Lucky Leaf Gardens, LLC (“LLG”) (www.luckyleafgardens.com), headquartered in Harrisburg, North Carolina, has been owned and operated by Kate Brun since the company’s 2010 launch. Initially located at her home, the greenhouse-based farming operations are now located at the Forest Farm, a five-acre offsite farm in rural Concord, North Carolina, which includes an “edible forest” of fruit trees and plantings, and a large open-air pavilion featuring a stone wood-fired hearth for events and cooking classes. From its state-of-the-art 3,600 square foot greenhouse, LLG produces fifty varieties of grown-to-order microgreens, which it distributes via regional grocery stores (including Harris-Teeter, Whole Foods, and Earth Fare) and wholesale distributors (including Sysco, USFoods, FreshPoint, and Foster Caviness), and directly to regional restaurants and chefs.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:48||Kate Brun (“Kate”) introduces herself, her background, and the start of Lucky Leaf Gardens ("LLG") out of the solarium at her home|
|0:01:56||Kate describes her education background and past work experience|
|0:02:42||Kate's lifelong interest in gardening and LLG's first sales of microgreens produce in May 2010|
|0:03:12||Transitioning a gardening hobby into a business|
|0:03:47||The early days of LLG|
|0:04:27||Kate explains microgreens, their growth cycles, shelf life, and nutritional benefits|
|0:06:14||The differences between microgreens and sprouts, including the potential health risks associated with consuming sprouts|
|0:07:17||LLG's evolution and business expansion from a home business into a greenhouse operation; the transition from a home farm to LLG's Forest Farm|
|0:09:07||The learning curve and trial-and-error education in microgreen cultivation, including the constant improvements of processes and equipment|
|0:10:47||The evolution of LLG's customized soil heating system as an example of those constant learnings and iterations of farming and business operations|
|0:12:37||The development of LLG's harvesting practices and distribution network|
|0:14:57||The impact of weather and growing seasons on greenhouse agriculture|
|0:16:17||The adoption and use of technology in LLG's farming operations, including technologies enabling constant monitoring of Forest Farm as a remote farm location|
|0:18:12||The functionality and durability of LLG's greenhouse structure|
|0:19:02||Climate control of the soil and air in the greenhouse|
|0:19:33||The selection of crop varieties to accommodate customer needs and expectations|
|0:20:52||LLG's more successful crop offerings|
|0:21:57||The evolution of LLG's distribution network, from farmers markets to restaurants and grocery stores to local and national retailers and wholesalers|
|0:24:47||The challenges of regional direct-to-consumer produce shipments|
|0:26:07||The benefits of shipping harvested microgreens versus still-growing microgreens|
|0:26:52||Typical daily and weekly schedule for LLG|
|0:27:27||LLG's minimal work force: Kate, her father, and occasional short-term help|
|0:29:07||LLG's less-successful crop offerings, including edible flowers; how the greenhouse's specific design for microgreens impacts its utility for growing other crops|
|0:30:07||Watering and shade cloth practices for greenhouse farming|
|0:31:07||LLG's compost practices as an example of the trial-and-error evolution of farming practices|
|0:33:02||LLG's organic farming practices|
|0:33:47||The ongoing debate whether to pursue organic certification, and its questionable value given LLG's condensed growing season and current organic farming practices|
|0:34:37||Food safety, USDA audits and inspections, and LLG's voluntary USDA "Good Agricultural Practices" (GAP) certification|
|0:35:43||LLG's Food Safety Management Act readiness, despite its exempt status under the Act|
|0:36:47||LLG's Forest Farm and ongoing efforts to use the property to grow community and farming awareness|
|0:37:27||LLG's use of Permaculture Techniques in managing Forest Farm; the edible forest|
|0:38:31||Forest Farm's outdoor pavilion and wood-fired oven for community pizza nights|
|0:39:27||Outdoor classes taught at the pavilion, including bread-making, kraut, mushrooms, sourdough, and planting for human health|
|0:40:12||LLG's experimentation with hops cultivation|
|0:41:55||Fruits cultivated in the Forest Farm's edible forest|
|0:42:57||LLG's educational mission, including with local schools|
|0:45:12||Challenges and public misperceptions of greenhouse farming and microgreen agriculture|
|0:46:14||Kate's course of self-education about microgreens and greenhouse operations|
|0:47:22||The Charlotte microgreen industry and market|
|0:49:17||LLG's involvement with Piedmont Culinary Guild; Kate's view of Charlotte's potential future as a "foodie" town and culinary destination|
|0:52:07||Microgreens versus staple/commodity crops; greenhouse farming versus traditional outdoor agriculture, and the different challenges facing each type of farming|
|0:54:54||Public misperceptions about agriculture in general|
|0:55:47||Future plans for LLG and the Forest Farm|
|0:56:52||Kate's view of Charlotte's agricultural future, and the growing age shift of farmers|
|0:58:57||The return to heirloom crops|
|0:59:57||Changing consumer awareness of food and dietary issues and the impact on farmers and farming|
|1:02:27||Kate's advice for consumers wanting to learn more about food and dietary issues|
|1:03:03||End of interview|
>> Okay, so this is Tommy Worlick, today is Thursday, April 4th, 2019. I am working with the UNC Charlotte History Department on the oral history project, the Queen's Garden, oral histories of the Piedmont food shed. And today I am at the forest farm of lucky leaf gardens with Kate Brunn who is the founder owner and operator.
Kate, good morning.
>> Greatly appreciate you spending time with us and letting us speak with you today about the gardens and about your business. Can I get you to start by just sort of telling us about yourself, your background and how Lucky Leaf Gardens came in to being.
>> Yeah, so I'm Kate, we moved to Charlotte 14 years ago now, and at that time we were kind of in transition with our careers. Long story short, I had a sun room on the back, and still have the sun room on the back of my house. It's a glass roofed solarium, octagon shape, probably why I bought the house and probably why my husband hates the house.
[LAUGH] It was leaking, it's cold, it's hot, you can't really use it. Mark, my husband was threatening to tear it off and put something better. And I said well what if we turn it into a little greenhouse and maybe we can grow some winter greens, or something. And within a month, we had a operation of microgreens, because that's about the only thing you can grow in such a small space.
And we were selling, we had our business up and running within a month, website, business cards, door to door, selling microgreens.
>> My gosh. Now, you were telling me, your educational background at Radford University-
>> Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
>> But what did you do before you were a real estate agent?
>> I worked as a contractor for the EPA in region eight, Colorado, and we were mapping contaminated soils through GIS which was back then, somewhat of a new technology. Now it's very, I mean, everybody's using it on their phone every day.
>> And your studies at Ratford were in environmental science?
>> Environmental, well, it's in the geography department, it was three or four tiers down, but ultimately, a geography degree in environmental studies, concentration in GIS with a minor in geology.
>> Now you according to the website I saw started doing this in 2010.
>> 2010, May of 2010 is I'll call it when we started the business.
We made our first sale, we filed our paperwork with the county, and became a legitimate business.
>> But now you according to some of these articles were involved in gardening from a very early age.
>> All my life, yeah, as long as I can remember having a backyard we always had a garden, always.
>> So how did you take that hobby if you will, and turn it into a business, what prompted that?
>> Like I said, it was a tough time, with my husband working in construction I was part-time realtor to make ends meet, back in 2010, this was a difficult time to be in both of those careers.
And we thought, what can we do with this crummy old, beautiful sun room? But turn it into a greenhouse, and how can we possibly make any money in here? And that's where we started digging around and found microgreens as a profitable crop that you can grow in a small space.
We're only talking about a hundred square feet, t's a very small little sun room. But we managed to bring on about ten chefs that we serviced out of that little sun room. Ten restaurants and we would do weekly deliveries. It seemed like every door we'd knock on and introduce our products to them, they'd very quickly sign on and get on the program.
And again, 2010, this is sort of a beginning for microgreens, particularly in this region. Everything starts in the West coast and moves to the East. So in California, they had been doing it for years but here in this area, not many people where even aware of what microgreen were.
>> I was gonna ask you, somebody doesn't know what microgreen is?
>> Yeah, so they are vegetable seedlings. We grow about 50 different varieties of vegetable seedlings from seed to harvest is about seven to ten days. So it's a very quick turnaround. You don't need a lot of shelf time or growth space required because it's such a quick turnaround meaning things aren't sitting growing for more than 30 days or a couple months like traditional crops in the ground.
So we would grow them, harvest them, package them, and bring them to a chef. Now the chefs like microgreens because they're beautiful. They add a lot of flavor to a plate, texture, something interesting or unique that they can bring instead of a sprig of parsley on a plate.
Now on the consumer side, there's a humongous health benefit to microgreens that a lot of people aren't aware of. They're super tiny, little sprigs of broccoli are packed with 40 times the nutrition of traditional broccoli. It's the same seed, same plant but it's tiny so all the nutrients are concentrated.
So I was given the reference of once ounce which is about the size of the palm of my hand is the equivalent to three cups of broccoli. Yeah so.
>> [INAUDIBLE] A little handful of microgreens.
>> A little handful of microgreens is the same as three cups of broccoli as far as vital nutrients and macronutrients are concerned.
Not fiber or calories, but all of the nutrition associated to three cups of broccoli.
>> Okay my son is gonna kill me if I don't ask this, because this was the first thing he asked when I was telling him about micro microgreen. The little baby corns that are in Asian food.
>> Corn shoots, yes.
>> Okay, that's a microgreen?
>> No, those are baby corns. That's an Asian food, [LAUGH]
>> So what's the difference between a sprout and a micrograin?
>> That is an excellent question. Nobody ever asks that question, I usually have to explain it without people even knowing there's a difference.
Sprouts are grown in water, typically in the dark and if it's not done correctly, it's a breeding ground for bacteria. With sprouts you're eating the root, the plant, the stem, all of it. And they're also extremely healthy, like microgreens. But you just have to be very careful about the process of sprouting them.
Microgreens I grow in soil, in a greenhouse like you see with sunshine and fresh air and we harvest above the soil. So you leave the root behind and you're just eating the plant on top. They're a little heartier more of like a lettuce rather than a sprout. And I believe they have more nutrition because we grown in soil and they absorb nutrition from the elements around as well.
>> So, you started this in the Solarium. And I think one of the articles that I saw had you building a greenhouse in your backyard.
>> Yes, that's the one that Hodge's now owns.
>> That's the one, okay, they told me they had bought one from you.
>> Yes, yes.
>> So you moved out into that. How big was that?
>> 400 square feet and in that greenhouse, we probably came close to about $10,000 a month in sales in that little 400 square foot greenhouse. We had about 20 chefs and restaurants, but we were still limited. We were growing vertically rather than horizontally.
So some things didn't grow as well as others, they didn't get the full spectrum of light that they needed. We had hot spots and shade spots that we didn't want. And we were out of space so about a year after that is when we came over here and built this greenhouse.
>> So this is about 2012.
>> 2012 for the first half, 2013 for the, 2000, no, 2013 for the first half, 14 for the back half.
>> Okay, so you live in Harrisburg, this is roughly a ten-minute drive from your house, and it's sort of rural-
>> Six, okay.
>> Six-minute commute.
>> That's great!
>> It's wonderful.
>> And this is sort of rural Concord, I guess.
>> You've got about five acres here?
>> Five acres.
>> And you've now got a greenhouse that's how big?
>> I think it's 3,600 square feet.
>> So you really have gone big in just about nine years?
>> Yeah, I wish I could say that the dollars reflect the square footage still, when we were making such a good profit on a 400-square-foot space. But remember, we were growing vertically, so now the volume is up, but it's spread out.
So everything grows a lot better, but it certainly didn't quadruple our [LAUGH] revenues.
>> Right, so let's talk about your growth, because you're starting off in a solarium, you really haven't done this before. How did you even learn about greenhouse warming, microgreens.
>> Every day is something new that I didn't know.
Literally, every time I'm over here I find something new, I build something new, we grow something new, it's always a learning curve. As you saw when you walked up, we're troubleshooting a boiler system, we're troubleshooting plumbing, we're working on electric. We're constantly working on ways to improve the process or maintain the process.
And it's all trades in industries that we know nothing about.
>> But in 2010, when microgreens really weren't known in North Carolina, how did you find out about them, how did you get educated in this?
>> It was all trial and error, I'll tell you the difference between 2010 and now.
If you were to search microgreens on YouTube, you are gonna find hundreds of videos on how to and what to do and what not to do. Back in 2010, I think the only videos, if you searched, were videos of interviews like this on YouTube from my farm, not anyone else's.
So it was all trial and error, just get some seed, throw it in some soil, and see what happens.
>> And so I watched you fix your system in here, but how did you learn the operations of a greenhouse and your radiant heat system?
>> I think we start with the basics, each time we implement a new feature to the greenhouse we start with the basics.
And then we figure out within a year or so what we like or don't like about that process. And then we try to recreate something that'll improve that process. So with our heat system, in particular, we used to use an overhead heater. It just blows hot air over, the air of the greenhouse, and that's the end of it.
It was about $600 a month in propane, and that was just for the first half of the greenhouse.
>> So when we expanded to the back half of the greenhouse, we thought, well, $1,200 a month is probably what we would be looking at in propane. And that doesn't sound responsible or sustainable in any way, so how can we improve our heat system?
We don't have the ability for solar efficiently here because of, you can see, how we're mostly forested. So there are some elements of solar we could do but, at this time, it just didn't work out. And we thought rain barrels, or not rain barrels, ambient heat barrels, [COUGH] excuse me.
And it would take up too much of our valuable workspace inside. So we did some research and found this company in California. Typically, our heat system is typically found on the ground, and you're growing on the ground. So this was sort of a custom-built, to our specs, to our greenhouse and our crop, heat system.
That they designed and shipped it out, piece by piece, and told us who to call to install it. And they laid the whole thing out, and we've been working with it ever since, so that was about five years ago. It is a boiler system, it still uses propane, but our heat bill is still that same $600 a month.
So we ended up cutting our heat bill in half, basically, yeah.
>> Doubled your size and cut it in half, that's fantastic.
>> So 2010, you're still working on your solarium, do you just start knocking on the doors of restaurants?
>> I did, I had a little wheelie cooler, I had my very first crop of microgreens, which was a broccoli and radish and cabbage and kale mix.
Today we call that our lucky mix, and I grew these trays of microgreens, it took me hours to harvest it. To put that into perspective, a tray of microgreens today takes me less than a minute to harvest one tray. And because when you own a business you calculate your hours, and you figure out what your total costs are.
So it takes me less than a minute to harvest a tray of microgreens, which is a 10 by 20 flat. And back then, I had four of those trays, and I remember it taking over an hour just to cut it. Just to get it packaged and get it ready for samples and bring it out the door.
>> Just cuz you're better at it now?
>> Yeah, we know what we're doing, back then it was all new. How do I cut it, should I cut it this tall, should I cut it that tall, is it even ready? Should I let it go a little longer, did I let it go too long, it's all a learning curve.
>> So you just randomly pick restaurants-
>> And walk in?
>> My first sales call was a customer who, or a restaurant who stood me up in downtown Concord. And I got all dressed up in my business attire, cuz it's all I know, I'm not a farmer by nature.
And got my little wheelie cooler and went downtown and knocked on the door and it said they're closed. And got on the phone and said, hey, I was supposed to meet you here, and no answer. So here I am with all my samples and thought, all right, well, what about that place?
And went next door, knocked on their door, and the owner of the restaurant sat down and made a sandwich. And put the microgreens on top and just started eating it and brought her whole staff out to try it, and they became our first customer.
>> That's fantastic, who was that, do you mind my asking?
>> They were called Brass Button, in downtown Concord, they closed a couple years after that, but it was a cute little sandwich shop.
>> I think I know, they're right across the street from Gianni's.
>> Yes, yep.
>> I know exactly where you're talking about.
>> I can't remember what's there now, it's a cafe, a coffee shop maybe?
>> Something like that, yeah, maybe a sandwich shop or something, I can't remember the name of it either, but wow.
>> So you're now doing 50 varieties of vegetables and greens.
>> What have you found works really well, what have you found doesn't work so well in this type of agriculture?
>> Spring and fall work really well, [LAUGH] winter and August do not. It's a struggle, it's always an adjustment based on the weather. And a lot of folks will grow indoors, in a warehouse even, with artificial light and hydroponics. So you're feeding your plants with water, which means your nutrition is diluted and so is your flavor and the shelf life.
So we prefer to do it this way, but this comes with challenges. We're always watching the weather, we're always adjusting for daylight hours, for temperature. If it's a little colder, it's gonna take an extra day to grow. If we have a lot of overcast, cloudy a few days, like we've had, we have to cut our watering way back, and it's gonna take a little longer to grow.
So it's constantly an adjustment, those are our challenges here. But I would not trade that because I'm always told that we have the best product in town. And that's because we grow in the soil with a greenhouse with sunshine.
>> I'm really surprised that the seasonality impacts you that much, I wouldn't have thought that-
>> Absolutely, yeah, mm-hm, we're heated and cooled, so it's year-round production. But there's always, with extreme weather challenges, the snow will pile up On top of the greenhouse, and I will be over here with a broom and a ladder [LAUGH] sweeping it off. You can see this little camera here I've got pointed at the greenhouse, that's so I can monitor what it looks like from the outside when we do have snow and ice piling up and I know when it's time to come over here and make sure it's okay.
I've got a camera on the inside as well that will notify me if something, if a head pops off of my irrigation and something like that, so I could take a look at the inside. It's all monitored by a computer which has Wi-Fi so I can check temperature and humidity and everything from my phone no matter where I am.
These are all measures because we don't live right here, on the farm. Even though every six minutes I'm always out doing deliveries in Charlotte or, it's just good to have remote access. But yeah, these are all challenges that we deal with.
>> Well see, your talk about technology was one of my questions, how does technology kinda impact what you do here and how's it changed since you started?
>> I have cameras now, those are new. Not that it's changed too much because when we came over here we knew immediately that we needed some sort of external remote monitoring system. And that was important since we don't have a house here. That was important to make sure we can always have eyes on the place.
So that was important. We have a back up generator that's also Wi-Fi and it'll send me an alert if it kicks on for whatever reason. We have a lot of downed trees and power lines and we're always dealing with that. So I would say those two are pretty important.
We still have a DSL network here. [LAUGH] So I'm running all of this on a DSL. [LAUGH] So, yeah.
>> My God! With regard to the plastic covering here, how durable is that? I mean, if you do have a downed limb, have you had problems with the sheets getting pierced or?
>> We've had piercings. We haven't had anything taken down. Knock on some wood for safety. We've had a limb fly and just poke right in and just show up and it's sticking right out. It's two layers of plastic, I don't know if you noticed that. So it's a bubble.
The bubble serves as about 12 inches of insulation. It's just an air chamber, but there is an inflation device on the inside of the greenhouse that fills that bubble and is constantly running. So, if you get a puncture, it just keeps filling and filling and filling and filling.
It never stops running. So, I've come over and had it look kind of deflated but I've never had it down.
>> Are your timer, are your heating system, or they are on timers.
>> Everything's climate controlled, so thermostats, humid stats, that kind of stuff.
>> Okay, I would have thought there was a thermostat.
>> Yeah, there's a couple of soil thermostat to tell us how. So that was the main point of the heat was that we're heating the soil and not the air. So we have a soil probe that tells us the temperature of the soil. And then, we have an air thermostat for just ambient.
>> Now, the types of crops that you do. You said you do about fifty varieties. How have you landed on the types of varieties that you have had selected.
>> I wanna say probably 90% of those have been chef recommendations.
>> Can you do this, can you do that?
Sure, we'll try it.
>> Most of those make the cut, as long as it's something edible and can grow in this environment, then we'll do it. There's definitely been a few that I've tried, and I can't think of one right now, that have been just not good ideas or just blegh.
So we don't bother. And when I say we have 50 varieties, our business is primarily a custom grown business. So I'm only gonna be growing the varieties that chefs are asking for. And most of those chefs are standing orders. So they'll start their seasons in Charlotte and the surrounding area.
They'll start their seasons and say, okay, here's our spring menu. Can we do this, this, this, this, this? And we start growing those. And we keep them and harvest them every single week and deliver them every single week.
>> Every week?
>> Every week until they come back and say, all right, we're going into the summer menu.
Now we wanna use these. And then we'll switch their palate to a different whole new menu. So we have the 50 varieties that we know we can grow but they're not always all growing.
>> Okay, so of those 50 varieties are there some that are more successful than others, less successful?
>> Again it depends on the season. Right now my top winners in the greenhouse are cilantro, basil. We've got about a ten degree differential without heat in that greenhouse. So we already consider us in a May climate without heat in the greenhouse. So whatever grows really well in early May grows really well right now.
And then, today, it's supposed to be what, 79-ish? 75 degrees? It will probably hit 90 in there. My cooler will kick on. It will drop it down to about 80. So it's really the perfect climate right now to grow a lot of things. But basil, cilantro the top winners this week.
Every couple of weeks we have a crop that is just by far stellar compared to the others and year round though, our favorites for year round is that lucky mix. Broccoli, radish, cabbage, kale blended together tastes great. It's super nutritious, it has a great shelf life and that is what we sell the most of.
>> So you started off with a handful of restaurants. Was restaurants your primary initial distribution network?
>> Yeah, absolutely. We also were at the Harrisburg farmer's market, the Piedmont farmer's markets.
>> We did that for our first year. I have two small children and Saturdays get booked up pretty quick.
And evenings are difficult. Everything was difficult which is how [LAUGH] with children. Now, they're older but at the time, the markets were just, I got to do it. It was the one thing I did not look forward to every single week but it brought in the most money at that time.
So we stuck with the markets for a while and when we got too busy we decided to pull out from the market and have partners sell for us. So, several different farmers already at the market, I'd come bring them to them and they'd sell it for us, and it was great.
That work usually was a trade, I'd get eggs and everything else from them and they'd sell the micro-greens for me. So that would work out well, since then though we have evolved to retail. So we do Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Earth Fair, and that is our marketing. There is very little profit, if any at all, in those retail suppliers, but that's our marketing.
So when we have regular consumers say, you at that market?" And we say, no we aren't at the market but you can go to Earth Fair, or Harris Teeter, or and it's excellent, to get our product out there.
>> So are you doing much in the way of direct to consumer now, or are you primarily.
>> Only by request, I do have a few customers who are either currently struggling with a medical condition or they're in a rehabilitation mode from cancer or something like that. And they often spend more than restaurants will spend on micro greens.
>> Just because of the nutrients.
>> Yeah, yeah. [COUGH] Excuse me.
>> And I see that you are working with some wholesale distributors now.
>> Yeah, we've been with Cisco since we came over here. I'm trying to remember what year that was, but it's been at least five years now with Cisco, and U.S. Foods and Foster Cabinets.
There's also a newer. More local distributor called Freshlist in Charlotte. And Freshlist is a team of people who collect from all the farms, and then they do all the leg work of delivering to the restaurants for you. So this is great because we have a minimum for delivery and if the chef just needs a little tiny container, they can get it from Freshlist.
So will drop it all at Freshlist, and Freshlist take it all around for us, it is great. [CROSSTALK]
>> So you are not necessarily doing the deliveries or at least as much of the deliveries as you-
>> It is about 50% customers, direct to the customer and the other 50 is wholesale.
Cysco, US Foods.
>> Now I saw on your website that you offer free overnight delivery to-
>> We do.
>> the Carolinas, Virginia. Is that your primary distribution area right now?
>> We don't do a lot of shipping at all, which I think is the way I would prefer it.
It's a very perishable product and each day that it spends not getting the best care is one day less you're gonna be able to enjoy it. So, shipping takes a day off the top right away. And then you hope and pray that it gets there all right and in time and that it gets unpacked and put in the refrigerator right away.
And I lose control of the product as soon as I put it in the box and put it on the truck. I don't like to do a lot of it, but we do. We have a ground radius through UPS that is Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, parts of Tennessee.
And that'll get you a free box of of microgreens.
>> Okay, and are you primarily distributing in that area or is it broader than that?
>> No, so our direct, you mean our direct deliveries? Between Valentine and Davidson are pretty much the bulk of our deliveries.
>> Okay, and beyond, but beyond that-
>> Beyond that is Cysco, US Foods-
>> Are they distributing your product nationally?
>> They're taking all over. Not nationally but they've taken up and down the coast.
>> Okay, now when you are delivering this either directly or through one of these distributors, is it always already harvested or are you shipping anything that are continually-
>> Nope, all of our products are harvested. The thing with micrograins is that we grow them in such a little amount of soil, that if you don't harvest it within a week of growing it, it's gonna need to be transplanted or something. So there's sort of a misconception about buying living micrograins versus harvested.
You're gonna get the same shelf life whether they're harvested or whether you cut them yourself in your restaurant. They're still within a week need to be used so.
>> And a week is sort of the shelf life?
>> Seven to ten days, mm-hm.
>> Okay, cuz I saw on your website that you guys have actually been able to extend the shelf life on a lot of these.
>> Yeah, I think that's because we're growing in soil and with sunlight. It hardens them a little bit.
>> So what's the typical day? I hate to ask this question because I just saw-
>> There is no typical day.
>> But what do you typically do on a day in, day out basis?
>> We do have a schedule we try to keep. Thursdays are delivery days which means Wednesday is harvest day. So those two are hard and fast. As far as seeding, and all of the other things that take place to run the business, those sort of float with the schedule of the sun, and the season.
Right now we see it on Monday, so I come in, throw on some ear buds, and spend a couple hours filling trays. And then we're out for deliveries on Thursdays, and Tuesdays too, as well.
>> And you said we, are you the only one here, or are [CROSSTALK]
>> My dad is a pretty integral part of what we're doing on a day to day, he's out doing deliveries right now actually, so Is he local I guess then? Yeah, he lives in my neighborhood actually.
>> That'a great, okay.
>> So but there's always hiccups and challenges but he's primarily the go to.
We've had other, sorry. That's him. Do you want to pause that for one second?
>> I'm actually gonna have to take that because
>> So that was your dad out on deliveries.
>> Yeah, so I just need to be available in case something comes up. Like in case he lost an invoice and doesn't know how much they owe.
And you know.
>> Okay, so Is he the only one who helps you out here?
>> Yeah, we've had people come in from time to time to do some cleaning and maintenance and that kind of stuff. And lately it seems like we can't keep that position filled for more than two to three months.
It just requires a whole lot of effort to keep filling it, just to have it turn over in two to three months. So I've just been kind of picking up the slack and dad's been picking it up. And I guess we downsized, I don't know.
>> [LAUGH] It's okay, it's okay.
>> So Mondays your seeding days, Wednesdays are harvesting, Thursdays are deliveries.
>> Yeah, so the distributors get multiple deliveries a week. They're the only ones on the Tuesday as well. So we have a couple delivery days and a couple of harvest days for the distributors. But Wednesdays and Thursday are hard and fast harvest, deliver.
>> Now, with the distributors, are you delivering to them, or are they coming here to pick up, or-
>> We'll deliver to them.
>> Okay, now, with regard to different varieties of products have been anything that you tried just has not worked in the setting?
>> Edible flowers, we've got a lot of requests for edible flowers it works in this setting because we're so fine tuned for micrograins.
Anything that doesn't require those conditions, and when I talk about conditions I'm thinking about the watering in particular. If it doesn't require 18 seconds an hour of water which is what we water right now, then it's not gonna do well. And because we don't have artificial light, our blooms our flowers are only seasonal flowers.
So all through winter will get request for edible flowers and we're not forcing any blooms with artificial lights. So that's the challenge. Yeah, I've tried to grow tomatoes and things like that. But again, it's so custom tailored greenhouse for micrograins, that anything outside of the micrograin realm is a challenge unless we adapt a whole section of the greenhouse to accommodated.
>> Okay, now you mentioned 18 seconds an hour. Is that really how much water is?
>> Yeah, we can get down to one second an hour if we'd like or up to 90 seconds an hour. But in the summer months it'll be more. As the Sun bakes the soil and it gets hot in there, we'll water more often.
But in the winter, when we have shorter day, it's about 18 seconds. Right now we're actually about 30 seconds, but we're creeping up. We'll be putting shade cloth on soon, which will help with the heat.
>> So that's covering the plastic cap?
>> Yeah, and then it'll feel like a cave in there for about a week, and then we'll get used to it, and so will the plants.
And it'll be perfect come May, it'll be the right amount of light.
>> Now, given that you started this in 2010 and by trial and error done a lot of things are there practices or things that you've done that you just don't do anymore because they're not as successful, you found more efficient ways to do them?
>> Always, yeah. Where do I start? There's always ways that we change what we're doing and how we're doing it. Our compost is one of those challenges. Because we grow in soil, we you need to start with a fresh batch of soil each week. Primarily for food safety reasons, we wanna sterile soil each time we start a new crop of micro-greens.
So what we take is the old soil and we dump it out here onto a compost pile. It breaks down quickly and it is great soil, it has only been used a week. So that's always a challenge, is what to do with it, and where to put it, and how to dispose of it.
And we do a lot of with the Cabarrus County school gardens, so garden clubs at Cabarrus County schools. And they'll come and pick up as much as they want, it's free, and we'll bring some to them as well. But there's always a challenge of It's piling up, what do we do with it?
So that's something we're constantly evolving. Right now I'm staring at my compost bin while I'm telling you this. We have three bays, and the third bay you can see is piled up over the top. Bay one and two are pretty empty. So while it's emptying we're trying to decide, is this system working for us?
And I'm thinking no, because we need to get a tractor down here or something that can load it up. And it can't make that turn by the greenhouse, so we're always evolving that [LAUGH]. That's maybe the third or fourth rendition of our compost. So, yeah, there's always something, from the soil we use, to the amount we water or the heat we apply.
>> Now I notice on your website that you focus very much on non-GMO, organic farming.
>> So how challenging is that for you?
>> It's not at all, actually. Our seed sources are all 100% non-GMO, so we start with that. We only buy non-GMO seeds, that's easy.
The soil itself is a sterile compost, it is peat moss with vermiculite and all natural ingredients. There's no fertilizers, there's no additives. There's nothing added to it, there's no pesticides. We're only growing for a week. So what can you possibly do in a week that would make an impact at all?
So as long as we don't apply anything then we're by default we're going organic practices. The only challenge at this point is making the decision on whether we should be a certified organic farm or not. And each year we go through this process of thinking about it and always decide that it's not as important as we think it might be.
So we don't do the certification. Let me rephrase that, being organic is extremely important. Being certified doesn't seem to make an impact on our customer base. Our customers know how we grow, and they're welcome to come over and see and learn about the farm itself. So we haven't had a reason to be certified, but I don't think we see any challenges with that.
>> Well, and I didn't think about it, but I guess that quick turnaround as far as your harvest goes really does dictate against it, and that, therefore, really does sort of make [CROSSTALK]
>> Yeah, can't really,
>> Certification process unnecessary.
>> Yeah, Pretty much.
>> Okay, putting aside that certification, are there any other types of certifications, or inspections, or regulations, or-
>> Food safety, yeah, absolutely. To sell to the people we want to sell to, we have to continually do annual audits and inspections with the Department of Ag. And they come out and they run through our food safety plan and our harvest practices and everything from the front door to the back door of the greenhouse on how how we are handling the operation.
So, we've been certified, that's called Good Agricultural Practices or GAP. We've been GAP certified for, I think, five years now. It's a voluntary program, but it's something that we think is pretty important for the reassurance. So that when the health inspector shows up at a restaurant and sees our microgreens, they can also see your GAP certificate showing that we're doing everything we need to do to make sure we're giving a safe product to that customer.
>> And that's US Department of Agriculture.
>> That is USDA.
>> Okay, and does that then tie into this Food Safety Modernization Act?
>> Absolutely, that program is continually evolving and changing, cuz each year a new incident will pop up and then they'll reassess their measures and come up with new rules.
But we are FSMA ready because we're certified. So I actually think it may be be mandatory for most farms. For our size farm, it's not mandatory, but we've been doing it for five years.
>> Yeah, I was wondering if you were of the size that you had to actually-
>> No, yeah, there's a dollar amount as well as the size. The whole thing we're below, but to sell to Sysco, and to sell to Whole Foods and all these other customers, they need the reassurance, so we get it for them.
>> Right, right, but again with the short growing season that you've got, are you likely to even have those challenges?
>> There's never been a reported case of anyone getting ill from microgreens.
>> Knock on wood.
>> Yeah, knock on wood [LAUGH].
>> So this is a, really I'm going to change gears on you here, I really like your setting here, I mean this is really just-
>> Yeah I would love to tell you what's going on out here.
So once we got to the point where our growth was manageable and stable inside the greenhouse and we have enough room to continue to expand without having to build something, we started to look outside, and think what else can we do to bring people to the farm. And how can we use our property.
Now that the greenhouse, it's like a well oiled machine in there. Sometimes I'm dealing with the boiler, but other than that it's a well oiled machine. And it's calm in maintaining itself. The business is rolling on and everything's like clockwork. Out here, we thought what can we do to bring in community, we try to practice permaculture.
Are you familiar with permaculture?
>> I'm not familiar with that.
>> So with permaculture what you're doing is you're working with the land the way its intended to be worked with. So you're capturing water that's already on your property. You're not employing irrigation and everything else. You're planting things that are native, things that will thrive in the current environment of the property.
And a big part of all of that is, community, getting the community involved in the farming practice, as well. So, it's hard to bring community into the greenhouse, other than just a greenhouse tour and then that's the end. So what we did out here was we created a space where we can hold classes.
We can have parties, we can do private events, and all with the permaculture practice in mind. So we've tried to plant an edible forest out here. We've got hops that'll grow up on that trellis. Hardy kiwis and blueberries and all kinds of things that'll be constantly bringing interest out to this part.
What we're sitting in right now is our timber frame pavilion with the wood-fired oven. And so that is actually the focal point [LAUGH] of out here. Everybody thinks that the plants are great, but they wanna know about the-
>> Wood fired oven. So Mark, my husband, his passion is pizza.
He's perfected the dough, he's sourced it locally. He mills his own flour, we have a yeast starter from Italy that we've brought over. It just goes on and on. And so, we'll have pizza night out here where you come, bring a bottle of wine and your significant other or a friend and everybody makes their own pie.
We go in and we harvest micrograins to bring out to the pizza. Whatever is growing out here, seasonally, we'll put on the pizza, basil, tomatoes, whatever is in season. And it's just a fun night of everybody kind of, strangers getting together and learning about each other and about our farm, and yeah.
>> I saw that, and my son, again, is a pizza hound.
>> You have to bring him out, yeah.
>> This is gonna be great. So is it just pizza that he's doing here? Is he doing breads as well?
>> Well, we've done, he's done a bread class, we've done ****, we're also addicted to ****.
I don't know if you ever have fermented foods, but **** is a miracle elixir. We have, we did a **** class, we've had a mushroom class out here. The pizza class, the dough, the sourdough starter class. So yeah, any kind of class, we've done plants for human health class, we've had, We've had a wedding out here.
We've done a lot of interesting Things out here.
>> That's great, so you pointed me to the hops over here-
>> I also saw on your Facebook page, I guess it was called twisted luck hops?
>> That's still on there?
>> It's still on there, yeah.
Is that not a thing anymore, or?
>> No, it is, we don't necessarily market it. So I'd say no, it's not a thing.
>> Now is this associated with the local brewery scene, or-
>> This is a funny story. so Caberas Brewing, you know Caberas Brewing? My husband was working for Criterion Healthcare, which was a medical office building construction company there in Concord.
Steve Steinbacker is one of the owners of Criterion. And he also brewing.
>> I didn't know that was him, okay.
>> Yeah, so Steve said hey, can you guys grow hops at the farm? And we thought well, let's find out. And all three of us went into classes and we erected this trellis that is 18 feet at the top which is what hops need to grow.
They do get from the bottom all the way to the top in one season and then they start growing around and going down the other side. And what we learned at this class though, after our initial investment, is that we need at least an acre of hops to make even one batch of beer.
And with that, well, we don't have that, we're not gonna be able to do that-
>> But we loved the idea of incorporating hops here as a trellis. And so this actually works as a great little covered area to sit. This is a backdrop to the wedding that we had.
And they do. They fill that whole trellis up with hops from the top to the bottom in one season. And the chefs actually are the ones that buy them, not. But the chefs will buy them and make jams or purées with them, you name it. Ice cream, I've had one chef make ice cream with them.
>> That's great. And I see so you've got, this is a variety of fruit trees out here?
>> Yeah, most of them are. Look at that Monarch right there.
>> It's kinda early for a Monarch. Since it just snowed yesterday. [LAUGH]
>> Yeah, I know.
>> So we've got some plums and some cherries, we've got a couple of fig trees. Obviously those aren't native, but they grow really well, and they're adapted to this area. We've got persimmons, elderberries, I think that's it. A variety of all. We've got blackberries, raspberries, blueberries. Over here we've got goji berries and some pomegranates as well.
On the trellis is here we've got hardy Kiwis. Those are interesting.
>> I was wondering what that was.
>> Yeah, those are a lot of fun. It tastes great.
>> Now, are you just utilizing these yourselves, or are you distributing these as well?
>> No, the hops are really the only thing out here that we will have an abundance of to sell to customers.
The rest of it is just for fun.
>> So you mentioned education. It's on your website. You do some outreach with local schools. You've got classes going. Tell me about your educational mission? How did this work come to be?
>> I don't really know how that evolved. The schools, we got involved with because both of my children are in the school system.
I have a fourth grader and a seventh grader. Again when we started though, they're both in elementary school and we helped our program at the Elementary, we help them get started with their garden club. So from design to supplies, we're here for whatever they need. And I wanted those programs to evolve because I think it's probably one of the most important things right up there with balancing a checkbook that kids are not being taught how to grow food.
Where food comes from? Doesn't come from McDonald's. I don't even know that that's real food. So, you probably want to edit that. [LAUGH] We're not getting sued by McDonald's. So I think that was part of the passion was to get these programs going. In our several years of working with the schools it is amazing how much they are doing now versus when we started working with these programs.
But they have all about farms, I mean not small little gardens anymore. They've got like an acre of cultivated property that they're working with at certain schools with greenhouses and rain barrels. And it's amazing, and these kids know just as much as I know about growing a garden.
It's wonderful. So I think that's been sort of a passion is just to keep those programs going, because I think it's very important. And as far as the adult education again, we're just trying to find ways to use our property and bring people here, and create something where it creates awareness about what we're doing.
As well as gives us a way to reach out to people as well. When you work alone or just with your dad, it's hard to meet new people, so I'm always looking for ideas to get people here, always.
>> You mentioned that there was seasonality aspects to this operation which frankly I had not even contemplated.
What are some of the other challenges that someone like me probably wouldn't think about in running an operation like this?
>> It's a full-time job. There are a lot of, when we first started, you saw, you obviously did a lot of research before you came here. But you saw that there were a few articles about us.
Everyone else saw that there were a few articles about us as well. And those farmers that saw it said well, I can do that, when they're already running big operations. And this is a full-time job in itself, and it's just one crop, just micro-variants. So, I think that's a pretty big misconception, of how much time it takes to actually have it as a business.
Now, on a personal level, if you just want to grow some microgreens, it's a piece of cake. But if you're trying to grow a business of microgreens, it in itself, there's a steep learning curve. It's always evolving, and it is a full-time job, for sure.
>> So have you pursue any type of formal educational training on this?
You said it's a lot of learning. Is there classes you take in or anything like that?
>> Not specific to microgreens, we've done a few online courses on greenhouse management, things like that.
>> And there really is not anything formal on microgreens. There has been a few books, I have read lots of books.
Anytime there's a new book I get it just to have it and make sure it's part of the library. Some of them are great, some of them are my child could write [LAUGH] but it's good to have them all because you might get one little bit of information you were not aware of.
I would like to learn more about soils. pH, things like that soil components, because that's something I always struggle with in my garden is the soil. So I would love to take more on that, but I haven't done anything formal. We've done some food safety classes, again nothing specific from microgreens, but on the greater agricultural spectrum, there's a lot out there.
>> Now, you said when you started this in 2010, there really was little if anything in the microgreen arena in this area. How has that changed since you've been involved?
>> Everyone does microgreens now. [LAUGH] Everyone's growing microgreens. I just got a call last week from someone in Cornelius who just, according to him spent $250,000 on a property.
He has 30,000 square feet of indoor space that he wants to partner with me on. And I thought, No, I'm good. [LAUGH] I'm good but everyone sees this as a big profit center, and again, it's a full-time job. You're gonna get out of it what you put in to it.
So it's not a get-rich-quick business. It's taken us almost ten years to get to the point where we are, and we have a lot of very loyal Customers and a lot of very generous customers as well, who don't even consider that they're spending x amount of dollars on microgreens because they see the bigger picture of how they're working with a farm who's working directly with them.
And they know the farmer, and the farmer knows them and the whole cycle. So I think there's a lot of relationship building that needs to take place, but as far as the difference between 2010 and now I would say is, I said they're at least six or seven growers in the Charlotte area that are trying to do it commercially.
They kinda go within a year, but some pop up.
>> It's really not much in the way of longevity.
>> No, I mean, there's only so many restaurants buying microgreens, and if they're already buying them from the top producers, then its hard to compete. Its a very competitive market for sure.
Its a lot different than every other agricultural market for some reason.
>> So just from agriculture in general, how do you see the Charlotte market as far as the liability of agriculture here not in microfreen but whatever you come in contact with?
>> I see, and I don't know if maybe I have blinders on because my customers are all amazing, 100% gang-ho on local food scene.
I'm sure for every one that I have as a customer, there are some that just don't care. But I don't know them, so I can't speak to that, but we have a pretty strong momentum right now. Are you familiar with the Piedmont Culinary Guild?
>> I saw that referenced in one of the articles, but I had never heard of it.
>> Yeah, the Piedmont Culinary Guild is a collaboration of chefs and farmers in the Charlotte, and out to Winston-Salem, and they're expanding all throughout North Carolina. But primarily start in the Charlotte market, where it's sort of a warehouse of chefs and farmers where we can work together. A chef will say, I need tomatoes and whose got this kind of pepper?
And then the farmers can pipe in with, we have them, I'll bring them Thursday. So it is a great way to connect the chefs and the farmers. It is also a outreach for education and other. There's grants available for farmers, there's marketing opportunities for chefs. There's always charitable events going on that the Culinary Guild is either hosting or a big part of.
So things like that, having programs like that in any region. I can't imagine or I think it's a pretty important part of what we're doing. But it points us in the right direction, it means that we have it and there's over a hundred members. So we have a momentum is what it means.
So, [COUGH] as far as the Charlotte market goes, I think, we have a pretty unique spot.
>> Unique in what way?
>> For restaurants, and farmers, and agricultural industries growing and just the food desserts and the availability of certain things. I think we're in a unique spot to become the next culinary hoopla, I can't think of the right word, but Charleston, Greenville, these are all well-known foodie towns.
I believe that Charlotte is right there. It's just a matter of marketing it, like the fact that you don't know the Piedmont Culinary Guild means we're not doing the best job of making sure everyone knows about Piedmont Culinary Guild. But having these programs is, I think, key to it all.
>> So is this type of farming, I know you've got this organization with the Piedmont Culinary Guild, but does a farm like your's work with the cooperative agencies or anything more traditional farm might work with, or are you a little more specialized in what they can service?
>> Yeah, the only thing about our farm is that not everybody needs microgreens.
It's not a staple or a commodity. It's not a crop that'll feed the hungry. It's a fine dining crop. So we're sort of limited on places that will that we can help. We volunteer time all the time to do for different programs, but not in the way of crop.
Time, yes crop no.
>> Okay, are there aspects of greenhouse farming that insulate use somewhat from the risk that an outside farmer would deal with. You got the same issues with sunlight. You can control your water flow a little bit better, obviously, an outside farmer doesn't have to pay a heating bill.
Are there things that are a differentiator for you?
>> In terms of risk or?
>> In terms of risk, in terms of making sure that your crops are not prone to insects, not prone to any other issues?
>> I think another farmer, once called us fake farming. Another one called us lazy farming.
And I will maybe agree with both of those because I'm not on my hands and knees digging trenches, but you did see me get blasted with a hose of rust water from my boiler. So in some aspects, yes, it is easy farming in that it's not as labor intensive.
The most rigorous activity I do on a day-to-day basis is lifting a three cubic foot bag of dirt, and I do that many times a day. But I'm not shoveling, and I don't have big equipment. My overhead is a lot lower because I don't have big equipment, I don't have acres that I'm cultivating, I have inches that I'm cultivating.
So we are shielded in other ways though we're more at risk in the food safety world microgreens are lumped into that sprout category which is a high risk crop. So our insurance premiums are through the roof just to have the amount insurance required to sell to the people we sell to.
And yeah, and so it's kind of a, it's a balance.
>> It's a little bit of a wash.
>> Where your strengths are or your avoiding risk your picking it up elsewhere.
>> Okay, what are some of the farmers comments lazy farming.
>> What are some of the misperceptions that folks have about greenhouse farming, or microgreens that you've come across?
>> Again, it's that full time a lot of people think this is just a part time gig. Anyone who's running any business, agriculture or other, knows that that's [LAUGH], it's always a full time gig.
There's always something to do. You might not be standing in the greenhouse doing it, but I am sitting at a table doing an interview, or I'm at home doing bookkeeping, or, or I'm out doing deliveries or trying to do sales. Tuesday was the taste of Carolina food show, so I was four hours at a food show.
So it is a full time job, that is the biggest misconception. I would say that is probably it.
>> That you you mentioned the gentleman that reached you to try to partner to help him with his operation. What do you see for your future? What do you see for the future of Lucky Leaf?
>> It's funny, when we started we had a white board of our goals and our plans and we only have the two year, the five year, and the ten year plan. And, And we're approaching ten years.
>> Better get to it. [LAUGH]
>> So I think we need to erase it and start over.
Our last few years we have, like I said, let that do it's thing and shift out here. So our goals are our here to try and build this area of the business, and more outreach, more community type activities. Whereas that brings in the money, this brings in the enjoyment if that makes sense.
So bringing that aspect kinda renews the vibe, renews the longevity of the business. It does well, I think. It gives us more avenues to consider other options.
>> And you said you see Charlottesville becoming a Foodie destination like a Charleston.
>> Absolutely, yeah.
>> What other things do you see as far as what your view is in the future for agriculture in this area.
>> Well, it's such a dense area that I feel like it's hard to see agriculture in the Charlotte area. I mean, here we are in Cabarrus County, we're not in Charlotte. [COUGH] Excuse me. I consider Charlotte, though, our market. I don't know. That's a tough question. I do see a shift in the paradigm of the farmer.
The 55 plus aged farmer is now the 30 aged farmer. 44 in my case, I see that shift and with that I'm seeing new energy and new life with all these farms. Not that they weren't doing it right before but it's evolving with time, using Podges as a perfect example or Barbie's.
Have you talked to Barbie Farms?
>> Somebody on a project spoke with them.
>> Yeah, so to watch how Barbie's From their third or fourth generation farm. I have met Tommy Barbie when we first started and he was still running the business at the Farmer's Market every Saturday, multiple farmer's markets.
Hauling his stuff in, hauling his stuff out. And then as he has sort of taken a step back, Brent Barbie has stepped in, I am watching Brent Kinda shift the way they do things. They don't. They do maybe one farmers market now. And the rest of it's restaurants.
[SOUND] And wholesale groceries, retail.
>> So is that the trend you're seeing these young. Younger farmers are not necessarily run of the mom and pop-
>> Right, I feel like they're doing the paperwork to get them into the retail, they're doing the paperwork to get them in front of other customers that otherwise wouldn't even have been on the radar.
So when you go into Lowe's Food and you see all your farmer friends on the shelves at Lowe's Food or Harriss Teeter, that's when I'm noticing, and I think that trend will continue.
>> Are you seem more, as younger farmers are coming in, are you seeing more experimentation with methods and crop types and is that shifting [INAUDIBLE]?
>> I haven't noticed too much of that, except that we're trying to get back to our heirloom roots. Bringing back the Bradford watermelon. Bringing back peanuts. Bringing things that were normally grown here and then kinda sort of stepped away and went to chin or wherever else. Where the watermelons getting pretty much lost to a whole new non-crushable watermelon.
Where as the Bradford was a soft squishy but the best tasting. So bringing back some of those heirloom are rice. Our rice industry. I am seeing that being brought back as well. Where we lost seed, now we are resurrecting seed old seed and starting to build up storage of that.
I think those things are interesting trends, something to keep an eye on.
>> So our time is about up here and I have jumped around a lot. [LAUGH]
>> I followed you, I hope.
>> No, you have done great. I appreciate it. Is there anything that I didn't ask or that you think should be reflected in something like this that talks about the history and the growth of foodshed in this area?
>> I think what is ultimately going to dictate and drive the direction of any of these industries whether it be restaurants or agriculture or either is the consumer. What I'm noticing is not necessarily farmers changing, but the consumers changing. They're becoming more aware of what's happening with our food industry.
They're becoming more aware of why the United States is 50% obese and why illness is rampant and why we're all on medications and I think people are getting ready to change. To change this, not the farmers. But with that, the farmers have to evolve to accommodate curious consumers.
So I'm seeing a lot more on-farm events, farm tours, farm outings, pizza nights at our farm. People want to do that stuff. They are always looking for husband, myself, my kids want. We on the weekends, we love doing that kind of a thing where we can go visit a farm, and you know learn something new about the way someone is growing a crop or whatever it is.
But so I'm seeing that trend, and it's totally consumer driven. That people shifting their farms are in to accommodate visitors and I think that's great.
>> So is that educational element? You think that's consumer-driven?
>> Or do you think folks have been hearing from farmers and operations like you need to do some, I mean there's almost like a chicken and egg, very cyclical.
>> It's probably a balance, but the more I learn, the more I want to learn more. So the more I learn about a particular thing that I've always known as just part of the diet. We eat it every day and no big deal. And then you learn something about it and then you start researching.
>> The more you dig, you know? But I don't know, I think it's consumer, I think the consumers are ready. I think we're all, I hope we're all ready. Maybe it's just my small circle of people I know, but we're very aware to come over here and talk about sustainable farming.
People know what that means now. And they know how to spot it, you know [COUGH] versus big ag or, you know, people are knowing the difference without having to educate so I don't know which came first but.
>> And how would you tell a consumer to get better acquainted to get better knowledge of about these things.
>> Find a farmer, go to a farmer's market, get to know them. That would be my suggestion.
>> Okay, is there anything else I overlooked?
>> [COUGH] I apologize for my lagging cough, it's the season.
>> No problem.
>> But no, this was great.
>> Okay, I really appreciate your time.
Thank you so much for helping me out here.
>> Yeah, absolutely.
>> We really appreciate your cooperation and your assistance with this. And wish you the very best of luck. This is a fantastic operation-
>> We'll have to have you out for pizza night, you and you're son.
>> I can see Todd all over this-
>> I'll let you know.
>> I'm gonna shut this thing down.
>> Do it. Yeah, we usually have
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.