover for frost protection so that's been really hard. But yeah the the wet weather the just. The biggest concerns is funded. Going on the plants and kind of. The boys know they just because the nature of the plant believes they have tight leaves and so when they get wet it's just bad for moisture and insect issues and so.
It's very easy for them to get. Into season when it's warm and when. The prop looking more this year just get white flower that they're so big white flowers I think what follows is that as yet big star varies from where you. Are if you serve. This if you see changes in the business people to your business before this is something which has affected you heard about from other people.
And the biggest and it's affected as we get a lot of supplies from other farms jams jellies and breads because of the immigration. They have not those times have not been able to get the immigrant labor they need to. Build their their products in the past 2 years we have many and we very short handed we have not had a lot of outside product to sell on our shelves we don't we've Percy don't rely on a lot of them or any immigrant labor it's all local family friends that we hire but I know other farms bigger farms and I said I had a really tough time.
Getting crop and. Getting stuff whole made for whole self because immigrant labor issue so some of the people that you might get other products from having difficulties because yeah labor labor shortage Yes a fascinating case will put in the order and the travel comment we've got 3rd Well we've played and Sally and they're likely to have labor to make it so OK Let me think about that would you say that's that's sort of part one of the challenges of farming in the area for farmers what they just challenges.
For the bigger ones yet 2nd would be climate change and in the climate. We've when we 1st opened in 2007 we were. Late April now we have because guns and so much warmer in the winter. We're opening late March early April we also have a huge problem with the rain we've lost a lot of light spotting off.
And the rain that's just rain. Just thinking it would melt in your hands and the same is true now we get some. They were little you have some kinda exploding I mean. Because they're so high now they're. Saying this increase should get in the business yeah yeah yeah.
How do you mitigate the losses when you have a bad year in the weather. I'm sure you get some of your pumpkins from other people is it because you've had a. Bad. Experience because we had a bad year for us because. That supports us for the 1st. That was.
My next question is. What I would say are your. Every time. Out with a 0 term. My husband. And. I have. It's fine this is a man I don't know how much it cost but it sure sounds like you're probably expensive Yes that would be. Great that he was able to do that and didn't do it yourself yeah that's what it was always an interesting thing you know was seen seen and figured out how somebody did it yeah I guess G.P.S. is a role terribly new yet relatively new technology I guess the one for when my kids were little Anyways yeah a lot is listen 1st to stern pieces he would just take is now around and just randomly can pass and then you realize you know why and he actually had sound.
And then yes I heard that you know the word commercial for tractors too on these 1000 multiple 1000 acre farm south in Indiana and the Midwest and they found out they could use it for designing corn is that how it started and you have seen the. Specific organizations or parties that.
That your members are for associate with. And North kinds Chivery satiation is why I'm. Kind of the knock on Agra tours in the state. And. Going back to what I said question is how much of the stuff here has been designed there are a couple of things on your website that imagine it's a race thing to hear a lot more about there says use of modern drip irrigation based farming methods to explain what it with those are.
Really down the black plastic Thank You see. He looks. Just like a black and it has little holes in it. I turned. Slowly. If I'm not mistaken. That your husband designed to get. Those lights what is a plastic Ultra Classic old black or white plastic that's a. Health control we.
That's another way to limit pesticide use. That is. So that's like in between. The plant. And it just helps a lot we can. Have a lot of problem with. Let's pass and say. Do your we have time to. Say yes well yes chickens Yes Yes Yes OK Yes But they're not good.
And there are more looks like a petting zoo rather than really we don't use them for mean or production. Actually we do get their eggs but they're older now so they're egg production has tapered off a lot so they're more than just family pets. But they're fine. There but they're now we are we would never use them for meat or intake of food production doesn't seem very friendly when the you know when I walk down to take a look at them in the inject it's all came up to me in the yeah in the goats in the pigs up with their noses up to the fence Yeah the Koreans are good now out there you know you don't seem.
To get. That. QUESTION Is there any aspect of farming that you didn't know that you had maybe you were getting into. Or that you could tell other people about maybe something about farming that most people don't farm don't understand or. Know anything about that. Are that have. I think the biggest thing in their dad actual production of what farmers have to go through how much it costs them to grow like how much and then actually cost to grow it and to sell it wholesale versus selling it directly to the market like and you know if we tried to sell.
$0.39 a pound we could never sell that wholesale and say these NASA farmers that have all these acres of produce and so I know that they are not getting nearly as much as what the grocery store charge charges us as a consumer unless they're shining directly to the.
Nets even though we don't have the you know food production. Just hearing other farmers and what it takes to grow chicken. And the costs and I know how much it costs to feed a chicken and to feed and go to feed a pig I'm surprised you didn't hire.
So you see the impact that we can have migrant labor to do a lot of our farms would be a lot a lot higher than yeah that's what we're charging now lower pay now is consider where what you see obviously you're you guys are going to move to a new place but where do you hope to see yourself in the farming business say and you know 510 years down the road I am probably more agrah tourism less farming.
We would still have the props and more we would have more animals but we have more activities there a lot more activities and want to like we have a train that's on display out here that we want to put in. We have other activities. We have what's called pedal cars the kind kind of go carts that we want to expand on this fun.
Hands on activities for the kids to do hiking trails that kind of thing. More things like that it sounds like. It's rewarding to you to almost like give back to the children it is going to things to so it makes everything even more rewarding not just that you have the satisfaction of growing yet growing things but you're giving back to children good now.
Doing things hands on and yet the spirits tell me more about it it's neat to see that they're soft like what is fish in the preschool. But the preschool kids I mean it's a whole new world when they come out here and there is so excited and joke with them about.
Are you here to pick a limb and say no or they'll say yes there's a live interview right there and they'll point to the T.V. so we get a chance to educate them about where Shari's come from and the difference between the ones in the grocery store and the ones they're going to get out here.
The different varieties that will play guessing games with them so they learn a lot about and will teach you about the farm animals the chickens. And just about farm life in general and I think they I think they really enjoy being out here at least from what I can tell.
Being outside of the classroom and just kind of because we try to keep it very relaxed when they come out here and they're not so regimented even though they are assigned to stations they are. Certain. They feel like they have a lot of freedom here I think. We get to see how things are you know we have a lot of.
Insight Charlotte. And come out here and I don't think. This is the 1st time they've been far and even though we are surrounded in down time by development. Going to taste of what it's like to be outside. 40 acres here. Without a lot of supervision. Where do you see the future for.
Charlie to maybe go we. Are. And that's because they've been there so they've been there so long they're stuck around things Charlie when everyone is even leave. The city of Charlotte it's just hard to taxes the property is needed for development. I see more people who start people who come to us who want to start farms are coming from rural counties things they don't want to start anywhere near city I see it slowly disappearing yet and I guess it.
Is a question of high growth areas I guess the land is more bearable to developers. Yeah right I see more city if there's going to farming in Charlotte it's going to be more community City Gardens rooftops are things that we we do have some other students. I've interviewed some people there are some who are trying to start some herb and farms you know inside Charlotte and yeah I'm sure you know detect knowing which hopefully that'll they'll take root and yeah I think the biggest thing for the Charlotte government lies is just to get familiar with Agger tourism and urban farming because so many people here who just from the neighborhoods want to learn to have a couple of chickens for their house or when they have a community garden and this city and the home there is this is.
In this interview, Ronald Edwards describes the different entities that comprise Springs Farms and its history dating back to the 1930’s. He shares his personal memories and background in the farming industry, along with his present role as general manager of Springs Farms. Topics that were discussed include the origins and legacy of the farm; the size of the operation and what businesses were part of Springs Farms, including its farmers market, retail store and growing fields, food that they produce- including peaches, strawberries, produce and other products; challenges that the farm has faced including the current rainy weather conditions, and the daily operation of the farm. Some of the most important topics discussed were the history and the legacy of the farm, its interaction with the local community, and challenges that the farm faces in its day to day operations, whether or not to organic in the light of the importance of keeping costs down while competing with larger corporate farms. Highlights of the interview included discussions of growing the Carolina Reaper pepper, and a description of beavers clogging up waterways and flooding crops. Mr. Edwards’ descriptions and accounts clearly illustrate the challenges faced by farmers in the region during an era of change encompassing organic strategies and competition from corporate farming.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:07||Beginning of interview|
|0:00:17||restart of interview after accidental recorder cut off|
|0:01:21||began working for Springs farms at 11 years of age|
|0:01:41||became general manger in 2008|
|0:03:10||Springs Farms, Peach Stand, Farmers Market and Anne Springs Greenway –same owners|
|0:03:50||All produce is grown in and around Fort Mill SC|
|0:04:26||Contract grower for Carolina Reaper|
|0:06:46||Born on a Dairy farm|
|0:08:32||Wife diagnosed with MS, needed better insurance, so took a job at Springs Farms|
|0:09:12||four full time employees at farm plus employs seasonal H2A workers|
|0:10:09||sell to a few wholesale customers and restaurants|
|0:10:47||Niche is fresh produce|
|0:11:47||issues with weather, deer|
|0:12:39||Beavers building dams, causing problems!|
|0:14:13||organic is in the contract with the peppers|
|0:15:07||consumer change in purchasing habits|
|0:17:41||regional growth has positive impact on business|
|0:19:22||no governmental support or association|
|0:19:44||Member of Farmer’s Market Association, North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association|
|0:20:21||Community Support Agricultural Program|
|0:24:49||Participation in Strawberry Festival|
|0:26:07||Future changes may include greenhouses|
|0:28:07||Competing with Earthfare, Fresh Market etc.|
|0:30:07||New farmers need a plan|
|0:31:47||Works for good understanding people|
|0:32:42||Farm originally started out with peaches and cattle|
|0:34:52||Pumpkins and deer|
|0:37:07||previous interviews with reporters|
>> Speaker 1: Okay, we try this one more time.
>> Speaker 2: All right.
>> Speaker 1: Cut it, the camera cut itself off, okay, today we're here with Ron Edwards from Springs Farms. I'm Adam Hussein, the interviewer, I'm from UNCC Graduate School. And we're doing a project gathering oral histories from the Piedmont Food Shed.
And Mr. Edwards has been gracious enough to grant us an interview. And today's date is March 11th, 2019, and we're doing this interview at-
>> Speaker 2: The Peach Stand.
>> Speaker 1: The Peach Stand down here in Fort Mill. [LAUGH] And first of all, I'll just start with a couple of questions.
If you would state your name, and what your position is, and what your job is here? And your age too if you'd like to tell us.
>> Speaker 2: Okay, my name's Ron Edwards, I'm 55 years old. I've been with Springs Farms since 2004, worked here as a kid. I actually started over at the old Peach Stand selling peaches when I was actually 11.
You can't do that anymore, but anyway, I worked from 11, all the way through high school. Went on and done some other things and had the opportunity to come back to the farm in 2004, so I came back. And now, I was promoted to General Manager in 2008.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, one of the questions that actually I wanted to start with is, we didn't realize. Cuz like I say, we've come down here and we also belong to the Greenway, my wife and I. We go hiking and things, are all these connected? And if so, how are they connected?
>> Speaker 2: Well, the Greenway is under Leroy Springs, which is a nonprofit. And the Greenway is a 2,300 acre tract of land that's been set aside for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and so forth. Springs Farm is its own entity, we're a for-profit, sometimes that's hard to do. And the store here where we're doing the interview is The Peach Stand and it stands alone as its own company.
Our name kinda goes Springs Farm/The Peach Stand, we do a lot of,
>> Advertising and marketing together, and a lot of people think that the Peach Stand is part of the farm, but we're actually two [INAUDIBLE]. So that's how that works, as far as with the Greenway and the farm.
>> Speaker 1: Are they owned by the same family or totally separate entities?
>> Speaker 2: No, everything here is owned by the closed family, they broke the Greenway off, because it is a nonprofit. But no, the farm, Peach Stand, and several other businesses they own in Clear Springs, Springland, and they've got several other business they own.
But it's all under the umbrella of the family.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, the farm where you guys grow, and I saw on your website you grow besides the peaches, like strawberries, and blueberries, and protist. Where was that grown at?
>> Speaker 2: Well, were kinda scattered all over town, but we are right here in Fort Mill.
We do have about 25, now, we have about 25 acres of peaches. We have about 17 acres of strawberries, we have about four acres of blackberries and probably,
>> Speaker 2: I don't know, probably about 12-15 acres of vegetables. That's cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe, okra, tomatoes, that sort of thing. And then also we are a contract grower for the Carolina Reaper, which is the Guinness Book of World Record the hottest pepper in the world.
We contract grow those peppers for Ed, the owner of the Carolina Reaper. And this year we'll be growing 32 acres of peppers.
>> Speaker 1: Now the Carolina Reaper that you grow,
>> Speaker 1: What's unique about it and what makes it so hot? And is there a certain way you have to grow it different than the other peppers?
>> Speaker 2: We grow it organically, we have some ground, certified organic. We grow it organically and it's really not any different, it's just a pepper plant, but we start it from seed in a greenhouse. We have four greenhouses and we start it from seed, and then we put it the field.
The only thing about the pepper is is that the seed, you have to wash them in peroxide before you plant them, because they'll burn your fingers.
>> Speaker 1: Wow.
>> Speaker 3: And then, when we pick them you have to wear gloves, because they'll burn your fingers.
>> Speaker 2: And once we pick them, they take them and make a mash out of them.
And then they sell the mash to people like Campbell's and different people that wanna put spice up their food or whatever. But no, it's a pretty easy plant to grow.
>> Speaker 1: You just have to be careful.
>> Speaker 2: You just got to be careful harvesting and handling it, because there's a reason it's the world's hottest pepper.
It's hot, it's hot, I've never tasted one and don't ever intend to, but I've seen and watched people on YouTube and stuff. And it's ridiculous how hot the thing is.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, I'm with you. And actually, we were in Kansas just over the weekend, and actually, that came up.
Cuz I have a brother that likes everything hot and that actually came up in the conversation.
>> Speaker 2: [LAUGH]
>> Speaker 1: And I'm sure he'd be just fine eating it.
>> Speaker 2: We can fix your brother up.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, let's move on on your background, did you have any formal education with farming?
Or how'd you learn to do what you're doing and get to the position that you're in now?
>> Speaker 2: I was born on a dairy farm, which is where Carowinds is at, my dad, that was our family land, and my Dad sold out in 68. But we had a dairy farm there and raised dairy cattle.
And then we picked cotton and so forth. So when we sold out, we moved down to Fort Mill in 1969 or 70. My dad continued to farm, we row cropped about 300 acres around in the community. And we had about 60 acres of alfalfa hay also, and then in the early 90s, when things started booming and popping, as far as housing, and everything started to,
>> Speaker 2: Grow, so to speak, we lost a lot of land and so forth, but at that time, I was working public work. When I graduated from high school, I went to Nashville Auto Diesel College. Because I'd been around equipment all my life, tractors, and trucks, and stuff. So I learned the trade and worked for Duke Power for 14 years.
And then farmed on the side with my dad and my older brother, and then once we lost all our,
>> Speaker 2: Land that we leased farming. My middle brother started a landscaping business, so we transitioned from farm to landscaping. So my older brother and I were able to leave our jobs and come home, and the three of us were in the landscaping business together.
And then we rocked along there for a little bit, and then my wife was diagnosed with MS. And so, I had to have a lot better insurance than you have when you're in business for yourself, so to speak. So they had a job open here at Springs and I'd liked to say, I've worked for them for years in the past.
So I knew the family, knew the whole operation and so, I hired on in 2004 and then the manager left and they moved me up. So I've been around here all my life.
>> Speaker 1: So was that a natural fit for you?
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, cuz I've been in agriculture all my life, so.
>> Speaker 1: Now, of course, so it's for profit this partner thing, so you do it have a full-time employees?
>> Speaker 2: Yes, we have I think there's probably four of us to the full time, and then we bring in H-2A workers to harvest the produce and the peaches and the strawberries and so forth, and the peppers.
They're on work visas, they're all legal, nothing cash under the table, nothing silly like that. Everything's up and above board and so, that's our workforce.
>> Speaker 1: The protist and everything you make, do you guys just sell them at your farmer's market and the store here, or do you guys produce for other people?
>> Speaker 2: Well, we grow our produce for our store here at the Peach Stand, we have another store across town, seasonal store at a farm market. We grow it for there, the old Peach Stand across the street here, we sell it there. We have a few wholesale customers, we've got a couple of restaurants that buy from us.
And we are GAP certified, good agricultural practices, so we have that. But mainly we try to sell everything, as much as we can, in house, because we can get a retail dollar for it, instead of trying to go out and wholesale it.
>> Speaker 1: Yes, sir, obviously more profit if you can retail it.
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, and plus, our story is we grow it here, we sell it here. You can ride by our fields and see us picking, then you come down here and purchase it. That's how fresh it is, we're big on fresh, we pick it that morning, and try to sell it all that day, and so forth.
So we try to put a good product out there for our customer.
>> Speaker 1: Got it, and then I can testify that there and it's good.
>> Speaker 2: Yes.
>> Speaker 1: What is your typical day like? I mean, like your duties and-
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, well, we come in, in the morning we usually start around seven.
And we'll discuss what needs to be done that day, and our men in Dudley Fields would go wherever. Right now, we're building some fences, right now, we're pruning peach trees and also pulling weeds out of strawberry plants. And so, we got different groups doing different things. But a lot of people don't understand our day is we're driven by the weather.
And here lately the weather's not been on our side with all of the rain. We're getting behind, I'm getting very concerned about how far we are behind now. Cuz we need to have the ground fixed with some plastic to lay for vegetables and stuff. And it's just not getting done, because it's just too wet.
So people don't understand that now. You can come in here and get out of the rain would sell meat, we can do everything. But when we're out there trying to grow it and produce it, we're so whether driven these, people don't you see the too wet, too hot, too cold.
I mean, it's last week it got real cold, we lost a few peach blooms. So I mean, you gotta deal with that, and then we have deer getting in our strawberries. You put fencing up, but still they'll find a place to get in. So now, you've got to deal with deer and the last little critter we've been dealing with is beavers.
They've dammed up our creek and now, the creek is backed up, so that it's starting to flood some of our fields. So now, we're working with the game wardens in the wildlife resource department on what are we gonna do with these beavers. So it's something all the time, it just never a dull moment, believe me.
>> Speaker 1: That's a new one for me, I hadn't heard about the beavers causing problems.
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, they are a tremendous little animal that causes a lot of trouble.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, actually, you touched on actually one of the things I was gonna ask you about how the weather's impact you this is like the wettest I've seen.
I grew up in this area and I can't remember, I can't remember a year this wet.
>> Speaker 2: My dad's 92 and he said, you better hope it don't stay dry as long as it stayed wet, that's all I can tell you. [LAUGH]
>> Speaker 1: I was gonna say that it's probably tough the other way around I mean, at least with the moisture the plants are getting some moisture.
>> Speaker 2: I can get water to them, that's not a problem, I can get to water to them, it's just right now, we got too much water.
>> Speaker 1: Are your farms organic or did you sell any organic?
>> Speaker 2: Well, we have some ground that red still organic and I could, I guess, we could sell a lot more organic stuff than we do.
But most of that ground is in the peppers, because that's kind of in the contract, that we gotta do them organic.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah they are.
>> Speaker 2: But I will say this, we spray a lot of stuff when we have to spray. A lot of our sprays are registered organic, because I mean, let's face it, I'm a consumer too, you know?
And I don't want anything on my stuff that's gonna harm me or anybody else, so we try to be very careful with that. We try not to spray just to be sprayed, because for one thing it's expensive, and the next thing, if the plant doesn't need it, then there's no need putting it on.
We're very cautious about how we do things.
>> Speaker 1: Have you noticed anything change in the way people farm or agriculture in general in this area, say, in the last 20 years or so?
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, now, we notice that people don't buy as much as they used to. 10 years ago people would come in and buy a half bushel of peaches, or an old box of apples, or something like that.
Now, people just want just enough for the night, and I'll be back tomorrow maybe, and get some more, just not buying bigger quantities. At one time, they did, I don't know. People do, I think, it's more of a push to have kind of farm-to-table type situations, where they know it's fresh, and this kinda stuff.
Cuz if it comes from California it's got to be picked, and it's got to be cooled, and it's got to be trucked. I mean you're talking five, six days out before the consumer ever gets it. So I mean, some cases I guess you have to go that route, but in the summer time, it's always good to be able to eat fresh.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, definitely.
>> Speaker 2: And I think there's a movement toward that, so we've definitely seen that.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, that's of course fresh and organic, of course, we see some of that in some of the interviews and the questions. What happens is you push for that, and of course, as you said, you were saying it's more expensive and they have to sell it for more.
And there's a certain market for that.
>> Speaker 2: And not to hammer on organic, but if you've got a disease, it doesn't know if the plant's organic or conventional. And if it jumps on you, you better have something to attack it and get the disease stopped. It's not you'll lose your crop, it'll take the whole crop.
>> Speaker 1: Now, are there specific insecticides and things that people who say the growing organic that they use rather than well.
>> Speaker 2: Well, I mean, I'm not saying that they did not use an organic products. I'm just saying there comes a time when you get a disease and track nose.
Of how to do something, I mean, if you don't get something on it, get proactive, you can lose your whole crop quick.
>> Speaker 1: [LAUGH]
>> Speaker 2: Yeah.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, flow development traffic, this area's growing significantly, is that helping or hurting your business. How's that impact, I guess, the farm?
>> Speaker 2: I think it's helped us, but I think our problem is a lot of my employees, we're from Fort Mills, we grew up here. And so, we think everybody ought to know where Spring's Farm is, and we think everybody ought to know where the Peach Stand is. So I think sometimes we lag behind sometimes on our marketing, because we have to think out of the box a lot as far as always new people moving in and traffic.
I did put a little satellite stand at a corner that I thought would be ideal, it had plenty of traffic. But what I found out was,it had too much traffic, people couldn't get in and out. Once they got in, you could ride in, but you couldn't ride out so to speak.
And so, we found that after a few people came in and had a tough time getting out, that what we thought was a good location, because of traffic was really not that good a location. Those people just couldn't get to you with all the traffic was so heavy.
So we've enjoyed the folks coming in and trying to let them know we're here. Let them know we, pick fresh stuff everyday, so it's like anything. It has its good sides and it's bad sides, but when you're in the retail business it's positive.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, overall positive you would say-
>> Speaker 2: Yes, yes.
>> Speaker 1: The growth.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, now, you're a private industry, is there any support from local organizations or government organizations for farmers that-
>> Speaker 2: No, we don't accept anything from anybody. We stand alone, do our own thing, as far money, and finance, and all of it.
We don't accept any grants or money.
>> Speaker 1: Totally independent?
>> Speaker 2: Totally, totally do it on our own.
>> Speaker 1: You guys members of any farmers associations-
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, we're members of the The South Carolina Farmers Market Association, members of the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association, things like that. I serve on the board of the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association.
Even though it's North Carolina, they like to have a board member from South Carolina and Virginia and Georgia, if we can get it. Cuz we all in the same region, so we all share the same concerns. So we try to be as active in stuff like that as we can be.
>> Speaker 1: Now, I was on your website, and that interesting to me, you have a community supported agricultural program that you have.
>> Speaker 2: CSA.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, tell me how that works?
>> Speaker 2: CSA is basically, it's what we're growing right that week, you get a box. You buy different sized boxes and you get a box every week of what we're growing.
And you pick it up once a week, and it's been a real, a real good thing for us, because sometimes we have more produce than we can move in the stores. So now, we've got another outlet for it is putting it in CSA boxes, community-supported agriculture. And so, it works real well, we've had a lot of repeat customers, but the concept is what we're growing this week.
This week, you may get peaches, blackberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash. Well next, as the season goes on, guess what, we're not picking strawberries and blackberries anymore. So you won't get that, so now, you're gonna get some okra or you're gonna get some string beans. It's just whatever we're picking along the summer, as the summer goes on.
That's what's gonna be in a box, and the box determined the size of the box determines the family size, and how you'd like to do it. We have a small box of maybe just one person or two people would like, or have a bigger box that a family of four would like.
But yes, it's a great program.
>> Speaker 1: So if somebody were to sign up for it, they would pick which quantity they would want?
>> Speaker 2: That's right.
>> Speaker 1: And how long is the duration of that?
>> Speaker 2: We do at ten weeks.
>> Speaker 1: Ten weeks?
>> Speaker 2: We do ten weeks and last year we did a fall fall program.
Where we have it laid out in the store, and you come in the store and you get your box, and you can get, if it's six items there, you pick maybe four items or five items out of the six, whichever you like the best. And I think that went over pretty well last year, it was our first year.
That's the reason we kinda did it that way, but, no, it's a good program and people really enjoy. And well, so we'll put the recipes in there to tell, okay, I've got the squash. So what I do, I fried it other ways to do squash, or zucchini, or things to do recipes and stuff.
So I think that's helpful, also.
>> Speaker 1: So you run that out of your Farmers Market locations.
>> Speaker 2: Run it out of a farm market over off Springfield Parkway, just above Nation Fort High School.
>> Speaker 1: Somebody warned you that day, was the sign up online, or-
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, it's, and times, I'm not sure of the date of the last day, but it's winding down.
So if anybody wanted to sign up, they better get going, cuz it's coming to an end.
>> Speaker 1: So has that been pretty successful and you maybe plan on expanding that program?
>> Speaker 2: Well,
>> Speaker 2: I think it's about right now where what we can handle. I mean, we don't want commit to too much, because when you commit to too many boxes, that means you can't pick enough that day.
We try to pick it all that day, and then put it in the boxes. And that's the reason we only do so many, because we don't want to have to pick it the day before. We want it to be fresh, we want when you get that box that day, we want you to know that it's picked that morning.
And that's about as fresh as you're gonna get. So that's the concept behind it, so we don't wanna get too big, because if not, we wouldn't have time to pick, time to put in the box. So that's the concept behind it.
>> Speaker 1: You'd have to store it and then-
>> Speaker 2: Right, and that's against what we're-
>> Speaker 1: Trying to do.
>> Speaker 2: Trying to accomplish here.
>> Speaker 1: Hey, I guess, some general questions.
>> Speaker 3: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Speaker 1: Community, how are the relations with the farm and everything with the community interactions, involvement?
>> Speaker 2: I hope we're okay with the community, I know people enjoy seeing our peach trees bloom.
A lot of people like to come out and take pictures in our peach trees and we help with the Strawberry Festival, it's the first weekend in May of every year. That's a big hit here in town, we have some between 40 and 60,000 people depending on the weather show up for Strawberry Festival.
>> Speaker 1: Actually, I think we went last year, yes, we went.
>> Speaker 2: And so, that's always a big hit, but, yeah, I think overall, people enjoy seeing us passing by and seeing stuff growing instead of parking lots and buildings. I think they enjoy seeing us out working in the fields while they're sitting and chatting.
>> Speaker 1: That? Definitely, I think that brings out that if they know your stuff is grown here locally.
>> Speaker 2: Yeah.
>> Speaker 1: It is fresh [CROSSTALK]-
>> Speaker 2: Right.
>> Speaker 1: And I think [INAUDIBLE] people really-
>> Speaker 2: Right, I agree.
>> Speaker 1: Appreciate that, where do you see Springs Farm in say, five to ten years?
>> Speaker 2: Wow, well,
>> Speaker 2: I don't know, I think we're gonna do some unique things. We may have to do some stuff in greenhouse stuff, just because this prop across the road here from us, they're gonna be putting a hospital there. We've been growing peach trees over there for the last 30 years.
So that's gonna be gone, so now, my peach numbers are gonna go down. But a lot of times, what we've started doing is planting the peach trees closer together and pruning them in a different method, so we can get more trees per acre. So stuff like that is what we probably do in the future.
>> Speaker 1: Are those kind of like new methods, different way of planting that developed?
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that's where we're headed, because we only have so much land that we can use, but the family's been gracious. We have, we do have some peaches and strawberries on the Greenway.
So we do work with the Greenway on that, of course, that land will be here forever, that's not going anywhere. So but it's gonna change and not sure how too much, but I think it's definitely gonna have to change.
>> Speaker 1: What is an aspect of farming that most people don't think about or you think is misunderstood by people especially myself who aren't farmers?
>> Speaker 2: I talked to a farmer this morning and we just again talking about the weather and fuel prices go up, labor goes up, insurance goes up, everything goes up. But our commodity, we just can't get enough for it sometimes. I mean, you can only get so much for a cucumber, you can only get so much for a tomato.
The consumer's only gonna pay so much. So in a situation, we're in a situation where we have to do things smarter and better, if we're gonna make it. And I think,
>> Speaker 2: Everything goes up, it seems like we just can't get the prices we need for our commodities that we grow.
Just, I mean, for some reason we just capped it, there's a cap on it people are not gonna pay. So-
>> Speaker 4: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Speaker 2: See, I'm competing with Earth Fair. Fresh markets, and Harris Teeter, and those folks buy train-loads of tomatoes. Not truck loads, they buy train loads, you know, so their pricing's better, so they can sell, and then you come down here where your prices are too high.
I know I picked mine this morning, and then I went into Harris Teeter, and those guys picked theirs. So it's hard to educate the consumer about what we're trying to do with our prices. And like I said, everything's going up, it seems like I get so much for a cucumber and squash.
So that's the struggle we have, is trying to break even or make money on this stuff. And then, again, back to the weather, you've got to deal with the weather, if we're picking strawberries, it sits in the rain. And those things sitting there in the rain, you got to pick them, get them out of the field, but you can't sell them 'cause they're mush.
But still cost me the same to get them out of the field, but I didn't get them to the market. So people have a, I don't think they understand how, what we deal with every day the weather and everything that goes on.
>> Speaker 1: Given all this adversity, what advice would you give to somebody that wanted to start farming say somebody's dream?
They quit their day job and go buy a farm and start.
>> Speaker 2: I wouldn't discourage them, I would just say you need a plan, and before we plan anything, we know where we're going with it. It's got a place, I don't grow stuff, and then try to, hey, you want a watermelon?
When I grow it, I know where it's going. I've already got it sold or I've got it, I know it's going to this store or that store. So no, I wouldn't discourage anybody, because we have to keep this industry going. But if I was starting out, I would definitely have a good plan and it better be a good plan.
>> Speaker 1: You just got to compete.
>> Speaker 2: You just got to compete, and again, just back to the price and how much can you put out there versus what you're gonna get.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, I was talking to another actually recently get into it, he has a day job, but he's trying, he's talking about it.
He's got chicken's, and he's got laying chickens, and he's got eating chickens, and then he's thinking about starting planting, he had a small garden, he's expanding it, when his dream is to eventually live off on what he makes on the farm.
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, it's just have a good plan.
>> Speaker 1: Is there anything, I mean, we haven't touched on you'd like to add or one final thing you'd like to talk about or?
>> Speaker 2: No, just the close family has, it's a genuine pleasure to work for them, they're good people. They understand about the weather and they understand ups and downs, because they've been in it since the 30s.
And so, they're very understanding, and they're a super family to work for, and they're very gracious.
>> Speaker 1: And this is the Springs family?
>> Speaker 2: This is the Springs family, yeah.
>> Speaker 1: So it's been since the 1930s they've-
>> Speaker 2: They've been growing peaches, and vegetables, and everything on this land around Fort Mill since the 30s, so.
>> Speaker 1: Did they start with just peaches or?
>> Speaker 2: They started with a dairy.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, that's right, you said that-
>> Speaker 2: Matter of fact, my dad bought some cows from Miss Klauses' dad back in,
>> Speaker 2: Early 60s, but, yeah, they started out peaches, and cattle, and dairy, and then they went to beef cattle.
And then they went from there to strawberries to just different commodities trying to keep things going.
>> Speaker 1: And actually think about something else too, seeing a lot of the farms are opening their farms to the public for tours.
>> Speaker 2: Agri tourist.
>> Speaker 1: Yeah.
>> Speaker 2: Agri tourism is a big industry, we would love to do more that, but just because of the way we're set up, we're all scattered all over town, so to speak.
We don’t have quote, the old farm house and old farm building that grandad had and all that, like a lot of these people have that do agri tourism. So we do some, we take field trips and stuff on strawberries and all, but we're just not set up to.
But it is a big industry and a lot of people like that, cuz a lot of people our age can remember going back to their grandparents parent's farm or something somewhere, and they want to take their kids and so, that's a big industry. I wish we were set up more to do more agri tourism, because it's a great teaching tool and it's good way to have good clean fun.
>> Speaker 1: Sounds like it's also a good way also for another revenue stream.
>> Speaker 2: Yeah, most deaf to-
>> Speaker 1: To help maybe makeup where they can't get the prices has been seeing a lot of that.
>> Speaker 2: And a lot of of farms and I are going pumpkins and stuff, trying to take it on into the fall.
And that's where a lot of agri tour, a lot of agri tour comes in pumpkin patches and stuff. So it's just another way of trying to get a stream of revenue, correct?
>> Speaker 1: I've got a question for you about pumpkins and getting pollinated. I tried to grow some pumpkins, and they flowered, and everything.
And then they withered, and I never got a pumpkin, what's-
>> Speaker 2: Do you have a deer problem or anything? Because one problem I have with pumpkins is the deer would eat your blooms. They loved the blooms and the deer eat the blooms. Or you could have downy mildew is real tough on pumpkins, that's just a disease that gets in them.
>> Speaker 1: That might've been it, yeah, cuz it was in a fenced area, so it couldn't have been deer, yeah.
>> Speaker 2: Okay, well, it's probably a disease that got in them and they're a tough one to grow in this area.
>> Speaker 1: Because I was told about well they didn't get pollinated was the problem.
And I wasn't sure if that was whether or maybe it was something else.
>> Speaker 2: I don't know, I think there's enough bees still around that we've never had a problem with that. So we might've had some disease come in, but you could have a disease in the soil.
It wouldn't be prevalent in the plant, but you could have a disease in the soil to kill the root system, and so.
>> Speaker 1: What would be the lowest maintenance crop that you grow, in other words needs the least attention?
>> Speaker 2: But produces the most income?
>> Speaker 1: Yeah, from the seed to the harvesting.
>> Speaker 2: I would probably say those peppers.
>> Speaker 2: Cuz they're a pretty hardy plant, I would say those peppers probably strawberries, or you have to plant those guys in October, so you get a baby seedling about winter. You can't spray anything to kill weeds, because what'll kill weeds will kill your strawberry plants, so strawberry plants are a very, very expensive crop to grow.
But I would probably say on the farm right now probably peppers.
>> Speaker 1: Peppers.
>> Speaker 2: Probably peppers, yeah.
>> Speaker 1: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
>> Speaker 2: No, I just appreciate y'all coming down, it's been nice meeting y'all.
>> Speaker 1: No, we appreciate it.
>> Speaker 2: It's been good.
>> Speaker 1: We appreciate your time and like I said, we knew you were here, but we didn't realize all the other things. And you've educated us on some of the stuff that you do here.
>> Speaker 2: Well, I appreciate it, I try not to,
>> Speaker 2: Turn people away or anything if they wanna talk about the farm.
I always like to talk about the farm, what we got going on. I know that a lot of times, those news reporters will come down out of Charlotte, cuz we're just here right off the interstate. And a lot of times they'll come down, doom and gloom, you lost your crop.
But I always talk to them without careful what they say.
>> Speaker 1: Our project's an optimistic one, we're trying to find out what the needs are. We're gonna, first the world histories that we collect, and see what we come up with. And see what people say their needs are and everything, and we're gonna post a website.
And a lot of these will be available in the school library too, if people are researching.
>> Speaker 2: Good.
>> Speaker 1: Farming and things. But do you have anybody else you know that would be good for an interview.
>> Speaker 2: Sam Hall at Bush-N-Vine over in York, South Carolina. I can give you Sam's information.
>> Speaker 1: Okay.
>> Speaker 1: What'd you say the name,
>> Speaker 2: Sam, S-A-M Hall.
>> Speaker 1: Okay.
>> Speaker 5: Bush-N-Vine.
>> Speaker 2: Bush-N-Vine. Bush and vine, okay.
>> Speaker 2: Let's try 803.
>> Speaker 1: Okay.
>> Speaker 2: Six, two, seven, five, five, four, five.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, well, I really appreciate that.
>> Speaker 2: And tell Sam you talked to me.
>> Speaker 1: Okay.
>> Speaker 2: Or you, just tell him you talked to me and that I said, I encouraged him to sit down with you. It's a good experience, tell him that.
>> Speaker 1: I appreciate your time.
>> Speaker 2: Yeah.
>> Speaker 1: All I need, if you could, ask you to sign a release, one for the class and one for the library.
>> Speaker 2: Okay, yeah.
>> Speaker 1: That's okay for us to use an audio tape in our research?
>> Speaker 2: Okay, that's fine.
>> Speaker 1: Okay, I appreciate it.
>> Speaker 2: All right.
Hodges Family Farm (www.hodgesfarmnc.com), located off Rocky River Road in north-east Charlotte, North Carolina, has been owned and operated by the Hodges family since 1905, and is listed on both the National and North Carolina State Historic Registries. The Hodges family is currently in its ninth generation of farming in Mecklenburg County, dating back to the early 1700s. Initially a subsistence farming operation with livestock and crops of vegetables, feed grasses, and cotton, the 187-acre Farm transitioned to a primarily dairy operation in the 1930s, and remained so until 1999. It has since continued operating as a working farm – raising a variety of fruits, vegetables, feed grasses, and livestock, which are sold direct-to-consumer via produce stands on the property – but expanded its operations to include agritourism, education, therapy horses, and special events (including its month-long October Pumpkin Patch, which attracts several thousand visitors each year). Recently, the Farm’s offerings have also included cross-country foot races, obstacle course-based events, and a special events venue in its renovated 1932 Barn. The Farm is currently operated by Connor Newman and Kim Hodges Schoch, two of the great-grandchildren of Eugene Wilson Hodges, the original owner of the current farmland.
Connor Michael Newman (Farm Operations Manager) was born on October 25, 1986, in Clyde, North Carolina. He grew up helping his uncle Frankie Hodges, Connor’s immediate predecessor as the Farm Operations Manager, at the Farm. Prior to joining the Farm full-time in 2015, Connor worked for ten years as Farm Interpretation Manager at Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, North Carolina. He is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from University of Phoenix.
Kimberly Hodges Schoch (Assistant Farm Operations Manager) was born on April 1, 1991, in Durham, North Carolina. She grew up spending significant time at the Farm and other farms, focusing primarily on horses. She earned a B.S. degree in Animal Science in 2014 from N.C. State University, with a concentration in equine science. Prior to joining the Farm full-time in 2015, Kim raised and bred horses in Kentucky and Australia.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:01:02||Kim Hodges Schoch (“Kim”) introduces herself and provides biographical information|
|0:02:42||Connor Newman (“Connor”) introduces himself and provides biographical information|
|0:05:52||Connor discusses the history of the Hodges family, its farming heritage dating back to the early 1700s, and the Hodges Family Farm|
|0:06:47||Connor discusses changes at the Farm and its crops, including the transition to dairy farming during the 1930s|
|0:08:32||Connor discusses current operations of the Farm, diversification of its crops and distribution, and its move toward educational farming, agritourism, and event hosting as additional revenue sources|
|0:09:22||Kim discusses the Farm’s past horse therapy program and the care of retiring horses|
|0:10:47||Connor discusses the small labor force that operates the Farm, including “barn rat” volunteers|
|0:12:07||Connor discusses the Farm’s educational mission and activities|
|0:13:07||Connor details the expanding use of the Farm for various special events ranging from foot races to weddings, including their two-fold utility for financially supporting the Farm’s agricultural operations and for integrating the Farm more intimately with the community|
|0:15:27||Connor and Kim discuss the effect of Charlotte’s urban sprawl on the Farm’s operations, and the benefit of the Farm’s proximity to urban children who otherwise have few opportunities for farming experiences|
|0:17:37||Kim details the Farm’s educational program, including specific elements of its curriculum|
|0:19:47||Conner discusses their efforts and challenges to getting integrated into the “farm to table” scene and distribution channels beyond direct to consumer|
|0:20:47||Connor discusses the availability of support and educational resources from various state and local organizations|
|0:21:52||Conner discusses crop loss, risk mitigation, operational expenses, and the need for diversification and strategic agriculture|
|0:23:07||Connor discusses the impact of weather and climate change on crops, farm operations, and agricultural techniques|
|0:24:52||Connor discusses the impact of technology on farming|
|0:26:17||Connor discusses local support from aging farmers, and the Farm’s place as one of the last larger-scale farming operations in Mecklenburg County|
|0:27:52||Kim discusses support provided by older local farmers, the rise of urban farming, and efforts to maximize both high density production from smaller plots of land and the involvement of younger generations in agriculture|
|0:29:22||Kim discusses how she and Connor are still learning about farming and the more helpful educational resources they have found|
|0:29:57||Connor discusses a local greenhouse company as an example of the growing movement to develop new farming models and dynamics|
|0:31:07||Connor discusses the differences between the primitive farming he did while employed at Historic Latta Plantation and the farming methods used at the Farm|
|0:32:25||Connor discusses how the shrinking agriculture scene in the surrounding community reduces available educational opportunities for farmers|
|0:33:07||Kim discusses the farming community, including the desire of local farmers to help each succeed to ensure future overall success of farming, as opposed to uncooperative competition|
|0:34:47||Connor discusses resources missing from the local community that could help the Farm and farmers in general|
|0:35:25||Connor offers an example of the need for readily-available specific training by discussing the intricacies of harvesting tomatoes|
|0:36:07||Connor and Kim discuss the limited number of qualified individuals and regulatory officials to provide appropriate training, inspections, licensures, and certifications for farming operations|
|0:38:12||Connor discusses the challenges of the organic licensure, certification, and labelling processes|
|0:40:27||Connor discusses future plans for the Farm, including development of better proper ecological practices and strategies|
|0:41:57||Connor discusses livestock raised on the Farm|
|0:43:07||Kim offers agricultural advice for people wishing to pursue agriculture as a hobby or profession|
|0:45:22||Connor discusses his ongoing environmental science studies and their relation to the success of the Farm|
|0:46:42||Kim discusses what the general public does not understand about farming|
|0:48:17||Connor discusses what the general public does not understand about farming|
|0:49:17||Kim discusses the general public’s misperceptions as to traditional farming practices, particularly as to raising livestock|
|0:50:52||Connor discusses the Farm’s efforts to implement and support good sustainable farming techniques as a model, especially for smaller operations|
>> Tommy: All right, well so my name is Tommy Warlick and I'm here with Tom Grover from the UNCC History Department and we are working on the oral history project called the Queens Garden Oral Histories of the Piedmont Food Shed. Today is March 12, 2019, it's about 1 pm and we are at the Hodges Family Farm just off Rocky River Road East here in the outskirts of Mecklenburg County I guess it is.
And we're here with Connor Newman and Kim Hodges-
>> Kim: Schoch.
>> Tommy: Schoch, I knew I was gonna mess that up.
>> Kim: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: And we are here to talk about the history of the Hodges Family Farm. So, I'm gonna ask each of you, if you don't mind Kim, I'll start with you, just tell us your name and tell us a little bit about your background as far as farming and agriculture goes.
>> Kim: Well, I'm Kimberly Hodges Schoch and I was actually born in Durham, North Carolina. My father is a Hodges he was Frank's son so, he was the youngest son out of the seven siblings, so his name is Charles Hodges. And he is a mechanical engineering in the aerospace industry, so we lived in Durham where his job was.
And we moved out to Colorado when I was in middle school and I started riding horses when I was out in Colorado, so that was about when I was 12 or so. And we came back to North Carolina a couple years later and I continued riding horses cuz I really fell in love with it.
I loved being out in the barn and doing barn chores and caring for the animals. All the way through college where I went to NC State for Animal Science and I got a four year degree there. During that time I had an internship in Kentucky for six months learning to care for broodmares and their babies, their foals, and I completed my degree and I moved to Australia in 2014.
And I was there for ten months, working out of broodmare, a facility there called Darley Stud. And after that concluded I came back home to United States and I was looking for a job and we needed some help on the farm after my uncle passed, and then I came out here, so I went from horses to just everyday farming.
I've learned most of what I know now from Connor, from my dad, from the internet, [LAUGH] from trial and error, and that's where I'm at today.
>> Tommy: Well that's great, Connor how about you?
>> Connor: Okay, I'm Connor Newman, my mother is Hodges, so she's one of the siblings.
She's obviously were cousins so her dad and my mom are siblings. And I guess, I was born actually in Clint in North Carolina and then my dad was in the military, so we lived in Germany for a few years came back and have been in Charlotte, North Carolina ever since then.
So I've kind of grown up around the farm and mostly just coming out here as a kid and wandering around and occasionally helping with chores. As I got a little bit older I'd come out and help Frank Junior with the hay, my uncle who passed away, stuff like that.
And in 2004 I started working at Historic Latta Plantation started off as a farmhand. They had about four cleared acres, living history farm where they grow cotton and plowed with mules and all that kind of stuff and I did that for 11 years, eventually becoming the farm interpretation manager.
It was my job to make farming relatable to the public, so I developed programs and did school groups and all that kind of thing as well as taking care of the animals and planting cotton by hand and all that kind of good stuff. [COUGH] Then I came out here in 2014, late 2014 my uncle said that he was looking towards retirement, his son was I think 16 at the time, 17 at the time, he was wanting to spend a little more time with him, as we've come to find, farming is quite time consuming.
So he was wanting to retire, step back a little bit, and he asked me if I'd be interested, and he had asked me for years, I don't know why but I said, at that time, yes. And I quit my job and came out here, and four months later, he passed away of a heart attack.
So ever since then, and like Kim said, we both just kind of happen to be at a transitional point and both ended up out here. And like she said, through trial and error and lots of YouTube videos and a lot of the other old farmers around here, it's still true that farming communities kind of stick together.
And a lot of these guys came out and helped us not kill ourselves on the equipment and cuz like I said plowed with mules and I don't know that Kim did much tractor work before came out here. But mules can hurt you but a tractor will just chew you up and spit you out, won't even feel bad about it.
>> Tommy: So Hodges Family Farm has been around more than 100 years now and it's been in the same family the whole time, right?
>> Connor: Yes.
>> Tommy: And you're fourth generation?
>> Connor: We are the ninth generation.
>> Tommy: The ninth generation.
>> Connor: The ninth generation. Now her dad is actually the one that's done a lot with the genealogy and we can get you in contact with him as far as getting the finer point to that figured out, but to the best of my knowledge, we're the ninth generation to work this farm on this land in this area.
The Hodges been here since I think early 1700s. We have some family records going back to around Circa Revolutionary War, but we're actually registered as a centennial farm, cuz that's the most solid records are, so pre-Civil War.
>> Tommy: So, centennial meaning it's been around for 100-
>> Connor: Correct
>> Tommy: Years or so.
>> Connor: Yeah.
>> Tommy: And it's been always in this location?
>> Connor: For 100 years, yes, it's been on this farm.
>> Tommy: So tell me a little bit about the farm and what's it been raising over the years and sort of how that's changed.
>> Connor: [COUGH] Well, 100 years ago this would've been like most farms in North Carolina a subsistence farm.
It was the family and they did things like raising hogs, they raised some cotton, they raised some corn, a little bit of everything, basically the meaning of subsistence, they would, everything they needed, they got off the farm. As it progressed a little bit, they started selling some of their wares, baling some of their own cotton and selling that in town.
And then around [COUGH] in the early 1900's, it would've been probably by the 1920's that my grandfather and his brother that way would have been his father at the time they started getting into dairy. And then by the 30s and 40s my grandfather and his brother Buck Hodges started being dairymen and earnest, and it was a dairy farm until 1999.
After my grandfather had passed away and her uncle Frank sold the heard, with the blessing of the family is just dairy farming is 24, 7, its you are on-call the time no vacations, it's a lot to keep up with. So sold the herd in 99 and that's when Frankie started getting into Horses in summer camps and things like that, that kind of got our foot in the door as far as the agritourism.
And it's just kind of progressed from there.
>> Tommy: So it was your grandfather and his brother that started the dairy?
>> Connor: Yes.
>> Tommy: Okay, what were their names?
>> Connor: Buck Hodges and Frank Hodges Senior.
>> Tommy: Senior, okay, so that was Frankie's?
>> Connor: Frankie's father, correct.
>> Tommy: So what does the farm raise today?
>> Connor: Today, up until the last year or so, it's primarily been hay and pumpkins. But in the last year, we've started going towards the, I guess you might call it the farm to table scene, or the direct to consumer market, where we're raising vegetables. We just put in a small greenhouse, a market garden.
We're doing many different varieties of pumpkins. We're set up to plant those, but now we're doing more edibles and things like that. We're raising beef cattle, hogs, chickens. Kind of going back to the old ways, where it's diversified a little bit.
>> Tommy: Now, can you do, you do primarily horses, are you doing horses here, or training, or racing, or?
>> Kim: No, not anymore. Horses are very time-consuming, and all the horses we have on the property are retired. They were what Frank Junior used for therapeutic riding programs, and lessons and things like that, but they are all a little bit too old to really use in a sustained lesson program.
It's kind to let them retire now. They've had a full life. So while I do oversee the care of the horses, my mom actually is the primary caregiver of them right now. She feeds them and gives them medication that they need, and we put hay in for them if they need it.
But my primary goal is to actually support production of produce and meat right now, because that's what's gonna be bringing in the income. So that can entail helping fix fences, and machinery, and digging. I have foam all over my hands from something I was doing earlier, some insulation installation.
And so, it's really anything that needs to be done, we're doing. Our job titles are kinda blurred. Obviously, Connor's still the manager, so he has our general direction. And we follow his direction, but that could mean that one day I'm cleaning a stall, the next day I'm replacing something on the tractor, the next day I'm painting a fence, or sitting down and doing the taxes.
So we just have a lot of diversification within our job roles.
>> Tommy: So you said we. So how many folks work here on the farm on a regular basis?
>> Connor: Two full-time employees, Kim and myself.
>> Tommy: Two of you, okay.
>> Connor: Yep. We have some help that comes out.
We've got a guy working with us right now, kind of on loan from the National Guard. He deploys in late summer, so we've got him for a little while. He's got a biology degree and has some experience in greenhouse, so he’s out here working with us on some of the vegetable production, and also just, you know, he’s a hard worker.
And he just inherited some land from his grandfather in the Dominican Republic, and is planning to go back there and farm. So he’s wanting to get some experience. So we’re kind of working together on that. And then a couple of kids, actually from UNC Charlotte, come out here on a regular basis and help us out around the farm.
>> Tommy: I saw on your website that you solicit volunteers to come out and help as well?
>> Connor: We do, we do. We have volunteers come out and help us with harvest, with taking care of chores. A lot of times with the horses. That's really where the volunteer program came from.
Was what my uncle called barn rats, where they would come in, and in exchange for riding time, they would clean stalls, pick feet, groom the horses, that kind of thing.
>> Tommy: So Frankie started this concept of sort of educational farming.
>> Connor: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: What other educational aspects of the educational farming are you pursuing, or that you guys regularly do?
>> Connor: I mean, right now we're doing, we do a lot of school groups, we do several thousand children in October, that's our biggest month. We're looking into expanding throughout most of the year, but right now, October is still our biggest event We do a small event in spring, a little bit during the summer, things like that.
But October is our pumpkin patch, and you know, we might have 6 or 8,000 kids and teachers out here, and then 10 to 20,000 people just general public, come out here and pick pumpkins, and watch demonstrations, and things like that.
>> Tommy: Now, would that be over the course of October?
>> Connor: Over the course of October, yes.
>> Tommy: Wow, that's a lot of folks.
>> Connor: Yeah, it is. And it technically starts the last week of September, so there's a couple extra days in there. But it's a lot to pack into roughly a month.
>> Tommy: Well, then I've seen you.
We're sitting right now in the bridal suite of the 1932 barn that you guys have renovated as an events facility.
>> Connor: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: You do mud runs. I see you're doing a lot of other kind of opportunities. Where are these ideas coming from? What's driving these different uses of this facility?
>> Connor: Well, a lot of people approach us. Now, Kim's dad, Charles Hodges, is the business manager, so a lot of times he finds some of these people that wanna come in, and there's kind of a process. We wanna make sure that it's a good fit for our property.
It's just a two-lane road out here, so we have kind of, over trial and error, figured out what our road capacity is. Cuz we don't wanna upset our neighbors. We try and be good neighbors, in the community, so. Sometimes there'll be two or three events a year, sometimes four to six events a year, and a lot of times, they'll approach us looking for a place close to a urban center, but enough land to actually put in, like, an obstacle course race.
We work with Savage Race every year, and they bring out about 3 or 4,000 people. I'd say that's about the top end of what we like to have out here.
>> Tommy: So tell me, those are sort of unique things. I mean, are those opportunities necessary to keep the operation going?
Or are you just coming up with new and interesting ways to use the facility?
>> Connor: It's a little bit of both. I mean, definitely, the income from the leases or rentals pay the bills, and that kind of thing. We still have to stay in agricultural production, and that's our primary goal.
Just for good stewardship of the land, and also as far as the government's concerned, us being a farm. So agriculture is our primary occupation, but yeah, it's a great way to integrate with the community. We have a lot of neighbors come in, and they really enjoy being able to run around the farm, and get a little bit dirty, and watch the cows and horses as they run a race, or after parties, they typically do it one of our ten acre fields.
They kinda get a good view after their run. So, it's a little bit of everything. Community building, income, and they're just fun.
>> Tommy: Well now, your farmland is literally split by Rocky River Road, right? So you've got acreage on both sides of the road?
>> Connor: Yes.
>> Tommy: Okay, and you're talking about the community, the community's really come to you.
I mean, this was more of a rural part of the county for a long time, wasn't it?
>> Connor: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: And now you're sort of starting to get hemmed in by some residential areas, and-
>> Connor: Yeah.
>> Tommy: How is that impacting what you guys do, and how you can use your farm the way you would like to use it?
>> Kim: We can't play ball in the streets anymore. [LAUGH] We used to be able to be out in the Rocky River Road playing ball, and say, car, and get out of the road, but definitely can't do that anymore. [LAUGH].
>> Connor: Yeah, not so much. Yeah, I mean, increased traffic.
That kind of thing. Really, it, I mean there's lots of ways that it's impacted. For one thing, we're a part of, we're subject to a lot of the things that you have to, Charlotte Code and that kind of thing. We can't have a bonfire bigger than three by three feet because that's what on the Charlotte code.
Even though we're Mecklenburg County, we're not Charlotte were part of their extra jurisdictual area. So yeah, a few little odds and ends like that but honestly, it's business as usual, different technology, different people, but we're doing the same thing here that we've been doing for 200 years.
>> Kim: I think it's also beneficial because a lot of urban children don't get to see a lot of wide open spaces so if they do come out to visit us they may have never seen a goat before.
They may have never see what a barn is or a tractor up close or where their food comes from. So it helps reinforce the fact that we do need barns to keep feeding them and might encourage them to do some urban growing too. Some of the techniques that we use out here can translate pretty well to an urban environment to encourage people to grow their own food.
Yes we sell food but we also want to give them an experience that can enrich their lives with.
>> Tommy: That's really great. Tell me how do you work with kids to get them to grasp these lessons cuz I mean that's, they're watching TV, they're on the Internet. How are to reaching out to them and getting them to understand this?
>> Kim: Well, our main education program that we do in October is actually like a five rotation experience for children and we are working with younger children now. We'd like to expand into older grades and stuff like that, but typically third grade and younger are what we're doing. We have rotation.
So the first one will be the animal barn experience. They get to walk around and see the animals. Ask them what the animals provide for the community and talk about how we have to care for the animals and what to feed them and where they live and what their names are so they can become familiar with them.
We do pests and pollinators so they can become familiar with different bugs and things like that, what helps the pumpkins grow or what hurts the pumpkins or why we need some of these pests or pollinators to help us. We pick a pumpkin, so that's fairly straight forward. They get to go down to the patch, see where the pumpkins are growing, see the vines, the flowers and start to understand companion crops, cuz we plant things other than pumpkins in there to help the pumpkins.
And we have how the pumpkin grows, so we have another instructor going about how it starts from a seed and it goes to a seedling to a vine to a flower to a pumpkin, and then they get to plant their own pumpkin. So, we have a little seed and a cup of dirt, we talk about what's important, what they need.
They need sunlight and soil and water and space. And so, they'll put a little seed in a little solo cup, we send it home with them, and in the classroom teachers can let it sprout and so they can see how long it takes to germinate and things like that.
So we try to encourage them to ask questions during this. This takes about an hour and a half so it's a very immersive experience about what plants and crops are. And then they still can go back to the classroom and continue they're learning too.
>> Tommy: That's great. Now switching gears on you, you mentioned the farm to table aspect of it and you guys getting back to more broader crop ranges, how did you get that going again?
That certainly started almost from scratch I guess and in setting up this distribution networks at all, how do you go about getting back on it?
>> Connor: Well, to be quite honest, we're still working on it. Primarily what we're doing now is the produce that we're growing is sold on farm.
We haven't really started distributing to any restaurants or, really, anywhere else, it's pretty much we grow it here and we sell it here. That's how we've done the pumpkin patch. So, and this will be the first year. Like I said, we just put in a greenhouse. We've just put in a market garden.
So, this will be the first year that we're really growing a lot of produce, raising the meat and eggs, and that kind of thing. So, we're gonna start with what we know on farm sales and then we'll explain from there.
>> Connor: So, yeah, right now it's [NOISE] kind of in the beginning.
>> Tommy: Are there organizations that you can work with that can help you get your produce into these restaurants or in these channels?
>> Connor: Sure. Yeah, there's the extension office is always willing to help and the extension office works with NC State and they have a lot of programs trying to connect farms and producers with the community.
And there's actually an app that I believe is in the trial stages right now. They're only a few counties in North Carolina, but it's visitnc.com. And that's what they're trying to do, is they're trying to create an interface that people are used to in a form of an application on your phone or your tablet and you type in what you're looking for and it tells you where you can buy it local and fresh.
And it's just the whole purpose of it is to connect farmers with the community.
>> Tommy: So run an operation like this it got to be pretty big. And you mentioned that you have a business manager. How do you manage and mitigate the losses or risks associated with crop losses or just expenses in general?
>> Connor: Well, that's one of the things that drove us to become more diversified. It's kinda like if you're gonna put together a stock investment portfolio, you don't just put everything, all your eggs in one basket, you diversify and that's essentially what we're doing just on the farm. So if we are growing tomatoes and squash, and onions, and hay, and pigs, and cows you know if we have, we had some crazy weather last couple of years.
Last year we lost over seven acres of pumpkins. But we grew 21 different varieties, so some that didn't do so well when it was inundated with rain and then when we had a several week dry spell. We lost some pumpkins in both of those weather events but since we grew so many different kinds, and at the time we were also growing strawberries, and that kind of thing.
You know, when one thing doesn't do well, when one door shuts, kind of a window opens and we just kinda, that's our business plan, is diversify. As you asked a little bit ago, that's also why we do the programs in advance. It keeps us relevant in the community.
Keeps us on people's mind and it's also a diversified revenue stream.
>> Tommy: So how does the weather impact what you guys do grow? I mean, you're spread out amongst various things. Are there things you just won't do anymore because of the weather? Or things that you're starting to experiment with now because the weather's changing a bit?
>> Connor: Well, one of the things that we do now is we don't do any tillage anymore. And so we used to, to try and break some weed and pest cycles over the winter. Every time it would freeze we would till the fields and that the theory behind that is you're bringing up the eggs that the squash for moths are laying in the soil and your bringing those up to where they'll freeze.
You're bringing up wheat seeds, and they'll germinate in the sunlight and then they'll freeze, and you know, things like that. And well, that's common practice, but if we had done that this past winter and then had record rainfall, we would've lost topsoil, nutrients, we would've muddied up the waterways.
So that's one thing we've done and it was kind of something we decided to do and it's just been proving itself over and over again. Again, keeping the ground covered, stops erosion, it keeps the ground moist during drought times. Usually you're gonna see about a 5 to 10 degree difference in the summertime.
The ground's gonna be 5 to 10 degrees cooler if you've got it covered. And the opposite in the wintertime. When I took measurements out here and the ground was 39 degrees when it was 25 degrees outside. So it makes a big difference. So that’s one of our main kinda tenants out here, is keep the ground covered.
>> Tommy: I know you mentioned earlier talking about technology and how that's changed. I know you've been kicking around the farm here since you where little. How's the technology changed that you’ve seen? How does that impact of what you do here on a daily basis?
>> Connor: Well, for one thing, one of the things that Kim pointed out is we have YouTube now.
And I know that might sound silly, but there's been a lot of times when I'm out there on the tractor. And I can't find somebody that knows how to work on a 1985 Ford 7610 and I'll look it up on YouTube. And I'm able to sit out there in the field and instead of having to drive across town to the only tractor dealer left in Charlotte I can look it up on YouTube, fix it myself, and I'm back to work.
So I'm not losing half a day out in the field. So I'd say social media is a great way for us to connect with people. It's a great way for us to see what other farms are doing and to share our ideas with them and get ideas from them as well for our farm [COUGH].
Yeah, I'll even say things like Amazon. So a lot of your online stuff. I can go on Amazon now, and since we are near a hub, I can order parts that I need. I can order my solar-powered chicken coop door that opens first thing in the morning, and closes when it gets dark on Amazon and it's here tomorrow.
It saves us a lot of time and when you are working on something this big with just a couple of people, time ends up being one of your most valuable commodities. So technology has allowed us to save a lot of time.
>> Tommy: So what's the farming community like in this area of Charlotte?
What has been your experience of the farming community here?.
>> Connor: To be honest, a lot of the farmers, and now we have a cousin across the road, second cousin, and he raises Charolais beef cows and hay and compost. And he does a little bit of everything like a lot of farmers do.
But other than that we're some of the last ones in the community. When I first started out here, I went to the extension office trying to figure out how to do the soil samples and that kind of thing. And at first they are giving me an explanation of how to do it in a yard.
And I said, no, not a yard, I need to sample 57 acres. And all of a sudden they perk up and I am the first person that is asked about something over a quarter acre lot in five years. So before I know it I am surrounded by five or six master gardeners and a couple of extension agents asking what we are doing, explaining to me how to takethe samples and things like that.
So there is not a whole lot left in Charlotte, but you go to the surrounding areas and there's still some, not a lot of young people. I think the average age of a farmer in, I think, the United States is about 65. So a lot of them are kinda getting towards that retirement age.
But there are a few of us, there are just are a few younger people.
>> Tommy: Well, I was gonna ask you, how old are you, if you don't mind me asking?
>> Connor: 32.
>> Tommy: Okay, cuz I thought you are p pretty oung for this kind of an operation.
>> Connor: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: I wanna ask you cuz it's-
>> Kim: I'm 28 [INAUDIBLE].
>> Tommy: Okay. [LAUGH]
>> Kim: [LAUGH] But what's also encouraging is while a lot of the larger farmers or farms are generally run by older farmers. We've come to find that there is a new kind of wave of, like I said earlier, urban farmers that have five acres or so.
That are kind of inspired by some of the same people that we are about this no-till in holistic farming. Those are just some top words that you'll see if you Google. And have small operations with high intensity outputs which is kind of what we're trying to mimic with our market garden which is a third of an acre.
But we're trying to really get a lot produced on a third of acre using the companion crops and no-till agriculture and things like that. Just last week we went and bought a few hogs from a guy who was probably around our age. He had hogs, he had chickens, he had geese, he had all kinds of things.
So some of the farmers are aging out, but then there's another community kind of rising up to meet that small but highly productive farm. So we're kinda trying to merge those two things. Have our sizable farm, but still have high intensity outputs from smaller areas, if that makes sense.
>> Tommy: Now you mentioned that, so that's sort of a different class of farming now, this urban farming going on.
>> Kim: Right.
>> Tommy: Are you in communication with those types of folks or they reaching out to you to get some ideas or they learn it from you how to do things?
>> Kim: I don't think we're teachers at this point so much as learners. So there's a few big names out there that we draw inspiration from like Gay Brown. And we read a lot of books [LAUGH] to continue learning and seeing what people have been doing. And I see there's Joel Salatin, there's, I don't know, David Montgomery is a good one.
And anyways [LAUGH] we are trying to find something that works that can keep us relevant in the community and that's just seems to be one of them.
>> Connor: And also people that we got our greenhouse from.
>> Kim: Sure.
>> Connor: They're kind of a classic part of this movement, they're around our age.
I think they're just a little bit older than I am. But they started in their solarium on the back of their house. And actually they tell a good story about a farm tour coming through and they signed up for it. And ended up having a farm tour come through their solarium because that was their farm, that's where they produced.
And then they bought this greenhouse and then they expanded to a larger greenhouse and we bought their own greenhouse. And so Kim makes an excellent point. That is where you're gonna see this come to life, it's maybe a different iteration than the classic, a 100, 200, 300 acre farm producing corn and cows.
But there is a movement coming up, or at least there seems to be, we hope there is.
>> Tommy: So, Connor, you had a sort of a unique experience of going from old-time farming, if you will, with the mule, over that plantation to a little bit more mechanized operation here.
What are some of the challenges and options that you've incurred as you've confront through that transition?
>> Connor: Well, initially it all seemed alien to me. As we kinda came into our stride, I started realizing that a lot of the techniques that we practise there. I mean we composed out there, out here I tried to reinvent the wheel reading all these books on compost.
And really it's essentially the same thing we're doing at Atlanta. Just instead of turning it by hand I'm out there turning it with the tractor. And instead of one big pile we do it in a wind road to increase surface area and get more oxygen to it, things like that.
So that might be a good way to describe it. Is knowing when and when not to reinvent the wheel and how to apply those. When I need to do a little more research and when I need to just kinda trust our guts and go with what we know.
That way we don't spend all of our time on YouTube and reading books, although we do spend a lot [LAUGH].
>> Tommy: So you mentioned co-ops, I mean You guys are doing a class tomorrow, I think you said, for continuing education. Are there enough of those around that can deal with the questions and issues that you've got to be helpful to you?
>> Connor: There are, there's a lot of that coming up. We went to a meat marketing conference not too long ago that dealt primarily with organic and grass-fed beef and pork and chicken and that kind of thing and we got to listen to a panel. And we actually did a question and answer portion of the seminar where we got to talk to a panel of people that have been doing it for say five years or more and had kind of built successful businesses.
And we just sat in a gymnasium for a couple hours and got the list of questions and there were things like that that pop up all over the place. Sometimes we have to travel a little bit to find it as I said, there's not a whole lot of agriculture in Charlotte but an hour, two hours outside.
And we can usually find something.
>> Kim: And it's encouraging cuz the community wants to see the community move forward too. Farming isn't a competition. We're competing against record-breaking rain or drought, or something like that. Farmers on a whole wanna see other farmers do well, because that's how we're gonna feed people is that everyone succeeds.
So, more often than not, they're very receptive to teaching or saying this is how they've done it and like helping us if we have questions. One of the biggest resources we had while we're out here and still have is that there's some old-timey farmers that run this Stumptown Tractor Club.
So they come out in October and have this exhibition of their big old tractors and steam engines and things like that, and Joe Ferguson he's the president of it, lives down the street. We still have one of his tedders out here that we use sometimes, he is more than happy to answer any questions, or talk over something with us, or help us work through something, or show us how this machine is run.
Cuz some of the machines that we still have are 40 or 50 years old. And he's got experience with those for 40 or 50 years, and he's happy to come help us if we have a question. So we are very much supported by the community, still. Not only Charlotte as a community but the community of older farmers wanting to see us do well.
So it's very encouraging.
>> Tommy: So what kind of resources are not available to you here that would help your operations that are not really available here in the Charlotte region, that are holding back farming, if you will.
>> Connor: A perfect example is our FSMA training that we're going for tomorrow.
>> Tommy: I'm not familiar with that.
>> Connor: FSMA is F-S-M-A, it's the Food Safety Modernization Act. It's coming down the pipeline and it starts affecting small farms in 2020-2021 based on gross income, what you're producing, all that kind of thing. And it's just kind of, a lot of it's common sense.
We joke because the guidance is a whole lot of words about just basically don't soil your vegetables and then sell them to people. But I mean there are finer points, like a lot of people don't realize when you pick tomatoes out of the field before you wash them you need to bring them to the same temperature or a lower temperature than the water you're washing them in.
Because they've got a permeable skin, anything on that skin from the field, whether it's bird droppings or what have you, will get sucked into that tomato. Same thing with eggs. So there are some finer points that you really do need somebody that knows what they're talking about to explain it to you.
It's not necessarily common sense. And the closest FSMA training that we could find is in Salisbury, so tomorrow morning we're gonna get here early and be up in Salisbury at 8 o'clock in the morning. So it'd be nice if it was at the extension office, which is 12 minutes down the road.
But right now, we would probably be the only ones in the class and, yeah, the lady that runs up that training program, she services North Carolina, so she's got 100 hundred counties to worry about. And that's something you see a lot too, same thing with the state veterinarian.
He came by and showed us how to tag our hogs, and that kinda thing, and he was leaving here to go to Wilmington. And then leaving there to go up to Jackson County, so all over the place. I mean these guys are putting some miles on their vehicles.
>> Kim: I think there's only one man certified for egg grading from the USDA in North Carolina.
>> Connor: Yeah, we did an egg grading course.
>> Kim: And we did an egg grading course with them. And so he came in and he services the entire state, just one man.
>> Tommy: So do you have to make an appoint with him to come and grade your eggs or is he just showing you how to do it?
>> Kim: The class was, he had other, he had a, what was her name? He had an assistant with him. She was actually teaching the class. He was just there for the finer points. If we had questions about the USDA was concerned with or not. You do not have to have your eggs USDA certified to sell them, if you are under five thousand dollars, don't quote me on that I'm not sure if that's correct.
>> Connor: Once you surpass 30 dozen eggs a week, then you have to grade your eggs. You can do it yourself, and they suggest training. And it's kinda one of those things if somebody whistle blows on you that you're selling dirty eggs or something like that, the gentleman that Candice is talking about it is a USDA compliance officer.
And he comes down, inspects your operation and he can shut it down, make you go take further training, issue a fine, that kind of thing.
>> Tommy: So you mentioned the organic farming. Are you guys starting, you're starting to go that way, is there a particular training you've gotta do to get that certification, or to have your products deemed as appropriately organic, or anything like that?
I'm just not familiar with that.
>> Connor: Well yeah organic, the privilege of labeling your produce, or beef, or what have you. Organic is basically a licensure or a certification that you get from the USDA and you do have to go through a process. You have to have a certifying agent come out and inspect your property, inspect your, you have to have a best management practices plan out there.
So you say how you take care of your crops, how you handle disease outbreak or something like that. How you would quarantine certain foodstuffs to keep public health intact and all that kind of thing. Just basically it's a lot of paperwork and you have to show that you're using all organic methods.
Now that's another thing that is in short supply. I think there's something like 13 or 16 certified agents in the US. So the closest one we could find- well, Clemson, South Carolina is a certifying agent, the university, but they only serve South Carolina. So the next closest one for us was Pennsylvania.
So we would have to pay for an inspector to come down here and inspect our, whatever we want certified organic. And you keep it up annually, you get inspected annually, you pay a fee to the certified agency, that kind of thing. We've considered it and right now it's also a three year probation to get into the program.
So we have to keep records of managing our property and our produce, anything we are producing on the farm organically, and then we have them come inspect. They look through our records. They say you're doing this right, you're doing this wrong. They do some soil samples to make sure that we say we haven't sprayed in three years.
We really haven't sprayed in three years, that kinda thing. And if you pass all that, then you can put USDA Certified Organic And I call her auto purpose.
>> Tommy: So you guys have done a lot of things right now.
>> Connor: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: I mean a lot, where do you see the operations in five years?
Where are you aiming for right now?
>> Connor: Well, we just want to get, the things that we're working on right now. We want to get those stabilized and then kind of expand them. So right now we're working on getting about 20 to 25 hogs, something like that. And the type of farming we're doing, whether you call them regenerative, or sustainable, or organic is based a lot on synergies and ecology.
So you run cows through a pasture first, and then you run sheep through the pasture because they eat different plants and are affected by different parasites than cows are. And then you run pigs through there because they'll go through and kind of disturb the roots and get the pasture going again, and then you leave it fallow for a little while.
So what we've tried to do is kind of look at what makes sense from an ecologic perspective, to take advantage of the ecological niches that we have on the farm. And that's what we've kinda used to guide, okay, we're gonna use grains and legumes in this field. And then we're gonna follow that by different livestock.
And that's kinda how we've set up our baseline of what species and cultivars of crops we want to use. Starting off small, kind of starting off slow, and then we're gonna try and build that. Like expand by 10% every year.
>> Tommy: So we've currently got beef cattle, chickens, pigs, what other livestock do we have?
>> Connor: We've got some other livestock, they're mainly for educational groups. We do sheep, because we teach kids about wool and where textiles come from and that kind of thing. We've got a small flock of chicken separate from the other chickens, they are show chickens. We talked the kids about the eggs and that kind of thing, we've got a couple of goats, and that's kind of probably a whole another level from when I work it.
We basically had a representation of all the animals you would find on a working farm. So we've kind of replicated that here and we have our core group of animals goats, pigs, chicken, sheep, couple of miniature horse and donkey, and stuff like that. Yeah, something that the kids can relate to look at one or two of them, they really kind of get something out of their visit.
>> Tommy: So, you guys really had a steep learning curve, and it's really sort of hit hard and fast. What kind of advice would you have for somebody that was trying to get in agriculture right now or thinking about getting into farming on a little bit more than just a casual basis?
>> Connor: Kim, you want to take one?
>> Kim: [LAUGH]
>> Connor: I feel like I've been talking too much.
>> Kim: I would say read a lot, and learn as much as you can on the books. Don't do everything by the books, it's not gonna be the same on your farm as it would be on whomever's farm you're reading about.
But research the kind of farm that you would like to do and kinda have your in goal in mind when you start. So be able to plan for what you would like to happen. So like how we would love to grow food for the community and people can come and pick baskets, gather and go home and cook a meal.
Do you want to sell directly to the public? Do you want to do wholesale? Do you want to do CSAs? Stuff like that, and research different methods. I like that we've researched into how to do things ecologically. Connor's doing it an environmental science degree right now, he's working on that to help learn how everything works cohesively and plan for the future.
Because if you farm intensively on a crop and you just take everything from the land it's not gonna sustain itself. You're gonna over-farm it and then you're gonna have to move on. They're not making more land out there. What's here is here, and so learn to care about what you have.
And if you have a backyard that's only like 500 square feet, you probably can do something out of there. There's a whole different branch our culture hydroponics, things like that, so you kind of have to focus a little bit about what you want in the future and make a tree, branch out from there.
You can get bogged down by a little stuff very easily. And we know that everyday, everyday we're like, we need to clean this up, we need to do this and then we're like, okay. Pull back, what do we need to do right now to further our plan for the future instead of cleaning up this stuff that's been sitting here for 30 years.
Well, yes, we need to do that but we also needed to focus on this vehicle to sell eggs in September. So things like that.
>> Tommy: So where are you working on your Gardenal Science degree?
>> Connor: University of Phoenix.
>> Tommy: Really?
>> Connor: Yeah, it's about the only way I can do it.
I like the way they set up their program. They've got over 20 years of online class experience. Made sense for me cuz I've got a two-year-old at home so so I do this and then play with him for a little bit and then do my classes. And yeah, it's started at Central Piedmont years ago and got half a degree.
At that time, I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. So I took some of the biology and stuff like that that actually tied into this. And environmental science degree hit all the points I was looking for. It focuses a lot on agriculture because that's where a lot of it, where one person controls a large amount of environment is in agriculture, or just a few people.
And it goes into how ecology works, and we can apply that directly to our fields and I should be graduating in, I believe, in 2020.
>> Tommy: Congratulations, that's fantastic.
>> Connor: Thank you.
>> Tommy: So, since you're doing educational farming for folks, what are some of the misperceptions or the confusions that you see people have when they come out here and listen to you talk and the light bulb goes on?
What don't they understand about farming?
>> Kim: It's not just picking the vegetables, [LAUGH] a lot goes on behind the scenes, not only do we raise the pumpkins and the plant them and stuff, but we're fixing fences. We have to, sometimes your own engineer like these [INAUDIBLE] aren't made anymore.
How do we make it work? Or, we don't just take the winter off. We have plumbing projects, we have electrical, there's always coding being updated. And so we are trying to keep everything safe and up-to-date and fix things, [LAUGH], and sometimes things come up that you don't even think about.
Like, the veterinary needs to come out because your horse stepped on a nail or something like that. If they see a lame horse, it's probably not because we neglect them but we're working on making them better. And it's just you might see things and go they must be doing that wrong or they must not care about this cuz it needs new paint or something.
But that costs a lot of money too, and they think yeah, well, this land and this equipment and stuff like that, they must be rich.
>> Connor: [LAUGH]
>> Kim: While there's a lot of money tied up in that land and those buildings and those machineries, and we're sometimes barely scraping by.
So I think that's a big misconception, is that if they see you have this big farm they just automatically assume that you have endless streams of revenue coming in. Or you can just sit back and drive your BMW to the beach. And during the summer when you need a harvest, to take care of pests and things like that, so.
I know that people think farmers are hard workers They just don't always see the inputs that it takes to run the farm as well.
>> Connor: And I'd say that's something that a lot of people don't realize too is it's difficult to conceive a scale that you're working on.
And I'm not talking about super farms. I'm talking about even for your backyard garden. A lot of people don't realize well most vegetables need an inch [INAUDIBLE] right but what does that mean well that's that translates to every square 100 feet about 62 gallons once a week. So you got to think about, what does that translate to to an acre which is 43,560, square feet.
Yeah, that's a lot of water and then people here numbers like that and I assume you're wasting it but what you're actually doing is storing that water in the plants. It transpires out of the plants, goes back into the atmosphere. So people were either shocked, or underwhelmed, or overwhelmed and there's just not a lot of realistic perspective or our perception of scape when it comes to agriculture
>> Kim: And I also want to say conventional farmers like people are so upset about some of the traditional practices, and while we don't use a lot of them but farmers aren't trying to hurt their animals, they're not trying to treat them badly. If you treat your animals poorly they're not going to produce well for you as a farmer or it makes it sound like it's the bottom line, it's not.
I mean I can't count the number of times Connor or I have been out here in the middle of the night with a sick pig, or a sick goat or taking lambs home and putting diapers on them so they don't poop all over your house. We do truly care about our animals, yes, they might be meat production animals or, but we want them to be the happiest that they can be when they're here.
So we do produce meat products, but we also very much care about our cows and our pigs our chickens and everything like that. So we for example, we just got 200 chickens and every single one of the ones that didn't make it cuz chickens are very fragile when they're babies and you're gonna lose a few.
And every single one I was sad about as I had to take it out and care about it, and I'm a little soft hearted. [LAUGH] But I think that also makes me compassionate and good with the animals because I'm more perceptive as to if they need help or if they need something done for them so, that as well.
>> Tommy: Why not jump around a lot on you guys? Are there any questions that I did not ask you that I should have asked you or anything else you like, you care to share with us?
>> Connor: I mean, honestly, I think you hit most of the main points, what sets us apart from maybe your typical farm or what you see on TV as a farm are the methods that we use.
The fact that we are trying to show other people. Like Kim pointed out, yes, there's gonna be competition within any market, especially with similar goods and methods. But a lot of people that are apart of this movement, they want there to be more sustainable farms, rather than one centralized hog farm, in the flat lands of North Carolina that has thousands of hogs in it.
It makes more sense you're gonna get fresher food, better nutrients [INAUDIBLE] and it's gonna be better for the land and animals if you have more small operations. So just that's the kind of thing that anybody that's part of that movement is wanting people to realize, is support small farms whether it's ours or not when you can.
And I think we really I think we touched on just about every aspect of that.
>> Tommy: Well, I can't thank you enough for your time. We really appreciate it. One last question I have abuse is there anybody that you can think of that we all reach out to and, and speak with on these types of issues with regard to chat and the Greater Charlotte area?
>> Connor: I would suggest maybe talking to Lucky Leaf Gardens, they're the ones that we got the.
>> Tommy: Lucky Leaf?
>> Connor: Lucky Leaf, yeah, Mark and Kate, and I've forgotten their last name. But they're the ones we bought our greenhouse from, and they have a neat story, they've been very successful in what they're doing, they're passionate about what they're doing and they kinda, they do everything organically.
I don't think they're certified organic. I could be wrong about that but they care about what they're doing and I'd be proud to call them colleagues.
>> Connor: I can't think of anybody else off the top of the head.
>> Kim: If you want to talk to like the old school, kind of side of things maybe Anson at Feed Mill, Bevel Feed Mill.
>> Connor: Sure, Anson Eves.
>> Tommy: Anson Eves?
>> Connor: Yes, he works at.
>> Tommy: Is he from Midland?
>> Connor: Yeah, do you know him?
>> Tommy: I know his sister, sister used to work for me, his sister Carla is a lawyer.
>> Kim: Okay.
>> Tommy: She used to work for me so.
>> Kim: But he works he distributes green and stuff and he does horses cows stuff and his family as you probably know and farmland out there.
>> Tommy: I completely forgot about ants, and that's great, I'll have to give him a call.
>> Connor: We work with a lot, and you can ask him about Connor and his crazy cover crop questions.
I'm calling him all the time and asking him. Cuz like Kim said, don't just take everything you read for gospel, cuz it's not always gonna work in your environment. So when we read something from [INAUDIBLE] or something that some practice that a farmer in North Dakota is using, I call Anson and I say, hey, do you have any experience with this crop?
He's and that kind of stuff so with this grow here what's your experience with this? He's been doing it for a long time, he's dad a farmer.
>> Tommy: Yeah.
>> Connor: Yeah, as you know, and he's always willing to share information. So I call Anson maybe more than he would like, but he's a good, good source of information.
>> Tommy: [INAUDIBLE] You take care of the equipment, Air Force.
Tommy Barbee was a 58-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place at Barbee Farms in Concord, North Carolina. He was born in Concord, North Carolina in 1960. He was educated in Concord and is employed as a farmer.
Tommy Barbee discusses the changes he has witnessed on his family’s farm over the course of his lifetime. He recounts assisting his grandparents and parents on the farm growing up in the 1960s and 1970s as well as his father’s focus on pork production. He explains why he did not originally want his son Brent to become a fulltime farmer but is now pleased with the decision. Mr. Barbee describes Brent’s initiatives and changes to the farm’s operation, bringing all 70 acres into full production.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:30||History of the farm|
|0:01:07||Grandparents were fulltime farmers|
|0:02:44||There used to be many farms in the area|
|0:04:04||Brent decided to become a fulltime farmer|
|0:05:04||Transition on the farm over Barbee's life|
|0:05:23||Father focused on pork production|
|0:07:50||Teaching the value of money|
|0:10:45||Brent wanted to be a fulltime farmer|
|0:12:19||Why Barbee did not want Brent to be a farmer|
|0:14:55||Brent's expansion of the farm operation|
|0:17:39||Some older farmers not investing in Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)|
|0:19:01||Farm world as competition, but also work together|
|0:20:10||New crops brought in by Brent|
|0:21:38||The hungry months|
|0:23:02||Brent's first investment (greenhouse)|
|0:25:25||H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers|
|0:27:41||Barbee's reaction to the H-2A program|
|0:29:56||Society is far removed from its food source|
|0:30:23||Changes in distribution on the farm|
|0:34:24||Farming is a guessing game|
|0:36:02||Davidson Farmers' Market|
|0:38:24||Widening of I-85|
|0:41:26||Reunited farm under one identity|
|0:44:09||Piedmont Culinary Guild|
|0:44:30||Lowes Food CSA - Carolina Crate|
>> Sarah: Okay, today is March 5th, 2019. We are at Barbie Farms in Concord, North Carolina. My name is Sarah Wildes and I am interviewing Tommy Barbie. So Tommy, this is a centennial farm. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of the farm?
>> Tommy: l can tell you back as far as l can remember.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Tommy: l remember my grandparents. l'm actually the fifth generation of our family on this farm. l remember working with and around my grandparents on my mother's side.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Tommy: Of course, as a child, and beyond, at the earliest that I can remember, my grandfather and grandmother on my mother's side never had public jobs.
>> Tommy: They made their living from this very same farm that we're on now. Basically, with three or four milk cows, my granddaddy milked cows, my grandmother churned butter. They sold whole milk and basically peddled what they produced here on the farm. During the summertime they grew multiple fruits and vegetables, mostly vegetables.
At that time there was not a lot of fruits. Of course, there was an apple tree here or there, but as far as for the purpose of creating income, fruits were not a thing then.
>> Sarah: About what time period was this?
>> Tommy: We're talking, well, I was born in 1960 so we're talking, of course, I can remember back to seven, eight years old, so late, let's say mid to late 60s, in that timeframe.
I also remember very vaguely a small amount of cotton being grown on this farm, which was all handpicked. It was all family. There weren't a large amount of employees. Of course, at that stage in this area there were lots of farms around. And most everybody was kin, so when everybody kinda lent a hand in when you were harvesting cotton or hoeing cotton, or doing whatever, all the neighbors showed up which was all the kin people.
And when everybody showed up, my grandmother fed everybody. They pretty much raised their own beef and pork, and chickens. Always had laying hens to produce eggs. And that was another one of the commodities that they peddled. And actually, that grandfather that I'm talking about was the last generation before my son who was our actually farm manager now.
He was the last generation to solely depend on this farm for income. My dad and mother both worked public work, full time jobs for over 30 years. Myself and my wife both worked public work for over 30 years and our son, Brent, basically decided that,
>> Tommy: Farm life was where he wanted to create his income.
So after lots of begging from his mother and I to not do that, he basically went to NC State and wasted two years of my money and two years of his time and come home and said, I'm gonna farm for a living, so.
>> Sarah: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: Was that a bad decision?
It is not, it was not. He seems to be comfortable most of the time now. You gotta go in it knowing that it's not a lucrative way to make a living,
>> Tommy: So you have to set your standards to that, so.
>> Sarah: Live within your means?
>> Tommy: Within your means, absolutely.
But to get back to the history side of it, and that was kind of a brief overview, within my lifetime, this farm has transitioned from three or four milk cows, the butters, the eggs, the vegetables during the summer. There again, when my dad kind of took the farm over, we went into pretty heavy pork production.
We had about 50,
>> Tommy: Farrowing mothers, farrowing sows. And we raised pigs to what was then known as top hogs, which is butcher size pigs. They went to market. And during, I guess, let's say from early 70s, early to mid-70s through probably the mid-80s, that was our main crop.
And when we were growing the pigs, of course, we were growing everything that they ate. We were growing wheat, barley, corn, soy beans. We made our own feed, ground our own feed. So all of the inputs were still pretty much, we were still pretty much self-contained. Then in the, I guess, the mid-80s, early to mid-80s when I chose not to farm for a living.
Of course, this is always, when you don't farm for a living, but you still farm you've got two jobs, so to speak. When I chose to not farm for a living and went to vocational school, went to work for a living. And we kinda downsized the pork production part of it.
We went from raising top hogs or slaughter hogs to feeder pigs, which narrows the window of amount of time that an animal's on your farm. And then they go to another farm and they're grown from the 40 to 50 pound feeder pig into a market size pig. And then, and during this whole time, even back to I can remember with my grandfather, during the summer, fruits, fruit, vegetables, not fruits, vegetables, and I say not fruits because we did a lot of melons.
So yes, fruits and vegetables.
>> Sarah: More local fruits, not-
>> Tommy: Yes.
>> Sarah: Fruits from farther away.
>> Tommy: Right right, that was the way I made money. I did not have a job when I was in high school, but I was told at a very young age an allowance was not something I knew anything about.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: That was not. My allowance was in the garden, in the field. That was, if I wanted something then there is your money then go get it, turn it into money and so I value that. You don't know how much I value that and I value that enough to pretty much pass it onto my son.
When the allowance question came up, of course, he goes to school and learns about kids getting an allowance.
>> Sarah: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: So we pretty much had that same conversation that my dad and I had, about okay, there's your allowance, lets see what you do with it.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: And so that's part of history that I'm glad has not changed. I now have a five and a half year old, he'll be six in August, grandson which is the seventh generation.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: On this farm [COUGH] and we are in the process of teaching him those same values.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: And it's, I spoke of years ago when this was a large agricultural area.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: If you saw driving in here you probably didn't see a whole lot of farms around here, now.
>> Tommy: It's not a farming area anymore. But this, it's home to us.
>> Sarah: Of course.
>> Tommy: And it's definitely not something that we're ashamed of. No reason to be. We're actually proud that we have been able to hold on. But I think being able to hold on has come through values taught to us by generations before us. So living within your means so to speak.
And knowing what those means are.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: But then I guess in the [NOISE] as Brent my son started to grow and he got more interested in of course making money so we started expanding the vegetable side of the operation, basically has it was basically giving to him to say okay we got 70 acres here, how much acreage do you want for vegetables and then the rest of it?
We still grew corn and soy beans and traditional row crops. And as the years progressed and he got older, the vegetables acreage went from two acres to five acres to ten acres to, and now we're totally at, for last six years I guess it is seven years. Maybe even eight years.
We've been totally at the same total 70 acres. There is nothing but fruits and vegetables so that's kind of the life line sort of speak, I guess it's as I remember it and again I was born and raised here, and been here for 58 and two third years now so.
>> Sarah: All right just wanna go back for a quick, you said Brent went to NC State?
>> Tommy: He did.
>> Sarah: Why did you not want him to pursue farming full time?
>> Tommy: I wanted him to be able to make an amount of money that was, that would give him, him and his family a comfortable living.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: Because I knew the money's just not in, especially a small farm. It's just not there. I mean, and it's kinda sad and there again, it's not something I'm proud of, but it's not something I'm gonna hide either. When our farm manager is on the poverty level line.
But it's a fact of life, I'm sorry. And that's what I did not want him to endure, I wanted him to, I had, I had as a young adult growing into an aged adult let's say. I had good jobs. I had technical skills. I had good jobs. I had good paying jobs.
Still lived within my means. And was through the generations have been basically handed this farm. So I've never wanted for anything that I needed. Of course we eat very well, because we eat what we produced 90% of. I love to hunt. We eat a lot of venison. So that's just kind of our life style.
And there again it's not something that I'm ashamed of.
>> Sarah: No reason.
>> Tommy: At all.
>> Sarah: You got your land, you got your food.
>> Tommy: I do, I do, and I guess being able to pass that tradition along and for it to actually stick. Not pushing it the envelope, so to speak, cuz like I say, I begged him not to do it because
>> Tommy: It can be very tough, very tough. Just one of my goals in life that I failed at. But did I fail?
>> Sarah: I don't think you did.
>> Sarah: So you, so Brent obviously has really expanded the operation?
>> Tommy: Without a doubt, yes. He has gone, the building that we're in now was Brent's first major project.
And it was due to, I don't know how familiar you are with FSMA, food safety modernization act. It was just enacted during the Obama administration.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: And it was actually farmer driven, let's say American farmer driven driven because in the past, fruits and vegetables that came from abroad, from anywhere other than United States were not as-
>> Sarah: Controlled.
>> Tommy: Controlled, they didn't go through the inspections that our-
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Tommy: Domestic food went through and that to me, that's a problem. You know, our food source needs to be secure, it needs to be all treated alike. But there were no stringent government regulations on, I mean, every state is different.
And every municipality had their different little flukes.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: So this is actually a national set of rules so to speak.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Tommy: And Brent had enough foresight
>> Tommy: To be able to look ahead and say, okay this feels the thing is coming because when you're in that and to sure you gotta keep watching what's in the works, he saw that coming and as a matter of fact, we went under regulation last year.
Which we were, we're four years into this building so,
>> Tommy: And are doing, what they, the county has actually held training seminars at our farm to show people how it's done right which were pretty proud of.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: When it's a brand new situation, there are a lot of farmers, fruit and vegetable farmers, my age that are basically sticking their head in the sand and saying, you know, and there again back to living within your means.
If I were within less than ten years of retiring and I was in this not having a somebody that's coming in behind me on this. I daresay for a fruit and vegetable farm our size that was starting with nothing, building-wise, you could tie up a couple of million dollars.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: There's not a couple of million dollars in a lifetime profit in a farm this size. It's just not there.
>> Sarah: Especially if you're looking to retire. You want to put that investment to it.
>> Tommy: Right, If I was within ten years of retirement, it would be an absolute It would be ludicrous so and i can't get there
>> Tommy: But then i actually look into
>> Tommy: These are the it i'm gonna say compete and i don't want you to look think that it's a competition world.
>> Tommy: The farm world is very, yes it is competition. Just like when you were at Farmers' Market on Saturday.
>> Sarah: Yeah, of course.
>> Tommy: I've got one goal when I go up there, it's to make a living.
>> Sarah: Of course.
>> Tommy: And if I'm not selling something. And a guy across from me is selling and something, and I need to figure out why. So yes, it is a competition. But it's a very friendly competition, and I don't if know how much you're around and I mean I'm talking to farmers.
We're all in the same boat, so a rivalry it's not there. But yes, there is, and here again anything that doesn't have a little bit of friendly-
>> Sarah: A little friendly competition.
>> Tommy: Competition, it doesn't hurt anything.
>> Sarah: No.
>> Tommy: So.
>> Sarah: So what type of crops that Brent bring in and you mentioned that you grew corns, soybeans, melons, sort of the standard local
>> Tommy: Right.
>> Sarah: To be sort of bring in.
>> Tommy: Right now, in mid summer, and I think you can check our website, we have an our website, it kinda breaks things down.
>> Sarah: I saw that list.
>> Tommy: And everything that's on that list is grown right here.
>> Sarah: That's an impressive list.
>> Tommy: It's at our peak in mid-summer, at the Davidson Farmers Market that you were at, we will have over 45 different items on the table at one time.
>> Tommy: And I invite you to come back, if you're around sometime
>> Tommy: Let's say July, August time frame. And actually when we start into,
>> Tommy: Right around Labor Day in the September time frame. When we still got all of our summer crops, we're starting to get back into our fall. Greens, that's when we get,
>> Tommy: We're almost like a grocery store. You have lots of options. And this time of year, I mean right now from mid February [COUGH], excuse me, through,
>> Tommy: Probably mid April, which is when we start, usually mid April, mid to late April's when we start picking strawberries. And of course everybody loves strawberries. But those are our right now are what we call our hungry months. Because our storage crops. We're starting to sell down on everything that we grew last year.
That's in storage.
>> Sarah: Mm-hm.
>> Tommy: I mean, you can't grow anything. You can a little bit.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: We've got a little bit of greenhouse production but there's not a lot going on outside cropwise right now. So I don't know if you know rosemary plants.
>> Sarah: Yes.
>> Tommy: Things like that, when you start seeing rosemary plants, we're money.
>> Sarah: Gotcha.
>> Tommy: So, there again, those rosemary plants were started in August. We didn't just all of a sudden say, hey, we need something for income. This is, there again, something that's come in over the years knowing that February, March, and April we're struggling for money so we've got to have something to sell.
We're going to get creative.
>> Sarah: Yeah, no.
>> Tommy: So.
>> Sarah: When did the greenhouse go out?
>> Tommy: That was, it's kind of an interesting story. When Brent was in
>> Tommy: A senior in high school.
>> Tommy: I guess that was his first major investment. That greenhouse, when it was put up,
>> Tommy: The 90s. Late 90s.
>> Tommy: Brent had this vision. He went to one of the classes that Cabarrus Extension Service does. And the girl was talking about lown greenhouse for makers will bring came away with a from that same and all with may dollar visions in his hay and that greenhouse was designed For greenhouse tomatoes.
That was about a $70,000 investment. And I mean, a kid coming out of high school ain't got $70,000, I'm sorry.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: I didn't have enough confidence in him to think that it would-
>> Sarah: Work.
>> Tommy: Work. I offered him a small amount of the money but I told him, I said I will not-
>> Sarah: Yeah
>> Tommy: Invest in the whole thing. And my dad told him, said, if you wanna build it, I'll loan you the money, I'll give you ten years to pay it back. And in three years time he was paid back.
>> Sarah: Wow.
>> Tommy: So, is it a million dollar investment?
No, it's not.
>> Sarah: It's still a big one.
>> Tommy: It is and we'll go in there when we get finished and I'll show they're actually working tomatoes in there now. We're actually have been picking tomatoes out of there since right around Thanksgiving or so. And we will pick tomatoes out of there until we start picking tomatoes outside first of June.
>> Sarah: Year-round tomatoes.
>> Tommy: Pretty much we do have year-round tomatoes and I don't know if you noticed the Mexican guys. That's a big step that Brent has taken as far as labor. The labor force in this area does not exist. We have two guys that work for us year round full-time.
I guess it was six years ago, Brent started utilizing a government program H2A labor force. Where we got the immigrant people up here,
>> Tommy: We started out the first year, and I'm pretty sure it was six years ago. We started out the first year with four guys. And I mean we go through North Carolina Grower's Association.
>> Tommy: We basically tell them how many people you need for what time frame, and all of the-
>> Sarah: Applicants.
>> Tommy: All of that goes through their system. That's basically all they do is they're a lifeline through to this government program.
>> Tommy: The first year we started out with four.
I think it was two years later we increased to six.
>> Tommy: The following year we increased to eight. And now, I think it's March 31st, it's not been about three weeks. And last year was the first year we had 12 as the amount of guys that we have come up.
The first four that we've got that we had are still with us today, and we have been extremely lucky.
>> Tommy: That is probably the,
>> Tommy: Best decision. And there again, that was all on Brent, because that was not a comfortable decision for me to make. The reason being, if you come to the farmer's market on Saturday morning, you come to buy local product.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: My thought then at that time was okay, if I'm one of my customers and I want you to buy a local product. Why should you not want me to use a local labor force? And I would if it were available, but it's not.
>> Sarah: It's not like you didn't try then.
>> Tommy: Absolutely, but that was my fear in going into the program. Going back I would not change a thing ever. No way, these guys are like family to us. And they get that way in a very short period of time. They're here for one reason, that's to make money.
The only way they can make money is to work and satisfy but we do, quality standards, you show them one time what you're looking for.
>> Tommy: That's done. It is just been a super win-win situation.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Tommy: And I think, I guess if there were one thing that I wish the American consumer,
>> Tommy: Would get comfortable with, is,
>> Tommy: How much work there is, how much hand labor there is, to produce some food. I've heard people say, we're three days away from starving to death. And there are people in this world that sadly enough are, maybe not three days. Because we could all do without food for three days.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: But so as a society we are so far removed from our food source, it scares me. And I say we,
>> Tommy: I'm really not.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: But as an American.
>> Sarah: As-
>> Tommy: As American people, I think we are very, very far removed from our food solution, and like I say it's sad to me.
>> Sarah: Yeah, I agree.
>> Sarah: Going off that, I see on your website that Brent has not only pushed, how much you're growing and what you're growing, but how much you're distributing.
>> Tommy: Yes.
>> Sarah: You have your farmers day and you also go to the Davidson Farmer's market. But you also wholesale to-
>> Tommy: Quite a few people. I would say now when Brent was in high school and through college,
>> Tommy: Probably 90% of our sales were retail sales. We did eight different farmers' markets a week. We were kinda like nomads. I mean we run around with tents on the back of the truck.
And of course, we had a different location every day. Actually, we had two different days that we had two markets. We didn't do a market on Sunday, but we were actually doing eight markets a week. And that was when it really got to the point to where we were doing a whole lot more selling than we were farming.
And farming started taken,
>> Tommy: I don't know what the word I'm looking for. We started suffering on our farming end because we were concentrating way too much effort on the distribution end and we weren't paying enough attention to the actual growing. Well guess what, if you don't pay attention to growing, distribution is not a problem cuz you don't have anything to sell.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: So we started suffering and we saw it in plenty of time to be able to correct ourselves. And then, the increase in the number of gas that we get is directly proportional to the increase in the amount of crops that we're moving. The downside of it is when you're moving stuff through a retail market,
>> Tommy: All of the money's coming straight back to the farm. Well, when you're moving stuff through the wholesale channels, the amount of money that's actually coming back to the farm per product is about half. You're moving in greater volumes, I mean, we got trailers backing up here now, as opposed to the little trailer that we were in on Saturday morning.
>> Tommy: You've kinda got to marry the two together. You've got to get A,
>> Tommy: Reasonable amount of retail and I like dealing with,
>> Tommy: People that I'm feeding. I like to give input back and the only way I can do that is meet you face to face and look in your eyes and tell me what you like, what you don't like.
What can I do to fix this? Is this a variety of tomato you like, or is this a variety of tomato you like? Input coming back here in because my end goal is to satisfy you as a customer. That's the only way I'd get you back, that's the way I make a living.
So, all of the wholesale market dealing with the hairs tiders and the Lowes foods, and the bigger outlets, I don't get that satisfaction.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: But it pays the bills. I like for the lights to come on when I turn the switch, you know that I mean?
So that's what I say, you've got to marry those two and keep,
>> Tommy: And it can be a guessing game.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: What's gonna be the biggest food fad this coming year?
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: I've got ideas.
>> Sarah: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: But I don't know, I know what I can grow, I don't know what you're gonna buy.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: So looking into your crystal ball and say, what's the next kale?
>> Sarah: I was gonna say, when did kale become a thing.
>> Tommy: Right, kale, in my childhood, kale was not a thing. Nowadays, kale is a thing, and we're actually starting to see kale tail a little bit.
>> Tommy: Is it a fad? Is it here to stay? Normally when you start seeing something trend down a little bit, you get a little bit nervous about it, so what's next? What's the next new thing? And I guess that's the reason we like, a lot of people will ask us what our main crop is on this farm and we like to say it's diversity.
>> Tommy: Not putting all your eggs in one basket. What if kale fell off the edge of the Earth and I was a total kale farm? I'd be kind of in a mess then but with it being one of 40-some products, not gonna like it, but big deal. Let's go on to something else, and there again, the Saturday mornings, especially at the Davidson market, and the reason we like that market so well and it's one of the very few in the area.
It's a producer only market. Meaning, if you don't grow it, you don't sell it there. Not like the Charlotte Regional Market where it's,
>> Sarah: Your middle man.
>> Tommy: It's a middle man market, that's what it is. It's a trucking Market. So, and at that Davidson Market, and that's the only market, I don't know if I mentioned that, that's the only market that we do now.
That's the only off site retail that we do is that one market on Saturday mornings.
>> Tommy: So with that being said,
>> Tommy: And I don't wanna lose that connection, cuz like I say, Saturday morning, that's my vacation day. That's when I go and get to meet people that are enjoying my product and that community is what a farmer needs on Saturday morning after a rough week, I'll tell you that.
Because you get beat up all week long. You're working 12, 14, 16 hour days. It's hot and dry and just somebody coming up and saying thank you. I can't put a price on that, a value, it's extremely valuable to me. So,
>> Tommy: And I mean, you don't get that from, when truck backs up here.
>> Sarah: Yeah.
>> Tommy: Push a pallet on, sign the invoice.
>> Tommy: Maybe get a check 30 days later, [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: Okay, keeps the lights on so that you-
>> Tommy: It keeps the lights, exactly.
>> Sarah: And then you can go and enjoy the people in Davis.
>> Tommy: Exactly. So,
>> Tommy: And if I'm rambling, feel free to-
>> Sarah: Not at all.
>> Tommy: Stop me at any time.
>> Sarah: Not at all, rambling's what we like. [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: It's good, [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: It's all good stuff, it's all good stuff.
>> Sarah: So tell me about, I 85 widening, I read an article from I think it was a few years back they we re trying to put a extension road through your farm.
>> Tommy: They did affect our farm.
>> Tommy: I really and truly,
>> Tommy: This is gonna be tough for me to say but it's probably one of the best things that ever happened to our farm in hindsight. When they first started talking about it, they were actually going to break our farm right down the middle.
And there again, that was,
>> Tommy: Two years, three years into us starting to go to the Davidson Market, which we were one of the founding farmers of that market. We've been there for, this will be our 11th year.
>> Sarah: So it was about late 2010s?
>> Tommy: That's somewhere in the neighborhood, yeah.
>> Tommy: And I made one phone call when we found out that one of the recommended proposals was actually moving PS School Road because it was coming out too close to the exit ramps on A5. [COUGH] It was going to break our farm down in the middle and if that had happened, we won't be here talking today because we could not have maintained what we're doing now.
With a road down the middle because we would have crossed that road hundred times of day just would not have been doable. But I made one phone call to a lady in Davidson when I found out about this happening and that there was gonna be a public hearing about it.
>> Tommy: And that's where my work ended and when that public hearing was actually at the high school that I grew up, that I graduated from here in Cabarrus County,
>> Tommy: It was phenomenal the amount of people, not just from the Davidson community, but that was a big portion of it but from our customer base all the way around.
It was a.
>> Tommy: It was massive, a lot of them spoke and I actually had people from DOT to tell me that that public outcry is what changed the Piskel Road Route. And the proceeds of the property that they took from that, actually let me put this farm back together.
>> Tommy: When my grandfather that I spoke of earlier, he and my grandmother had two children, my mother and a son. And of course when they passed away, this farm was split down the middle between those two, between my mother and it's always been all as a unit even up until that point.
The heirs of my uncle rented us their half of the farm and it all still stayed in the family. Well, with the proceeds from the 85 deal, we were able to buy that half back to put the 70 acres back together, in one identity, and back the way it was when my grandfather had it.
>> Sarah: So that's why the website says it was formed in 2008.
>> Tommy: Yes.
>> Sarah: Gotcha, so it was more like it was reunited together.
>> Tommy: Yes, yes, we didn't go out and buy more land we were basically doing the same thing it just went under one identity. Which was probably one of the things I'm most proud of in my lifetime of being able to.
>> Tommy: Keep my grandfather's farm together as opposed to selling off and moving somewhere else. There again this is where I was born and raised, this is home to me.
>> Sarah: Yeah of course.
>> Tommy: So financially I'd be much better off to sell this place and go somewhere else but somewhere else is not home.
>> Sarah: I mean you're happy here?
>> Tommy: I'm happy, I ain't going nowhere. [LAUGH] Have you figure that out yet? [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: I mean that's more than some people can say.
>> Tommy: Yeah.
>> Sarah: You happy with your job? You've got your family, you're well fed.
>> Tommy: I am very well fed, my wife's the best cook the world.
>> Sarah: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: But I tell her she's got the best grocery store in the world.
>> Sarah: [LAUGH]
>> Tommy: [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: All right.
>> Sarah: Are you familiar with the Piedmont Culinary Guild?
>> Tommy: Yes, and actually my son does a lot of work with Piedmont Culinary Guild, yeah.
>> Sarah: Yeah, I heard about them from another farmer on Saturday.
>> Tommy: Right.
>> Sarah: But it sounds like all of your food is staying here in sort of the Charlotte regional area.
>> Tommy: Pretty much it does, it really does, we actually started last year.
>> Tommy: Don't know if you're familiar with.
>> Tommy: Do you know about CSA?
>> Sarah: Yes.
>> Tommy: Okay, Lowes Foods has a.
>> Tommy: CSA program, sorta speak, it's called the Carolina Crate and it's.
>> Tommy: Don't know if it goes I don't think it goes into Virginia, I do know it's in North and South Carolina.
>> Sarah: Okay.
>> Tommy: But it's very regional at the Lowes Foods and it's their version of a CSA, you have a pre packed box every week.
Well, Barbie Farms is the one that's packed those boxes last year and Brent just came from a meeting with them yesterday in Winston-Salem we will be packing them again this year. So, and we actually get things from other farmers, we supply a lot of the stuff but we have free reign to source whatever we need to source.
>> Sarah: Yeah, to fill an order.
>> Tommy: Yes, it's an 11 week program, they want six to eight different items every week, so in 40 some items you run out of six or eight different ones over 11 week period. [LAUGH] So, and like I say we source that with farmers in our area that do different things than we do.
If we like last year we had a very, we had a very mediocre peach crop as far as number wise, we lost a lot to a late freeze last year. So we sourced most of the peaches out of Peaches & Cream out of Wadesboro. Which is at the Davidson Farmers Market, there again he's a farmer that I talked to about every week.
Yes we're competitors but I didn't have peaches he had peaches, we need peaches for the Carolina Crate, so you use those resources. So yeah, that's a program we're kind of proud of, my only reason for going there was to say some of our product is going into South Carolina but how far South Carolina from Charlotte, South Charlotte about that far.
>> Sarah: Yeah, not far from here.
>> Tommy: So I don't know of any of our product that's going.
>> Tommy: 100 miles.
>> Sarah: Yeah, further than that.
>> Tommy: If you've got any good resources, if we can get more for it we'll take it there. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah: All right, well I think that might be a good selling point.
>> Tommy: Well I hope you've got something you can use out of my.
>> Sarah: Absolutely.
>> Tommy: Babbling.
>> Sarah: Thank you so much.
>> Tommy: You're welcome.