Carie Deneau is 59 years old, and has been working at Tega Hills Farm for a little over five years. Her primary job duties include product weighing, seeding, and seed transfers to the greenhouses. Prior to her work at Tega Hills Farm, she worked in the health care field and Hospice for just over 20 years, eventually leaving due to burnout to pursue farm work. She once worked at a large-scale produce farm in Delaware in her early 20s, so she had enough early training to help ease her into farming once again when she applied to work at Tega Hills Farm. Topics in this interview include transitioning from her previous field of work to farming, musings on scientific farming and the future of farming, and production of healthy food for introduction back into the American diet.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:39||Introduction, Carie Deneau|
|0:03:18||Starting off in health care and Hospice, and burn out|
|0:04:20||Working on a produce farm in her youth|
|0:05:49||A family member introduces her to Tega Hills Farm|
|0:07:03||Working at Tega Hills Farm|
|0:09:37||Daily/Weekly job duties|
|0:10:49||Enjoyment from producing healthy food to counteract the unhealthy American diet|
|0:12:52||Seasonal produce and work|
|0:14:22||Being a grandmother, church involvement, and home gardening|
|0:15:22||Taking home composting scraps and learning from Mark Robinson|
|0:20:58||The importance of smaller, traditional farms over large scale farms|
|0:25:37||Final thoughts on risk and community|
>> MG: This is Mike Gregory, graduate student at UNC Charlotte in the oral history program. I'm back here at Tega Hills farm talking with another worker on the farm. Her name is Carrie, hi Carrie.
>> CD: Hi.
>> MG: It's nice to be able to talk to you today. Carrie, tell me a little bit about yourself.
We'll get into how you go the Tega Hills Farm in just a little bit. But tell me a little about your background, where are you originally from?
>> CD: I'm originally from Baltimore, Maryland. I was born in 1960.
>> MG: Okay.
>> CD: So I grew up in that era. From there I moved to Ellicott City and graduated from high school in Ellicott City, Maryland.
I graduated in 1978.
>> MG: Okay, so how did you end up in Fort Mill, South Carolina?
>> CD: We moved down here, we lived in Delaware before we moved here. I moved down here in 2008 and my daughter was down here ahead of me. She moved down here to go to Bible College and I came down to visit her while she was in school down here.
We just fell in love with the area, and ended up coming down.
>> MG: Wonderful, did you always know you wanted to get into farming?
>> CD: I think so. I loved it ever since a little girl. I visited my uncle's farm when I was a little girl, and just, I loved that.
I have family on my mom's side who were a lot of farmers. Farmers and teachers. I have an uncle who lived in Middletown, Maryland who was a big dairy farmer. And gardens, they all, all my family always had gardens [LAUGH]
>> MG: Yeah so what kind of gardens did they have?
>> CD: Vegetable and fruit, blueberries, and just, your regular stuff you can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash.
>> MG: And the typical outdoor conventional garden?
>> CD: Yes, yes.
>> MG: So quite the change from going from conventional gardening to suddenly we're here with hydroponics and Greenhouses. it's quite a difference.
>> CD: Yeah, I think the Greenhouse gardening is the way to go. [LAUGH] As opposed to fields and product in fields.
>> MG: It certainly allows for a lot more year-round productivity.
>> CD: Mm-hm, yeah.
>> MG: So tell me a little bit about your background. What did you do after high school and did you immediately get in to, into farming or did you have kind of a life before?
>> CD: No, actually, I was in the healthcare field for a while. I was doing as a CNA and doing home healthcare. Now I entered hospice care for a while, and then I got to the point where I wanted to be back outside and not dealing with fear. I got burned out doing the hospice work.
>> MG: I Imagine.
>> CD: And you're dealing with a lot of with sick people when you're in healthcare and it can wear you down. So I just, I always longed to be back doing this kind of stuff. And I got hired here and just been so happy ever since Did you leave the healthcare field and and go immediately to work here or did you did you do something in between them?
No, I I did that, I came here to here. Yeah, I did have I have worked on a farm there before this farm Okay When I before I moved here I lived in Delaware I worked at a produce farm.
>> MG: At a produce farm?
>> CD: A produce farm, yes, mm-hm.
>> MG: How long did you work at the produce farm?
>> CD: A couple years, yes, but I was younger, I was in my early twenties. And it was a large-scale produce farm, and they had pick your own, and they had market and I liked doing that, and I did that until I got married and started having kids.
And then I took years off when I was raising my kids, and then went into the health care field. When my kids were a little older, I went into that field, but I homeschooled my kids, as well. And so I've spent those years just you know that was my focus.
Then when they were a little older I went back to work.
>> MG: Okay. So. [LAUGH] So when you decided to make the leap.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: From healthcare to wanting to get into farming. And how did you settle on Tega Hills Farm? Tell me about the process, what drew you here?
Or was it one stop of many, trying to get into the field? Just tell me a little bit about that.
>> CD: No, not really, what happened was, a friend, family member kind of like.
>> CD: I ran into her and she was dating a guy who worked here. And so when I ran into her she's just, hey, how are you doing?
Or whatever. You still working with hospice? And I said, well, actually I'm trying to do another job. She said well what do you want to do? And really I kind of said it jokingly, I'm like I want to be a farmer. I almost said it as a joke, but it just kind of came out.
And she said, hey I know of a place that's hiring. Why don't you go down there and talk to them? So I did it, I came down here and that was the story, I got hired, so it's-
>> MG: So what did you think when you came from the more conventional farming to seeing Tega Hills farm and seeing the greenhouses?
It's a non traditional form by Mile standards it's a small farm it's only two acres of land.
>> CD: Yes.
>> MG: But only part of that has Greenhouses on them. So tell me like-
>> CD: It's amazing for the amount of produce it produce on a small amount of land that it has.
To me it was amazing. It was I was. By it. When I first started working here, I was working with the microgreens. With a lady named Pat, who I'm not sure, you probably haven't met her because she's not here today. But she's a lady who's in her 70s and I fell in love with Pat right away.
>> MG: I met her the first time I came to see her. She was picking cilantro, she's a very sweet lady.
>> CD: Yeah, and so her and I worked with the microbrewery, and said, I've had several different positions, over the years that I've been here. But yeah, I was just amazed how things, and I wish I haven't been able to share with you some pictures of the changes I went through the years because they've really done so many improvements around here that it's the transformation is just a joy to be a part of to watch happen.
Like building things and building new markets and the just the things Different things.
>> MG: And you said you've been here for how many years?
>> CD: Five, five years.
>> MG: For five years. When you first came to Tega Hills Farm, did you have any hesitation with working with greenhouses?
Was it a little overwhelming or was it a challenge that you were-
>> CD: No, no it was they taught me what they wanted me to do, just showed me a few times and it's not difficult work to do. It can be strenuous, and it can be, but it's a system, it's really a system, and it runs smoothly when you just keep up with the process.
So, here we got I'm doing seeds, I'm dropping seeds into here, and then in two weeks, they go from here onto the water, so and it's just a system.
>> CD: I know you can't see this but-
>> MG: I've taken plenty of pictures.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: So when we all get to listen to this there will be pictures.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: Yeah, absolutely, so we will get to see it.
>> CD: Okay.
>> MG: Don't worry.
>> CD: [LAUGH]
>> MG: But tell me what your typical job is here at the farm. I know it may change a little bit depending on the day or the season, but tell us a little bit about what you do.
>> CD: Well, usually in the mornings I'll harvest lettuce, and then in the afternoons, twice a week, I'm the one that packs the orders for the restaurants. And then, cuz I only work part-time, I'm here three days. For two of the days I pack restaurant orders in the afternoon, and then on the other day I plant the seeds, right here, this.
>> MG: Okay.
>> CD: Which is what I'm gonna be doing here while I, yeah. And then, yeah then we harvest in the morning and then in the afternoon I'm either packing or seeding. So that's what I do.
>> MG: Okay. Do you have a particular job here that you you find most enjoyable, or maybe even therapeutic?
Cuz you mentioned you came from healthcare, from where this is-
>> CD: Yes.
>> MG: It's nothing but unfortunately dealing with sick people. And then in hospice, you're dealing with kind of ultimate fate.
>> CD: Right.
>> MG: And now you come here and you're giving life. You're bringing life to things.
>> CD: That's true, yes, yes. Yeah mm-hm. Yes and I love just the idea of producing healthy food. That means a lot to me to be a part of offering something that's gonna be good for people to eat.
>> MG: Yeah.
>> CD: Because I'm one that really believe that the american diet right now is pretty poor.
People just eat a lot of crap, a lot of stuff that's causing people to be sick. Like I was in healthcare it was like, I knew a lot of reasons why people are sick, even young people are sick in the 50s and 60s. I think it's diet related a lot of it.
So I like the fact that I'm helping provide good food.
>> MG: It's why I asked it.
>> CD: [LAUGH] Yeah.
>> MG: If,
>> MG: Come on,
>> MG: How does your job maybe change seasonally, cuz we know that greenhouses are not entirely insulated-
>> CD: Yeah.
>> MG: From the weather. And with you doing seeding and planting.
>> CD: Mm-hm.
>> MG: Does that change, or does how you have to handle that or deal with that change depending on the seasons or weather?
>> CD: Well, the lettuce we grow year round and the micro greens grow year round. And the things that seasonal are the outside beds, where we have things like broccoli and onions and I can't think of everything that's out there, string beans we've grown out there.
But and in house five is where we grow the tomatoes and the peppers, and that's more seasonal.
>> CD: Yeah, I guess in house five they grow eggplant, they're seasonal things. So, like for even right now, in the end of March, and the beginning of April, they're starting to plant the tomatoes and I think it's in house five in a couple weeks we'll be able to start harvesting them.
>> MG: Okay.
>> CD: [CROSSTALK]
>> MG: No, that's fine. You mentioned that you do a lot of the packaging and preparation to send off to some of the chefs that are in Charlotte. Do you get to deal with them directly or do you just hand things off? How does the exchange work?
>> CD: Well, Mindy usually takes the orders and then I get the orders down here. I just pack them in delivery totes, they call them and put them in the cooler with the name of the restaurant in it, and then, somebody else delivers them. So I really don't get to meet chefs or anything like that.
Occasionally one will come in, or if they do a on farm pick-up, I might meet them.
>> MG: Okay. So you said you work here part-time. Do you do something else in the meantime?
>> CD: Well, I'm a grandmother. [LAUGH]
>> MG: That's a job.
>> CD: I'm involved with my church quite a bit and just stay busy.
I do own a little bit of land out in York, so I have about 35 minute drive to get into work, and at home I have garden at home too, so.
>> MG: What all do you grow at home?
>> CD: Well, my goal, or my desire's to grow herbs more than anything.
And I also have a little project that I'm doing it's called Burma composting, where I'm composting with worms. And my goal with that is to use the Burma composting for getting the soil all ready for organic growing.
>> CD: I know really actually in the future I would love to do that on a larger scale, but for now, I'm just in the beginning stages.
>> MG: Is there anything that you've learned, say, during your time here, during your five years here, working at Tega Hills Farm? Cuz you and I conversed a little bit before the interview, and you said science is kind of the future of-
>> CD: Uh-huh.
>> MG: It's the way to go as far as gardening.
Have you learned anything from here that you've been able to apply maybe yourself in your own home garden? Or anything you're looking forward to maybe trying?
>> CD: One of the things that is an advantage of working here, a little perk, is that I can take home The scraps, you know, and use those for composting.
And I also recycle some of the soil that comes from the growing of the microgreens, I can take some of that soil, and use that in a potting mix that I like to make for my home gardens. Mark is a wealth of knowledge, I mean, I can ask him, really, anything about anything.
And he takes the time to just talk to you, and hang out with you. And he's a very, very good employer, I enjoy Mark and Mindy both.
>> MG: Yeah.
>> CD: I'm trying to think of.
>> MG: When we interviewed the two of them not too long ago, Mindy joked that there never seemed to be anything that he didn't think he could do.
He would set his eyes on something, and then just figure out how to try it, and do it.
>> CD: Right, I know, yeah.
>> MG: And I think this is kind of evidenced with the greenhouses, and the amount of microgreens, and experimenting with different kinds of microgreens.
>> CD: Yeah.
You have to have a lot of fortitude to be a farmer, because I've seen crops and different things they've tried not work out. And they have to just press on, keep going through and ride through the losses, and still keep their chin up, and they do. They're awesome.
We have good seasons and bad seasons, and they've lost things, and just had to work through it, just-
>> MG: Could you tell me, maybe, about one of the bad seasons, what happened?
>> CD: [NOISE] Well.
>> CD: Let me see if I can think of something here.
>> CD: There's times, sometimes, when we're harvesting, and we have to clean stuff up.
If, you know, I don't know, there's a disease or something, it does happen from time to time. And then they have to adjust, you know, and figure out what caused it, and work through it. But sometimes, you'll lose some of the product in the process of, you know, just life on the farm.
>> MG: Yeah, I guess its a little harder when you have a greenhouse, and you don't have the vast fields these commercial farms have. Your loss really can affect you in a much smaller farm like this.
>> CD: Yeah.
>> MG: I'm curious, going back to something that we mentioned prior to the interview, which is, science is kinda the way to go as far as farming goes.
Having grown up with conventional farming, and with that thought. And especially now, working here at Tega Hills Farm, where we have these greenhouses, and we have hydroponics, and where do you see farming going in the near future? Do you, let me preface this and say that one aspect we have been exploring, during this whole project, is the encroachment of urbanization.
And moving out farms from the urban environment, and pushing them farther and farther away. But also, in some ways, moving them out entirely. Where you have urban farms that can't really survive via traditional means, but maybe the owners don't have the expertise or the money to convert. And so sometimes, these larger cities, they keep building up and building up, and the farms, they're going away.
Tega Hills Farm is kind of the epitome of an urban farm. We're not just a few feet from a road, and cars going by and there are houses, townhouses across the way there.
>> CD: They haven't been there that long, just came up.
>> MG: And a major grocery store, we've got a Publix there right down the road.
It's building up here. Where do you see these urban farms going? Do you think that they're gonna have to embrace the more scientific farming? Or do you think there's still really a place for the traditional farm?
>> CD: Well, my concern and thoughts are that I think people are too dependent on the large-scale industrial-type farming, and that the local farm is essential to every community.
Like for instance, even here, you can produce a good crop, a good product, and make it financially beneficial to do it without a lot of land. But I just think that the communities need to have the farms. They need to have local, I guess, local sources of produce and food, and not be so dependent on Mexico, and California, and.
So it's just essential that we keep farms going. And that didn't really answer that question, did it?
>> MG: No, you did, and.
>> MG: I'm curious, have you ever thought about maybe what our local farms, like Tega Hills Farm, could do to reach out to the public, to try and turn them away from these big, from consuming from these large commercial enterprises, to the more personable, affordable, smaller local farms?
Cuz I think that one thing that we, as Americans, well for one, we want everything right now, we want it in large quantities. But we also have this misconception that everything that is produced in large scale in these grocery stores is cheaper, when that's not necessarily the case.
>> CD: Right, mm-hm.
>> MG: How do you think we can go about reaching these people, to turn them away from that, or at least, if not turn them away, to get them to come back and look at the small farms?
>> CD: Just education, people have to be educated. There's the other thing about these larger farms, is that they have to pick their produce when it's still, when it's not ripe.
And when it's not ripe, it doesn't have the nutrition in it that it would have if it was allowed to ripen before it was harvested. And just, even all the pesticides and herbicides that have to go into large-scale farming is causing our food to be unhealthy. Unhealthy for people to eat, and it's just spilling over to the healthcare field, like I mentioned earlier.
So just to, people need to value, or understand the value of fresh, local food. And it's just a matter of teaching And people, I think. I mean, you're right about the convenience, people want it convenient, but when people put a value on something, it changes the way they think about it.
>> MG: Yeah, I think we definitely need to get away from the culture of the bottom line. And like you said, go into education. One thing I've thought about, and I'm curious what you think about this, perhaps occasionally bringing people such as yourself into local schools, public schools, to do a presentation on some of our local farms.
>> CD: Mindy does that.
>> MG: She does?
>> CD: Yes, she does.
>> MG: I know they offer tours here. I didn't know that.
>> CD: Yeah, she goes to schools, and does little talks and little demonstrations.
>> MG: Well, every little bit helps.
>> CD: Yeah. Yeah.
>> MG: So, kinda bring things to a close here.
With this project, there will be many people who will have access to these, from students to just general enthusiasts. If there's something that you would like to tell them, something that is an ultimate take-away from what you do here at Tega Hills Farm. Is there anything that you would like to tell them, maybe a personal message, or something for them to think about, related to what you do?
>> CD: I think it's important to dream big and to take risks. And when it comes to farming, or anything, like, you feel called to. It's a God-given desire to take the risk and go for it, and just trust the Lord, that he's with you and he's going to give you what you need to get through it.
Because there'll be hard times. There'll be times when you are prosperous. And it is a risky business, but it's worth the risks. And reach out to others in the community to help get started, but do it. Do it for the sake of your community, do it for the sake of your children.
And just keep the small farms alive, keep them going, keep them in the community.
>> MG: A powerful note to end on.
>> CD: [LAUGH]
>> MG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I know we all really appreciate it.
Lisa Sherman is 26 years old, and has been working for Tega Hills Farm for three years. Her duties at the farm include product weighing, packaging, and lettuce harvesting. She learned to love farming from spending time at her grandmother’s house in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in her youth, and plans to pursue a degree in horticulture from Clemson at a later date. Topics in this interview include her experiences with both conventional and hydroponic farming, learning experiences taken from her work at Tega Hills Farm, and her long term goal of opening up her own nursery.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:38||Introduction, Lisa Sherman|
|0:01:22||Learning of her love of farming at Granny’s house in Pittsburg, PA|
|0:03:04||Lisa’s personal garden and personal experience gardening|
|0:08:19||Coming to Fort Mill, SC as a broke college student and looking for work|
|0:11:31||Finding Tega Hills Farm|
|0:14:47||Lisa’s work at the farm with lettuce harvesting, transferring, and packing|
|0:19:37||Learning farming techniques from experience; likes and dislikes|
|0:24:40||Wanting to run her own nursery|
|0:28:07||Final thoughts on hard work and loving her job and the people she interacts with|
>> MG: This is Mike Gregory, graduate student, UNC Charlotte, public history. I am here talking today with Lisa.
>> LS: Yes.
>> MG: Lisa, okay, with Tega Hills Farm.
>> MG: Honestly, I know very little about you, so I'm gonna just open this up to let you introduce yourself. And then we'll get down the road to talking about your employment here at Tega Hills Farm.
So tell me about you, tell me your name and where you're from.
>> LS: My name is Lisa, I am originally from Jacksonville, Florida. We moved up to Pittsburgh in my junior year of high school, and that's where I got into gardening. My growing up in Florida, gardening was not something that I, farming's not something that I ever considered as a career.
Working outside back then meant going around and cleaning up the debris that dad had left after trimming stuff around the yard. And it just wasn't fun pulling up weeds that, its impossible to get out without burning the whole thing and starting fresh. But in Pittsburgh we were at my granny's house one year, one summer.
And she has this beautiful garden, she's always kept a huge garden. And on the drive home, back up to Pittsburgh, I sort of remember talking to my mom and asking her if we could start a garden.
>> LS: Were we able to start a garden? Cuz we weren't vegetable garden people, we had flowers and things, but not actual food crops.
So we talked about what we liked to eat. And then I just researched on my phone what kind of light do they need, what kind of soil do they need? Can I actually grow this or not? And I started my first little garden up there. And then a couple years later we moved down here to South Carolina, and I've been slowly building my garden ever since.
>> MG: So how old were you when you had this revelation at your granny's house?
>> LS: About 20 years old, so I'm 26 now. And I went from just enjoying growing flowers to having a little hobby garden, to now I have this 30 by 60 foot space. And I want to have either a farm or a nursery or something of my own one day.
Slowly working towards that now.
>> MG: So you're working toward it yourself now?
>> LS: Yes, yes.
>> MG: What type of plants and vegetables or fruit did you start growing in your garden?
>> LS: The first garden I had, I had corn, peppers, some sunflowers, and some lettuce. And I think I tried broccoli, but I started it too late in the season, and the heat killed them.
Because it was fun, we did not get much out of that garden. Did not have a fence around it, and there were plentiful deer where we were in Pittsburgh. So they pretty much mowed down the pepper plants, and we did not get any corn either. The night before we went out to harvest the corn, this groundhog came through.
In the morning it looked like a tornado had hit the corn patch. And it had just pulled down every ear of corn off of the stalks. And taken about three bites out of every ear, and then moved on to the next one.
>> MG: And this was in Pittsburgh?
>> LS: It was, yes.
>> MG: So you didn't get much out of the garden, but the groundhogs and the deer had a buffet.
>> LS: Yes, yeah.
>> MG: I'm sure they enjoyed it. [LAUGH] So when you started your garden, was it a big learning experience for you, or did you find it came quite natural to you?
>> LS: I really love to research, so I researched the heck out of that, and we,
>> LS: Actually, it did come pretty naturally to me.
>> LS: Maybe?
>> MG: How did you research that?
>> LS: I've actually-
>> MG: Yeah.
>> LS: I always research very thoroughly, I guess gardening has come naturally to me, yeah.
I didn't always have a green thumb, but I never had a black thumb.
>> MG: [LAUGH]
>> LS: I started out with a simple little petunia plant. And all I had to really do is deadhead that, water it, keep it in some sun. And I bought a half-dead petunia from a garden center.
And it was very dry, and it was very sad looking, I stuck it in a big pot, I watered it, I fertilized it just a little bit, cut it back. And then that thing flourished. And we had this great corner window in our house that faced east and south on the sides.
So it just got sun all winter long, and that thing was inside flowering in February. It's a gorgeous plant. So I said okay, well, I started with the easiest thing possible, what else can I do? I just went from there.
>> MG: What type of crops did you grandma grow?
>> LS: Lots of tomatoes, lots of cucumbers. She never pruned back any of her stuff, so it just went everywhere. She had onions, she had garlic, she had a lot of eggplant. Did I say peppers already? She had those, too. Just the main, that kinda stuff that everyone has in the summer.
She didn't have any any special, rare kinda crops in there. Just a very Southern gardner kind of lady, I think. In my garden, I like having the herbs, and I like mixing the flowers in. And I tried the potatoes, and I've tried a little bit of everything to see what I can do.
And I've narrowed it down the things that I love. I try to stay away from the cucumbers and squash and the peppers that everyone always has so much of in the summer.
>> MG: Yeah.
>> LS: Cuz I can find those anywhere.
>> MG: Yeah, my maternal grandmother and grandfather, they had a garden as well.
Huge, it was about an acre. Always had your standard Southern fare, which was collards, lettuce, tomatoes.
>> LS: We had collards too, yes.
>> MG: I think they had cucumbers occasionally, potatoes were another big one, so we'd have green beans.
>> LS: I never had any luck with potatoes.
>> LS: They look fine above the soil, and you pull them up, and they have the black rot all through them, and I don't know how to stop that.
>> MG: I don't either, my father had the same problem. He tried it with smaller garden, never could get it. Corn was never a problem, potatoes, terrible.
>> LS: My dad tries to make me grow corn for him every year. And it always gets the corn ear worms, so I'm devoting again about a quarter of the garden to corn this year.
And I'm not gonna get anything off those plants. But I do the fertilizing and I do the side dressing throughout the season. It's a small little plot, so I'm out there hand-pollinating those ears, but every year. And I'm not one to spray stuff with pesticides, so this year I'm trying to go all natural to see if that can work for me.
>> MG: Well, I hope it does. Seems like a lot of farming, what I was trying to get away from was heavy pesticides, it's probably [INAUDIBLE]. So you have had quite the journey, you went from Jacksonville, Florida to Pittsburgh, is that right?
>> LS: Yes.
>> MG: And now you're here in Fort Mill, South Carolina, that's quite the slingshot.
So Tell me a little bit about what brought you here to, you had family in Pittsburgh [INAUDIBLE].
>> LS: Yeah.
>> MG: And so that must have brought you there, but what brought you from Pittsburgh to Fort Mill, South Carolina?
>> LS: I was a broke college kid.
>> MG: Okay.
>> LS: I had absolutely no money, still living at home, and my grandparents' house was declining slowly.
So mom and dad wanted me to be closer. My dad's family is in Florida, my mom's family is down in Georgia, so it's about a seven hour drive from here to other side of grandparents.
>> LS: So I lived with my mom and dad for a while here, and I [INAUDIBLE] moved out, but my garden is still in their backyard.
>> MG: You said you were a broke college kid, what were you studying?
>> LS: I could not make up my mind for a long time [LAUGH]. I knew that I liked to garden then, but I didn't know that I wanted to do it for a career, for a living.
So at first I thought that I wanted to do, at first I was going towards animal science, and I wanted to do stuff with horses. So I did some chiropractic stuff early on and I really loved that. So I started off going to school for that. And I was not the best student growing up.
Did not have the best grades. I was enrolled at a community college trying to get my basic math, science, English stuff out of the way and my grades got up, and I was going to transfer to Princeton ideally, as my mom and dad went to Princeton, that's a part of it.
Things of family. And I still-
>> MG: Still bleed a little orange?
>> LS: Yes.
>> MG: [LAUGH]
>> LS: It's a little late in my life, but I still wanna go to Clemson for horticulture, now that I'm finally settled on something, it took me long enough.
>> MG: It's never too late.
>> LS: It's ten years to decide.
>> MG: Never too late, I'm 38 years older and still over humans in. So there's a lot to be said for having a little bit of experience and then going in as what they call a non-traditional student.
>> LS: Yeah, travel a bit, explore the world, find out who you are as a person.
>> MG: And then come back.
>> LS: What you like, and then come back.
>> MG: Exactly, so-
>> LS: You need to have your mind made up straight out of high school, you don't really know who you are yet at that point.
>> MG: I sure do.
>> LS: You think you do, but you really don't.
>> MG: Nope, you sure don't.
>> MG: So tell me about how you went from the broke college kid, back here, you're here Fort Mill, South Carolina to meeting up with Mark and Mindy Robinson and working at Tega Hills Farm. So this is definitely, it's a non-traditional farm. We're getting into a farm that has some history here.
You went from a smaller farm to suddenly work into this big hydroponic network here on two acres. So tell me a little bit about that. How did you run into them?
>> MG: Tell me a bit about your history.
>> LS: I was
>> LS: The time I was working at Pet Smart, doing a little bit of everything there, pet care, customer service, cashiering, early morning stocking.
And I was just sick and tired of being stuck Inside. I wanted to be out in the sunshine. I wanted to be in the rain. I wanted [LAUGH] to be in the snow when it's freezing out there. And I didn't like having to be stuck inside a building for eight hours a day.
Just not for me. So I looked online. I just typed in seasonal farm jobs. I live in Rock Hill, so I typed in seasonal farm jobs near Rock Hill, South Carolina. And this popped up. And I was thrilled. They work year-round here. So I'd sent them a resume, well, I actually walked it up here.
And my dad helped me type up this really nice cover letter telling them why I was interested and that I've been gardening for a while.
>> LS: I wanted to see where else
>> LS: I wanted to see if I would be interested in farming for a living. And whether I wanted to do it on my own, my own small farm or I wanted to work for a bigger farm.
>> LS: And yeah, so they interviewed me and about a month later they hired me and another girl, and I love it here. I love everything that I do. I love watching the lettuce grow, I like talking to the little baby plants.
>> MG: What year did you start, what year?
>> LS: I've been here three years now, so that was 2016?
>> MG: 2016.
>> LS: Think it was 2016, I might have lost a year in there somewhere. [LAUGH]
>> MG: It's okay, I find the older that I'm getting, I'm starting to lose years. [LAUGH] So you talk to the plants.
>> LS: I do, [LAUGH].
>> MG: That's fantastic.
>> LS: Not just for the science specific reason of, you bring out carbon dioxide, and that's what the plants need to take in for photosynthesis. Just because, they're adorable. How can you not talk to them, and tell them how adorable they are?
>> MG: Okay, I don't judge. I think it's fantastic. So what do you do here at Tega Hills?
>> LS: I work mainly with the lettuce in those greenhouses. I help with the harvesting and the transferring plants lettuce. We have another lady, Carrie, who plants the lettuce seeds every Wednesday, and I'm the one who waters those in Wednesdays, and then I also water the rest of the seedlings Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
So I'm with the lettuce every step of the way through the process. And I also work in house three, where we have the kale, arugula, fennel, watercress, that kind of stuff.
>> LS: Harvesting outside during the summer. I need a there. I had a few months where I was working in-house too with micro greens, so I've done a little bit of everything here.
>> MG: So you're, what you do tends to change depending on, is it by season, or just necessity?
>> LS: We have the lettuce year round. Every morning we harvest lettuce. What I do changes with the seasons, depending on what day it is. Some days, in summer we have peppers and tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
So in the summer, we have a couple days a week. We go in and pick out all the stuff. And the next day or so after that, we go in and we do the cultural work, pruning and the things back up.
>> MG: So walk me through a typical day that you do, whatever you do here.
>> LS: What day of the week do you want?
>> MG: I'll leave it open To you, maybe if something, and you don't have to get too specific.
>> LS: My day, yeah.
>> MG: So as things change throughout the week, just a kind of a typical day or two.
>> LS: In the morning, we harvest lettuce.
We always harvest two passes in house one, and then two passes in house four.
>> LS: That's a few hundred heads of lettuce a day that we're pulling out, and then,
>> LS: Barely describe this without actually showing you, but we.
>> LS: Harvest a day, two houses, each house a day, and then we.
>> LS: Plant back where we harvested out our big seedlings. And then we, we clean up, we try to get all that stuff done before lunch. Then after lunch is usually planting.
>> MG: Sorry guys.
>> LS: Distracting. After lunch is usually harvesting in house three and we'll plant back in there.
Any clean up from the morning tasks if it's summer, yes we'll go through and pick cucumbers sometimes after lunch.
>> LS: If it's a delivery day, Mindy usually has me help pack in the greens orders. For picking flowers, I love picking flowers, beautiful flowers, it's great.
>> MG: It just kept adding up there.
>> LS: Can you- Jenny?
>> Speaker 3: Yeah.
>> LS: Can you find me another green lid?
>> Speaker 3: Yeah
>> LS: That means somebody will try.
>> LS: Here's one box, it just does not have a lid. It might be the green.
>> Speaker 3: This color green?
>> LS: Yeah, that color.
>> LS: Gets me distracted.
>> MG: It's okay but business has to keep going.
>> LS: Yes.
>> MG: What would you say you have taken away from your time working here at Farm for your own business. What have you learned here that, and I'm sure you've probably learned a lot. You've been here for a couple of years, but that's something else there.
>> MG: But what have you learned that maybe has surprised you or something that you are going to take away for your own use for when you finally start your own market.
>> LS: I learned that I really, I enjoy waiting. [LAUGH] It's a really simple, basic answer, but I love pulling weeds.
And I didn't realize how much I enjoyed doing that. And I like pruning back the cucumbers. And I like separating the tomatoes. And I didn't realize that was something that you had to do to prune them. And to prevent your little tomato plant from turning into this giant tomato jungle monster.
You have to cut them back. And they actually produce more if you do that properly. And if you pinch off the leaves as you go, the bottom leaves, it opens up the face of the plant and allows more air flow into the middle so you prevent disease. And I learned that you shouldn't do work like that ehen the humidity is high.
Because that, those break a leaf off and that little open section of the plant is open to infection and disease and bacteria getting in there. And I just, not that I don't like harvesting lettuce but since I do it every single morning, I've decided that I do not want to farm lettuce.
I'm so tired of lettuce. I enjoy that part of my job but, for myself and my own life, no. No more lettuce.
>> MG: I can understand that. When I first spoke to Mark and Mindy. Mark told me how many thousands of heads of lettuce are harvested. And this is a small space.
It's a two acre farm, but not all two acres are full of greenhouses. There's only five, only five greenhouses.
>> LS: Yes.
>> MG: So for one, how fast they grow is staggering.
>> LS: It is, it's amazing, yes..
>> MG: And to have that many thousands of heads of lettuce pulled over such a short amount of time, and there are only five full-time workers at TV Hills or thereabouts?
>> MG: Somewhere in there.
>> LS: Yeah, somewhere in there. We have about seven employees right now. Some are full time, some are part time.
>> MG: That's so much time that's occupied by just lettuce.
>> LS: That's our summer staff. Sorry, our winter staff I mean. In summer we have about ten.
>> MG: Has working in these greenhouses with these hydroponics made you want to consider doing something like that yourself? Or are you leaning towards? You're shaking your head, that's telling me something.
>> LS: I love to play in the dirt. [LAUGH] I don't know anything about pumps, I don't know anything about water or how to add the right nutrients to the water, and I'm not really interested in learning about that.
My own garden, I have raised beds, I have the concrete block beds, I have some wooden beds. I have stuff growing on large trellises, stuff on vertical trellises, things in the ground, things growing out of straw bales. I have a little bit of verything in there. And, yeah, hydroponic growing, it just isn't.
I take more of a creative approach. For myself I don't like just, I get bored with just long rows of little, long parallel rows of plants for miles. I like to have the kind of garden where you can bring in the kids or people who don't even like plants, and they go wow, this is amazing.
Or, what are these little round yellow things, and I say that's a lemon cucumber, and they go what, that's a cucumber? And I see that happiness and that wonder on their faces, and I love when kids leave and they're like mom, dad, can we grow some watermelons? Can we grow some whatever.
I love that.
>> LS: I thought of an answer to your earlier question.
>> MG: Sure.
>> LS: About what I've gotten out of the farm and what I've learned about myself. And what I possibly want for me in the future.
>> MG: Yeah, please do.
>> LS: I recently decided, last week recently, that I don't necessarily We want an actual farm [LAUGH] where I produce food for people.
I like watering the lettuce seeds and I like taking care of the seedlings. And I like nurturing them up to the point of taking them out to the greenhouse. And I work in house too with the microgreens, it's the same thing. I love looking at the seeds, I love petting them every day and making sure every one was growing the way that they should be.
And wherever I've been now is I just want a nursery and I want to start plants and I don't want to have a whole lot of everything. I don't want to spread myself too thin over that, but I want to grow the things that I love to grow.
The pretty little flowers and herbs that you can companion plant with all of your vegetables or certain insects or throw in the beneficial. Things like that I'm still working on that idea. It's been a week since I bought that but that's where I am now. Just a love for baby plants that I didn't realize I had before.
And I'm actually able to grow these seeds. This is the first year that I'm successfully growing flowers and okra from seed. They've not sprouted at all for me in the past. So I'm thrilled with all that.
>> MG: I bet.
>> MG: So when you go back to study horticulture,
>> MG: Is perhaps opening up your own nursery your goal? Or do you have something else further in mind or what are your kind of projected ideas for your future?
>> LS: I still feel like that 20 year old that had no idea [LAUGH]. I like, at the moment, yeah, I'm going to return to my own nursery.
But I never went through a period where I really got away from the house and traveled and saw the world, so I still want to do that a bit. So right now I'm bouncing back and forth between, well, I still want to do all of these things but I had this business idea.
And I'm growing extra seeds this year so that I can sell them as small plants. And if I start that up, then I can't do the other thing. But I can't do the other thing without money. So it's a lot of back of forth at the moment. I still am only 26.
I keep telling myself I have time, it's disappearing gradually but I like to think I have time.
>> MG: You have plenty of time. So, really I think I, would like to turn it just for a moment over to you if there's anything that you'd like to say finally about your time here at Tega Hills Farm.
Or you could tell us anything you want. Because this interview is going to be made available to students. But as well as to other people who are interested in kind of our food culture in Charlotte which is wide reaching, it's coming all the way to South Carolina. There's a massive region where Charlotte seems to be kinda at the center here.
And that reach was what led me to Tega Hills Farm and to Mark and Mindy and to talking to you. So when we put this into our project online with Library Special Collections, it will reach a lot more people, people who are interested and students. Is there anything that you would like to say maybe to them, even if it's just about gardening?
Or is there something you'd like to tell them about.
>> LS: I love what I do, but people don't realize how much work goes into this. And it's long hours, it's really cold in the winter, it's really hot in the summer. And the greenhouses are, to a point they're heated in the winter and we have big fans in the summer.
We have the evaporative cooler at one end, that doesn't mean that it's temperate and cool in there. It just means that instead of it being 140, 50 degrees in there, it's only 108. So it's [LAUGH] it's a hard job, but it's very rewarding If you want to get into it.
I love bagging up produce for people. I love when someone comes in and says, well just give me your favorite lettuce, or what would you recommend? What do you like to eat? I love customers like that. I love telling people about the farm. I love sharing this joy that it gives me with people.
>> LS: No matter if we have any bug problems, nutrient problems, it's super hot, it's super cold. You have a rough day here, a rough day there, it's all worth it to me in the end. Just because of the great product that we roll out and just the amazing people I work with, too.
They're awesome and everything that I've learned has made it so worth it to me. And it,
>> LS: What am I saying? [LAUGH] Yeah, I wouldn't change it for anything. I would go back and I would do the whole thing again.
>> MG: I think that's a very touching and powerful note to end on.
Lisa, thank you so much for talking with me, I really appreciate it.
>> LS: Yes, thank you, a pleasure.
|0:00:14||Set up/Empty air|
|0:01:03||Mark Robinson introduction and brief recollection of buying Tega Hills Farm|
|0:03:57||Mindy Robinson introduction and growing up on a farm|
|0:05:43||Newly married; “Wouldn’t it be cool to own a farm?”|
|0:07:13||Coming in at the forefront of interest in eating local food|
|0:07:59||Greenhouses as year-round income; Mindy persuades Matthews Community Farmer’s Market to remain open throughout the year|
|0:10:20||Types of farms in the surrounding Charlotte area and marketability|
|0:12:00||Customers and chefs like to know the people behind the produce|
|0:13:52||How Mark and Mindy met and came to Fort Mill, SC|
|0:16:31||Their process behind finding a farm to purchase|
|0:20:33||Attending NC State conference on aquaculture|
|0:21:05||Original pitch to community farming at Baxter Village|
|0:21:55||Figuring out how to run a greenhouse|
|0:23:44||Tega Hills Farm before their purchase|
|0:27:57||Growing tomatoes year round|
|0:29:38||Experimenting with growing and selling lettuce|
|0:31:10||Diversifying crops and finding niche markets|
|0:32:48||Micro greens and becoming profitable; a chef approaches|
|0:36:42||Growing and selling squash blossoms, edible flowers|
|0:38:27||Growing, selling, and delivering a better product|
|0:40:21||Total greenhouses and farm employees|
|0:44:15||Restaurants buying from Tega Hills Farm|
|0:46:52||Never advertised; all word-of-mouth|
|0:50:27||Not growing certain types of produce because of overall profitability|
|0:51:27||Courting higher-end, “white table cloth” restaurants|
|0:52:57||Production volume and hiring the right people|
|0:54:51||Small farm; can’t sustain if employees are paid a living wage ($15/hr)|
|0:58:48||Urbanization, grocery stores, and impact on Tega Hills Farm|
|1:04:14||Tega Hills Farmstand|
|1:05:09||Deciding what to sell at each market|
|1:08:07||Selling across state lines from SC to NC|
|1:10:34||Food Safety Modernization Act|
|1:16:05||Inspector exemptions, SC vs. NC|
|1:17:13||Dealing with seasonal weather and climate change with greenhouses|
|1:26:56||Greenhouses mitigate weather issues, but do not isolate from them|
|1:30:14||Where will Tega Hills Farms be in the next few years? Goals, ambitions, etc.|
|1:30:42||Improve the Farmstand and increase year round sales|
|1:32:22||The emotional thoughts on continuing the farm after Mark and Mindy pass|
|1:36:25||Getting to know their community neighbors in hopes someone will continue the legacy|
|1:37:41||Mark wants to try growing artichokes|
|1:41:07||Mark and Mindy: A good partnership|
|1:41:34||Staff is an extended family. Tega Hills Farm is a family that cares about each other|
|1:43:56||Conclusion and closing remarks; TegaHillsFarm.com|
>> Mike Gregory: All right, so this is Mike Gregory, I'm a graduate student at UNC Charlotte in the History Department. And I'm here with Mark and Mindy Robinson, the owners of Tigga Hill Farms in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It's about a two-acre farm and they provide produce at Matthews Community Farmers Market and Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, as well as a couple of food hubs and grocery stores in the local area, as well as Charlotte.
Happy to interview the two of you today. So we like to, let's start with Mark, since he won the democratic process to figure out who was going to introduce themselves first. So if he could just tell us your name and a little bit about your background and we'll go from there.
>> Mark Robinson: My name is Mark Robinson.
>> Mark Robinson: My background, I grew up on a farm in Ohio, that's my main farming experience. And through a convoluted,
>> Mark Robinson: Journey of education and jobs which would include college student services and working for a healthcare company. To being a systems administrator, just before we had the opportunity to buy the farm here.
So working with software and then company wanted to move. They wanted us go to Baltimore, we said no. And stopped by and talk to the owners of this property at the time in 1999. And this, [COUGH] half of those two acres was empty. And we offered, we wanted to see if we could lease it from them.
>> Mark Robinson: And right off the bat, they said no, but we'll sell you the whole thing. So we ended up on March 15th, 1999, so we're three days past 20 years. And we've bought the farm, which is not, [LAUGH] is not untrue. So anyway, we bought the farm, really struggled hard for the next four years.
Part of that had to do with getting business and having a business experience. Being under finance which is almost always the case. And we were hit with, that we were hit by that fall, natural gas prices went from $0.50 a therm to $0.75. So it increased by,
>> Mark Robinson: What-
>> Mindy Robinson: Half a can as much.
>> Mark Robinson: Half a can as much. And that really, we were, at the time, they were growing all-hydroponic tomatoes. And the big thing was to have ripe tomatoes by March 15th. And it just, the amount of heat that takes to raise them through the winter times is just phenomenal.
>> Mike Gregory: Yep.
>> Mark Robinson: Anyway, that's how we got started here. There's a variety of other things many can mention, but that's a good introduction to me.
>> Mike Gregory: Cool.
>> Mark Robinson: Mindy, tell us a little bit about yourself.
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, I grew up in Northeast Tennessee, and I grew up on the edge of my grandfather's farming at the time.
By the time I was growing up, he only had about 100 acres and he grew mostly cattle. That's also tobacco country, so he had some tobacco. And I grew up with my older brothers more involved with his farm because they were required to do things like sucker and top tobacco and things like that.
My dad did not farm with his father, but he was still right there and available to help his dad when he needed help. So I guess I just grew up in a very rural area. We had a big garden, there were six children in my family, I knew the difference between a bloom and a piece of fruit and a root and which one went which direction.
So I think Mark and I both appreciated having grown up in that kind of community. I know Mark talks about when he was growing up, his dad would sort of loan him and his brother out to the neighboring farms to help when it was time to hay. And my brothers did the same thing, they just sort of made the route and the expectation was, everybody came to your house.
The day was your turn to hay, and no money was exchanged, it was just free child-labor.
>> Mark Robinson: Lot of awesome lunches.
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] Yeah, you got fed well. So I was used to that way of living. I grew up working in everybody's gardens. Again, my mom would let me out and I'd go help my aunt.
And then my aunts would come up and help us. Or, we'd call each other when snapping [INAUDIBLE] will just come down and help. And so I just understood, so as Mark and I courted, and were married and nearly started in our marriage life, we always had that idea, wouldn't it be cool to have a farm?
And be able to raise our children in that atmosphere of knowing that what they contributed really made a difference in the day to day life of our family. So when Mark's job was sort of in between jobs and his parents had money to loan us, and this opportunity came up.
We were already mindset-wise oriented toward, let's have a farm. But around here it's sort of hard to find farmland unless you live way far out or something like that.
>> Mark Robinson: Even 20 years ago.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, even 20 years ago.
>> Mark Robinson: Springs had bought up.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Most everything here.
>> Mindy Robinson: Sure, well it's just people are developing it to live in, but they're not developing it to farm on. If you wanna farm around here you usually go to the other side of the lake, and go to Clover. But again that's family land usually, so it's rare that you're gonna buy a big enough piece of land to have a farm that is actually financially viable as a farm.
I think a lot of people over there tend to farm on the side. And I saw that a lot when I was growing up, I had I had friends whose parents maybe kept cattle or would run tobacco or would cut hay or something but they had day jobs, too.
So it wasn't so much. There were a few people who just farmed, but a lot of people, it was sort of just a side income. That was how I grew, too. So for us, we didn't realize it at the time how novel we were gonna be. But we were sort of at the front end of people getting interested in eating local food.
The CSA model was just starting to sorta come out and get some press and things like that. So for instance, when we first started going to farmer's markets, the farmer's markets were only open spring, summer, and fall. They would close by Thanksgiving. And so that left and it wouldn't open until March, so that's December, January, February.
That's 4 or 5 months in the winter when it's difficult to have a market. Therefore, what's the point trying to grow something through the winter? So it was, anyway, it was, but now both of the markets we go to are open.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, when we were the-
>> Mindy Robinson: It's changed quite a bit.
>> Mark Robinson: And we intentionally looked at greenhouses. The challenge all year round it comes. He didn't want to be bound, it's either wealth or Nothing at all, and a part of Mindy was actually a lot of the driving force [LAUGH]
for Matthew's to go year round because our customers knew that Mindy had a product.
And so even when it didn't go year round, many would drive over. Her folks would meet up with her on the market grounds and they'd make a drop, and that was how the winter market started finally. They saw that there was enough farmers doing season extension work, work meaning-
>> Mindy Robinson: High tunnels.
>> Mark Robinson: High tunnels.
>> Mindy Robinson: Low tunnels, anything that you can cut.
>> Mark Robinson: Covering their crops, being able to get two months more of production, which you're trying to fill four months, that's not too bad. So I give Mindy the credit for seeing Matthews really go ahead and open up for winter.
>> Mindy Robinson: Desperation, [LAUGH] we need more income, so make the push.
>> Mike Gregory: No, it's great. And even we live right across the street from the Matthews Community Farmers' Market. And I've grown up in the area pretty much all my life. We came here, in the Charlotte area, back in 1987, and we used to frequent Matthews.
There wasn't anything in the area still. It was Matthews and the closest mall at the time was Monroe. And so if you lived in the Charolotte area, you still had to kind of go to some of these markets. A lot of the grocery stores had not really picked up in the area.
And the Matthews Community Farmer's Market, it was very seasonal. Sometimes they were only open two and three hours during the morning on weekends. And even still today they'll run year-round but you still see a lot of more conventional seasonal farming in the area. And so I guess that's-
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, and it's interesting, too, because I mean, we're talking about agriculture as a whole, here's a huge variety of the kinds of farms that you can be. So if you drive out of this area, and let's think about this, not, how can I say? I didn't grow up in this area, so I'm speaking about it just from what I've observed.
But there are a lot of what we would call a commodity farmer, which are great. People who have acres and acres of land and they grow acres and acres of corn, or acres and acres of fill-in-the-blank, whatever grows well around here. And that is a different farming model than a market farmer, which is what we are, which is people who grow maybe more variety, maybe not as much acreage.
But your intention is to sell it as closer as possible to the end user and not have so many middle people, mostly with the idea of capturing more of the profit on that. So for instance, we sell our tomatoes pretty much comparably priced to what someone's gonna buy in the grocery store.
I don't go to the market with rock bottom tomato prices because I'm my own middle person. I don't sell it to someone who marks it up who sells it to someone else who marks it up, who gets it to the grocery store. But I also don't have the economies of scale.
I don't have picking equipment. I don't have big trucks to move stuff around. I mean, when we walk around, you'll see it's wagons and buckets and what you can carry in your two hands kind of stuff, which on two acres is fine. We don't need a truck to drive from the back of the property to the front of the property with what we've just harvested.
That would be ridiculous. But I think the other thing that we hear from our customers at the market, and even from the chef customers we have, is they really do like knowing the face and the people behind the produce. And that's again, sort of us not knowing at the time, but riding the wave of that locally grown interest.
That focus, we didn't invent that. That just sort of, well, I know a few of the roots of that. But it just sort of has become something and we happen to be at the front end of it. So by the time that became a buzzword, you want to buy locally grown food, we were like, we've been doing that for ten years.
Here we are, which was a good place to be because we had made a lot of the mistakes that you make as a farmer first out. We sort of figured out bookkeeping and keeping up with records and things like that so we were a little bit more stable.
So it made us viable. Whereas I've seen a few other farms have started and stopped in those 20 years for various reasons.
>> Mike Gregory: Also you mentioned getting to know, you have your buyers get to know you as farmers, kind of a benefit of having a smaller farm, too.
You have a little bit more of an opportunity to be right out there in front.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: So I have a question. I wanna backtrack just a little bit here. And I know you purchased the farm in 1999. And both of you come from very different states.
Mindy, you're from Tennessee and Mark, you're from Ohio. How did you end up in Fort Mill, South Carolina?
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mike Gregory: Give me a little bit of background on that. I wanna hear it so much.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, so we met in Montreat, North Carolina. And so Mark's ten years older than I am.
Full disclosure here. So he was working at a college and I was a graduating student at the time that we met. So that's not too weird, but anyway. And we end up sort of catching each other's eye and within about a year and a half we got married.
Yeah, cuz we met in that summer and we were married by the next summer. So we dated across the mountain because he was working in Montreat, and I had gone back home to live with my parents in Tennessee and continue my education. So anyway, we got married. And then we went through several changes following sort of his jobs.
And our last place before we came here we lived in Boone. And I really liked Boone, but his company actually was bought and sold. Well, it's my company. But both of us were working for this company by this time in Boone, and they were bought by a company that wanted to move them down off the mountain and relocate to Charlotte.
So that's how we got to this area in general. And when we took that move, Mark continued working for the company and I was expecting our second child by that time. So I took a step out of corporate America, such as it was, and stayed home with the children.
And as we were looking in this area, someone that we knew in Boone said, well, you ought to look into Fort Mill because we're from South Carolina and they have really good schools there. And it's just over the line. So that's how we actually ended up in Fort Mill as opposed to Charlotte.
We just knew we had children coming up and wanted to have good schools for them.
>> Mike Gregory: [CROSSTALK] I know people who work in the Charlotte area-
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, I work down here.
>> Mike Gregory: And commute from Fort Mill.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and the taxes are better. At the time, we weren't really thinking about that as much.
But sure, we're happy about it now, but-
>> Mike Gregory: Gas prices are certainly better [LAUGH].
>> Mindy Robinson: Gas prices are better, you don't have to drive across the state line to get your gas. You just go down around the corner. So our son, who at the time was 3, will be 28 this year, so all of our children have been grown up, gone to school here and been in this area.
They consider this home, for sure. So that's basically how. It was a job move that got us to this area. And then so we moved here in 94, and so five years later in 99, I was working with the same company, but that's when the next buyout happened.
And they wanted to shift the corporate location to Baltimore. And we said, we're not going there, so stay here.
>> Mike Gregory: So when you came here and you decided you were gonna look to get into farming, were there any other locations that you looked at purchasing prior to settling on this one?
Or did you really just find this one and have your eye on it?
>> Mindy Robinson: We drove all around. Do you remember, we used to go out on weekends in the afternoons, we'd go over-
>> Mark Robinson: We used to wear the roads out over the past.
>> Mindy Robinson: Because part of, again, sort of the perfect storm, [LAUGH] Mark had six months of severance, if you can imagine that.
He had a month for every [LAUGH] year he worked for the company, which I don't think that happens anymore. So we had this really sweet spot of full income, full benefits, and he didn't have work to go to. I mean, it was, so we took that time. And his parents had just sold their business in Florida and they had money to invest.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, I did it. I had worked with my father who started his own corporation. And I worked with him for about two years, and then it had built up and done very well for itself. And ultimately somebody came and bought his business. He made a good bit of money, not,
>> Mark Robinson: Nothing outrageous, but then he made the offer to myself, and my brother, and my sister that if any of us wanted to do a business, they would entertain a pitch.
>> Mindy Robinson: So we looked at different business opportunities in the area. Mark had had experience. His uncle had a billiard company and made billiard tables, so he had experience in that.
And we sort of looked around Charlotte, and thought, well, with this market, was that something we wanna do? We just entertained different ideas. And then we sort of honed in on the idea, because when we first moved here, we tried to find a piece of property that was big enough to have a small farm with it.
And again, the normal neighborhoods around here don't have that kind of. You would have to be out in the country for it. And at the time, it was a little bit more of a price point than we wanted to just have a house on. So now, we had this opportunity, if we could find the right piece of land or whatever, to maybe have a small farm.
And I'll have to say this. When we got married, the first magazine we ever-
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Bought a subscription to was Mother Earth News. I mean, it's just sort of was in our, and I don't wanna say it was in our blood, but it was just like we were oriented to.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, and we give them an idea in the realm of history what we bought. We had the whole, shoot-
>> Mindy Robinson: Foxfire.
>> Mark Robinson: We bought the whole Foxfire library.
>> Mindy Robinson: Foxfire, I don't know if you're familiar with that, because, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, I mean, we lived in the Foxfire books.
>> Mindy Robinson: So definitely a romantic view. We knew from working in it that it's hard work, but we probably still had slightly idealistic views of it. So all of that being said, we looked all over. We went as far as Kings Mountain looking at different, and of course, this was in the days before the Internet.
So you would just get the newspaper and see land for sale, and we'd go trekking out to look at it. And we looked at some old greenhouses that were over down 49, 274, down through there. And we scoped those out. And a lot of that property, it was already rezoned for commercial, so it was way out of our price on it.
And Mark had been back, I didn't even realize, lots of times people drop by these greenhouses and don't even see him. Because it's a straightaway on the road and people pick up their speed and they focus down the road and they don't even notice them. You'll say what, I live over there where those greenhouse are.
And they'll say, there's greenhouses on [INAUDIBLE] road? And these are people who've lived around here for years and they've never been paid attention to them. And so we'd seen them, and came over and talked to the owners at the time and sort of got to know them a little bit.
And again, offered that and they said, we'll just sell you the farm. So that just sort of changed our orientation.
>> Mike Gregory: So was there a time maybe where you were looking at more conventional farming or were you always looking for greenhouses for-
>> Mark Robinson: We actually went to a conference that NC State puts on to do aquaculture.
>> Mindy Robinson: In Newbern, yeah, we- In New Bern. So we thought about a lot of different things, I would say. I was trying to think, I also remember going over and getting in touch with the people at Springs and making, not a full pitch, but we talked to them about what they would lease us property for.
But again, I think that was the idea of doing greenhouse stuff.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, Baxter was just starting to be built back then, and we had tied into this idea of a community farm, or CSA. [COUGH] But wondering if we could,
>> Mark Robinson: If they would set aside a green area or whatever to farm for the Baxter community.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and we talked to the guy who was the manager of the Peach Stand at the time.
>> Mark Robinson: Right.
>> Mindy Robinson: And talked to him about, cuz he had land in this area, and about maybe setting up. But I remember distinctly, we had the idea of a greenhouse even then, because his wife was concerned about the view out of her kitchen window, if she'd be looking at a greenhouse.
And so anyway, I don't know really how we got the idea, other than, I think, well, I'll say Mark is very, he's like the mechanical, I can do it kind of guy. And I think the idea of having something that's year-round is nice in agriculture, because you got a little bit a buffer against crop failure.
Because you can always do something in the winter. You don't have to get all your money in that little spring and summer window. But I think for Mark, it didn't occur to him that he couldn't figure out how to run a greenhouse from a mechanical kind of point of view.
And it didn't occur to me that he couldn't either, so sure, we can do that. [LAUGH]
>> Mike Gregory: Trial by fire is a little fun.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, I mean, we didn't even know it was trial by fire [LAUGH].
>> Mark Robinson: We actually went and took a course on raising greenhouse tomatoes.
>> Mindy Robinson: But we did that after we bought the farm.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so we were already bought in by then.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: Where did you take the course?
>> Mindy Robinson: It's in Ohio.
>> Mike Gregory: Northeast Ohio.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, there's a company called Crop King, and they-
>> Mark Robinson: They still sell packages.
>> Mindy Robinson: They sell greenhouse packages. They'll set you up with all of the internal workings of a greenhouse. They'll do training. They have a certain marketing program, if you wanna buy into it. And so, they do sort of a three-day weekend to try to pitch their products, and that kinda stuff.
But it's also a pretty good, a little tiny taste of the hands-on that it takes to grow things in a greenhouse. So we just went up and took that course.
>> Mike Gregory: So what was Teagan Hills Farm like prior to your purchase of it? And maybe how did you change the model around or what kind of produce do you do now maybe that they didn't before?
Just talk to me about that.
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, the farm was originally started in the early 70s, and I can't give you an actual date, because we weren't here to know it then. And it was started by a gentleman who was a chemist at Celanese. And my understanding is that he lived in Charlotte, of course, there's a Celanese or there was a Celanese plant in Rock Hill.
And the story that was handed down to us, this is good oral history, right?
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Is that he was on a flight back from Brazil And he picked up one of those inflight magazines, and it had an articles about hydroponic tomatoes in it. And if you think, everybody always says, I've seen something like this at Disney World.
So, whatever, Epcot Center, is that what that is?
>> Mark Robinson: Yep, that's it.
>> Mindy Robinson: And so, there was an article there, and this is my intersection with that. I think with him having been a chemist, he was probably intrigued by the chemistry of hydroponics because the idea with that is that you are mimicking ideal soil conditions and soil nutrients.
And so somehow or another he acquired this land and put up the three original greenhouses and some of the sheds. And there's a couple of sheds that still exist from that. And he evidently had some connections with folks in Charlotte because he would grow an early spring crop of tomatoes.
As Mark said, he would have them picking by the middle of March. And he mostly sold into the Reid's grocery store market, and at the time that was over on,
>> Mark Robinson: What is that?
>> Mindy Robinson: It was on Providence at that time, and it's different, it's a slightly different location now.
And I don't know if he just knew those folks or if he just went and pitched it to them.
>> Mark Robinson: And what was it, Black Cockerel or who's the hardware? [CROSSTALK]
>> Mindy Robinson: Providence Hardware, he also would sell some tomatoes to Providence Hardware. So he had those two major accounts who would buy in bulk.
And then he, somehow, developed out here a base of customers who would commit. They committed verbally, not with their money. [LAUGH] They would commit at the beginning of the spring to stopping every week and buying either a 5 or a $10 bag of tomatoes. So that let him sort of know where his overage was gonna go.
The main customers were the Reid's grocery and the hardware store, and then, these people here, the farm, he committed to having enough for them to pick up their $5 bag. And that was just, it was a little community event, they'd stop either Friday after dinner, Saturday morning, and pick up their bag and pay for it.
Then, what he didn't do is he didn't collect the money upfront. Now, as a business now, I would collect all the money [LAUGH] up front because we tried to run with that model for a couple of years and part of it the customer base was literally aging and dying.
And so I know I had at least two or three instances where somebody would come up in the spring and say, well, daddy died over the winter, but could I still get his $10 bag every week? They wanted [LAUGH] this legacy of the $10 bag. But eventually, for us, that model didn't work because not enough people actually came and I didn't have any money.
They had no skin in the game. So if they didn't stop one weekend and I held their bags, it hurt me but it didn't hurt them. [SOUND] I need to take this real quick.
>> Mike Gregory: Go right ahead.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, hi Betsy.
>> Mark Robinson: So we actually ended up with everything that was growing here on the farm at the time was hydroponic tomatoes.
It was a mono crop, I mean-
>> Mindy Robinson: So, but what we tried first was, so the second owner bought that and used it definitely as just a secondary income. Her husband had a full time job and he had benefits. And Mr. Waller, the original guy, was still a chemist.
And this was definitely just a secondary, almost a hobby for him, I would say. And so, when we bought it, we bought it with the idea of having year-round crops and transitioning it to becoming profitable enough for our family to make their living at it, to support our family with it.
And so the first thing that we did was try to grow tomatoes year round.
>> Mark Robinson: We were living in Tiggy at that time, so.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so that first crop, in fact that first year usually the woman who owned it before us would have taken that tomato vines down in the first of July.
And she would have probably not even come back over to this property for three or four months cuz she was done with it for a while. And then she would start it up again in November with planting the seeds and doing transplants and things. But we push that first crop later into the year, trying to see, can we sell them, will people still stop and get them?
Well, part of the problem you run into is everybody's Uncle Joe has free tomatoes starting in July around here. That's when the field tomatoes are coming in, and the vines are getting old. There's a good reason to take them out than if you're doing that model. So anyway, we tried the next couple of years to just grow tomatoes and struggled from the point of view of not growing them well, having markets that weren't really reliable.
So we would have tomatoes that we had to throw away because nobody bought them. As Mark said earlier, trying to grow them through the winter and have them to harvest during the winter is really difficult. Tomatoes just like to have their their roots at 65 degrees and that's really expensive if you're heating with natural gas and a greenhouse to try to keep.
Heat rises [LAUGH] so it may be hot up there, but down at the root zone where they need it, it's not gonna be. And so I would say within the first 18 months you started experimenting with lettuce and troughs. Is that accurate, do you think?
>> Mark Robinson: We would have had the PVC.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, in the- Gutters. In the gutters, yeah, in some sort of gutter system.
>> Mark Robinson: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so Mark pretty quickly started experimenting with growing lettuce in different kinds of systems. And lettuce is a cool weather crop, so it's good to grow during the fall, winter, and the spring.
Just as something extra to have to try to offer and, again, we were still thinking grocery store and people stopping to buy here. And we went to some farmers' markets. I know the first time I took lettuce to the farmers' market, I was only charging $1.25 a head, and somebody wanted two heads and she handed me $3.
And I didn't immediately give her $0.50, she said, don't worry about it. It's like, okay, and I just pulled all my signs in and change them to $1.50 a head. And put them back out [LAUGH] cuz I thought, obviously, I can sell them for $1 50 and that's not a problem.
We sell them for more than that now. But it was just sort of like learn as you go, what will the market sustain and we did so many different things. We've grown beans and peas and had another baby along the way and, anyway, this conversation could go lots of different directions at this point.
But that's basically, so we started with the tomatoes, thought that we were gonna be the tomato king and queen of this area. And within the first 18 months started diversifying and that became our new business models. To try to find niche markets that were not being met, but that we could fulfill because we have these greenhouses and we can grown things year round.
So as we would see things, and that's when like cooking shows became more popular, I think 20 years ago. You're a little bit younger than me, but there wasn't anything but maybe PBS and The Frugal Gourmet on television. But I know, Food Channel exploded.
>> Mark Robinson: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
>> Mark Robinson: [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah, but all this exploded and so you could see stuff that you've never seen before. It's like, well, can we grow that? So a few years into it, so I mark my time in my life by children being born [LAUGH] and major moves.
So we moved over here, put this house on this property in 2002, and our third child was born a few months later. And so, by the time Martha was born, we were still growing lettuce in NFT systems. Because I can remember having her in her baby backpack and the guys were harvesting it and bringing it in for us to pack it for the market.
I can remember that so that's that's why I have that picture in my head. But we were starting to transition within the next year after she was born, we moved to the deep tank. When we moved to the deep tank system with lettuce, which is a different way of growing it ,it's just more stable.
And the year that she was a baby, we started growing microgreens. So she's 16 now, so we've been growing the microgreens for about 16 years now this summer.
>> Mark Robinson: And that, microgreens gave us the opportunity to be truly profitable.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, because it gave us a product that, and the reason we started growing microgreens, so this is your story.
Mark was at, so by that time, that summer, we had been allowed, it was the first year we were vendors at the Matthews Market, because you have to apply early, and you get vetted and they come out and visit your farm and stuff like that. So, by then, we had lettuce, we had beans, we were growing cucumbers, we had squash.
We had several different kind of things to try to have like this diversity of produce. Part of the idea was somebody may stop for one thing at the market, but they'll buy other things. The other thing is if something dies, you've got other things that are not dying so you can sort of, it's a buffer.
Just like with any business and a varied product line, more than one kind of shirt on the rack.
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: And so Mark was at the Yorkmont Market, and I would load up and take things to the Matthews Market that spring and summer. And he was selling lettuce and beans and all the stuff.
And he had a chef stop and say hey, can you grow microbasil for me? I'm ordering it, I'm having to have it, pay to have it shipped in overnight. I pay just as much for shipping as it do for the product, and when I get here, it's no good, and I have to pay somebody to pick through it and get the bad stuff out of it so I can use half of what I've ordered.
Can you grow microbasil? And Mark said, well, I'll give it a try. So we had an acquaintance, another farmer who lived up in Cherryville, North Carolina, who was getting out of his greenhouse business and he had tried growing microgreens. I didn't even know what they were, but Mark knew what they were, and he had a lot of seed on hand that he sold us at a discounted price.
And Mark had some teenage guys who were working for him that summer who were real sharp intellectually, and so they set up trials. And they're like, per square inch, how much seed do we put on it? How long do we let it grow? [CROSSTALK] Different things, they grew it several different ways on these little, like two by two inch squares and sort of settled in a way to grow it that seemed to work best.
So about two months after that guy approached Mark, Mark still had his card. He called him up and went back in with a selection of microgreens. And they sat around and ate them and made an order. And he said, you ought to go talk to these, I think they gave him about five references.
They said you should go talk to these guys. They would be interested in microgreens from a local grower, and Mark went over to the mat store, still over there Kings Drive, or whatever that is. Cuz again, this is before smartphones, picked up, found a phonebook, found the address, and went and knocked on the back door of these different restaurants with the other samples that he had on hand, and just, and they ordered some stuff.
And that was the beginning of us having restaurant businesses. But restaurants gave us year round customers, and that was huge because we still had this gap in the fall, as far as our customers. And it gave us a year round product with microgreens cuz you can grow that year round if you get good at it.
And then over time, I would say it took about another year, to year and a half, the chefs would say, well, do you have anything else? And we'd say lettuce, tomatoes, or they would see us at the farmers market and they would stand there at the table and say, I didn't know I could get lettuce from you.
Do you have enough let us to bring it to the restaurant the next time you bring microgreens? Yes, we can do that. So, now microgreens are still about 50% of our restaurant sales, but the rest of it is lettuce and other produce that we grow.
>> Mark Robinson: And we have certain niche, the other solid commodity that we sell to-
>> Mike Gregory: [COUGH]
>> Mark Robinson: Restaurants are squash blossoms. We sell between eight and 10,000.
>> Mike Gregory: Wow.
>> Mark Robinson: Squash blossoms a year here.
>> Mindy Robinson: It's just a nice little extra.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and edible flowers.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: It's worth.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: The squash we grow, we have an heirloom Italian variety that actually produces that many blooms.
On a 40 foot row, in first part of April, [CROSSTALK] to the end of October, and it'll produce a ten thousand blooms, that about, and then we do edible flowers, and that generates comparable, about the same.
>> Mindy Robinson: For no more work than they are, it's a nice little extra, yeah.
So it's funny, from a business point of view, where do you make your profit? Well, if I took out squash blossoms, I wouldn't have that chunk, or if I took out this, I wouldn't have that chunk. And you can drill down and say, well, I don't make that much money on it, but in the end, you add up all those things and you get probability.
>> Mark Robinson: But what happens is with residents, microgreens are our anchor in these restaurants. And our services, we have been conscious, when we first starting out from the business model, these guys had been ordering from either the east or west coast to get microgreens. They would have to have them shipped in overnight.
They were paying over $16 a pound for a pound of beet microgreens, and we were basically offering them for half that amount. The shelf-life was double what they were getting for something that had been shipped overnight, so it was a better product. We were very conscientious. So the arrangement of, we delivered on Tuesdays when we first started out, hoping that, no, we delivered on Fridays when we first started out that folks who use their microgreens over the weekend, over the whole week.
We saw that they were trying to hold a product that wasn't holding, so we decided to add another delivery day. That immediately increased their sales by 20%. They're holding back from using them, and then we told them look, don't you order more than what four days can sustain?
>> Mindy Robinson: So most of our customers now order twice a week. They know they're gonna get it as fresh. They don't have to, like Mark said, they don't have to use less product to try and make it last for a week. Cuz they know they're gonna get another delivery, so they are a little bit more-
>> Mark Robinson: But then, with each little niche that we do, like squash blossoms, why we've been doing for years, other growers know we do it, and they have squash plants, why they're not doing squash blossoms? I have no idea.
>> Mindy Robinson: Because it's a pain to go out and pick them everyday.
I know exactly why they're not doing squash blossoms.
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: But anyway, when squash blossom season starts, that's when my bookkeeping. System usually takes a hit, because there's only so much time in the day.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: It's a little bit extra, it's not that much extra but it's enough, my margins.
>> Mike Gregory: You said you have how many green houses?
>> Mindy Robinson: I say five, one of those is technically a high tunnel, but we'll say it's a covered controlled environment structure, so essentially five.
>> Mike Gregory: So with all this demand and everything, I believe I remember you saying you have family members help out as well.
But you also do employ some help?
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: So about how many do you have working here, and what all kinda responsibilities are there?
>> Mindy Robinson: We have right now three full-time folks, and then we have, I'm adding up, I should know this better, Pat, and Jennifer, and Kerry.
And we have basically four part time folks who all together make up about another two. So about the equivalent of about five to five and a half what we would say FTE, full-time equivalency. And so over time we sort of have a microgreen team, which is two people.
One is a full-time, he's here all week and he can sort of keep an eye on things. And then the days we harvest and plant, he's very dedicated to that. And we have a lady who works with him, who harvests and packs the microgreens. So she's still here working today, because she's packing the microgreens right now for the orders.
And then I have another crew which I consider to be our lettuce crew, I've got sort of a lead full-time person. And then three part-time gals who work with her, who are harvesting and packing and getting it replanted. So that that whole process is getting taken care of.
And they also take care of the greens, things like arugula and kale, or anything that's a green. And then seasonally, which we're getting ready to start and add in and plant right now. Is we'll have peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes and we have a guy who is more Mark's maintenance assistant.
And in the season, he ends up doing more of what we call an agricultural, cultural war. So that's not necessarily harvesting, but it's things like checking for bugs, applying, we use organic pesticides. But applying pesticides as they're needed, making sure that the nutrients are right. And that the hydroponic tanks are heat [INAUDIBLE] Mark on that.
>> Mark Robinson: Well-trained [CROSSTALK]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and that's why in the tomatoes, especially, you have to twine the vines of the tomato plants up and clip them up. And you have to pull suckers, so those kinds of things, he's doing that, plus he's helping with the harvest. And then we end up in the summer, usually, hiring at least one or two more just summer employees.
To help with that extra production load, because we've got extra harvesting to do and extra packing for the market. So it's a base of about five and, it can swell to about six to seven full time equivalency. Just depending on how I can, it's like a puzzle, you just have to put it together as far as who's available and what they can do.
So I wouldn't have to lady the packed microgreens go and mix up feed for the nutrient feed, it's not her thing. But I could have the guy who's mixing up nutrient feed, if he had to, he could go pack microgreens. It just sort of depends on what people do well and what they're trained for.
So, for instance, I was gone, I went on a trip a couple weeks ago, of course, Mark was here. But I had to push out some of the stuff that I normally do onto my crew. Because things, where I sort of pick up the slack, I wasn't here to do it, so they had to do that.
>> Mike Gregory: Makes sense.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so if nobody shows up, then Mark and I get out and get going and that happens occasionally.
>> Mike Gregory: So with the microgreens and having a relationship with some of these restaurants, what sort of restaurants do you sell to?
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, let's see, we sell to Halcyon and Fern, these are like sister restaurants, we sell to Barringtons Good Food.
We sell to, Upstream and Mimosa, we sell to Fig Tree, we work with Legion Brewing, we work with Longview Country Club. And we work with Gaston Country Club, we have a couple of restaurants over towards Gastonia. One of them is called Lotus and one of them is called Jia, we work with Lily's, which is down here on 49.
We work with the Flipside restaurants here in Fort Mill, let's see Wolfgang Puck in the Phillips Place area, the Reeds grocery stores. I'm going back down, there's two Pure Pizza restaurants in town, there's one on Central. And one up at the Seventh Street Market, we work with them, The Asbury, King's Kitchen, Bentley's on 27th.
Also in that Seventh Street market area, there's an Orrman's Cheese and they make sandwiches and stuff, they use our salad greens.
>> Mark Robinson: Luna?
>> Mindy Robinson: Luna's Living Kitchen, let's see, Bistro La Bon which is down Central Avenue. We work with some of the caterers like and Best Impressions, they will get from us.
There's two Foxcroft wine shops, there's one in Dilworth and one over in the South Park area, so we work with them.
>> Mindy Robinson: And New South, there's an Oak Steakhouse in the South Park area we work with them.
>> Mark Robinson: Barcelona?
>> Mindy Robinson: Barcelona Wine Bar, just started, you know this better than I do, I'm the one who takes the orders.
>> Mark Robinson: Let's see.
>> Mindy Robinson: So I work with them.
>> Mark Robinson: Down to on the river?
>> Mindy Robinson: Which river are you talking about?
>> Mark Robinson: The river down here.
>> Mindy Robinson: The Pump House, yeah, we work with the Pump House, and they have a sister restaurant called Napa on Providence, we work with them.
Carpe Diem, we still work with them, I think I hit the major ones right there. That was sort of scattered, I was just trying to picture Charlotte in my head.
>> Mark Robinson: [CROSSTALK] in Valentine except for along right now, so we have never advertised.
>> Mindy Robinson: So that's all word of mouth or what happens, my observation is chefs will sorta come up through the ranks.
And they'll go out to another restaurant, or in the case of the like the Foxcroft Wine Bar. They started over in the South Park area, when they did the new location, they just called back and said, hey, we have a new location. Let's get your stuff here, so I got an extra restaurant, just because they grew and so we grew with them.
But other times chefs have shifted restaurants or they get to a point where they're buying. They have that privilege of deciding who they are gonna buy from and they'll call back and say. I worked with so and so at this restaurant, but now, I'm over here and I get to choose and I want to work with y'all and get your stuff in.
So it's it's been chefs moving around and coming up through the ranks, or again for instance, we started with Barringtons. And now we work with Good Food and because of their sister restaurants under the same ownership kind of thing.
>> Mark Robinson: It never ceases to amaze me how powerful word of mouth is.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yes, it's huge and it could work the other way [LAUGH] so even when I've had restaurants who've Who have either closed or who have stopped using our product. When, well, and that's fine if you don't wanna use our stuff anymore. Happy to see you succeed. And if you ever want something again, let me know.
If there was anything we did, let us know so we can make it right. I don't think I've ever had anybody say I just don't want your stuff anymore, because it was not good. It was just different menus switched around, that's fine. But yeah, or I've had chefs call me who were new to area and said, well, I've been down talking to so and so and they said I should call you about getting micro-greens or lettuce or squash blossoms or whatever they're interested in.
So new guys or gals will come to town and sort of work the circuit and figure out who they want to talk to.
>> Mark Robinson: [CROSSTALK] was Wolfgang Puck. They recruited us literally six months before they ever moved into town. And we actually packaged up a large refrigerated bundle and sent it to New Orleans.
>> Mike Gregory: Wow.
>> Mark Robinson: To the kitchens down there, to be able to court that account.
>> Mindy Robinson: I think that was a E2 restaurant we sent it to New Orleans. The Emeril's one?
>> Mark Robinson: That's right.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah. That was them.
>> Mark Robinson: It was that Emeril's one.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, I think our Wolfgang Puck was they hired a local chef who we had worked with.
Hired him away from another restaurant, and that's how we got that.
>> Mark Robinson: But it was E2. And that one failed. Are they still open?
>> Mindy Robinson: I don't know if they're still open. They stopped working with us after a while, but that. Sometimes it's okay to not have a restaurant customer.
Sometimes they're a pain to deliver to. There's other things that make it not a great restaurant, and so there are times when I'm fine to see a customer go. And so, I'm sure that works both ways, too. Maybe they get tired of us showing up in the middle of their lunch service, and they were just like-
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and one of the things with micro-greens, and what we found is chefs want what they want when they want it.
>> Mike Gregory: Right.
>> Mark Robinson: And we're good the majority of the time.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and we can usually nail it.
>> Mark Robinson: Be able to do that.
>> Mindy Robinson: But there are certain things that we don't grow that chefs might want.
And for us, it's not profitable, and it's like a menu item. If nobody ever buys the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you stop keeping the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the menu. And you don't keep the stuff to make it anymore, because nobody is ever buying it, why waste it?
And that's easier in a restaurant than it is in a, if I'm growing a micro-green that never gets ordered and doesn't sell at the farmers' market, I'm just wasting seed and table space. So we've certainly tried things that we could grow, but nobody bought them. And you can only market it so much if it's not attractive enough.
Like, micro-scallions, once once a year someone calls me and wants those, and I'll just say no, don't grow them. Used to, but nobody wanted them, so just a waste of time.
>> Mike Gregory: You said that most of these chefs put in weekly orders?
>> Mindy Robinson: Usually twice a week.
>> Mike Gregory: Twice a week, okay.
>> Mike Gregory: Especially with the number of restaurants and [COUGH] many of these restaurants are on the higher end of- Well, that's sorta who we court.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: We did make a few cold calls initially.
We would just look at a new restaurant or we would get a Charlotte Living, magazine publication for Charlotte, and we would go through and look and see who was advertising. Or we would look them up and see how many dollar signs are next. And if it was three and four, then we're like, okay, because they will afford micro-greens.
Now, micro-greens are more common and you will see sort of regular, a little bit lower price-point restaurants will use them. And that's great if they want to buy them from us, I am happy to sell them. But we intentionally sort of work with what we would call white table cloth restaurants, originally, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And the only exception to that rule is we don't even record them. Steakhouses and high end Italian, don't use any.
>> Mindy Robinson: They usually don't use micro-greens. But I mean, sometimes we get calls for lettuce. Like the brewery. We have the Legion brewing account because the chef who is the executive chef that worked with us at another restaurant.
And so, once he, even before they were completely open, he was calling us to get lettuce in. And we hadn't worked with him for two years. And then he showed back up and got our lettuce in.
>> Mike Gregory: I'm just impressed with for you to be able to provide that much, to do this new restaurants, as well as to cater to the farmers markets.
And also to have some experience on the local grocery stores. That's an impressive amount of volume for a two-acre farm.
>> Mindy Robinson: Which is not-
>> Mike Gregory: [CROSSTALK] greenhouses.
>> Mindy Robinson: And I'll just say, which is not, I mean, we are not growing on two acres, we're growing on between a half and thee-fourths of an acre as far as the actual production area.
Cuz our house is sitting on that two acres. And the yard, and things like that, so yeah. Which is-
>> Mark Robinson: But we-
>> Mindy Robinson: I mean, we're very intense-
>> Mark Robinson: We harvest almost 3,000 heads of lettuce a week.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so again, from a business model, we tend to use words that are more productivity words than we do, I mean, we talk about roots and disease and pests, and things like that.
But It's this hopefully fairly streamline process which is why I like, we still got folks on the farm working, but everybody pretty much knows what they're supposed to be doing. And I don't have cameras out there or anything like that, but I'll know at the end of the day if somebody was goofing off because it will be obvious it wasn't done.
But everybody who, I mean, and that's been a whole whole, again, a whole other conversation that could not even be about farming. It's just about learning how to choose wisely when you're hiring people, and what motivates people to work, and trying to apply yourself to that and get a good team of people.
Cuz we've definitely have made bad choices in hiring folks here. And you put a lot of time into training someone. And then, for whatever reasoning, either their life situation isn't good, or they just have other issues. And they don't stay with you. Well, that's a waste of time.
And Mark and I, we've got plenty to do. And so, it's just a matter of, but I'm really happy and thankful and blessed by our [CROSSTALK]
>> Mark Robinson: And you know we don't have the ability, farms are really hard. Well, I don't, farms, unless you own one, and even then there's probably an argument if it provides living wage in the realm of what would be a living wage for instance.
If for whatever reason federal government sets minimum wage to $15 an hour- I'm not sure we can sustain that hit.
>> Mindy Robinson: I mean, we would have to let people go and require other people to be more productive somehow. I mean, I would have to, they would have to elevate for us to-
>> Mark Robinson: Because, I mean, prices
>> Mark Robinson: We've been growing micro-greens for 16 years. We sold our first mix for $28 a pound.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and we've increased. It's probably time to go up again.
>> Mark Robinson: Right now, we sell a pound of mix for $38. But you're talking 16 years and we've only gone up by $10.
>> Mike Gregory: Right.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah so maybe it's time to go up.
>> Mark Robinson: And so, farming as a whole last year, and this is statistically, their inputs went up by 3%, revenue went down by two.
>> Mark Robinson: So the only way to make that up is to farm more land. [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, or see if your market can sustain An increased price.
>> Mark Robinson: And a lot of those are commodity.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: I mean, commodity farms.
>> Mindy Robinson: That's very broad. Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: But it's no different. And even now a big trend that they have right now in locally grown is there's a company called Gotham Greens started in New York City.
They will build some greenhouses on top of grocery stores. But they actually are putting in a really large greenhouse range just over by Raleigh. So that they can sell into North Carolina and tell everybody their product is locally grown. The problem is they'll probably put in a four or five acre range.
And they may employ in the production of that crop two people cuz it's completely automated. Now, packing's a different show. That's where the ladies pulling stuff off the gutters and what have you. But I don't see it as being a big threat to us. All that'll be distributed by truck, and farmers market wise we're still okay.
I need to talk with-
>> Mindy Robinson: Is that Bob?
>> Mark Robinson: Hey Bob?
>> Bob: Yes sir?
>> Mark Robinson: Everything went well?
>> Bob: Everything is all watered in and set up.
>> Mark Robinson: Okay I have a favor to ask.
>> Bob: Okay?
>> Mark Robinson: I have water samples that have to go to Clempson. They're in that box.
You go down Goldhill to go home?
>> Bob: I think so.
>> Mark Robinson: Can you go that way?
>> Bob: Yup.
>> Mark Robinson: You know where the QT is?
>> Mindy Robinson: Right before you get to 77.
>> Bob: Yeah, over by Publix?
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, Publix, QT on this side. On the other side of QT is-
>> Mindy Robinson: Called the Postal Route.
>> Bob: Okay, yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: Have you done that before, have you dropped things off?
>> Mark Robinson: Would you drop this box off?
>> Mindy Robinson: It's got the label on it, and you don't have to, no money needs to exchange hands. If you just take it in and walk straight forward, there's a counter, you just drop it off.
>> Mark Robinson: Straight forward, you set it on the counter and walk away.
>> Bob: I can do that.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you very much.
>> Mark Robinson: I greatly appreciate it.
>> Mindy Robinson: Let us know if something about that doesn't work out and we will talk you through it.
>> Bob: Okay.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, thank you, Bob.
>> Mark Robinson: Have a good evening, thanks, Bob.
>> Mike Gregory: So I have a question, actually that brings up a point when you were just mentioning that in the conversation. One challenge that we definitely see now is that we have kinda this encroachment of urbanization in on farm lands. And so we have our farm lands that are becoming smaller.
They're being pushed further and further out. Ticket Hills Farm is kinda the epitome of an urban farm.
>> Mindy Robinson: It didn't start that way.
>> Mike Gregory: It didn't start that way. We have apartments now across the street. A quarter of the mile down the road looks like a brand new Publix.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: And Publix, huge grocery store, large customer base.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: And with big gas stations and everything, I mean, it's really building up around here. What kind of challenges are you seeing with that urban encroachment, especially with maybe like a big grocery store coming in?
Have you noticed that there have been any difficulties, challenges? Or have you made any adjustments to handle that over the, well, actually it's 20 years?
>> Mindy Robinson: 20 years.
>> Mike Gregory: So a 20-year anniversary.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, when we bought this farm, I can remember, we were pitching, will you loan us money, to Mark's mom and dad.
I can remember us taking, somehow we managed to get an overview of, we brought maps or something and showed them where the farm was.
>> Mark Robinson: Google Earth.
>> Mindy Robinson: Google Earth was existing there, yeah, and showed them where the farm was located and where there were neighborhoods now. And we projected that this would grow up as far as neighborhoods.
And so yeah, we've got townhomes and homes across here. This guy over here put his land in a land trust and his grandchildren will someday inherit it, and I'm not sure what they will do with it. These folks on the other side of us, again, when someone passes away, that will go to children who most likely will sell it.
We've had a couple of nibbles even on our land. But the idea was sell it as a block with your neighbors and we'll offer you a certain amount. So one challenge is probably to say no to a good enough offer because we don't have children who are interested in doing this.
And we eventually will perhaps not be able to physically, I mean, we can both do a lot from here managing it with a good crew. But you've still got to be able to physically be able to do it and sometimes you you just get tired. But as far as our customer base and things like this, I mean, across the road there used to be just a field and two houses, and there was a bridge.
>> Mark Robinson: That was two and a half years ago.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah two and a half years ago, and I still have a picture of what it used to look like there, which is pretty. [LAUGH] I mean, one way to look at that is customers. Neighbors who could also potentially buy our produce, or at least just people who might be interested in coming over and hanging out on the farm.
Because there's no place over there to hang out. There's little tiny yards and stuff like that. As far as grocery stores around here, I have people who stop by the farm stand out there. And they say, well, I just stop by here and get my lettuce from you and then I go fill in the rest at the grocery store.
Or when we have tomatoes and cucumbers. So a lot of people more and more are starting to stop here and get what they like and fill in the blank.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and a part of it is you're more adept at being able to provide a place. That roadside stand that we have right there?
That wasn't there this time last year.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so we've intentionally built that. I mean, we've talked about it for several years. But last year we made the big push to try to capture some of this market. And so-
>> Mark Robinson: And the traffic's horrendous in front of the house.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so to try to get people to stop here and buy produce, because we've got the exposure. If our farm were located down a dirt road and nobody could see us, we probably wouldn't have that as part of our business model. But we've got this big wide expanse where people can pull in.
I mean, it's a great place to have a little market and see what we can do to sell into it. That's sort of our exit strategy, to be honest. If and as we're able to increase retail, which means more money per unit. And here with the farm sales, which means maybe we don't have to truck it as far or go to a market all the time.
Then that's something again that Mark and I can manage maybe with less crew eventually. I mean, in fact we had a conversation a couple years ago. Do we wanna put up another greenhouse? And we decided not to. We've got the space for it. But a greenhouse, the difference between a greenhouse and plowing another half an acre of land is a greenhouse means electricity.
A greenhouse means sands and pumps. It means water has to be plumbed to it, and it has to be managed. As opposed to a piece of land which you might have to irrigate it but that's all you have to do and plow it. You got to amend it, and all these kinds of things.
But a greenhouse is a lot of work, not just the putting out, but you've got extra maintenance. And we just decided we're not gonna extend it up, we're not gonna expand that way. So if anything, we're trying to get more consolidated and more efficient. And choose wisely what we grow, so that, You can sell more here, yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: So your farm stand is only a year old.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yes, that iteration of it, we've always had people who we worked out some way for them to stop, even if they called me and I put in a refrigerator that we had upfront. But as far as having the farm stand like a dedicated area where people.
And a part of that, the year before we tried it, was just a canopy kind of thing, but as far as having an employee sit out there with it was miserable. It was way too hot, and we had coolers out there to keep the produce pretty decent, but as far as an employee, it was just about unbearable.
So we had to make an air conditioned place for employees to be so that they can tolerate sitting out there.
>> Mike Gregory: So do you sell different types of produce? Is there something different that you sell at your food stand as opposed to Charlotte Regional, or Matthew's Community, or do you only sell specific things at certain locations, or are you pretty open?
>> Mindy Robinson: Pretty open, the only thing is just where the money is. [LAUGH] So if I have limited things to sell, I push more of it through. Right now I push more of it through the Matthews market because that is a better crowd there as far as buying what I have in season.
So for instance, if I have ten bags of red kale, I'll send seven to six of them to Matthews and only three to the regional market. And probably I could have sold all ten of them at Matthews, but I'm trying to sort of build up the crowd at the market too to know that we have a diversity of things.
And so here at the farm, anything we have anytime, because we're right here with it.
>> Mark Robinson: We actually, we grow some crops, never planning on a chef buying it.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so if a chef wants it, if they see it at the market, they pay our retail rate.
For instance, tomatoes, when chefs say can I get 20 pounds of tomatoes? So if I have them, I'll sell them to you, but I'll only sell at the same rate as if I were selling to a farmer's market customer. And I tell them up front, because I could sell it at the market.
And there are times when I have 20 pounds of cucumbers but I won't let the chef have it. [LAUGH] Because I want them to get to the farmers market, I mean, people, they love our cucumbers, and I don't wanna show up and sell up halfway through the morning.
And the only thing is I sold them to a chef, I don't know, that's my customer loyalty in reverse, I would rather sell it to a customer at the farmer's market.
>> Mike Gregory: Well, there is obviously some outreach there too with customers at farmer's market, they could talk to friends, helping to bring you more customers.
>> Mindy Robinson: Exactly, yeah, and again it's usually not an issue of having a price difference, cuz I'll sell it for the same rate to a chef or to the customer, so I made as much money at the end of the day. But I like the personal interaction and slightly with the marketing of it, because customers will stop, like if they know I have cucumbers there they're like white on rice.
Especially early in the season when we're the only ones with cucumbers, and then they'll stand there and pick up other stuff. If I don't have cucumbers they might not take the time to stand in my line to get the other stuff. So it's definitely a draw, and it's not a loss for me, I'm not marking my cucumbers down.
It's just we have them when we have them, and nobody else has them. And I like the interaction. I like being able to say, we grew these for you all. I didn't give them to those chefs. I have three chefs who wanted these, and you guys got them.
And they like that. They know that, again, it's that personal connection, I think. But it's an aws connection. It ends at translating into money, but it's not all about that either, if that makes sense.
>> Mike Gregory: It makes perfect sense. So I don't know a lot about policy and things of this nature, but with being in Farmville, South Carolina.
And selling products to him in two businesses in the restaurants in North Carolina and Charlotte, it's not that far, but you're still across state lines. Do you run in with any kind of issues with that or do you?
>> Mindy Robinson: After this we may. [LAUGH] Who knows? The only issue we run into, it's a very small one, is for instance for us to be vendors at the regional market in Charlotte.
We can only be in a certain building, because we cannot be in the North Carolina only market, and we pay a slightly higher vending fee to vend there, because we're an out-of-state vendor.
>> Mark Robinson: And if there are more local people that wanna fill spots at the Charlotte [CROSSTALK] They could potentially put us out.
>> Mindy Robinson: No, but that hasn't happened in a couple years. I will say the new manager has worked that to our advantage. But there was a time when we would get the short end of the stick, as they would bump us out of the building, or they would make us squeeze in with another farmer, because the North Carolina farmers got first pick.
I mean, I understand that that system is subsidized by taxes, at some point, in North Carolina, which we do not pay, so that's what that is. It might work the same way in South Carolina, it's just we don't have any local South Carolina markets that have the drawing capacity as that market does.
And Matthews is in North Carolina, not an issue there. The only thing there is technically because of the way that market bylaws are set up is that we can't serve on the board. Board membership is limited to North Carolina growers. No big deal, I can live very well without serving on the board, it's not a thing.
But as far as transportation across state lines, I mean, I don't know if we're under the radar with that, but it's never been, to be honest, even a thought, so we just-
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and I've never seen, on this state line, an agricultural inspection station.
>> Mindy Robinson: No, it's not like when you're driving to Florida or some places like that where you're supposed to pull over and let them check.
And I think that's usually more just checking for insects and critters that you don't want traveling into parts of the country. I think that's more what that is for. The food policy really that's affecting everybody is the Food Safety Modernization Act that's coming down, and that's a federally based initiative that's being-
>> Mark Robinson: FSMA.
>> Mindy Robinson: FSMA, the administration that is being pushed through the local state departments of ag. So they're going to be the ones who implement, but they now have the right to go onto any farm and inspect it. Now, they're not very well funded. They don't have a lot of feet on the ground as far as inspectors to do it.
So I just finished going to a workshop talking about food safety modernization and what we call GAP, which is good agricultural practices. So we're in the process of documenting, upping the game, and just like they say, if you don't document it, it doesn't happen. So if I don't document that I've trained my people to wash their hands and not to come in when they've got a stomach bug, then I haven't done it.
So it's extra documentation for us to make sure that we're [CROSSTALK]
>> Mark Robinson: And do-
>> Mindy Robinson: Show them that we do these things.
>> Mark Robinson: Along with that fulfilling those requirements, we'll end up with what they call a GAP certification.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Which is good agricultural practices.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And,
>> Mark Robinson: Complying with those is no small thing, you end up having to have a third party audit every year.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Total cost they estimate, and this is farmers calculating this, $13,000 to $15,000 a year to do your book keeping, and you have to pay for the auditors They traveled.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah so the moment they step in their car in Columbia they're on the clock. And you pay for all of that. So but what happens with that, the FSMA is federally mandated, and it's getting pushed. And there's some time deadlines, and things like that. So that's gonna be there.
The gap audit, there's a lot of overlap as far as the requirements but the gap audit is officially a voluntary certification but there are customers who are starting to require it. So from a business point of view if you want this customer to buy your produce, especially like institutional buyers or grocery stores or purveyors, people who buy and then resell again.
Then a farmer's gonna have to start and comply at some level with those food safety practices. And they're mostly very reasonable things. It's just a different, it's just more work. [LAUGH] I mean, it's not, if you went to your doctor, you certainly want have to wash his hands, or your dentist, or whatever.
>> Mike Gregory: I hope so. [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, exactly, and you want him to do it, and you wanna make sure that they've autoclaved the instruments and things like that. And so it's a similar idea and it cost them money to do it so eventually, I mean, we'll look and see, but we'll have to probably push our prices up somewhere.
And like I said, it's probably time to do it. But-
>> Mike Gregory: That definitely answers where I was going with that, which was, did you notice any policies that were maybe causing a challenge with your business? Or on the flip side of that, any that have helped you in the recent couple of years?
>> Mindy Robinson: Help me I haven't, I haven't seen him [LAUGH].
>> Mike Gregory: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: But I am not complaining it's just what it is
>> Mike Gregory: Yeah
>> Mindy Robinson: And I think in the end the funny thing about [INAUDIBLE] FSMA is we are actually exempt because of our level of income and the fact that a high percentage of our sales is to restaurants or the end user.
We don't sell a lot to middlemen. And because of that, we're technically exempt, but the way that's worded is you're exempt. But if you have any kind of incident that they can trace back to your farm that what was eaten made someone sick, and they're going to come looking for the exact same documentation as someone who was not exempt.
>> Mark Robinson: So, under that brand they basically say.
>> Mindy Robinson: You have to do it.
>> Mark Robinson: You have to, well. You're exempt but you still have to do all the book keeping.
>> Mindy Robinson: And not just financial book keeping, but documentation.
>> Mark Robinson: It's amazing the garbage that they.
>> Mindy Robinson: So it's an interesting thing.
What's nice is in South Carolina, excuse me are you taking off for the day?
>> Lisa: Yes.
>> Mindy Robinson: Where did we get in house three.
>> Lisa: I've got most everything planted except for the [INAUDIBLE].
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, I can live with that. Thank you very much. And we've got reboots in both the other houses or at least planted.
>> Mark Robinson: Hey would you look at your car title for me and find out if that is an LS, or an RS or an SR.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay so then let me ask about lettuce. Where did Jennifer leave off with lettuce?
>> Lisa: We got [INAUDIBLE] transferred.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay and that was it?
>> Lisa: That was it, yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: So we have to plant both houses? Okay more than I needed to know, thank you
>> Mark Robinson: Are we getting.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah you could text that to Mark, take a picture of it.
>> Lisa: Okay,=.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, just tell me tomorrow. I just wanna see if I can get that grill section for your car.
>> Lisa: Thank you.
>> Mark Robinson: You're welcome.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thanks Lisa. So, South Carolina is nice, because they will actually create a certificate of exemption. So, if an inspector shows up, all I really have to do is meet them down front say we're exempt. You don't need to come on our property because we don't have to, we've got this.
In North Carolina, you can be exempt but you have to bring out all of your books. And so you have to show them financially that you don't make more than a certain amount or financially where it all get sold. So that you can say, see I"m exempt. So, it just takes a little bit more finagling with the inspector before they keep going.
But, it's interesting that they've got those exemptions worked into that system. They're pretty broad.
>> Mike Gregory: So, I have a thought here.One thing that this this region is known for in North Carolina as well as right out here in across border to South Carolina, unpredictable weather Mm-hmm It seems like spring and winter tend to alternate every other day.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: As we're approaching [INAUDIBLE]. And sometimes we can't decide if it's gonna be fall or summer.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: Who knows how many seasons we have right now. They're all over the place. And with ice and everything that we get. Having greenhouses, that, we know that allows you to produce year round under more controlled conditions, does the greenhouse work, is it completely insulate you from weather conditions or what kind of difficulties do you still have to deal with even with the controlling environments?
>> Mark Robinson: You can.
>> Mark Robinson: Hey buddy.
>> Speaker 6: Hello.
>> Mark Robinson: To give you an example, if we were to build a new greenhouse and this is what it would cost me to mitigate all of those in all of that climate change or whatever you want to call it.
>> Mark Robinson: We could have a green house built that would be,let's just say we did a 30 by 100 foot, so we're doing 3000 square foot, greenhouse.
By the time we did everything to it that we need to do if we were going to survive all this,
>> Mark Robinson: We'd probably be somewhere in the ballpark of a $100 to $150,000 for a greenhouse like that. Now, we're talking about trying to get as efficient in heating as you can.
We would go ahead and put in lights from the get go, which is not inexpensive.
>> Mindy Robinson: You can have all sorts of monitoring devices and there's something, internal shade system that you can put in that you basically program it according to what you're growing inside and it will measure the amount of light that's coming naturally and it will open and close according to, how much light the lettuce needs, for example.
And so it's great but it's expensive because it's got little motors and they're running and opening
>> Mark Robinson: So give you an example-
>> Mindy Robinson: Turn lights on and off-
>> Mark Robinson: We say that we're harvesting 3000 heads of lettuce a week. The problem is when, give you a really good example about this winter.
This winter has just been cloudy beyond comprehension, I am so thankful we aren't growing tomatoes.
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mark Robinson: They take tons of lights. Well, it even affects the size we can lose- My goodness. In a five week period, we can lose two ounces off the size of a head.
And we're talking about heads that are six ounces at a finished weight. They can show up at the fifth week in the tank and only be four ounces.
>> Mindy Robinson: Or less than that, some of them.
>> Mark Robinson: And we have to turn around, we sell by the head, but we also guarantee the weight.
So a chef will order 24 heads at 6 ounces a piece. We have to make sure that- So sometimes, we end up sending him 48 heads.
>> Mindy Robinson: But we only charge for the 24, because they're undersized heads. So with our current greenhouse system, because we don't have lights in it, we can't mitigate really cloudy weather.
The most we can do is offset temperature somewhat. And then really, usually, for us the more stressful time of the year is what we're heading into, which is the summer, when it's super hot, and humid. And humid means it's difficult to cool air, because it's already laden with moisture.
And just like on a hot, humid day, you don't sweat as well, because you're not evaporating off your skin. Well we rely on evaporative coolers in the greenhouse to provide cooling, and on a humid day they're almost useless, because the humidity is so high there is no differential to take it, physically speaking.
And so we do things like we put shade covers over the greenhouse. One of our greenhouses has actually internal shades, so you're reducing the amount of light which in the summertime means you're reducing the amount of heat, which is what you're trying to do. Cuz there's enough light in the summertime.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, your daylight's long enough, but your, for instance, infrared radiation.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yes, so you're trying to reduce that.
>> Mark Robinson: Type of screens that we used to shade with reflecting inrared out of the greenhouse.
>> Mindy Robinson: When I go to the farmers' market, I know this last week there was all this chat among the farmers about it being dry enough to get anything planted, or they planted stuff earlier and they figured it all rotted in the ground because it was so wet.
And somebody said something to me about, well, I guess you're not having problems, you're not having the same kind of problems with the greenhouse. And I wasn't being terribly snarky. I said, well we've had our share. I said that the cloudy days have hurt us too, and slowed things down.
But I do have cucumbers that are this tall right now, but we paid for it. We're paying electricity that they're not paying for, we're paying natural gas that they're not paying for. So I don't know. And she said well, you know? I understand that, she said because I was talking to so-and-so, and they said, we've expanded but we're really not making any more money at the end of the day than we did three years ago before we expanded.
Because it's just extra labor and extra inputs. So sometimes I look at our books and I'm thinking, before we had all this diversity, in some ways, we were capturing just as much out as far as profit as before we added another greenhouse and grew more things. Because it takes more management, sort of the same thing with, I don't know if there's a parallel or not, but no, we still struggle with it.
And hot's hot, in the summertime, it can be cooler in the greenhouse and we sort of rely on being the last people to have lettuce during the summer. It's rare that other people will have that, because that's a cool weather crop. But we're working against the season for the summer.
>> Mark Robinson: But we also chill the water.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah Mark is good and he oxygenates the water, he's figured out several things too.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah we chill 50,000 gallons of water in the summertime down to the 70 degrees.
>> Mindy Robinson: But we have a lot higher electricity bill.
>> Mark Robinson: [CROSSTALK] But we don't have a choice.
Once water gets to 84 degrees, it won't carry enough oxygen to support plants that are growing hydroponically.
>> Mindy Robinson: So you have to keep it cool. And that's the other thing with, again, sort of that production line idea is, we're sort of geared up. And we've occasionally talked about, well, let's just not grow for this season.
Well, it takes eight weeks to bring a head of lettuce to harvest from seeding it. That's an average to production. So if you stopped and let's say you wanted to start again and let's say you wanna take two weeks off or take a month off, well you've gotta harvest what's in there.
And the stuff that takes two, you can't take just a month off. You'd have to take three months off and really you'd only have a month where you didn't do anything. And by then, you're already passed the hot part, or the problem part of the year. So for us we just push through it.
Sometimes it's not real pretty when you walk out there in the greenhouse and things have died or there have been issues. But it makes more sense to push through it and solve the problems than it does to just not do it. Now, next year when I do something different-
>> Mark Robinson: That's the management part of it-
>> Mindy Robinson: That's the management part of it, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Of succession planting, like we do, every week. Well, twice on microgreens. We cut twice a week, take orders twice a week, deliver twice a week.
>> Mindy Robinson: And harvest and pack and plant. I mean, we do it all-
>> Mark Robinson: We do everything twice a week. On Lettuce, we're harvesting all week long.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and that's what that conversation I have with the through is they had gotten almost all the process done, but we have to catch up tomorrow on a couple of things so that's. But you just gotta concentrate to push though I don't know.
>> Mark Robinson: Anyway, I do this stuff in the summer time. The peppers need to be picked every, twice a week.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And tomatoes say.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so it's-
>> Mark Robinson: It's a.
>> Mindy Robinson: But yeah, so the temperature and it, it affects our crew, people don't like to be cold, they don't like to be hot.
So in the winter time, it's not that bad because the greenhouse is a pretty pleasant to work in, they're tolerable, they're pleasant. In the summer time, it's definitely, get in here early and get done, so you're not having to be in a greenhouse in the middle of the day, because it's hot.
So again, we have to manage the work and ship to mountain.
>> Mike Gregory: That sounds like green houses, they kind of mitigate some of the weather issues.
>> Mindy Robinson: They do.
>> Mike Gregory: But they certainly don't, they're not insulated.
>> Mindy Robinson: No, if we were further north, in some ways, it would be easier to manage greenhouses.
Then you would have increased heating costs maybe, but your summer time mitigation would be a lot simpler. And then further south they treat greenhouses more like high tunnels and they'll raise the sides. And again, you just choose what to grow, it would make no sense to grow tomatoes hydroponically in a greenhouse in Florida in the summertime.
I mean, Florida has it completely flipped. They grow through the winter and try not to grow in the summer, because it's so very hot. And that's where you drill down and you figure out which cultivars, which particular variety of tomato works best in sort of our zone, for which a particular kind of lettuce works best.
>> Mark Robinson: The big thing with, to give you a really good example. The ideal places where they put these large range greenhouses, both in Mexico and in the Southwest US is high mountain deserts.
>> Mindy Robinson: So you get this nice cool off at night time.
>> Mark Robinson: Really good light year round.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Even when your days are shorter. Quality of the light.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm, not as much as clouds.
>> Mark Robinson: Humidity is low, so you have the ability to cool those tomatoes or whatever crop you're growing in the summer time, regardless. I mean I've been out west, in the desert Southwest and you are talking what 10-15% humidity.
Well, I can. [LAUGH]
You can take 110 degrees heat at only 13%, and run it through an evaporated cooler which you'll see out there, and it will come out on the other side so. It's just water running through a. Corrogated cardboard panel you saw. This [INAUDIBLE] what they use down in Phoenix in Arizona.
A lot of people use this in their house [INAUDIBLE].
>> Mike Gregory: So they choose that and then they have plenty of solar radiation to learn time, I mean it's they have big ranges. So it's a compromise trying to grow humidity's too high, or you-
>> Mindy Robinson: You know, our greenhouses are older, and they're not tall enough to efficiently provide light that would be a growing light, just because you have to have them up high enough.
And it's expensive, and so-
>> Mark Robinson: If we would put Electronic lights in.
>> Mindy Robinson: If we put like electronic lights to try to offset cloudy weather or things like that so. I feel like I've taken enough farmer problems to the market to be able to complain just enough. I try not to too much.
>> Mike Gregory: So I have one last question for you. And I am really curious about where are you seeing yourself and take Hill farm in the next couple of years or do you have any goals any markets you want to try to break through and you produce that you're interested in experimenting with.
I'll leave that pretty open for you to.
>> Mindy Robinson: That's so funny. So Mark and I have this dynamic I think we've identified the dynamic. Mark is the visionary. He is the one who is looking for new products. Wouldn't this be cool? I've always want, let me try to do that.
So I let him tell you what he wants to grow next, okay?
>> Mike Gregory: Okay.
>> Mindy Robinson: 'Cause he's the one who wants to do that, if at all possible I really would like to keep pushing and figuring out how to make our farm stand not just an offset of the employees' wage who we dedicate to it.
But to be able to have enough time to focus on figuring out how to really increase the sales through there year round. And this year we're sort of stabbed at it a little bit. Did better in the summer time. So that's where I would like to focus on.
>> Mark Robinson: If we can build our clientele,
>> Mark Robinson: Where just a general person stopping at the roadside stand and buying average produce for the average amount our goal is to get about 300 people a week to stop in. Is that not...
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, if I had 300 people who each spent ten dollars every time they stopped and they came every week.
>> Mark Robinson: That would be an increase in revenue in our pocket of $30,000 or $40,000.
>> Mindy Robinson: Which could start to be something that we throw into a retirement fund or that we just, you know, there's lots of different good things to do with that money that would be reasonable to do.
I mean, something I would love to do, again looking toward maybe a slightly different model, is I would love to have more events here about farming and gardening. But I would need to partner with someone. At the rate that we're working right now, I don't have the time to develop that.
But if that were more productive down there, then I could maybe partner with someone or hire someone in to manage that or let them manage something I'm doing so that I could do it or. Anyway, because of where we're located and we have enough parking. It would be a great place to have classes, or community events, or things like that.
I would like it to be a more integral part of our community. And that might set this property up to be something that would continue on, after Mark and I are no longer here, or able to do it, that someone actually could purchase or we could, I don't know.
There's all sorts of different ways you could make this more continuous. But in the end, it's two acres, it's not holy ground. [LAUGH] It's been really good for us, but it's not something that has to be kept in perpetuity. It doesn't you know so we try to be good stewards but not.
>> Mark Robinson: His business is the same way. He does specialty cabinets and fixtures. And so build beautiful stuff, those corporation are big but, it was one of many, he and Darrel.
>> Mindy Robinson: His partner.
>> Mark Robinson: And, they knew from the beginning, chances were even when a person's paid full dollar for it, unless they wanted to invest themselves in the business and make it their own.
In other words how the business generate division, that new business would fail. You know these folks spend 5, 6 million dollars to buy a business that failed.
>> Mindy Robinson: Because they didn't have the passion to get in and run it themselves. They were sort of trying to be
>> Mark Robinson: 'Cause it takes oversight.
>> Mindy Robinson: Absentee.
>> Mark Robinson: It takes making sure that the quality of product is good enough. This farm is exactly the same way. I mean, from the very beginning, we don't give an example. Foster Cabin's or Fresh Point calls up and he wants a quarter pound of dill micrograins. Okay.
Which we're not growing right now. We go down and we cut and we have a container that is .24. Which is not the same as .25 which is 4 ounces.
>> Mindy Robinson: It's off, it's short.
>> Mark Robinson: We will not sell that as a .25 container, won't happen. And it drives some of the wholesalers, the big broadliners.
It drives them nuts, because they put their quantities in as a unit, as a small this is a unit that we get from digging hills. They don't have the capacity to handle 100 short.
>> Mindy Robinson: Is that what they call it?
>> Mark Robinson: And was our chance at the beginning.
We get a whole bunch of people and they all decide that they want to buy micro cilantro all at the same time. Well you end up with so many. And we grow microgreens on speculation, nobody orders it ahead. So what happens is,
>> Mark Robinson: Our chefs have, they are secure in the idea that everybody orders, so you know what we do.
We short everybody. If, [COUGH] if we have ten people that order quarter pounds of cilantro- And I only have two pounds of it, then everybody gets 0.20 instead of 0.25.
>> Mindy Robinson: I'll tell him on the phone, we're spreading the love around. But all that being said, we can do that because we're running it day to day and we have these relationships.
And so if I wanted to do anything with it in the next, I would like to track along those lines and just be more, you know, get to know my neighbors across the road, cuz they're there, [LAUGH] you know? They weren't there a couple of years ago, but now they're there.
So, let's see what we can do in this local community to be a good part of this local community, knowing that it may not last past Mark and me. And that's okay. If there's some way that we could set it up so that somebody actually wanted to buy it or run it past us, and it made sense and they have the same set of skills to run it or to do something with it, great.
If not, you know, eventually, it'll not be a farm because it's not connected to somebody else who wants to buy in. And lots of times, out in the country, somebody dies or moves or shifts or whatever, and a neighbor will buy their land. Because I always wanted that little piece that lets me get down to the creek, or now my pasture goes, you know.
But we don't have that here, we're locked in. So it's either gotta stay this or become such a part of the community that other people want to keep it here or it's gonna be something. Now Mark on the other hand, would love to grow artichokes, husk cherries. [LAUGH] He's got all sorts of stuff he wants on trying.
>> Mike Gregory: You gotta dream big and try it, though.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Well you know, Chester's a really struggling town, they struggle terribly, and- Chester county, you said?
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, In South Carolina, just one more south of us.
>> Mark Robinson: Chester county, and I know that we've met a couple of different times with the head FFA teacher in the high school.
And I still believe some of the extention, Florida extension, Virginia, you can, we can grow artichokes here.
>> Mark Robinson: 90-95% of all artichokes are grown in Southern California.
>> Mike Gregory: Right now, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Right now. And it's one of those crops where there's enough information about how to Chester could become the east coast.
>> Mindy Robinson: Artichoke capital.
>> Mark Robinson: Yes.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And it would have some economic influence for those people. So the part of me has this vision for beyond myself to seeing folks, communities, do some of this. I can't do all of it. The husk cherries, in Australia right now, the cape gooseberries, they're called.
They're a nightshade. They remind you of a miniature tomato. They're about this big around, and they're gold color, but they are amazingly sweet, to the point where you can dry them out as raisins and you can make pies out of them. There are a tremendous multi use, and they have a husk around like a tomatilla.
Anyway, nobody knew that you could really grow these hydroponically, and I troll the Internet with all the different publications having to do with farming and stuff. And so there's a guy down, he's tremendously successful with cape gooseberries in a hydroponic system, so we're looking at that. Looked at and I still would love to, I really wanna grow saffron.
>> Mindy Robinson: I was gonna say that we looked into saffron last year. Drilled down, really, really, and finally, I was just, I don't think we can do this.
>> Mark Robinson: The big problem with saffron is, if you could imagine pulling out, I mean, you're talking about five little threads out of each clove.
>> Mindy Robinson: We started talking about it. The people who work for us just looked at us. I said, we'd have to hire just people, because I think they were about to revolt on us. They were like, we're not gonna do that. That is so much work.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, I said, what you do if you go out every morning and you cut all the blooms that have come up, you snip them off.
And then you bring them all in, and basically, you'd sit down with them immediately and pull the saffron threads out
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] anyway-
>> Mark Robinson: I said, yeah, we'd all just gather around table first thing in the morning.
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] Everybody starts looking at me and they're like, [LAUGH] they're like.
>> Mark Robinson: Is he serious?
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] No, so if Mark and I were a stage coach, he's like the ten horses out front, going yeah, yeah, yeah. And I'm like the guy sitting on the brakes. I'm like [LAUGH] hold back. So, but it's become a good, I think we respect-
>> Mark Robinson: Sounds like you have a good partnership.
>> Mindy Robinson: I think we do have a good partnership, and since we're married to each other, that's a good thing. It's been a refining thing in our marriage for life, to be business partners. Yeah, so I don't know, maybe we'll go on the circuit someday and talk about farming as partners someday.
But anyway, it's a whole-
>> Mike Gregory: Sounds like a TED talk opportunity.
>> Mindy Robinson: That's right, if we could figure out how to do that and get our daughter to get us figured up with the technology on that.
>> Mark Robinson: But we are, how do I say it? It's kind of an end spot.
It's fulfilling to be able, we feed our staff every Wednesday. We can't afford pay them a living wage, but it doesn't mean that we, you know, we want them to come here, and at least for this period of their life, for this to be a relatively fulfilling place to work.
You hear me talk with Lisa about trying to figure out what her car is. Well, it's kind of a, we have folks working here that, they don't have a lot of money. And when you wreck a car, you either don't fix it and you drive it as is, or Mark will volunteer and we'll go get aftermarket parts and we'll put your car back together enough to where you can drive it.
>> Mark Robinson: It's just helping folks along their way. [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: So that's what we hope. For our employees,
>> Mark Robinson: It's a really important thing. As much as we grow, as much as we want them to be efficient and work tremendously hard, ultimately, the value is in what the farm gives me to raise children.
>> Mark Robinson: And we care for the people who work here, and it's just those are the important things that for our perspective, and we're not gonna necessarily get into that. And there are eternal things.
>> Mindy Robinson: Right.
>> Mike Gregory: So sounds like it's much more than a farm. It's an extended family.
>> Mindy Robinson: We look at it that way. Yep, in fact, we've got one more member coming in right now. There she is.
>> Mark Robinson: Miss Pat. Miss Pat.
>> Pat: Hey.
>> Mindy Robinson: Got us fixed up?
>> Speaker 6: Yep.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you very much.
>> Mike Gregory: Well, I can't thank you enough for allowing me to conduct this interview with you.
I'll just add real quick for whomever may be listening to this, that you have a website, tegahillsfarms.com, and it's really up to date. It's a very nice website, has all of your contact information on it. And you invite people to come and visit and to see it, and I think that's great, and I certainly would encourage it.
>> Pat: Mindy, you want me to go back down and do some work there for you?
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you, yes, thank you very much.
>> Mike Gregory: But thank you all so much, this has been such a great pleasure to get to talk to you. And I look forward to seeing how Tega Hills grows, I really do, and I hope more people hear this and come out to see you and to visit.
>> Mindy Robinson: That would be great.
>> Mark Robinson: Well,
>> Mark Robinson: It would be very fulfilling for us to really have the community. We have people in this immediate area that don't even know we exist because we have invested ourselves in farmer's markets and in the restaurant market in Charlotte, there hasn't been time to put ourselves in the community.
It would be a blessing to us to be able to have the relationships for a walk across the road, to come by and stop by and say hello, and to be even a small gathering place. And so it's something we really look forward to. If there's anything we're looking forward to, it's this summer, and what that it's gonna bring.
In us being introduced to the community across the road, so.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you.
>> Mike Gregory: Well, thank you very much
>> Mark Robinson: Thank you.