Emma Hendel discusses her five years as a microgreens farmer and co-owner of Fair Share Farms, LLC in Pfafftown, North Carolina. Ms. Hendel describes why and how she and her husband Elliot Seldner came to North Carolina and started their farm. She explains what microgreens are and why she and Mr. Seldner decided to grow them. Other topics include organic farming methods, Organic Certified vs. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certified, urban sprawl, distribution partners, environmental issues, and social media.
Emma Hendel was a 30-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place at Davidson Town Hall in Davidson, North Carolina. She was born in Maryland in 1988. She was educated at Elizabethtown College and was employed as a teacher and farmer.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:44||Background of Fair Share Farm|
|0:01:10||Began with a CSA model|
|0:02:06||Beginning of Fair Share Farm|
|0:02:43||Working up to their own farm|
|0:03:37||Deciding what to grow|
|0:04:14||Organic methods, GAP, FSMA|
|0:05:14||Elliot's desire to work outside|
|0:06:36||Desire for a healthy lifestyle|
|0:07:16||Love of cooking|
|0:08:08||Emma's family from Winston-Salem|
|0:09:15||Coming to North Carolina to work on other farms|
|0:10:50||Negatives of urban encroachment|
|0:12:01||Potential for positive opportunities of urban encroachment|
|0:13:44||Makeup of farm land (greenhouses, etc)|
|0:15:00||Microgreens (what they are and how they are grown)|
|0:18:30||Type of customers|
|0:19:39||No till (soil care)|
|0:29:07||Getting into Whole Foods|
|0:30:11||Distribute to restaurants|
|0:32:33||Work with small distributers (Freshlist and New Appalachia)|
|0:37:01||Immigrant "guest" workers|
|0:39:11||Challenges as a woman|
|0:43:35||Use of plastic|
|0:45:51||Call out culture online|
|0:49:58||Future of the farm|
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay, today is April 20th, 2019, we are in Davidson, North Carolina. My name is Sarah Wilds, and I am interviewing Emma Hendel. And Emma is co-owner of Fair Share Farm with her husband, Elliott.
>> Emma Hendel: Seldner.
>> Sarah Wilds: Seldner.
>> Sarah Wilds: So Emma, can you just tell me real briefly, sort of a little background information about your farm?
Where it is, when you started, how it started and we'll go from there.
>> Emma Hendel: So my farm's name is Fair Share Farm, LLC, and we established it with the mission to feed as many people in North Carolina as we can, growing the best food possible, and being kind to the land and ourselves while doing it.
And so, the name Fair Share Farm actually comes out of the way that we started our business, which was with a CSA model, or a community supported agriculture. So people would purchase a share of produce, which they would receive weekly throughout the season, which is a great model for a farm starting up, because you get a lot of cash flow right away.
So usually in a CSA model, you would pay completely up front and receive a product throughout the season. And so that's where like the fair share came from, because the customers would be getting their share of our hard work. And it's a fair deal for everybody, because we're compensate, we're being compensated for the work and the effort that we're putting in.
And so that's really been important is always charging what the product is worth and not more and not less. And so we started our business in the fall of 2014, so we're actually coming up on our five year mark, which is a big deal in the small business world.
That sort of like you're not going anywhere, hopefully like usually up to year three is where it's like very, very crazy, and then sort of year five is like you can be looking at next steps. Where do you take if from here because you're established? So, we started in the fall of 2014, my husband was at the time working at another farm, and I was teaching.
>> Emma Hendel: And so, we'd actually been talking with the landowners a year or two previously, but we weren't ready to go at that time. And then, a couple years and a few months down the road, it was time. So, we reached back out and got in contact with them and set up a lease.
And really in the fall of 2014, that was all preparation, deciding what we were doing, preparing the land to grow things, figuring out the logistics of what's the soil type, what can we grow here, what do we wanna grow, what do people want, where can we sell our products?
And actually, one big deciding factor on where we were going to focus was the farmer's market and trying to get into the local farmer's market. And then being what's the hole in the market? So that it became clear that salad, micro-greens, people were doing some of that, but no one was really focusing on it.
So that's where our salad focus came from was to fill a void in the marketplace. And at the suggestion of the market manager to say, hey, I think you should focus on this. We did, and so that is where that focus came from. So we grow a lot of salad, we also grow specialty seasonal produce.
We are not certified organic, but we do follow all of the USDA and USDA guidelines and use only AMRI-approved methods and products. And we keep extensive records because we do have a GAP certification. And so although the FSMA, Food Safety Modernization Act, is not necessarily being applied yet, we are ready.
So we have meticulous record keeping. We believe that the goodness of the product comes from the soil. And so we like to take care of it. And so, I think I answered the question where it was like, where did it come from? What's our business based on? And so yeah, help me out.
>> Sarah Wilds: That's great. So from listening to a previous interview on a farming podcast or agricultural podcast, I know Elliott was sort of the driving force behind wanting to farm. Do you know where his passion sort of came from?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, Elliott wanted to be outside. And so when we were in college, it’s really daunting to sort of see your whole life ahead of you.
And when you’re trying to pick and focus on what you’re studying and sort of like envisioning what is the next 40 or 50 work years, working years of my life going to look like? Am I going to be sitting in the cubicle all day? Am I going to be presenting in front of groups?
Am I going to be researching? What really am I going to be doing? And so, for Elliott, I think there was this romantic enchantment with the idea of working outside and forming a community that way and having movement in his life. Because like everybody, we want to be healthy and active.
But I also think, and I don’t think he would mind me saying this, but I think for Elliott, he doesn’t go out and seek exercise. So having exercise and activity built into his daily life was sort of the only way that he saw that he was going to be at all fit and healthy.
>> Sarah Wilds: That's a good sort of overall strategy.
>> Emma Hendel: [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: You have to physically move around to work, but then you also produce healthy food. And it's kind of win-win situation.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and I actually now that you say that, that's another thing I think that do Elliott and myself, too, we both love cooking, love eating.
Our teenage jobs and young adult jobs revolved around food. Both of us have worked as cooks. I've worked front of house positions, being a server and doing all sorts of different things, and so cooking is a huge part of our life and our relationship. If we're spending time together, we're probably cooking something or eating something or doing a food project.
It really is focused on that because it's one of the most, in our opinion, it's one of the most joyful and enjoyable things that we do.
>> Sarah Wilds: So how did you end up specifically outside Winston-Salem? You had contact with the previous owner of the land.
>> Emma Hendel: So Elliott grew up in Connecticut, I grew up in Maryland.
We met in college in Pennsylvania. I grew up visiting Winston-Salem, North Carolina because my mother's family is based in Winston-Salem. So I have tons of cousins, aunts, uncles. So school breaks were spent visiting. And although my mom moved away from Winston-Salem, she did maintain those relationships and come back and visit and spend time.
And so I grew up visiting Winston-Salem, and it's funny because I never really saw myself living in Winston-Salem because it wasn't necessarily a positive experience for me as a child. And by just after working at a couple different farms and moving around after college, we actually came to North Carolina because one of our acquaintances from college then, he was living in Durham, North Carolina and working for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
And so he was like, well, I know you guys are looking for maybe land to start your own farm, or maybe even an employment opportunity, send me your resume and I'll put it out on the CFSA list serve. And so we sent resumes, they were put out on the list serve, that's how we got in the initial contact with the land owners and really, like I said, at the time we were probably leaning more towards an employment situation.
And so another farm in Stokes County, North Carolina took us up and offered both of us jobs, and so that's how we ended up in North Carolina, and then just about a half hour south of that is Winston-Salem. And so when we first moved to North Carolina, we stayed with my godparents.
And while we were looking for housing, etc., and now actually our farm now is a couple neighborhoods over from where they live. So that's how I got back to North Carolina and Elliot came to North Carolina for the first time. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: So are there any sort of urban issues of being, cuz you said you were right outside Winston-Salem's city sprawl urban development.
Is that sort of encroaching? Because here in Charlotte the city is really pushing out and devouring the counties.
>> Emma Hendel: It is, it is actually. There's a ton of farmland for sale all around us. They're putting in, actually, the new highway that's going to encircle Winston-Salem is going to, there's going to be an entrance and exit at the end of our street.
And so that's really gonna change things. There's all sorts of new construction, like the type of construction where it's like buy the plot and design true homes. There's a lot of true home developments. And so it's a rapidly changing landscape. But it hasn't really impacted our farm negatively, because we are still in the county and there is actually a lot of, it could be positive for us because there is a lot of potential for a roadside stand, or what if in the future we setup a demo farm on our current farm property and purchase more land further out.
I mean there's positives and negatives. I do see the loss of the rural areas as a negative for the area. And urban sprawl is, in my opinion, I don't find it very attractive and I like the idea of having an urban center but I do think there needs to be a more forward looking sort of vision into how things are going because it's difficult when you just have all these little suburban things and then there's chain stuff to pop up to service.
Cuz everybody because everybody wants their little piece of land. And it's a difficult issue because you want people to be empowered and have their yard and their house and feel a sense of ownership over that, but then at the same time it can be sort of a barrier to entry because there are large houses.
So anyways, that's sort of getting into a whole other issue.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I think, I found that you have about five acres of land currently?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, probably about, I would say five acres of open land and then two with houses and outbuildings on them, and we lease that from a family.
>> Sarah Wilds: And you have green houses?
>> Emma Hendel: Yes, we have 20 caterpillar coop house structures, so 2,100 foot caterpillar structures. That would be the cheapest in low tech, and then we have two large,
>> Emma Hendel: Coop house structures or high tunnels. And so those are sort of a little bit more sophisticated.
They have the double inflated poly roof and roll up sides, and those are unheated and then we have one commercial greenhouse, which is heated, has electrical service, whole nine yards. And that's where we do our micro greens and our transplants for the field.
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay. So I guess going off of that, like can you talk a little bit more about micro greens like what they are as opposed to just, I don't know, collard greens, spinach, kale.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, so there's sprouts, which we do not grow, but sprouts are not grown in the soil, they're just basically hydrated seeds, and they're not exposed to sunlight but, and so you'll see this often in the grocery stores as mung beans or alfalfa sprouts and things like that.
A micro green is grown in the soil and, well, at least how we grow them, they're grown in the soil and exposed to sunlight. You can also have hydroponically grown micro-greens that are grown with grow lights, but that's not how we do it. We do it solar, with soil, and all we do is after they have germinated we just supply water so they're not getting any other treatments essentially.
It's just soil, water, sunlight. And so most microgreens are between 10 and about 25 days old. And so a seed has all of the energy it needs to basically get to sexual maturity. So that's a lot of energy that's in a seed, and that's why people are like, seeds and nuts, they're so healthy for you.
So what a microgreen is, is it's all that seed and nut energy plus sunlight energy which activates all sorts of different chemical reactions. Which as I am not a biologist, I can't really explain all of that, but it's happening and it's really cool and it makes a really delicious and flavorful product.
And so if you are looking at a microgreen versus a full-grown vegetable depending on the variety, it can have 4-40 times the amount of available nutrition for you. And so it's a really great way to get a lot of vitamins and good nutrients in maybe a smaller package.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah.
>> Emma Hendel: So it's like kids really like them cuz they're cute. And then it's like you just ate a ton of really good stuff, why don't you have some more? But they're also because of that concentrated available nutrition, they have a very concentrated and powerful flavor. [LAUGH] And so that can be a really fun experience too where that is really arugula, that's the most arugula, arugula flavor-
>> Sarah Wilds: [LAUGH]
>> Emma Hendel: I've ever tasted. Another advantage is you can get, there's a lot of, especially in the legume and sort of more nutty things like sunflowers and pea shoots. There's a lot of available protein in that. And the University of Maryland did a study, I think, in 2012 with sunflowers and ounce per ounce, they have the same amount of protein as chicken.
So if you have an ounce of sunflower shoot, that's got the same amount of protein as an ounce of chicken. And so and I think I believe pea shoots are a similar sort of deal. So I mean it's really great. I'm not a vegan but a lot of our customers are vegan bodybuilders, there's a market for that.
And people that are really into the wellness trend and movement, a lot of people that are practicing yoga are really into that sort of thing. And so microgreen sorta helped expand the sort of vegetable life for people that are focusing on eating more vegetables and things like that.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, and then that sounds very versatile for vegans, vegan bodybuilders but also those people who want their kids to eat good food or they're vegetarian or just-
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, cuz you can put it on a sandwich, you can basically put it with anything. Whatever you're eating, if you wanna grill a piece of salmon, just put a handful of stuff on the bottom of the plate, put the salmon on top.
And you can be done if you want [LAUGH].
>> Sarah Wilds: And it'll look pretty.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and it'll look pretty.
>> Sarah Wilds: Great, so I think I saw on your website, you use no-till?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, whenever we can we like to use as little tillage as possible. There are farms that claim to be zero till like they're never tilling.
We do use tillage to break sod and break new ground. And every once in a while, we might need to till but we focus on trying to till as little as possible because it helps with carbon sequestration. So when you're tilling, you can be releasing a lot of carbon into the air.
And you're also disturbing the soil composition. So you're disturbing like the different layers of soil. You're chopping up worms, and there's all sorts of things going on on the microbial level that you're disturbing. And also tillage can create a problem called hardpan, where when you're tilling especially in the clay-based soil of the Piedmont, a tiller is probably gonna go about 6 inches down.
And it will actually create a layer of compacted soil underneath that 6 inches which can inhibit the uptake of the deep soil nutrients, so a lot of plants have roots that go down 12, 14 inches three feet. They have a big tap root. And so if they can't get through that layer of hardpan, they are not gonna have access to a lot of the micronutrients that are deeper down in the soil.
And that action of the taproot bringing up is also bringing up nutrients for later crops and later things. And so what we do is we use a tool called a broadfork, which goes down about 12 inches and that helps break up that layer of hardpan. I mean, it’s essentially like a large garden fork, or it might look like an oversized comb or something like that.
And so that helps break it up like how people have their lawns aerated, it's the same sort of action.
>> Sarah Wilds: Okay,
>> Sarah Wilds: So you mention before that your gaps are agricultural practi-
>> Emma Hendel: Practices, yeah [LAUGH].
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, what's the difference between that and working in a certified?
>> Emma Hendel: So being certified organic is about practices in terms of soil management and product use.
So that I'm talking about fertilizers and pesticides. So one thing that is a misconception about being organic is that pesticides and fertilizers are allowed. The restrictions come into play when you're looking at petroleum-based fertilizers so that would not be allowed under organic certification. But what is allowed is things like BT, which is actually like a cultivated bacteria or like a product that's called Azero, which is made from chrysanthemum concentrate or name oil or insecticidal soaps.
Or there's a product called Surround, no, not Surround. Well, there's a clay-based product that forms a physical barrier on fruits, for like tree fruit production. So pesticides which are derived from,
>> Emma Hendel: Chemicals and ingredients that are available in the environment that are not synthesized and that are going to be less harmful to the environment as well as the soil and certain insects like those are going to be allowed.
But of course, no Roundup, no weed killers,
>> Sarah Wilds: So it's not just organic, the food itself is being grown organic. It's the environment it's been grown in and the materials it's being grown with are all organic then.
>> Emma Hendel: So if you wanted to start an organic farm today, unless you had from the landowners a letter saying for the past three years either A, nothing has been done to this land.
Or B, this land has only been farmed using certified organic practices and it is certified organic by this other grower already. You're gonna have to wait three years with your practices. Now when we established our farm, nothing had been done for three years. We wrote an organic plan but it didn't It didn't seem worth it to us to invest the money in that.
And then there's other issues I have with the USDA's certified organic program just regarding, organic is supposed to be about growing in the soil. But now, they're allowing hydroponics and all sorts of other things. II don't really want to go too much into it, because I am not here to trash certified organic at all.
Because being certified organic is what can help people enter into the marketplace. It can be a third party stamp of approval. There's a lot of positives to being certified organic. For us, it just wasn't the right fit. Now, certified organic is about soil management, soil practices as well as what products you can and can not use are on your crops and on your soil.
GAP certification is all about food safety. So organic and GAPs probably line up at about 80%. In terms of there is rules about when you can and cannot apply manure based fertilizers, for reasons of food safety. If you are growing a salad green, you can't go in and spray liquid fish emulsion on it one day and then cut it for market the next day, that doesn't work.
There's different rules about when you can apply certain products which overlap. And then where GAPs diverges and has almost, maybe even more stringent guidelines is about signage, employee training, paperwork. I have a whole shelf of paperwork and for every activity on the farm, there's basically a task ticket.
And it describes exactly, you as the farmer or somebody else that's our employee. They're gonna write down, I did this in this field on this day. We have a little diagram that they can circle what part of the field, they write exactly what they did. Sign and date it at the bottom, it goes into a record book.
If somebody injures themselves, you need a band-aid for a cut, you gotta fill out injury and illness report. We have hand washing stations all over the farm available. We have SOPs, standard operating procedures for everything and so it's just very procedural based. And for certified organic, there's a lot of records that you have to keep but it's just not quite at the same level.
For certified organic, it's more about what are you doing to the soil. What is planted, and for certified organic you have to keep harvest records. There's just a couple extra pieces of information that are required for GAPs beyond.
>> Sarah Wilds: So that's how you do organic method? So you're using all those methods, you're taking care of the soil?
>> Emma Hendel: With the systems we have in place, we could go and get certified organic really tomorrow or as soon as the certifier could get out there, it would be no sweat.
>> Sarah Wilds: At this point, it's just a stamp for you.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, and we talk about it and we go back and forth all the time, like right now we are in the process of trying to get into Whole Foods.
Whole Foods sells conventional stuff, that's what we are, is a quote-unquote conventional grower. And they sell conventional things, and they're like, yeah, great. Your products look good, and it would be sold in the conventional section. It's like a chicken or the egg situation. I don't know if we would make enough additional business because of being certified organic to offset the cost in the first year.
But maybe five years from now, that's the reason that we got a contract with Whole Foods. Or that's the reason that we got this customer over here, or that's the reason that we got into this new farmer's market or something like that. So that's it's tough to figure out what is the right path.
>> Sarah Wilds: Who all do you distribute and partner to? I know you're here in Davidson, I know you're at the farmer's market in Old Salem, in Winstom-Salem. What else do you do?
>> Emma Hendel: We actually started our business with restaurant customers and we were delivering living micro green trays to restaurants in Winston-Salem.
Which was something that the chef's there hadn't yet seen like other parts of the country, like New York and New England and California like that. That wasn't a new thing. But in North Carolina, particularly where we were that was something, everyone had seen the cut micro greens. But to bring in a fresh Living tray that a chef could play with and baby and keep around, and that was a new experience for people.
So that was really great to see. And so we started with restaurants, restaurants still make up about 70% of our business. We do the farmer's market which actually helps drive a lot of restaurant business too. People like to connect and see where their food comes from. So if we had a product at the farmer's market, people would come up and be like, I saw that at such and such restaurant.
Was that you? Do you sell to them and you can be like, yeah that's our product. Every time you eat at that restaurant, you're also supporting our business, and people are like, yeah!
>> Sarah Wilds: We're like ten miles outside.
>> Emma Hendel: Exactly, and that's actually why we wanted to expand and have a market in Davidson.
Because we've been coming down to Charlotte for the last couple years doing restaurant deliveries. So we wanted to have that connection with the community, and then also We're hoping to see that when our customers at the farmers market are going out to eat, they are able to tell the wait staff or the chef, yeah, I met Emma at the farmers market.
I’m really glad that you have their product in here. And so, we also work with a couple of small distributors in the area New Appalachia, and also Fresh List. And so, there's some customers that we have that I find out new ones every day. Because once you sell it to a distributor, you don't necessarily know where it ends up.
Even if it has your name on it.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, so I've heard a little about Fresh List, but can you talk about New Appalachia?
>> Emma Hendel: So New Appalachia is a company that's actually based in the Asheville area. And so, they collect from small and medium sized growers from western, central, and all over North Carolina.
They also go in to South Carolina for fruit. And so, really, just bringing all sorts of flavors from the mountains to the Piedmont, and from the Piedmont all over the rest of North Carolina. And so, he's just picking up things from various producers that are in different little micro-climates.
And so, he was delivering bamboo shoots and things like all sorts of foraged items, rare items. And so, just taking the search off the plate of the chef and saying this is the 300 item product list that you can choose from this week, coming from all these different farms.
>> Sarah Wilds: That's cool.
>> Sarah Wilds: So how do you, obviously the business is owned by you and your husband and you have a few full-time employees. How do you find those employees? Are they all locals from North Carolina?
>> Emma Hendel: All of our employees right now live and have their own lives in Winston-Salem and Kernersville, which is another little nearby town.
Previously, we have employed people that have come and relocated. And this year, we were like we want all local employees. Because we don't have housing, and we felt it was difficult to have people come and relocate. Because it's well, how do you jump into a new city life, and maybe it hadn't really seemed to work out.
But we found that we'll put ads on Craigslist or Indeed. Actually, we get a lot of employees through word of mouth. And so, we haven't had trouble finding employees yet, and hopefully we won't. A lot of time, people that work on the farm work on farms anywhere. They might be just out of college, or on summer vacation from college, or just out of high school.
So young people. And so, most of the time, people that are being employed by farms aren't necessarily going to spend the rest of their life working at a farm. So what we are striving towards right now is paying people more, giving people more responsibility. And trying to figure out how do we retain people for longer than just a season or a year, and how do they continue to grow with us so that we can have some institutional memory.
>> Emma Hendel: But that might be the way to go. We might find out that that's not how it works. But we're willing to give it a try. But most farms that we know of that we've worked for that we have contact with, go with the internship model. Sort of like turn and burn sort of deal where it's like maybe about the experience for the person as opposed to the success of the farm.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I know at least a few firms around here in the Concord area use the H2A labor force. But you said you don't have housing, and I know that's part of the program.
>> Emma Hendel: In the future we might have housing, and that could be a route that we go you.
There's also certain, it's also I feel like there's this misconception around the guest worker program. They are compensated at a very good hourly rate, which is more than we pay some of our employees. And so it's-
>> Sarah Wilds: It's an internship model?
>> Emma Hendel: Right, and so, that is perhaps a more expensive way to import somebody, but those people that are a part of this program, they are here to work, they are here to make money, and that's what they're here to do.
So you're going to get what you pay for essentially.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, I talked to another farmer and he's his farm has been employing H2A people.
>> Emma Hendel: Did you talk to Barbee Farms?
>> Sarah Wilds: Yes.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, did you talk with Brent or you talk with his dad?
>> Sarah Wilds: Tommy.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, Tommy.
>> Sarah Wilds: He's so sweet. But yeah, he had nothing but good things to say about the program.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: And he said basically the same thing. They come and they have one mission. They wanna work, and so they have to satisfy you.
>> Emma Hendel: Exactly
>> Sarah Wilds: And you show them once, and they do it.
>> Emma Hendel: And it's not, I mean, like a lot of times it's not about they may have seen it done a different way. Doesn't matter. This is what you want, this is what I will do sorta deal. And I've worked around, not on a crew that has guest workers, but nearby farms with guest workers.
They are getting stuff down. They're like whoa. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, they don't mess around.
>> Sarah Wilds: So I guess sort of moving away, I guess, from the nitty-gritty of the farm.
>> Sarah Wilds: Are there any challenges that you face as a woman, or you have seen faced by women in general as farmers?
>> Emma Hendel: Me personally, nothing really beyond surface stuff. Or maybe some machismo or whatever where it's like you grew that, really? You're doing that, or you're driving that big truck? Or how did you do that, where's your husband? Blah, blah, blah. Just stuff like that. But I mean, honestly, for me personally, no.
Just beyond maybe a verbal questioning, but nothing ever where it's like a complete road block or like we're not going to give you a loan because you're A woman or we're not going to talk to you or let you into this space because you're a woman.
>> Sarah Wilds: Mm-hm, well, that's good.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: Glad to hear that.
>> Sarah Wilds: What about social media? So I know your farm has an Instagram and you send out newsletters. How important is that to your market? Your marketing?
>> Emma Hendel: That's a good question. I don't actually know for sure because we've always had the social media aspect.
Like it didn't really exist without it. I started doing the newsletter last year. And I actually think that that has really improved community engagement. I think it gives people a sense of ownership over the products that they're purchasing because they know what's going on with the farm in that week.
With Instagram and stuff, you can get a lot of inspiration from other farms. There's also, I think there's also a lot of anxiety that can come with putting stuff out there. And I would say 90% of stuff is positive. But that 10% stuff where people might message you, or people might ask a question and be upset that you don't want to share your proprietary knowledge.
Or something like that where it's like, you know it's really great that you're asking me a question but I think that you need to pay me for the answer. Like that can spark some really negative feelings in people. I mean we share a lot online, maybe even what some people would say are secrets.
Some people are like you share too much, some people are like you don't share enough. We really try and focus on the positive with what we share. And that is actually something that also draws criticism where people are like everything always looks so great at your farm, and there's never any rain, and you never talk about any of the problems.
But that's not what we're trying to share. We're not trying to share a pity story. We're not trying to share negative things, and that's not what our mission is on Instagram or on Facebook or whatever. But I think that there's a disconnect where people don't, sometimes people don't seem to remember that it's not the whole story.
And, so even if you might know that, on my social media I don't share every, well some people do share everything. But if you're on my social media I don't share everything. But sometimes people can forget to apply that other people's sharing on social media. So it's like maybe I don't wanna share that or maybe that's not what I want this page to focus on.
And so that 10% of people that might get catty, or might say weird things, or just might leave a comment where it's like, eff you, or something like that. A comment that we get a lot on social media is about use of plastic or whatever. And I'm like you're making this comment on a device with rare earth materials, like I don't think that we need to go there everybody.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah, a little plastic [INAUDIBLE]
>> Emma Hendel: I mean the plastic is what is enabling a lot of small farmers to do really great things. And so there is the argument of you're going to buy produce in the grocery store. That produce was produced using plastic, it's packaged in plastic.
But the difference between the produce in the grocery store and the produce that you're getting from your local farmer be it at the same grocery store, a farmers market or restaurant is yes, plastic was used. But a whole ton of fossil fuels weren't. And say some things like flown from California or driven from California.
Or even coming from Chile or wherever. I think it can be hard to sort of step back, because there is a crisis going on. But it needs to be more about coming together as opposed to trying to call people out or whataboutism. So there has to be a balance and you have to remember behind every action there’s a reason and a story and a journey that led people there to take it.
>> Sarah Wilds: And one small farm in one small location versus major corporations.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, it's gonna take corporations, governments, small farms and the individuals all working together. It can't just be like I feel called to tell everybody how they are living life wrong. In my opinion that's not going to inspire the change that we need.
>> Sarah Wilds: It's interesting sort of these call out cultures affecting farms but-
>> Emma Hendel: I would say, I think that's sort of again like an 80-20 sort of deal. Where it's 80% of people are going to listen to your story and form their own opinions. 20% of people are already going to have their opinions formed and there's not going to be much change to that opinion.
>> Sarah Wilds: And they're just going to let everybody know regardless of who's sort of on the end.
>> Emma Hendel: That's right.
>> Sarah Wilds: The other end?
>> Emma Hendel: Right.
>> Sarah Wilds: Yeah.
>> Emma Hendel: Because that's more about a personal need to do that sorta thing for your own improvement of your self-image. [LAUGH]
>> Sarah Wilds: Or whatever is going on.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: With that person.
>> Sarah Wilds: So what are those some other organisations that you partner with? I know you were saying that you were talking with Whole Foods or working with Whole Foods?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, we work with Lowe's foods, we work with Barbee Farms under Lowes food CSA program.
We also [COUGH] we're trying to form a relationship with Whole Foods, we're in our local Lowe's Foods on the shelf there. We work with Organic Harvest, which is a small grocery store in Charlotte. We also work with Let it Grow Produce and Colony Urban Farms store in Winston and Salem.
Those are two little local grocery stores that sell local products. We also, I'm a member of the Piedmont Culinary Guild. We're members of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. And I'm actually a member of a Piedmont Triad Food Council. Which is just forming this year and so those are organizations that we work with.
>> Sarah Wilds: And how did you sort of get started with all these organizations? Like a lot of word of mouth, sort of knowing people who connected you or?
>> Emma Hendel: Well CFSA was Our friend Ben and so we became members of CFSA and they actually gave us a grant to pay for our first year GAP certification.
And they offered, as part of our membership we had access to consultation about getting a template for GAP's paperwork. Having a great woman named Patricia actually came out and looked at our farm and said, these are the changes that you need to make. And so that's a great organization.
They also have a conference every year for farmers that's usually held in Durham, and so that's a great way to connect. Piedmont Culinary Guild I got involved with because of our relationship with chefs and other food and beverage industry members. And so that they also have a conference, a symposium every year that's held in Johnson & Wales, the culinary school.
And so I'm a part of that organisation to stay in touch on a deeper level with our customers. And then also staying up to date on what's going on in the food and beverage world. And the food policy council, I actually, I don't know who necessarily invited me to that, but that was something that I go invited to do.
So I'm excited to see what direction we're going to go with that.
>> Sarah Wilds: Well, just sort of a wrap up question. Where do you see sort of the future of your farm now that you've hit that five year or about to hit that five year mark?
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah, so I would eventually, we're in the process of hopefully purchasing the farm that we lease now.
And in the future I would love to purchase some more rural land. And I would love to hand over management of that farm to another farm manager. And design a whole new project in the future, like maybe we'll grow acres and acres or broccoli, or maybe, who knows what we'll do.
And maybe even having our farm now becoming like a model farm or an incubator farm, or maybe an agrotourism farm, just because of its location. And so that's maybe one direction it could go. It could also turn in, we're still not quite done developing that property in terms of how we're gonna use it for farms.
Maybe we put in a tree nursery or maybe we put in some cane fruit, or there's a little bit more that we could do there. One thing that we've talked about doing with our land that is unoccupied right now is doing a more serious composting effort. And so we create a lot of compost, which we manage and reuse for various farm things, because we're doing the microgreens, and that's in trays.
And then once we use that we dump it into a compost pile and compost it. Anyways, enlarging a composting effort, perhaps even taking in materials from other places maybe, but that presents its own complication because it's difficult to figure out what you're taking in and you don't want.
But the compost that we generate, we know what it is, cuz we use a lot of potting soil. And so a lot of that great organic matter is really good to put back or used to build new growing areas. So that's one thing. So starting new projects, buying more land, growing more food, that's what I wanna do.
>> Sarah Wilds: All right, sound like a good goal.
>> Emma Hendel: Yeah.
>> Sarah Wilds: Right, well, thank you so much for your time.
>> Emma Hendel: You're welcome.
Mark and Mindy Robinson are the owners of Tega Hills Farm in Fort Mill, South Carolina, a two acre urban farm with five hydroponic greenhouses. They employ five fulltime employees, and provide produce to the Matthews Community Farmers Market, Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, and multiple high-end restaurants in the Charlotte and surrounding areas. Tega Hills Farm dates back to the early 1970s as the brainchild of a chemist who was interested in hydroponic science and growing tomatoes, and was purchased by the Robinsons from its second owner in 1999. They became profitable circa 2004 when Mark decided to try growing microgreens. This one hour and forty-five minute interview covers the history of Tega Hills Farm, its owners, farming techniques, and their relationship with the community over the past twenty years. To the Robinsons, Tega Hills Farm is more than a business; it is a passion, almost spiritual in nature. Their workers and their community are extended family, and the care they take to preserve that relationship is expressed in almost every question they engage.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:07||Beginning of interview|
|0:00:24||How he got into the farming/ Incubator program|
|0:00:49||Finding out about the Incubator program|
|0:01:15||Been farming for 9 years and focused on growing produce over livestock|
|0:01:49||Daily life of a farmer is always changing|
|0:02:19||Workload changes as the season's change|
|0:03:38||Spent summers on grandparents’ farms in Indiana|
|0:04:17||Grandfather farmed as a hobby|
|0:05:03||Farming as a career is similar throughout America|
|0:05:29||Smaller scale farming in operations is different to larger scale farms|
|0:06:16||Young/new farmers begin with a lot of idealism|
|0:06:30||New farmers face a realization that farming is fundamentally a business|
|0:06:56||Big learning curve for new farmers without a background in the industry|
|0:07:20||Gives an example of carrots to underline the long process of learning from your mistakes for the next harvest|
|0:07:54||Expands on the claim that they use “unconventional farming” and the process of certifying organic|
|0:08:33||Identifying his farm is not conventional agriculture and the perks of having a small scale farm|
|0:09:30||Reasons why he no longer gets his produce officially certified organic|
|0:11:45||New farmers embrace organic growing but it cannot meet the needs of the country|
|0:12:24||Doesn't want to use GMOs in his farming but believes they have a place in agriculture|
|0:13:24||Process of accessing farmers markets|
|0:14:17||Harsh reality of living within the means of being a farmer|
|0:14:55||Lack of interest in organic products at the cost they need to charge in his local area|
|0:15:30||Having to travel to gain access to a big affluent customer bases|
|0:16:05||Small-scale farmers face issues of access to the communities that are in need and cannot do more due to their own need to stay in business|
|0:16:42||Business with wholesale accounts that include local restaurants and that they are moving away|
|0:16:58||Experience with CSA programs|
|0:19:00||Local CSA based on community supporting the local farms and included a lot of outreach and communication between both parties using social media|
|0:19:25||Doesn’t use social media for his own farm although would love to|
|0:19:58||Offered more of a subscription box service and CSA has moved away from its roots|
|0:20:45||Looking into other avenues due to the expansion of his family with a young daughter|
|0:20:58||Positive and negative effects of farming on your perspective of life|
|0:21:41||Looking at other areas of agriculture that they could explore in order to make a bigger difference in the community|
|0:22:35||Set up a partnership with a local small-farm|
|0:23:35||Why he set up the partnership and the pitfalls many fellow new farmers fell into|
|0:25:55||The partnership was a success and focus their efforts on producing vegetables|
|0:26:40||What is important in a partner, and having to deal with his “ego” and other farmers|
|0:27:00||The importance of building relationships with your customer|
|0:28:41||Continuing the partnership with the neighboring farm and the positives the relationship|
|0:29:15||Socialism and experiences with discussing partnerships with farmers|
|0:30:13||What he learned from his mentor and the inherent differences between larger, generational farms and newer farms|
|0:30:59||He is the first generation of farmer building the infrastructure for future generations|
|0:31:48||[BREAK - Joe’s three-year-old daughter, Eleanor, joined us at the table]|
|0:31:15||The various opportunities available in nonprofit, and educational agriculture programs|
|0:32:58||Still looking at various options for where to take his farming career|
|0:33:42||There are changes in your interest the longer you farm|
|0:34:14||Interests have changed towards more scientific focuses such as getting the soil ready for growing|
|0:35:17||Also interested in taking his knowledge and experience of farming to an organization to make more change|
|0:35:55||Soil types in North Carolina and the issues he has faced|
|0:37:40||What cover cropping is and what weeds can tell you|
|0:39:23||Timeline of his farm moving from part time to full time|
|0:39:57||Support systems for new farmers|
|0:40:30||Sometimes there are things he needs that he cannot get from the community|
|0:41:14||Steep learning curve of new farmers and what they need to focus on to be successful|
|0:42:15||What public programs he used to set up and run his farm|
|0:43:54||Farming as a huge topic to cover and various skills required to be successful|
|0:44:29||Public needing more education on the many facets of the agricultural industry and how it affects them|
>> Laura Burgess: Hello, my name is Laura Burgess, and I'm a graduate student at UNC Charlotte. The date is the 20th of March, 2019 and the time is 4:15 in the afternoon. I'm here with Joe Rowland in Gold Hill, North Carolina at the Rowland's Row Farm. Hello, Joe.
>> Joe Rowland: Hi, how are you?
>> Laura Burgess: So I'm just gonna begin off with, how did you become a farmer?
>> Joe Rowland: Well, about nine years ago, I started at an incubator farm program here in Concord. It's about 15, 20 minutes from here in Concord, North Carolina. The idea is, they give you access to equipment, to some education, to a land base, and young individuals.
It's kind of like a business incubator, just for agricultural businesses, farm businesses, and so that kinda got me started down this track.
>> Laura Burgess: How did you find out about those program?
>> Joe Rowland: There was actually just an ad, or no, a story in the Charlotte Observer that my father-in-law happened to see.
And at the time I was interested in agriculture and kind of looking for land and wanted to buy something, and do something. I assumed it would be a hobby. I didn't think I would go into it full time, but I found out about the program, and started going for it and here I am, yeah.
>> Laura Burgess: So how long have you been farming?
>> Joe Rowland: This is my ninth season.
>> Laura Burgess: And what kind of crops or livestock do you produce?
>> Joe Rowland: Right now we are just solely produce, so fruits and vegetables. Over the years, we've done turkeys, chickens, ducks, rabbits. We've dabbled in mushrooms, we still do a little bit of that, honeybees.
We still play around with some of that stuff, but more on kind of just a personal level. But commercially, it's all produce right now.
>> Laura Burgess: It's amazing. So can you describe a typical day on the farm for you?
>> Joe Rowland: That is tough, it depends. The cool thing about farming is, well, it's cool to some and it might be nerve-racking to others, it's kind of always changing.
It's a lot of repetition, and when we get into a task, there may be a lot of repetition for hours or days at a time, but then a few days later you've shifted into another aspect. And with the seasons changing, it's really different. What I'm doing now is very different from what I'm doing in July, August.
The work loads change as the crops change, as the stages of development in a crop. You need different things when a plant is two weeks old than when a plant is two months old, so there's things like that. But typically we get going early, as early as we can.
We're out in all weather and all times of year. And there's a to-do list that is ever-growing longer and longer, and we just try to tackle and try to prioritize and try to figure out what. Sometimes it's putting out fires. Hopefully we've planned ahead, we have what we need, and we're just dealing with the next thing on the list.
But equipment breaks, you're juggling things and trying to figure out, well, now we can't do this. So let's move down the list and hit this thing and get that piece of equipment fixed and try to come back to that in three days. And so it's hard to give you a day in the life of.
It would depend on what day of the year and what's going on. So like October 12th.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
Okay, so I'm just gonna quickly rope back to, you spoke about incubator programming, is it Concord? So did you have any previous experience with agriculture before you began? You said you were interested, but I just wondered, was it something brand new to you, or did you have some ideas of what it would entail before you began?
>> Joe Rowland: A little bit of both. So my family, in Indiana, I was born in Indiana, I've been in North Carolina since I was two years old, other than a few years I moved up to New England and Boston, lived up there. So I spent summers on the farm in Indiana, but those are different farms than the tiny organic vegetable farm I run.
Those are really big dairy operations and beef cattle operations and corn and soybeans and hay and those kinda things. And so I would just spend the summers with my grandparents helping them out on the farm, helping out in the garden. I thought farming was the best job, because my grandfather was retired, and he did this as a hobby.
So I would just hang out with him in the morning, and then likely to go fishing in the afternoon. So I thought, well, this is a pretty good job so I always kinda thought, I wanna be a farmer cuz you just get to hang out outside in nature, work with your hands that kind of thing.
So I was around it, but I never really lived on a farm or did consistent farm work until nine years ago.
>> Laura Burgess: So is there anything else that's different about your experiences elsewhere in North Carolina in terms of farming? You said that obviously in New England they are much bigger, and you're doing something very different here, but is there anything else that you recognize as different?
>> Joe Rowland: I mean, in a lot of ways, farming is farming across the board. It's hard work. You gotta be diligent, you gotta be self-motivated, you gotta be determined. There's a lot of ups and downs, there's a lot of variability in income and weather, and you're dealing with a lot of elements.
So I can sit down and commiserate with I got a gross thousand acres of corn in Iowa. We understand the tractor broke, or you can't get good help, but some of that is running a business and running an agricultural business. But then when you get down to the brass tacks of it, my little vegetable farm is night and day different than bigger farms.
The tasks that we have to do, the crops that we're growing just entail a lot of different things, so.
>> Laura Burgess: So let's talk a little bit more about your operations in terms of, so from where you are now to where you were when you first began, is there anything you changed, you had to adapt to anything in terms of running your farm?
Any external factors that kind of change what you anticipated you would be doing?
>> Joe Rowland: Yes, without having a strong background or I think a consistent upbringing in farming, I see a lot of people like myself come to it, and with a lot of ideals and kind of the symbol of frolicking in a meadow on your farm.
So you're up against that, and the more and more you get into it, the more you realize that it's a business like anything else. And there's a lot of logistics and dealing with employees and labor and the financial aspects of it. And it's not just going out and growing the thing that you love and you're passionate about.
Actually running the farm, there's a lot more that goes into it in the marketing and the sales that really maybe aren't the fun side of it that you got into it for. There's just a huge, steep, vast learning curve of if you don't have a strong background, I didn't go to ag school, so I just jumped into this and had to kind of learn it from the ground up.
And so just figuring out some of these crops we grow, we grow something like carrots, we'll grow some in the spring, some in the fall, a couple of times a year. So in nine years, I've only really grown carrots, let's say, 20 times or something. Or you may mess up the first three, four five, years.
And the thing is you have to remember from one year to the next what you did wrong, and have a plan to correct it or you make the same mistake again. And then it's like all right, well, now we got to wait until I'll try again in August or September.
And so it takes a lot of time to hone your skills, which is interesting.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, sounds it.
>> Joe Rowland: Challenging.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH] So I looked at your website, you mentioned that you do unconventional farming. Could you expand a bit more on what you mean by that?
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, so basically what I mean is we were certified organic for a long time.
We no longer pay for the certification and file the paperwork. And therefore I can't say we were an organic farm. And I just want to somehow get the point across to my customers that we are not just conventional, that we are closer to organic. Or we basically are organic other than the fact that I don't write a check and fill out the paperwork.
So the crops were grown the same this year as they were three years ago when we were organic, it's the exact same product, it's just that I'm not paying to have that symbol anymore. And so I just thought unconventional also is kind of a fun way of saying it, cuz it's like we're not conventional agriculture.
Nothing against them, but we're also unconventional. A little quirky, a little different, and that's what we kinda like about being small scale, local sustainable food system type stuff is, we're a little bit different. It's weird to say I want to grow vegetables for a living. There's not many people that want to do that, and not many people that do it on a really small scale.
I mean 1% of the population lives on farms now or something like that.
>> Laura Burgess: Wow.
>> Joe Rowland: It's something ridiculous when 150 years ago it was, well I don't know, the majority of the population.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, depending on where you lived, yeah.
>> Joe Rowland: So we are just in that respect, people that do this are pretty unconventional as far as mainstream culture goes.
>> Laura Burgess: So it's the reason why you no longer do get the certification, I wasn't aware that you needed to pay to get a certification.
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, absolutely.
>> Laura Burgess: That's very interesting. So is the reason you no longer do that literally just because you have to pay? But then,
>> Joe Rowland: Well, yeah.
>> Laura Burgess: You don't agree with the-
>> Joe Rowland: No no no, there's bureaucracy in it. Which gets annoying and cumbersome but that's just bureaucracy in general. I agree with it. It's the best system that we have out there. There's some plus sides and some down sides to it, but for us it really came down to logistics.
It's a lot of extra paperwork. There's a lot of hoops and hurdles to jump through. And in certain situations like if I couldn't find a certain seed or if a certain plant, I couldn't use it. Or it wouldn't be allowed to be certified and so for us there was just some things that on a small scale with a small staff, it was just one more thing.
And it adds value in a lot of ways and puts customer's minds at ease and gives them a sense of what exactly they're getting. But my business, I'm so close to my customers, I look them in the eye every day. So I wasn't as worried about them not trusting me.
Because I can tell them, they can show up at the farm. They see me every week at a farmer's market, we're talking. And so they understand what we're doing, and they can just say to me, how did you grow this, and where did this come from, what are you doing?
So if I was in a different situation, if I was more in wholesale or a bigger farm to where I sold into direct markets and went to, I was just another line item on a spreadsheet. Then maybe having that organic symbol next to it, a USA symbol gets that buyer to say, let me try this product.
But I didn't see the value anymore. Although I do see the value ecologically speaking and from a health and wellness standpoint, I believe in it and I think it's the right way to go. So we need to move in that direction but it's just limiting, and economically speaking, it's tough.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, grinding, that was literally my next question in terms of, do you have to go by the USDA organic status? You also, that was great. So you say that you think, do you think that being, going organic is the future of farming, or is it the-
>> Joe Rowland: I don't know.
That's tough. I think a lot of it is, and that's something that I think a lot of younger or people that are young to the business, they kinda take this on. And especially organic growers like, we're the future and we're saving the industry or something I think that sometime, and I fell into that, and I think it's naive.
And it's somewhat insulting to other farmers or to conventional farmers to say that they're not doing, they're doing what the market has asked them to do. And when you look around the world like it's yeah and this country, it's easy to say that a lot of us can just afford to go to Whole Foods and buy really expensive carrots but there's a ton of people that can't in this country.
And then you look around the world and you start talking about how do we feed billions of people in developing countries. My little organic carrot isn't gonna do it and so a GMO and get into these whole debates and like, I don't want them and I try not to use them or I don't use them on my farm.
But, to say that they don't have a place when there's GMO rice or certain things that could save lives in Africa or something. I think it's a bigger question than my pay grade. And so I do what I can do on my small scale for my family, my community.
But we need bigger solutions in the long term for all that but I don't know how to resolve.
>> Laura Burgess: So you say that you're very kind of involved in the community and you really, you're into I guess community but you like the kind of meeting your customers. Could you tell me anything more about your process of going to farmer's markets, like how do you choose where you go, things like that?
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, so we've been really lucky in that we've been able to get into the markets that we've applied for. And that's not always the case. So we've identified what we think are the best markets in a region, in an area that we would like to go after and we've been able to get in there.
And I have other friends in this situation that have identified markets, sometimes the same, sometimes different and not gotten in. And so that somewhat is upped the chance and updates like a job interview is like do you get it or do you not? And some of our success is directly linked to luck of or for what I mean hard work, but we got into a market that the sales are just going to be better.
It has a stronger following. It's in a more affluent neighborhood and as much as you go into this thinking you're going to grow food and provide for your community and the less fortunate and all these things. There's this harsh reality that to make the economics work, they don't really work, no matter what, like there's not money to be made doing this.
Unfortunately, you have to just really love it and be able to live within the means. And usually you make enough. We think we're successful if we make enough to get up and do it again tomorrow or next year. So savings and retirements and things like that aren't really something that I see a lot of farmers in this situation, or probably even the larger farmers, being able to do.
But getting back to the farmer's markets. We would love to do more in our local community. But on my farm right here, there is just not a strong draw for organic product at the price that I need to charge in a close area. And so what we've done from the start is we travel.
We travel an hour to all three of our markets. We're actually getting away from some farmer's markets stuff we're changing a little bit, but over the last eight years we've had three farmer's markets, and we drive 45 minutes to an hour to each one. To go to a larger metropolitan areas, to go to affluent areas where we have people that can afford that food.
And so in a way, we're successful for providing for people. Is it the people that really need it? Probably not because if I wasn't there, these people can afford to go to the next guy or to Whole Foods or to wherever it is. Whereas there's a lot of people that can't that we would love to cater to, and we just can't figure out how to do that and then Stay in business ourselves, and keep doing it.
So we figure we're doing as much good as we can with the situation we have. But access is a huge issue, and some farmers think about all the time. Well, farmers at this level and the ones that I know, think about all the time is how can we reach out, how can we do more for the right community and still watch our bottom line enough to be able to pay your employees and try to have some income of your own?
>> Laura Burgess: Fair enough. And so, we talked about farmers markets. Is there any other ways in which you get your product out there? Cuz you said that you don't go to the big kind of wholesales-
>> Joe Rowland: We don't.
>> Laura Burgess: Like that. Is there any other ways?
>> Joe Rowland: We do work with wholesale accounts.
We consider well of our restaurants and things wholesale accounts. So we've pulled back from that a little bit lately. But over the last few years, it's been a decent chunk of our business. Majority of our businesses has always been farmers' markets. And then we do CSA, community supported agriculture.
You familiar with that? The kinda the box subscription vegetable type thing. We've done that for a few years. We just decided to pull back from it this year. We're going in a couple different directions right now and kinda looking at the future and figuring out what we wanna do moving forward.
>> Joe Rowland: But CSA, the last couple of years is a decent chunk. But farmers markets have always been 60, probably 75% of our business.
>> Laura Burgess: Since you brought it up, can you tell me a little bit more about CSA in terms of, I mean, you say you're pulling back, but what what has been your experience of it?
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, it's been a good experience. There's a lot of logistics and a lot of kind of dealing with, I mean, you're packing multiple boxes. Ours was fairly small, like 50 individuals. But that means one day we were packing 50 different boxes, so we need 50 heads of broccoli, 50 heads of cauliflower.
And we're individually, which is not something we always have to do is we don't pack individual orders. We crate up all the cauliflower and take it to a market, or put it in a box and take it to a restaurant. So there's a little more legwork in that respect.
It's cool connecting with the customers. It's amazing that they wanna support you in that way, and they're willing to pay us up, so they pay us upfront. And so, if you have 50 people by you, $300 at the beginning of a season, it's a big chunk of change.
At this time of year, we aren't making a lot of money yet, and we're spending a ton. And so, they're willing to give us money in January, February, March that we use to buy season fertilizer and fuel for the tractor and pay employees and things like that. It is almost like a small business loan, with a promise that, hey, in May, when we have veggies, we're gonna give you some great stuff.
They also accept some risk, because I don't know when the hurricane's gonna hit, or when the freeze is gonna happen. And so, there's a little bit of risk shared between them, which is customers and the farmers. Which is good for the farmer, at least.
>> Joe Rowland: But yeah, it's been good, we've enjoyed it.
I don't have anything really negative to say. Ours is more, it started out as more of a real community rallying around the farm. And they had kind of a Board, if you will, or a steering committee. And some farms do really detailed, intricate e-mails or print newsletters, and they spend a lot of time really connecting with that base.
And I would love to do that. I'm not that person, it's just not in my nature to go and do all the little blog stuff and that social media. But then also, it's just a lot for a small operation to add that on top of everything else. You're packing the boxes, you're growing the food, you're delivering it, you're at the market, you're at the pickup location giving them the box.
And then, you're kinda having to sit down and journal. It was just something that I wasn't really good at. And so, ours kind of was more of a vegetable subscription service, which you kinda see some bigger companies doing now. Blue Aprons and stuff, where you just get a box.
We're more personal than that. But CSA, a lot of if has kinda moved away from I think the roots of where actually started of being a really close-knit true community that near the farm. To now, it's like I grow stuff an hour and a half away and take boxes to a city and drop them off, and people pay me, and away we go.
And so, it's a good, as far as the capital and the money, it's a good situation for farms.
>> Laura Burgess: Is that the reason you're planning away from it now because it's kind of losing that community base?
>> Joe Rowland: No, no, no, we're just pulling back from, we're just looking at other opportunities, basically for ourselves, and thinking about our life moving forward with a small child, the logistics of the farm in general.
How the farm, the farm can take, and take, and take. And it'll take, any form will tell you, it'll take everything you can give it and need more. And so, it can put you in a really, although it's such a positive thing to do, to grow food to try to provide, it also can put you in a really kind of selfish, self-centered kind of place where every day it's all I'm thinking is what do I need?
When can I get it? Can I get it in time? How much? How off, like can you help me? Where are we gonna get this? And so, we're trying to just kind of balance that with having a young child and figuring out what this is gonna look like in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years.
And so, we're kind of pulling back, looking for some other opportunities in agriculture, in farming, in sustainable farming. Which is pretty amazing that 10 or 20 years ago, there weren't half of these jobs out there. Now, there's non-profits doing a ton of good work, community gardens, inner-city urban gardens.
And there's so many different programs where people are growing food and growing produce and vegetables. And so, we're kind of looking at other opportunities that can use the skills and the things we've developed over nine years to help people. And we just realized that we aren't gonna be able to get to the place that we really wanna get and do the kind of good that we wanna do by ourselves, and with our money, our own labor.
And so, I'm just wondering if instead of so many people wanting to break out on their own, if seeing more of people coming together. We formed a partnership over the last couple years and brought two farms kind of together and two labors together and two sets of equipment.
And we're able to see some good results with that and decrease the amount we were working and increase the amount of money we were making, and make life a little bit better. And so, I think it just kinda goes to show that there are ways to keep doing the local food and the sustainable organic farming thing without totally just martyring yourself to what a farm can do to you and your family.
And it can overwhelm every, emotionally, physically, financially, you name it. It can take control of all of those things.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, so you mentioned this partnership that you went into a couple of years ago.
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah.
>> Laura Burgess: Can you tell me a bit more about that? What inspired you to do that?
Did you see other people making these partnerships and good things coming from it? Or was that kind of something new and this I think other farm couple decided?
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, it's kinda something we decided, something I had thought about and talked about some other farmers for a number of years.
Cuz what I see is being close to an incubator farm, coming out of them myself, that means I was with a lot of other young or newer farmers trying to start out, and get started. And I've seen a lot of people fail. I've seen a lot of people just start and just give up, and realize this doesn't make any sense at all.
I've seen people go and buy equipment, and go buy farms, and get in Over their head and realize wait, this doesn't work and have to go get jobs and figure out how to unravel the debt and the stuff that they've taken on. And what I saw happening more and more is people get excited about farming.
They wanna farm, they wanna farm on their own. It's kind of human nature where definitely the American spirit. I don't know how it is in the UK but here, we're like we're patriots. We're gonna like I can do it, I'm gonna do it, it's my world, it's gonna be my thing.
And so we end up like, the gentleman I partnered with, he lives one mile from here. And so I"m sitting here with a farm with infrastructure, with walk-in coolers, with a barn, with tractors, and all the equipment and greenhouses and high tunnels. He buys a property that has none of that stuff.
He's by himself, he's trying to figure out how am I gonna get all this stuff? How am I going to afford it? Who's going to work here? Who's gonna set it up? And I have all those things a mile away, and I need help and I can't find good labor.
And I'm trying to figure out, man, can I do this without more help? Or how does this work? And I've seen so many people go and buy another tractor, and then somebody else will get like you bought a walk-in cooler. I'm getting a walk-in cooler. And instead we're living like 30 minutes from each other and all these young farmers are just trying to go it alone.
And I'm just thinking to myself, man, if we took his tractor and my walk-in cooler and that person's barn and did it all, and threw three labors together. The big question, the big gamble is can you really increase efficiency in sales and net profit from doing that? And so it's something I had wanted tot do for a while, I had kinda talked to a few people and tried to start, and it really just worked out that he bought a place a mile away.
And it just seemed like why is he gonna buy tractors and all this stuff? Just come and use mine? And if you're gonna just come and use mine, well, why don't we plant some stuff at your house and plant some stuff at my house? And then if we do that, well, why don't we just get up tomorrow and go to your place together and do some stuff, and then come here, and let's just see how it kind of evolves?
And it was successful, we were able to, we dropped all of the poultry, we raised chickens for meat, chickens for eggs and ducks. We were able to drop all that which was 30 odd percent of our business, and go straight into vegetables, quadruple, or triple the amount of vegetable we were doing.
And then go out and increase our sales for the year and increase our net profit. And so pay him more than we'd ever paid out in labor and pay myself and my family more than I'd ever made. And so we see that it works, but there's opportunities there.
You've got to find the right people and egos and all that stuff is hard, and whose farm name, who's on the shirt, you know? That dumb stuff like that, that a lot of it's pride, a lot of it's ego, and I'm trying to get better about letting that stuff go.
Cuz it's really just growing vegetables, it's not, you hear people say, nobody's gonna remember in 20 years how good my carrots were. It's not gonna, you know what I mean? It's more about the relationships that you create along the way. So we're trying to kind of move towards a little more healthy way of life.
And we thought the partnership could do that, and it kinda did to an extent.
>> Laura Burgess: It sounds to me, throughout this whole interview, this kind of real importance. I know I keep saying it. Community and the, I know that a lot of people don't really, I mean I came into this project not really understanding the importance of agriculture, even coming from a background that I've come from.
And we're seeing it as like a young man's game and, like I thought, coming into this and me talking to a lot of farmers that has kind of gone through generations And interested. But you said by the incubator and you lot of young farmers that really want to get started but-
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, they were all first generations.
>> Laura Burgess: All first generations?
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, yeah.
>> Laura Burgess: So, do you think for the future in terms of I'm trying to speak more specifically in incubative farming. Do you think there would be a positive to maybe people grouping up together a bit more?
Cuz you said that a lot of people fell.
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah.
>> Laura Burgess: Whether they were aiming too high, or wanting to go it alone. And it sounds like is this partnership still going on with you at all?
>> Joe Rowland: It is yeah yeah, and even we're both looking at opportunities for the future, and he has a young daughter, a young family as well.
So we're just thinking about how it works, but no matter what, at least we're neighbors and we can help each other. Like, he wants to go out of town, we can watch his animals. So having that community, and that's what farming communities came from. Have big families so they can work on the farm.
>> Laura Burgess: Mm-hm.
>> Joe Rowland: Have good neighbors. Be good to your neighbor because when your cow's out, you need them to help or whatever the case may be.
>> Joe Rowland: And so, bring me back, where was I? Talking about community in terms of incubator farms, and you said previously that you saw that thing fail.
Right, so the thing about it is, is you have to say, like a very, very dirty word to really get to this thing, and that dirty word is socialism, right? And you can't say that word. The idea that you and I can put our joint efforts together for the benefit of us, all of us, is just a foreign concept to Americans.
And so every time that I have this conversation with people I'm like yeah, but if we could just figure it out, and other people have those conversations too, and I push back on it. When they're like, well, what if five of us got together and just decided, you grow this, and I'll grow this, and you grow that, and then we'll all put together and sell it?
And there's buying clubs, and co-ops, and place that farmers should do in that. Again, it's like kind of an ego pride thing. I would push back, but I wanna grow tomatoes too, I'm not gonna be stuck growing the whatever, you know? I don't wanna be stuck growing the potatoes.
Like whatever the case may be. But I think for sure with younger farmers and like with incubator models, or with farmer training programs, or any of that stuff. I think it just makes sense from an economic standpoint. Well, my mentor, he lives about a mile and a half from here, he's a retired extension agent, David Goforth.
He said something that I think about all the time, is it's hard to do in one generation when it took others two and three to do. And so when I look at my neighbor's farm up the road and I drop by like, God, he's got eight or ten of these huge tractors and he's got barns and buildings and so much.
Like man, that place is awesome. He's been three or four generations to get there. Whereas me, to walk on a property without a barn, without this and that and start building, it's gonna be hard to get it done. And so I think putting resources together, you can achieve more, and then I also think for farmers, we need to think about our new farmers.
We need to think about I may not be able to get there but I'm the first generation now that if I can set it up for my daughter, for her children, my grandchildren and great grandchildren. So, all these farmers are getting old and moving away from the farm, one generation of farmers that are first generation, they don't know anything about farming are going to swing, sweep in, and save us.
But if they can save some farmland, get the farm paid off. Build a couple buildings, buy a few tractors. Leave that to their kids now that they have infrastructure, they're not starting from nothing. And so we just need, I think, to build the farming community back up, and it just takes starting somewhere.
And so instead of looking at new farmers as knights in shining armor, which we wanna be, look at us as stepping stones, we're just starting the process.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, let's just take a break for a minute.
>> Laura Burgess: And we are back. So I just wanted to kind of talk to you more.
You say that you're gonna go into some different future endeavors that kind of connect more with community. Is there anything specifically going on in North Carolina in the area that you're looking to go into in terms of organizations? Like you mentioned nonprofits, but is there anything in particular that has caught your interest?
>> Joe Rowland: There's a ton of just great stuff going on around here, up in the Triangle area, NC State Chapel Hill, Duke, all those up there. There's just a ton of ag-related, farm-related, some are nonprofit, some are through the schools, I mean A&T up in Greensboro. There's Cooperative Extension does a bunch of stuff around the state.
And then there's some nonprofits like the Organic Growers School. In Asheville, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association up in Pittsboro, that are kind of advocacy groups. But also doing a lot in the way of training and teaching and learning and connecting. In all that advertising, basically just building awareness, so I would love I'm not sure exactly where I'm gonna fall.
And exactly how we're gonna keep hobby farming or keep farming as a part time thing. Or start working with some other growers or what, I'm not really sure at this point, I'm open to opportunities. I'm kinda seeing what happens and we're still keeping the farm going, we've still got farmers markets every week, things like that.
We've just realized that we've got a, your priorities are changing, you've a little one. And we just gotta kind of think about what this job will look like in 20 years for me? And am I gonna be crawling up and down on my hands and knees like I do now in 20 years, do I even wanna be?
And something that's really interesting to me. And I've heard it from other folks that have been doing it 5, 7, 10, 15 years, whatever, is your interest changes. Like going out and digging carrots and bunching carrots used to be like so amazing. When you watch that carrot come out of the ground, like it's just the best feeling ever.
And more and more, I'm interested in cultivating, trying to keep weeds down. And doing fertility, making sure that cover crops, and making sure my soil's right. And I'm getting more and more interested in kind of the management and the science stuff of getting the environment right, the soil right.
To make the crop grow the way you want it, and I'm really interested in getting the crops to grow to their best. And then the harvesting, and washing and packing and putting it into cute little bag and pack it up. Which used to be so fun and so invigorating for me, now is not.
And I hear that from others, and that's a normal progression I think over the course of the decade. You change, I've started to learn more and get better at certain areas and that's what challenging me. And so I want to go more for the things that are challenging me and less with the things that are kinda old hat.
And I just realized on my own I'm not gonna be able to do that as much. I'm always gonna be the guy at least involved in bunching the carrots and washing them, and that's fine, I enjoy it a lot of the time. But I think I can take what I know and instead of having my cause, like go a little more towards.
Throw what I've learned in with an organisation that has some power and some backing. And see if I can help make more change in that respect, so I have no idea what that's gonna end up looking like, but we'll find out.
>> Laura Burgess: Sounds very exciting.
>> Joe Rowland: Yeah, I know it is.
>> Laura Burgess: So you mentioned kind of this process that you're really interested in now, about treating the soil and making it ready. Is that something that you've had to work on a lot here in North Carolina, on a farm here, like what is that process? Because I would've never have thought that had to be something, I just assumed my the ground is water ready.
>> Joe Rowland: No.
>> Laura Burgess: But obviously [LAUGH] that's not the case.
>> Joe Rowland: Not here, like in the Midwest, there with different soil types, but here we have a really old soil, heavy clay. It's tough to work with, you gotta be careful, when it's been raining like it has this winter, you just can't.
What happens if you take clay and some sand and mix them up and like pack them really hard together and bake them? It turn it into bricks and so that's what happens in our soils. If you go run and run a tractor through the fields when it's soaking wet.
Compact it, all that red clay mushes together and then the sun comes out and it's 90 degrees here in May and June. And you've just baked bricks and plants don't want to grow through that. And so a lot of that is, we don't have a lot of organic matter, so we're trying to build organic matter in the soil.
Clay soils in a lot of ways are good, they hold nutrients better, they hold water better. That can be good, that can be bad, so when the crops are in, it's nice that it holds some nutrient and some moisture. And it doesn't just all run through like a sandy soil, but here we've gotta kinda play with some of those things.
And really a lot of it is organic matter, and so that's what cover cropping. And doing things where we can put a lot of material back into the soil, get the life going, that's what organic agriculture is. It's soil-based, it's living soil, and so those are the things, it just takes a lot of time.
And that's one of the things that I stress about, and struggle with. Now it's like, I've got to go get this harvested, I've got to get this packed and washed. But I really need to plant that cover crop, or mow that and till it in. Because right now it's at the perfect stage, we're gonna get the nutrient content.
We're gonna get the stuff back in the soil that we want. Yeah, so there's a lot that needs to be done around here for the soil.
>> Laura Burgess: Yeah, so you mentioned cover cropping, can you just clarify what that is?
>> Joe Rowland: Yes, so we wanna have something growing on the soil all the time, now a cover crop might be whatever weeds come up.
And a lot of people, the people that I was learning from, used to say, whatever is growing there, needs to grow there. There's books that tell you like if you're seeing this weed, it tells you, you may have a deficiency in this. So nature is really smart, and you'll see it in a field, you till an area, and then a different weed will pop up there.
And it'll be there for a couple seasons or something, and then all of a sudden, a new weed will start to take over. And so, they're kind of figuring that stuff out on their own. But cover cropping is we grow a cash crop, the thing that we're growing, let's say broccoli.
We grow it for a season, three months, whatever, when that comes out, we need to let that field rest, right? Because that broccoli just sucked a lot of stuff out and then we cut the top off and took it. So we basically mined the nutrients out of that field and left it with the broccoli and we're gonna eat it, and that's great.
But that field now is low on those nutrients, and so you can just go buy them in a bag which we have to do. We buy organically used, organic products that came from living beings to creatures, organisms. Or you can grow things in place and basically mow them and till them back into the soil.
And send some of that nutrient back in and so there's certain crops that do certain things, fixing nitrogen from the air, things like that. So there's a whole fun science with that.
>> Laura Burgess: Sounds it, I just want to quickly clarify, so your farm, for you is a full time job?
Because I know there's a few people that my colleagues have spoken to where it's just like a part-time. As we mentioned, is going to be a hobby later in life, for you this is a full time?
>> Joe Rowland: It's been full-time since 2014, the first few years we were doing a few other things on the side, make a little bit extra money.
And in 2014 we went full-time, so for the last five years it's been 100% full-time. For a few years in the middle, it was my wife and I, it was our sole family income for a couple of years there.
>> Laura Burgess: Okay, so one thing, I know I keep coming back to it, but I think it's a fascinating this topic of young farmers.
And do you think there's a lot of good support systems in place for young farmers? I mean, you mentioned a few.
>> Joe Rowland: There are, there are a lot.
>> Laura Burgess: And deficits that could be filled.
>> Joe Rowland: Man, there's a lot of organizations out there, like Carolina Farmers Association, I already mentioned both of them.
I'm sure I mean Cooperative Extension, as I mentioned, I'm sure there's a ton that I'm not naming. But there's a ton of people interested in it, and it's always about helping the farmer, everybody wants to help the farmer. And sadly, what I come back to sometimes is what need, you can't give me.
The community could give it to me, but it's not realistic in a modern society, the way things go. And it's not just money, time and money are the biggest factors in agriculture, right? If I don't have the time but I got money I can pay you to do something.
But if I don't have the money but I got time, well then I get to go and do it. And it's always just balancing what's worth doing yourself, what's worth paying for and all that. Farmers, it's knowledge, I really think the deficit is, it's such a hard thing.
And what I said at the beginning about the learning curve is just so steep. That it's gonna take you three or four years to figure out what questions really need to be asked, and to figure out how things grow and all that kind of stuff. So it's just, they have a great system in place, everybody's working to try to help them.
And I think just more and more resources are great, grant funding, things like that are great. I think education and more hands-on direct production-based knowledge. Because if you build it they will come is a true statement, all right? You've got to be able to grow a consistent quality product.
And then you got to be able to sell it for sure, you don't wanna grow [INAUDIBLE] stuff and not sell it. But where I see people falling down is growing quality consistent products. And so to me that's what it's all about. If you don't produce consistently quality stuff, then you're in the wrong business.
>> Laura Burgess: Have you used any of these resources? You mentioned grants, things like that. So do you have any personal experiences?
>> Joe Rowland: I bought my farm with an FSA Loan, Farm Service Agency. Got a high tunnel grant through NRCS, got a well grant through Soil and Water, I think it's an EQUIP program, Soil and Water Conservation does that.
I have had small nonprofit groups do benefit dinners, where they donated part of the proceeds to me to help build the greenhouse, Carolina Farm Trust does that kinda thing. So I have definitely taken advantage of a lot of those opportunities, and they're great. Yeah, we need all the help-
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Joe Rowland: Sadly, we need all the help we can get, and some people look at that and say, okay my tax dollars built him a greenhouse, or built him a high tunnel and put it in a well. But what,
>> Joe Rowland: What good is that ultimately gonna do, or my tax dollars, couldn't we pay teachers more?
Still have some potholes in the road, does really need a well to grow his vegetables? And that's true, I mean, that's a tough argument.
>> Laura Burgess: So I'm just gonna end it now with this last question. So is there anything that you want to add, is there anything that you wish to expand on, do you think I should have asked?
In terms of kind of understanding farmers' experience, especially young farmers', or new farmers' experiences in North Carolina and Piedmont area?
>> Joe Rowland: Yes and no.
>> Laura Burgess: [LAUGH]
>> Joe Rowland: I mean, it's just such a vast topic. It's an amazing thing, and once you get bit by, it's something that I think you'll always love and get passionate about.
But it's just such a huge topic that any given day you need to know a lot about plants and horticulture, maybe a little bit about small engine repair, carpentry would be nice. Marketing and sales would be great, effective leadership and management skills would be awesome. So I mean, there's thousands of questions that you didn't ask that I don't have answers to that, you know what I mean, but as the same time I just think we need more of it.
We need more consumers or just more average person buy in for understanding or knowledge about what's going on and how it actually affects that. And I've thought a lot more lately about the way it affects and ultimately, of health and wellness, right?
>> Laura Burgess: Mm-hm.
>> Joe Rowland: And so, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating food that's closer to the farm, knowing what's in it, what you don't want, choosing what's important for you.
GMO, antibiotics, pesticides, making decisions for your family, but being, as a consumer, being able to be informed. Some of the labeling and the way they require things to be labeled or not to be labeled, I think leaves a lot to be, what's the phrase, it's just lacking. We need more understanding of labels and how that works.
I for example grew pastured chickens, right? I raised my chickens on grass, they lived their entire lives. When they came out of the brooder at two or three weeks old, they lived on grass. I wanted to put on my label pastured poultry so my customers could understand these chickens eat grass.
They live out in a field. The USDA or NCDA would not allow me to put the word-
>> Joe Rowland: Bless you darling.
>> Laura Burgess: Bless you.
>> Joe Rowland: That's my daughter, Ella.
>> Joe Rowland: Yes, she's joining the interview, hi honey. They wouldn't let me use the word pastured, but yet, a huge food corporation can take a product that is unhealthy that is high in sugar.
And reduce it by a gram of sugar and slap a huge label on the front, this is now reduced sugar, healthy. That to me is ridiculous. And so the policy stuff at the top would change, I think could maybe trickle down to small farmers. Just in people be more aware of what they want to eat.
And seeking out people that do things in alignment with their values. So I think educating the public and hopefully legislation at the top, which unfortunately, that's a tough sell. You can't get a lot of good stuff done and there's a lot more important probably than food labels. But, to a foodie and to a farmer those are things that it seems to me like if we could fix food and fix health, a lot of other things would hopefully kind of settle and fall into place.
>> Laura Burgess: Completely agree. Well, thank you so much-
>> Joe Rowland: Thank you very much.
>> Laura Burgess: For your time.
>> Joe Rowland: Yes, absolutely.
In this interview, T. McLeod talks about his experiences in running his own organics business, McLeod Organics, and his transition from farmer to seller in north Mecklenburg county. Mr. McLeod begins by detailing how he originally got into farming, discussing his family’s past and mentioning his early organic gardening experiences with his family. He moves, later, into how he switched from farming into the organics business discussing how he saw a need in the market due to his own experiences and difficulties in organic farming. As the interview progress, the subject matter switches to the current difficulties in remaining an organic provider in the face of increasing expansion and regulations. Mr. McLeod also goes into an in-depth discussion on homegrown medicines and how he predicts and reacts to that market. The interview ends with a conversation about community involvement in his market as well as hopes and predictions on the future of organic growing in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:07||Introduction of interview and interviewer|
|0:01:17||The beginnings of McLeod Organics|
|0:02:39||Discussion of difficulties starting out in farming for McLeod|
|0:03:37||T. McLeod details his family’s farming past|
|0:06:01||Running McLeod Organics and current farm work|
|0:07:07||Growing for farmers markets before starting business|
|0:08:21||Forming relationships with other farmers.|
|0:09:24||Information about Bradrord Farm|
|0:11:57||How McLeod Organics started in the Bradford Store|
|0:14:07||Challenges in offering and maintaining organic product|
|0:19:52||Challenges of smaller farms and Bradford Farm of remaining certified organic.|
|0:22:54||The type of people who sell their product at the Bradford Store|
|0:25:13||Getting into the natural health product market|
|0:30:22||Process of getting soil to satisfactory level for organic growth|
|0:32:09||T. discusses other regulations for farming he experiences|
|0:34:09||Community outreach efforts and education|
|0:40:44||T talks about the experience he wants people to have at his store|
|0:44:15||Final question and concluding remarks|
>> Bradley Holt: Good afternoon, my name is Bradley Holt of UNC Charlotte, working on the Queen’s Garden oral histories of the Piedmont food shed. Today is March 12th and I am sitting down today with T McLeod at his general store here in North Mecklenburg County. So I'll just let you introduce yourself real quick.
>> T. McLeod: My name is T McLeod, owner and operator of McLeod Organics at the Bradford Store located on Highway 73, in, go with Mecklenburg Country, actual address is Huntersville, North Carolina.
>> T. McLeod: I've owned this business for eight years and been a part of North Mecklenburg County all my life.
I grew up in the area and product Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. North Mecklenburg High School was where I graduated. For Huntersville Elementary and Alexander Junior High School at that point in time.
>> Bradley Holt: All right, so would you mind telling me the story behind the McLeod Organics. How did you get your start here?
>> T. McLeod: I got my start because I had been an organic farmer and grower for a number of years and I always had trouble finding the things that I needed to use in my own farming endeavors. So I thought if I was having problems probably everybody else was having problems.
So I decided to start a business specializing in organic supplies for gardening, landscaping. Also included organic live stock grains for chickens and goats and rabbits and all when I started the business. I had a vision, knowing a little bit about human health, that the business would eventually transcend into human health and personal care products.
And then, also, completing the process two years ago, I started the operations of what was then known as The Bradford Store. And specializing in organic foodstuffs that are gown here on the farm or in relationships that I have with other local farmers in this area.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, so your interest in organic work came about because you had difficulty previously when you were working [LAUGH].
>> T. McLeod: That's correct, yes.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, what sort of difficulties did you run into before you started here?
>> T. McLeod: Looking for good quality organic fertilizers, soils amendments that I was looking to use as far as micro nutrients and also biological cool products as far as the abundance of microbial life and soils.
>> Bradley Holt: Have other farmers around the area kind of gone through similar issues if they've been focused in organics that you know of?
>> T. McLeod: They have and continue to have, and I always try to be a resource for them as far as providing products that they can use or being able to provide knowledge of where they could find things that perhaps I don't carry.
>> Bradley Holt: Okay, now, was farming something that run through your family? Or was it just something when you were younger you just kinda have an interest in doing it?
>> T. McLeod: Yep, it did run through my family. My father grew up on a family farm in Eastern North Carolina in the town of Broadway North Carolina, which is about eight miles east of Sanford.