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.
Kim Shaw started farming in Charlotte in 2007 in the Cotswald neighborhood before moving to her current location off Brookshire Blvd. In this interview she discusses some issues with urban farming and candidly recalls her memories of first starting out. She addresses the current situation of urban farming in Charlotte, including a lack of tax breaks and incentives, and issues involving increasing land development in the area. She began growing food for the restaurant business before branching out to the Yorkshire farmers market and creating a CSAs or Community Supported Agriculture. Shaw references the future of urban farming, particularly as Charlotte faces increasing development pressures.[tabby title='Tape Log']
|0:00:40||Thoughts on Farming in Charlotte|
|0:01:03||qualifications to be a farm, requirements to be a farm in the city|
|0:01:37||how to be a farm in the city’s eyes - 3 acres|
|0:02:35||benefits of being a farm with squarefootage of out buildings.|
|0:03:19||renting from neighbors. 0.25 acres in name only|
|0:03:51||Started in Cotswold around 2007.|
|0:04:35||Grew for restaurants and Yorkmont Market|
|0:04:57||looked for farms to buy to no avail|
|0:05:13||Moved to current location off Brookshire Blvd.|
|0:05:28||started farming out of necessity, decided not to go back to catering|
|0:05:59||reasons for not being able to get a farm. The expenses and commute.|
|0:06:54||more land would be nice for rotation. She does it by herself with maybe one other person.|
|0:07:32||-07:32 Wind disruption|
|0:07:46||current usage of 3 acres, what they grow|
|0:09:23||Start of the season, delayed by weather.|
|0:10:03||Greenhouse rented off craighead and tryon|
|0:10:43||showed picture of greenhouse|
|0:12:03||-11:59 wind disruption|
|0:12:35||Hated dealing with farmer’s markets, reasons = customers, locations, not selling much|
|0:13:46||Hassle of farmers market day schedule|
|0:13:54||do CSAs instead|
|0:14:43||Buys strawberries and peaches from Brent Barbee from Barbee farms for CSAs|
|0:15:27||growing food for chefs and restaurants, different foods|
|0:17:11||Fresh List mentioned|
|0:19:16||tight knit community with farmers|
|0:21:33||Piedmont Culinary Guild|
|0:21:54||Benefits of Fresh List|
|0:23:36||change of produce with Fresh List|
|0:24:47||food changes with changes of demographics - people wanting organic foods.|
|0:25:59||What type of foods people want.|
|0:26:37||CSAs, the varieties of foods involved.|
|0:28:07||more variety with Brent’s food in the CSA.|
|0:29:07||Talked of canning tomatoes, tips.|
|0:30:39||Caution with CSA, don’t give too much to shareholders. Don’t want wasted food.|
|0:31:58||Food harvested to order, not all at once|
|0:33:40||Using city water for farming.|
|0:34:08||Wished she had a bigger barn. Limited by CSAs.|
|0:34:29||-34:28 Wind disruption|
|0:35:43||Location of farm in Charlotte, closeness to people in the city.|
|0:36:29||thoughts on urban farming, land requirement|
|0:37:15||Objection towards hobby farming on one acre|
|0:37:57||selling of Cotswold house|
|0:38:57||No tax breaks|
|0:39:38||Only commodity crops get subsidies|
|0:40:57||effects of Mecklenburg Land Re-Evaluation|
|0:42:07||No real urban farms in big cities. Selling of the Hall family farm for $22 Million|
|0:43:07||The thought of selling land to developers for big money. How much do they love farming?|
|0:44:44||Need of incentives to stay|
|0:46:14||Her prices of food have not changed since 2007|
|0:47:26||Wages as a caterer, reflection of the times|
|0:48:54||Prices will have to go up for farmers to sustain themselves.|
|0:49:57||Quality of food and prices, people like cheap food.|
|0:51:06||restaurants adjusting their prices and menu items. Different cuts of meat now.|
|0:52:14||Self-employment, different streams of revenue: sewing chef aprons. Benefits.|
>> Nick Kane: Okay, my name is Nick Kane of UNCC. We are doing the project called Queen's Garden, the oral histories of the Piedmont Food Shed. And today, I have Kim Shaw of Small City Farms located in our little city, Charlotte, North Carolina. And Kim, what would you like us to know about you?
>> Kim Shaw: [LAUGH] That's a pretty open question. I don't know, what do you want to know about us?
>> Nick Kane: What's your take on the farm system around here or maybe your thoughts on the food shed around here as well?
>> Kim Shaw: We're in the city of Charlotte, which is, we're actually in the city not just the county.
So the requirements to be a farm in the city is you have to have three acres. Right here, between here and down there, we have almost three. And then, we rent the remainder in order to qualify to be a farm. The qualifications are different. The IRS considers us a farm.
The FDA considers us a far. But to actually farm in the city, that's a requirement. Which I'm not really crazy about. I think it should be a dollar amount. And a substantial dollar amount so that rich people with an acre aren't getting a farm designation cuz their kids are selling zinnias on Sharon Road West.
But we found that out when we got our USDA grant for our high tunnel. And the people who built it were like do you need permits? And I'm like, gee, I don't know. Let me call the city. [LAUGH] And that's when the city told me that I wasn't a farm.
And I was like, well, actually, I am a farm. And we have the USDA number. And so, we had to go 20 rounds with them. And what we settled on was being able to rent in order to get our quote unquote three acres.
>> Nick Kane: So what kind of runarounds did you have to do with them just to continually figure out, I need to buy three acres or?
>> Kim Shaw: It has to be contiguous. It can't be three acres someplace else, it's gotta be attached to this property. So we asked various neighbors, and these guys which, especially two doors down, were the only ones who would actually do it for us. So we had to have a signed lease.
And then, the rules to be a farm apply to us. That hoop house is 70 by 30. It's 2,100 square feet. And if we weren't a farm, you can't, in the city of Charlotte, you can't have an outbuilding that is greater square footage than the first floor of your house.
So our house is 1,800 square feet. But if you're a farm, you can do whatever you want, pretty much. So we didn't to pull permits and stuff like that for it. So eventually, it was okay. But it was kind of, I mean, it was pretty surprising when they were like, hey, I'm like what are gonna do, arrest me for farming?
I mean like, what the ****? So it was kinda crazy for a while there. But then, now we've got that lease, so it's okay.
>> Nick Kane: So you rent property from neighbors?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, one neighbor.
>> Nick Kane: Just one neighbor?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah.
>> Nick Kane: And he had, how much extra acreage did he have?
>> Kim Shaw: I think they were on 2.5 acres. And it's actually owned by a church and they loan us, rent us, I think 0.25, something like that. We don't actually use it. It's just in lease and money only, yeah.
>> Nick Kane: Okay, so you basically, do you guys give anything to them?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, we give them 500 bucks a year for it.
>> Nick Kane: Okay, gotcha.
>> Kim Shaw: For the lease, yeah.
>> Nick Kane: So would you guys consider moving out to the more further to the county, or you wanna settle here, and just?
>> Kim Shaw: No, we didn't start out here, we started out at our house in Cotswold.
The way we got started, I was Director of Catering at And out there, Mike started a garden with our chef who's now the chef of the Stanley, Paul Verica. And I got laid off in August of 2007. And I was already growing some stuff at home for him.
And we talked a little bit about growing more because we only had so much land available to us at the club. So that day that I got let go, I called my husband and I was like, hey, we were talking about growing more for Paul. I'm like we gonna be able to grow more, I don't have a job anymore.
So I had some severance, my employment, and so we started growing there in August. And we were at the Farmer's Market on by October, and Paul was my first restaurant customer. And we didn't move here until March of 2009. And we looked everywhere for farms. I mean, God, every fricking county, every, I mean Lord almighty, we had a foreclosure with seven acres under contract in 2008 for I wanna say, six months.
I mean, we looked all over the place before we finally found this place. Next door to Coca-Cola. [LAUGH]
>> Nick Kane: Wonderful Coca-Cola.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, yeah, I love it.
>> Nick Kane: Yeah, bottles, I think it's still bottled here.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah.
>> Nick Kane: So was it out of necessity that you decided to start farming, basically?
>> Kim Shaw: It really was. I got offered another job as director of catering at another club that winter, and I was like you know what, I don't think so. It was obviously substantially less money. But at it was my favorite part of that job. And I mean, I was doing it basically for free, coming in.
But yeah, so that's how it happened.
>> Nick Kane: Why couldn't you find any farms around here? Were they just being tightly held by people, or?
>> Kim Shaw: Not really, I mean, part of it was financial. I mean, we only had a certain amount of money to spend, and when you're talking being close in to Charlotte, I mean, it's expensive.
And we could have found more land elsewhere, but then my husband Roland would have had to deal with that commute. He works for a not-for-profit on Craighead and North Trion. And it was sort of like what was worthwhile. And then, being closer to Charlotte with chef customers. We run our CSA here.
>> Nick Kane: Yeah.
>> Kim Shaw: They pick up here. Whereas other people have to be at a farmer's market for people to pick up, cuz nobody's gonna drive out to Richfield to CSA. So it's kind of a trade. It would be nice to have more land. Not to farm more but to be able to just rotate things better.
But for kind of one and a half people, this two and three acres is about all you candle by yourself. It's a lot of land.
>> Nick Kane: So what would you do if you got more land with?
>> Kim Shaw: We'd just rotate. I mean, this house down here that hasn't been lived in forever, I'm trying to get her to sell me a chunk of that land.
I don't think she will for whatever reason. It's been a rental. It's been whatever. Right now, because the weather's so bad there's nothing there's never [NOISE] September or October. And now, we don't have a place to even put, we can't even get onions in right now. So it wouldn't be more stuff, it would just be easier to rotate stuff out and have new buds ready.
>> Nick Kane: So what are you doing with three acres now?
>> Kim Shaw: We've got-
>> Nick Kane: [NOISE] chickens but-
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, we've got whatever 30, 36, 40 chickens running around. We've got this [NOISE] right here, which we planted starting in 2011. I don't know if you can see all the way down there.
There's a big fenced [INAUDIBLE]
and at the bottom to this hill [INAUDIBLE]
park something on it. So right now we've got, and then we've got a 2,100 square foot hoop house. So right now we've got carrots in the hoop house, pea tendrils, green garlic. And in the big garden, we've got kind of the leftovers of our winter crops.
Collards, cabbage, kale, pansies, we do have a lot of edible flowers. And then in the little garden, we've got more kale. And so this weekend, cuz it's more dry this whole week, we'll probably be able to plow this weekend and then start making our rounds for summer stuff.
>> Nick Kane: So is mid-March considered late?
>> Kim Shaw: No, not really. The only thing that we're in a hurry to get in is really the onions and the [INAUDIBLE] everything else, all your [INAUDIBLE] til the middle of April, anyway. But it would be [INAUDIBLE] all that kind of stuff. [INAUDIBLE]
ready to get some stuff in.
>> Nick Kane: So there's a greenhouse as well?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah.
>> Nick Kane: Where is that?
>> Kim Shaw: We rent that from Ron's work.
>> Nick Kane: [INAUDIBLE].
>> Kim Shaw: Trion.
>> Nick Kane: Trion.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah.
>> Nick Kane: What's that like just a-
>> Kim Shaw: I mean it's really nice, he did green house, yeah, so we rent four tables out of it.
I think I've got a picture of it.
>> Kim Shaw: But because it's heated, as opposed to the hoop house, which is not the same as a greenhouse, we've got a fair amount of stuff started in there, herbs, flowers. These are two tables in that greenhouse right now. We were just in there this past weekend.
>> Nick Kane: That's impressive.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, so we start putting much everything from seed and transplants, the stuff that we don't direct seed.
>> Nick Kane: Did you have any trouble with the law or permits for starting a greenhouse and I think it was pretty close to a downtown [INAUDIBLE]?
>> Kim Shaw: [INAUDIBLE] They have their horticulture program so that's a whole different thing and they weren't doing it as a farm.
>> Nick Kane: [INAUDIBLE].
>> Kim Shaw: It's [INAUDIBLE].
>> Nick Kane: Okay good, [INAUDIBLE].
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah.
>> Nick Kane: Okay.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, it's cool. So we rent it all year, even though we don't use it all year, but we rent it all year.
>> Nick Kane: That's cool.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, very cool.
>> Nick Kane: What kind of, I guess it's pretty popular, so to speak.
[INAUDIBLE] for the community.
>> Kim Shaw: What?
>> Nick Kane: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Kim Shaw: No, they lost their grant for that, god, years ago. So right now it's just all their staff has all their plans in there and then us [INAUDIBLE] and then I grow plants for them [INAUDIBLE] plants, so.
>> Nick Kane: Yeah, so what's the ACSA working on [INAUDIBLE]?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE]
starts should start at the end of April the last week in April that's 18 days.
>> Nick Kane: What pushed you towards that, the CSA?
>> Kim Shaw: I hate the market, I hate the market, I mean, it sucks. We did Lawn, we did Atherton, I mean, you gotta get up at the **** crack of freaking dawn.
Go out there and all those people with their **** Starbucks going, I can't justify $3 for a bunch of beets. And I'm just like, you know what? Yeah, so and it just really depended on your spot, we always had a **** spot at the market and it sucks to come home with product.
It's like it's just a huge waste, so I would much rather do the CSA cuz I know what I'm harvesting. There's no waste, restaurants, there's no, I'm not stuck with guess what? I didn't sell 20 pounds of lettuce, so what are you suppose to do with it? So when we moved here, I think we did market for two years, maybe.
And it's on Saturday, too. And there are so many farm things that gotta be done with two people [INAUDIBLE]. Eating lunch and then 2 o'clock it's like okay, so let's start work. In July I mean my God, [INAUDIBLE] you want for the money, I'm **** it let's just pick up some more CSAs and then we can at least maybe have Sundays off.
So that's how we came to do just CSAs and the restaurant stuff. [INAUDIBLE] I mean not to diss on markets [INAUDIBLE] but to hell with it.
>> Nick Kane: Do you think it's a difference between what you have versus maybe what other?
>> Kim Shaw: I don't think so I mean, [INAUDIBLE] I mean I think everybody's got a lot of the same basics.
But there are things that we don't grow because we just don't have the equipment. I mean, we're not growing strawberries here with black plastic and all that stuff [INAUDIBLE]. When we have our CSAs I buy strawberries from Brent and so the CSAs can't get that. And you have peaches, they are such a pain in the ****.
Brent grows delicious peaches, I'll buy them from Brent. But other stuff, Brent doesn't **** around with little teeny herbs and edible flowers and stuff like we do. But for just the basic stuff I feel like most people use the same seed sources and have pretty much the same kind of things.
>> Kim Shaw: You try to grow different stuff, and people always say I want something that's kind of different. And it's like what they really want is, do you have anything that's out of season now, which is not [INAUDIBLE] you can grow here, I'd kinda like some lemons. So when you grow really different stuff, we forever have chefs now, can you grow this for me it's like, yeah, sure.
And then they go, okay I'll take a pound and you're like, are **** kidding me? I grew a 100 foot row of this ****. So we we try to limit super off the wall stuff and try to kind of contain ourselves. We grew borage last year. Nobody ordered it, I mean no one ordered it.
>> Nick Kane: What's that?
>> Kim Shaw: It's an herb that kinda tastes like cucumber, it's got a blue edible flower. I mean, truly nobody nobody bought it. But there's some things that I just like to grow just to grow and I don't really care if people buy it or not. But it is better, it's a lot more lucrative if you can actually sell the **** you're growing.
So we try to we try to do that, but a lot of times when you meet with people and ask. Ask them what they want, and they tell you and you grow it, especially with chefs. It's like there's a reason why lots of people don't grow this kind of tomato here.
What kind of tomato you wanna grow in Nashville? So they don't do well here, and then can you get more money for it? Are they're willing to pay more for it, cuz the yields are so crappy? So I don't know, it's complicated.
>> Nick Kane: So do you have different CSAs with chefs and other customers?
>> Kim Shaw: No, the CSAs are just for regular people. They have full share and half share, and with eggs, without eggs. [INAUDIBLE] the side that you can add on to. Chefs just get our price list, and then we pull it from Freshlist as well. Do you know Jesse? Have you talked to him?
>> Nick Kane: Jesse?
>> Kim Shaw: Leadbetter, from Freshlist?
>> Nick Kane: No, no, not yet.
>> Kim Shaw: You ought to, he's a good resource.
>> Nick Kane: I'll check that out.
>> Kim Shaw: He started a few years ago and he buys from everybody local and then sells to chefs, which is great for us chefs who just want.
I'll have three pounds of whatever and we're like okay, that's $9. You can come get it, [LAUGH] but I'm not coming to your restaurant for 9 fricking dollars. So but when Freshlist orders, they ordering for me for a bunch of different restaurants. And it's like, well, for 100 bucks, sure, I'll deliver Freshlist.
And they work around with the other people, so it's just great. They deal with a lot of farmers, I mean, and it's a great resource.
>> Nick Kane: So like a middleman?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, he's a reseller. So he'll buy something from me for 2 bucks and then he just sells it to them for 5.
And then chefs don't have to come out here or rely on farmers to deliver and all that kind of stuff. A lot of people have tried to do what's he done. He's the only one who's been successful.
>> Nick Kane: Okay.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, he's a good guy.
>> Nick Kane: Who are the chefs you're selling to?
>> Kim Shaw: I don't know who Freshlist sells to. I mean, if I ask right now. [INAUDIBLE] So I don't necessarily know who they're selling to, but we sell to The Stanley, which is Paul's restaurant and 300 East. And I do flowers for The Stanley, too. And we sell flowers to 300 East, they arrange them and whatnot.
And that's it, and everything else is through Craigslist.
>> Nick Kane: Okay, so it seems like you have a really tight-knit sort of like community because-.
>> Kim Shaw: It is.
>> Nick Kane: Brent from Barbie. Are you like that with anyone else around here?
>> Kim Shaw: I'm trying think who I know. Dee and Jennifer Mollust from Laughing Owl.
They do Matthew's Market. We met them at the York market. Christie from Underwood, the guys at Topham. I think these guys are all at York market.
>> Kim Shaw: God, who are the guys with the beef? ****, I can't remember. But I mean, most people know or know of the chefs [INAUDIBLE].
We know him, and he's a great guy.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, there aren't really very many other farmers who were in the city.
>> Kim Shaw: Because we're not in market anymore, we don't get to hang out with farmers, like we used to, and this is that. I'll take the extra hour of sleep.
>> Nick Kane: Yeah.
>> Kim Shaw: But it's a tight-knit community from Charlotte. Chefs, everybody who buys local knows all the people who buy local. And Paul's, I guess, daytime chef is Ben Philpot. He used to be the chef at Larchen Grinder. And before that he was at Cafe Monte. And before that he was at Roosters.
When he was at Roosters he lived across the street from us in Pottsville when we first started out, and that's how I met him and his wife a long time ago. So and Paul's sous chef is his son Alex who I met when I was working with Paul at the Larchen Grinder.
He just walked in there. So it's pretty tight-knit, but I think a really nice community, chefs, everybody's really. There's Culinary Guild-
>> Nick Kane: Yeah, I do.
>> Kim Shaw: That we're part of, and I know is part of that. That's really helped foster that community a lot.
>> Nick Kane: Do you think there's gonna be a growth with more and more people to [INAUDIBLE] symposium?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, I mean, I think so. I mean, I think right now it's like anybody can join this right now if you can prove that you were buying local, but I don't think that's true any more. Although I do think the Freshlist is changing. I think they are really, really making it so easy for chefs, and I mean, I'm sure it's expensive but,
>> Kim Shaw: I mean, I think there's just a lot more people, chefs being able to use, because I don't have to have 30 pounds of whatever. It doesn't matter that I don't have it. It's like I've got 10, Brent's got 10, somebody else has got 10. It's like, okay, great, and now you can say you're sourcing local kale.
It's like okay, great. And also it takes care of that whole delivery business. I mean, it's just it's [INAUDIBLE] who are driving a long way. It's a real pain in the **** to get here. I mean, I think Jamie's from Milford. I think it's 95 miles round trip.
Yeah, I mean, it's a frickin haul so,
>> Kim Shaw: And you're going to a gazillion little restaurants. It's like geez, just come in once a week, from Freshlist and be done. So I think they're really, they've been growing a lot. So and they deal with some places that I don't think that we would ordinarily deal with, like Haberdish and Crespella.
They buy a lot of edible flowers from us. But through FreshList, though which is fine by me. It's good, it's a great way to move product. We have so many right now, I mean, I don't know how we would, we wouldn't be able to move them if it wasn't through Freshlist.
And we grew them specifically for that, because we knew that they've got a good market now so that's cool.
>> Nick Kane: Did you change what you're growing when you decided to go with Freshlist or you just kept deciding the same thing over again?
>> Kim Shaw: We changed a little bit cuz they asked us to grow some stuff, like radishes.
We didn't really move them that well. Because they are going off what chefs tell them as well. And everybody's like, what are you gonna use all these radishes for? Maybe they do, maybe they don't.
>> Nick Kane: [LAUGH] Lovely traffic.
>> Kim Shaw: I know, it's all the widening that's going on up here on the road.
But we grew a bunch of rainbow carrots because they were like, we can still move them, and they have, and it's great, and that's just really not something necessarily that I would have grown. And we upped our winter time [INAUDIBLE], cuz I knew that they would be able to move the stuff, so that's cool.
>> Nick Kane: Do you think some of the chefs are [INAUDIBLE] demographics [INAUDIBLE] wanted more organic, locally sourced foods?
>> Kim Shaw: I don't know. I mean, I think all of that just changes so much. It's like people want organic, then people want local, and then everybody's just talking about clean food, and it's like what is that, like code for like white people food.
It's like are you kidding me, what? I mean really. For us we find that our CSA demographic is a lot of times people with kids, and people are really, really concerned about that. Like super concerned about what their kids are eating, and on the other scale, like a market, there are a lot of old people who really, really, they think if they're eating this, they're gonna live forever.
Yeah, I'll sell you that, but restaurant stuff, diners are more used to [INAUDIBLE], they're a little more okay with the idea of, hey, it's December, there's no asparagus for you. It's March. Don't ask for tomatoes, and I think people are getting used to that. I think that [INAUDIBLE], people kind of know what that is now and they're like, okay, and they know what it is when they're eating out, and it's not a surprise for people to be like, okay [INAUDIBLE].
So I think that people are getting better educated about that for sure.
>> Nick Kane: Yeah. I know it's on your website, you had about the CSA is, that you're gonna get a variety of stuff at a times. I have the idea that every time something's written like that is that there is a specific reason that you guys have complaints about variety and they wanted certain other things.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, I mean, that's my thing, you can't have let people have what they want. Absolutely no, because otherwise, all people we want is like, I want peaches and tomatoes, and on July 4th, I want a watermelon. That's it. It's like, well, that's not what you're having, [LAUGH] because that's not what we have.
For a lot people going to the farmer's market mean just that. It's like I'm going to go when there's tomatoes, corn, and peaches. So there's no corn and peaches at the end of April. So you know it starts off, and I've got a whole, I think there's a link.
Did you read all the guidelines and all that **** it just went on forever,-
>> Nick Kane: I did breeze through that.
>> Kim Shaw: Okay, because it is gonna start off like really like with a lot of lettuces, and a lot of arugula, and stuff. By the time you're like, my God, I can't eat another freaking salad, [COUGH] the CSA sucks.
The lettuce is not, and it's like great, okay, good, my God, I can't eat anymore tomatoes. That's it, now that you're done. So it's just having that, and then that's another reason I buy stuff from Brent. So it's like, they do get peaches.
>> Kim Shaw: And then they do get strawberries.
>> Kim Shaw: So, it's not, but people are just, I let people fill out, if there's something you made, let me know, and we won't give it to you, and people are pretty good about that.
>> Nick Kane: Or allergens.
>> Kim Shaw: I had hardly anybody with allergens.
>> Nick Kane: Okay.
>> Kim Shaw: Which is really kind of amazing.
But some people, we have muscadines, some people are like, I hate muscadines, I'm like, what's wrong with you? People are pretty good at going through [INAUDIBLE]. I mean, last year we didn't have, we had an okay harvest. It was just crazy, [COUGH]. [INAUDIBLE] I noticed they had at least one week where it's all tomatoes, all Romas, and the idea is, it's like you were gonna put all these up, freeze them, so you're not, like [INAUDIBLE] in November, like, canned tomatoes to [INAUDIBLE]
>> Kim Shaw: [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] You really don't have to do it that, I mean it could be [INAUDIBLE] and if you wanna go an extra step, skin them, and put them in the freezer, and they'll [INAUDIBLE], and then usually I make a huge plate. I put some salt, and I just cook them down, probably about a day, and freeze that.
When I can stuff it's usually actually making jam, pickles, and when we have plums, canning whole fruit, but that's an easy way to do stuff, and I save basil and stuff, just stick [INAUDIBLE] put an ice cube tray. Dump them [INAUDIBLE]. Once again, you're gonna be so pissed when something calls for a [INAUDIBLE] basil, and you're gonna be like and you gonna have to go look at an **** to thirsty and pay $2 or something, just **** days where you're like, I should have frozen it like she said.
So that's as much as the CSA's about. You really can, onions are the same way. I mean, [INAUDIBLE] for the difficult, and we always have to be careful about the CSA. They're the number one reason people drop out of CSAs is cuz they're getting too much stuff, and people feel badly that they're not using it up, and they're throwing it away.
So a lot of times people don't understand that. They're like, why don't you just give it to your CSAs if you've got so much? I'm like, the CSAs would **** have a heart attack if I gave them all this ****. They would be, that's why they're, like, I'm not signing up again.
It was just too much stuff, and it all went bad, and we felt terrible.
>> Nick Kane: That's a waste of food.
>> Kim Shaw: It's a huge waste of food, and people can be very [INAUDIBLE]. I mean, unless it's specific stuff. I don't think I can give anybody too many of donuts peaches, but other stuff people do that like, wow, more summer savory, we had such a huge bunch of it last week.
>> Nick Kane: [INAUDIBLE] not getting rid of it per say, but selling it basically,
>> Kim Shaw: Most things will stand in the field for a while. If I don't have to harvest it, it'll It'll last out there. Could, but then it goes bad, so we really do cut stuff to order.
It's not like huge pools is just stacked with ****. Cuz that's where the way they're harvesting it. You order ten bunches of basil from me, I'm gonna go and get you ten bunches of basil [INAUDIBLE]. So it's a [INAUDIBLE] trying not to grow too much stuff. It's kind of a struggle when you're in the greenhouse and you're just seeding up trays of 36 I mean, you can seed it up, ten trays of tomatoes just like that.
I was like, what am I gonna do with 360 tomato plants? It's really difficult to be, you don't need all of that and to really be, I'd say that none of them I just planted a whole tray of which is like the artichoke but you to see the leaves the big blue plants out here.
Nobody buys them but they're a good cut flower and I had a friend who asked me for some. It's like well okay so it's hard sometimes to be like no like that's enough. We don't need five flats of Thai basil, nobody buys it. That really we do try to [INAUDIBLE].
>> Nick Kane: So now you haven't [INAUDIBLE] usually talking about the legality of the plant using scissors. And then the other issues you've had with this farming at all?
>> Kim Shaw: I mean from [INAUDIBLE]
No. I mean I wish we had a well, you've got city water here and it's not ideal.
Although we've got a way to water the hoop house off of the roof, the chicken house. But we got some big totes from Muddy River Distillery Belmont. They're totes but they're molasses coming from. And we had that catch and [INAUDIBLE]. So yeah that would be nice but I wish we had the money for a much bigger barn, walk in.
But it's hard to balance that, it's like we're limited by the number of CSAs that we have [INAUDIBLE]. Great brand new barn. I'm like, okay.
>> Kim Shaw: I go to [INAUDIBLE] patio and I plant them all up. And Alex is like [INAUDIBLE] it's like, yeah, sure. Can you [INAUDIBLE] we were so close, so it's not a big deal to go yeah sure.
[INAUDIBLE] like, I just need to run by.
>> Kim Shaw: I may just [INAUDIBLE] I need just women, [INAUDIBLE] yeah, sure, so it's super, it's super handy. When people think this is a farm, it's gonna be way out some place, I'm like, no it's not way out. People always get here early and are like, my gosh it's so close.
It's like, yeah it is, that's pretty cool. And this is getting closer to [INAUDIBLE] now than it was our old house. It cost. So it really it worked out. [INAUDIBLE]
What do you think about farming cuz it works and and at this poin we are and that's part of the thing with this explained requirement.
Anybody who doesn't have three acres is not farming in Charlotte with the [INAUDIBLE]. So I just I think it should be I think there's a balance there and it ought to be a money thing [INAUDIBLE]. Let's say that you're doing I don't know $10,000 an acre, then in the who gives a ****, if you acre or two acres or three acres or whatever.
It does, because I also object to people who are farming for fun for hobby, it's like [INAUDIBLE] prices that are ridiculous because they're just selling stuff because they've got extra. That's a difficult thing to contend with. But if you make that a requirement, then it's like, okay, and I think it evens it up, it would allow people to [INAUDIBLE] I mean, three acres of land is a bunch of money.
I mean it really is, you know.
>> Nick Kane: Especially Charlotte.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, people here in the depths of despair of the collapse of the real estate market. [SOUND] We sold our house to Concoswell, for I mean next to nothing. That house [INAUDIBLE] than we were paying. We bought this house in January and we paid that other mortgage all the way through November, two mortgages.
I just looked that house up which I shouldn't have but it's worth now twice what we sold it for, twice, I'm like holy ****. But the good thing is we got this for hardly anything. But it is really expensive, I mean that acre, 1.2 acres down there which is actually a separate parcel, but if you look up this house on the GIS you won't see that.
But that has gone now for tax value, we bought it for 19,000 and the tax value is 49,000.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah and we don't get any break on that. I mean we just, I mean it's crazy. It's outrageous but it's a big difference from what we should be able to get some kind of break on it and it's farm land.
I don't know of any [INAUDIBLE] You know of any break, tell her.
>> Nick Kane: All right. [INAUDIBLE] The council, maybe.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, I mean for sure.
>> Kim Shaw: It would be nice to, to see that kind of you people think we get all kinds of tax, Breaks, subsidies and ****.
It's like, that's hilarious, no we don't.
>> Nick Kane: Is it only the bigger farms towards outer counties that have any breaks like that?
>> Kim Shaw: Subsidy crops are not food crops. They're commodity crops, soybeans, corn, vegetables, they don't have subsidies for vegetables. To get other stuff, different counties have different requirements for what is farmed.
In other counties, I mean it could be as many as ten acres, it's certainly a lot more than three acres, and I don't know all the ins and outs now we've waited. Vehicles, all that kind of stuff, but it's, you know, it's a whole kinda thing. But it would be nice to see, you know, some kind of tax break, just on this land would be you pretty cool, you know.
I mean the USDA grant that we got [INAUDIBLE] was cool. I mean, it's $9,000, but it's not free money, you have to show what is the income.
>> Nick Kane: Yeah, [LAUGH].
>> Kim Shaw: So yeah we have to pay taxes on it. So it's not, you know, here's nine grand [SOUND].
It's like, here's nine grand, and then the IRS is like. What [INAUDIBLE] with that nine grand? [LAUGH] No, no [INAUDIBLE]. I'm like my god, really? So.
>> Nick Kane: Was the barren taking a hit with the recent land reevaluation?
>> Kim Shaw: No, the land reevaluation hit was that down there.
>> Nick Kane: The land down there?
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, that went up, whatever that was, $30,000, yeah. And then the land that this house sits on, that's the hit. So I don't know, it depends what the property taxes come back at so I don't know. I don't know with the kind of hit loss we'd take in terms of property taxes, so we'll see.
>> Nick Kane: Do you see that as a bigger future problem later on?
>> Kim Shaw: I mean, I do see it as a bigger problem being this close in. And you know, I mean, this is, I mean, this is, you know, people think, well, I mean it is the hood I guess?
And I don't know if it will stay the hood forever. But, if ever this does come up, you know, if somebody sells all these rental properties, and I don't know, I mean, that would be huge. We couldn't, I mean, if this property value just goes insane, I mean, it would just be outrageous.
Cuz I mean, like in a big city who the **** would farm three acres, five minutes, five miles from bucket. I mean, nobody would do that, because the land would be worth so much, you'd sell it. Which is why there aren't real urban farms in big cities, because if somebody comes along.
I mean, you saw that Paul family farm just sold for $21 million, for whatever, 11 acres. That's $2 million an acre. You don't think for a second if somebody offered me $2 billion dollars for that acre down there, I wouldn't be like, see ya, ****? Bye bye, packing it up.
>> Nick Kane: That's a lot of miniature horses for you.
>> Kim Shaw: That's a lot of miniature horses down at the beach now, we're not even in Charlotte any more we're too middle. Yeah, I'm the **** out of here so. And it's hard to, you know, and it it's hard to say to people why would you do that?
It's like are you kidding me? Like you'd be crazy not to. I mean I think about that at Brent sometimes, I'm like God almighty that property of his up the side of I-85, I mean.
>> Kim Shaw: I mean that probably's got it worth a **** fortune, you know? But, that's the thing, people love the idea of this, and the idea of urban farming and all that.
>> Kim Shaw: Do they love it enough to when this property is worth a half a million dollars or whatever to be like, since you're urban farming, we're gonna give you the tax break, you know? Did they love it that much, or are they okay for this to be packed up and made into a sub-development, and we'll just get our stuff from you know, Stanley County, or whatever other you know?
I mean that's the thing.
>> Nick Kane: So, you'd have to really love it to stay in when someone offers you that much money, really?
>> Kim Shaw: I don't know, you'd have to be out of your **** mind to stay, I mean you really would. I mean it would just be,
>> Kim Shaw: I mean, unless you have some sort of like really deep sentimentality, you know if it was family land. You know, something like that. Yeah then maybe, but otherwise you'd be crazy to do it, I mean, you'd be absolutely insane not to go, give me the money. You know, in my dreams it'd be great to have like a farm conservation easement here.
And like, this is all that can be done with this, but when Ron and I go to sell this, who's going to buy this and farm it? I mean, truly would we even be able to sell this [INAUDIBLE], you know, I don't know, in this neighborhood? I mean, I don't know.
>> Nick Kane: Would do you think about the development around here is almost a death spell for probably future [INAUDIBLE].
>> Kim Shaw: I think there has to be incentives, there has to be, well I don't know, I mean honestly,
>> Kim Shaw: It's just kind of the way it is, I think that the more your property is worth, is it being illogical to keep it to farm it, when it's worth so much money to turn over in the development, I mean, I don't know those guys at Whole Family Farm, but $21 million by will buy you a **** ton of land out in the middle of nowhere.
I mean you can live like a star in South Carolina for $21 million, I mean, holy **** [INAUDIBLE]. What is the incentive of urban farming, except do people like it? People like idea [INAUDIBLE] they love the idea of this, a farm in a city? How charming, that's so cute [INAUDIBLE].
But, I mean, how much do you love it, you know, really? Do they love it enough to [INAUDIBLE] since we've started. [INAUDIBLE]
$3 a pound, that's it. It's absolutely insane. So when you're looking at that, [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah [INAUDIBLE] 12 years ago [INAUDIBLE] paying a lot **** less than you're paying now.
And in another 12 years what's your tuition gonna cost? I mean you know, but it's still $3 for a pound of tomatoes, it makes no sense, it's crazy.
>> Nick Kane: [INAUDIBLE] Rectify that soon?
>> Kim Shaw: I don't see how, I mean, that's what people are getting for it, it's really crazy.
I mean, and I don't know how to change [INAUDIBLE]. I think that once Charlotte gets bigger, I think that things will change. But I also think a lot of other things are gonna have to happen. When I first moved to Charlotte and I was working for a catering company in like 99 and in 2000 as a lead server at Kate and Company I was making $16 an hour, that was almost 20 years ago.
Like nobody, wages haven't changed so I can't really ask you for more that three bucks for the damn tomato when you're still working as a **** catering company probably for $14 an hour now. You know, wages have to come up, all that ****, I mean my god we are gonna to have to start drinking if we are going to be talking about that.
>> Nick Kane: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Kim Shaw: [LAUGH] For sure, I mean all of that has to change you can't ask people, you know, that's why places like Walmart exists because you still buy **** $2 Well, a T-shirt and I have some of those T-shirts, can you buy? That's the same, it's really crazy.
>> Nick Kane: Think Costco hasn't changed their prices for those [INAUDIBLE] operation, you have an in house operation that with like that.
>> Kim Shaw: [LAUGH] Yeah, right, exactly yeah.
>> Nick Kane: So what are your thoughts on the I mean, do you see this, I know I asked you something similar. But is this you're gonna have to fight with the city council for breaks?
Or is it just something eventually that's gonna go away?
>> Kim Shaw: I mean, I think breaks would be nice.
>> Kim Shaw: But I think in a larger way people are gonna have to understand that they're gonna have to pay more for food. And I think it's really hard to ask people to pay more for food when wages haven't changed.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, the system is just not set up for that.
>> Kim Shaw: I mean, food should be more expensive, I mean, when I was in college, there was a $0.99 burger at McDonald's. I remember it, cuz we used to get Liftly Pennerly's to go get it. It was good, it had like a cheese sauce something, **** good, you can still get it a God damn, I mean, [INAUDIBLE].
I mean, how the **** is that possible [INAUDIBLE] I have no idea, but I mean it should be [INAUDIBLE]. The college that I went to when I was up there when I won the 17,000 is now 46,000, but the burger is still nice [INAUDIBLE] that's the fundamental problem.
>> Nick Kane: I think the price would reflect the [INAUDIBLE]
>> Kim Shaw: I mean, it really does, I mean, I think that we're growing just as good as stuff we did ten years ago, people are happy with cheap food, people love cheap food. And it's weird, people love cheap food, but when they're out, they'll pay $3.25 for a gun Coke and it's like, wait?
What account that's not even [INAUDIBLE] entree are sort of the same, now, your crap cocktail is at $14, it's like hold on [INAUDIBLE] you get a well plate for $5 [INAUDIBLE].
So it's like what the hell, so ten years ago you get a basket of bread with your food, you probably get a salad with your entree.
That's gone away. So that's the way restaurants were able to do and when they're be like and go around things. I mean, you know, really good restaurants. Nobody serves a **** filet anymore, it's all different cuts of meat, it's just, unless you go into a steak house, it's a much much different approach, the proteins aren't as big.
Unless you're going somewhere where that's just their thing. But portions are smaller, there are a lot of tasting menus, so you sort of think that you are getting kind of less. And it's like you get three of the tasting things and they were all $12 it's like, okay, I guess, I got a $36 entree.
But it didn't seem that bad when I was ordering it, so. God, I could just go on forever about this **** [LAUGH] there's no solution!
>> Nick Kane: Any final remarks or closing thoughts on urban farming or anything really?
>> Kim Shaw: Or anything? [LAUGH]
>> Nick Kane: Not all anything, but something related to this.
>> Kim Shaw: [LAUGH] You know it's a good life, I mean, it is in the sense of I am my own boss. I mean, at this time of the year, I'm right now, sowing that's my thing, sowing. I made all the aprons for Stanley and I made Paul's apron that he just wore at the Charleston Food and Wine.
So it's pretty handy to have some other revenue stream at this time of year while we're waiting to get started, but, yeah, I'm really glad that I don't have a boss and that is really cool. I break up, I'm here with my three dogs, and I'm doing stuff that I wanna do.
So it's a big trade off. I mean, it beats working for a country that where all you're doing is kissing a lot of really rich people's **** all day long. I like being at that planner, but it's like that. That's a lot ass-kissing and as you can see I'm like, maybe not my forte [LAUGH].
So, yeah, people are cool with not having a bunch of money [INAUDIBLE] not having a bunch of money.
>> Kim Shaw: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely a trade-off, but I think all of [INAUDIBLE] participate in everything, but I mean, it definitely is an effort.
>> Kim Shaw: [INAUDIBLE]
it's all good, it's all good.
>> Nick Kane: All right, all right, thank you.[tabby title='Captioned Audio'] [tabbyending]
|0:00:14||Set up/Empty air|
|0:01:03||Mark Robinson introduction and brief recollection of buying Tega Hills Farm|
|0:03:57||Mindy Robinson introduction and growing up on a farm|
|0:05:43||Newly married; “Wouldn’t it be cool to own a farm?”|
|0:07:13||Coming in at the forefront of interest in eating local food|
|0:07:59||Greenhouses as year-round income; Mindy persuades Matthews Community Farmer’s Market to remain open throughout the year|
|0:10:20||Types of farms in the surrounding Charlotte area and marketability|
|0:12:00||Customers and chefs like to know the people behind the produce|
|0:13:52||How Mark and Mindy met and came to Fort Mill, SC|
|0:16:31||Their process behind finding a farm to purchase|
|0:20:33||Attending NC State conference on aquaculture|
|0:21:05||Original pitch to community farming at Baxter Village|
|0:21:55||Figuring out how to run a greenhouse|
|0:23:44||Tega Hills Farm before their purchase|
|0:27:57||Growing tomatoes year round|
|0:29:38||Experimenting with growing and selling lettuce|
|0:31:10||Diversifying crops and finding niche markets|
|0:32:48||Micro greens and becoming profitable; a chef approaches|
|0:36:42||Growing and selling squash blossoms, edible flowers|
|0:38:27||Growing, selling, and delivering a better product|
|0:40:21||Total greenhouses and farm employees|
|0:44:15||Restaurants buying from Tega Hills Farm|
|0:46:52||Never advertised; all word-of-mouth|
|0:50:27||Not growing certain types of produce because of overall profitability|
|0:51:27||Courting higher-end, “white table cloth” restaurants|
|0:52:57||Production volume and hiring the right people|
|0:54:51||Small farm; can’t sustain if employees are paid a living wage ($15/hr)|
|0:58:48||Urbanization, grocery stores, and impact on Tega Hills Farm|
|1:04:14||Tega Hills Farmstand|
|1:05:09||Deciding what to sell at each market|
|1:08:07||Selling across state lines from SC to NC|
|1:10:34||Food Safety Modernization Act|
|1:16:05||Inspector exemptions, SC vs. NC|
|1:17:13||Dealing with seasonal weather and climate change with greenhouses|
|1:26:56||Greenhouses mitigate weather issues, but do not isolate from them|
|1:30:14||Where will Tega Hills Farms be in the next few years? Goals, ambitions, etc.|
|1:30:42||Improve the Farmstand and increase year round sales|
|1:32:22||The emotional thoughts on continuing the farm after Mark and Mindy pass|
|1:36:25||Getting to know their community neighbors in hopes someone will continue the legacy|
|1:37:41||Mark wants to try growing artichokes|
|1:41:07||Mark and Mindy: A good partnership|
|1:41:34||Staff is an extended family. Tega Hills Farm is a family that cares about each other|
|1:43:56||Conclusion and closing remarks; TegaHillsFarm.com|
>> Mike Gregory: All right, so this is Mike Gregory, I'm a graduate student at UNC Charlotte in the History Department. And I'm here with Mark and Mindy Robinson, the owners of Tigga Hill Farms in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It's about a two-acre farm and they provide produce at Matthews Community Farmers Market and Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, as well as a couple of food hubs and grocery stores in the local area, as well as Charlotte.
Happy to interview the two of you today. So we like to, let's start with Mark, since he won the democratic process to figure out who was going to introduce themselves first. So if he could just tell us your name and a little bit about your background and we'll go from there.
>> Mark Robinson: My name is Mark Robinson.
>> Mark Robinson: My background, I grew up on a farm in Ohio, that's my main farming experience. And through a convoluted,
>> Mark Robinson: Journey of education and jobs which would include college student services and working for a healthcare company. To being a systems administrator, just before we had the opportunity to buy the farm here.
So working with software and then company wanted to move. They wanted us go to Baltimore, we said no. And stopped by and talk to the owners of this property at the time in 1999. And this, [COUGH] half of those two acres was empty. And we offered, we wanted to see if we could lease it from them.
>> Mark Robinson: And right off the bat, they said no, but we'll sell you the whole thing. So we ended up on March 15th, 1999, so we're three days past 20 years. And we've bought the farm, which is not, [LAUGH] is not untrue. So anyway, we bought the farm, really struggled hard for the next four years.
Part of that had to do with getting business and having a business experience. Being under finance which is almost always the case. And we were hit with, that we were hit by that fall, natural gas prices went from $0.50 a therm to $0.75. So it increased by,
>> Mark Robinson: What-
>> Mindy Robinson: Half a can as much.
>> Mark Robinson: Half a can as much. And that really, we were, at the time, they were growing all-hydroponic tomatoes. And the big thing was to have ripe tomatoes by March 15th. And it just, the amount of heat that takes to raise them through the winter times is just phenomenal.
>> Mike Gregory: Yep.
>> Mark Robinson: Anyway, that's how we got started here. There's a variety of other things many can mention, but that's a good introduction to me.
>> Mike Gregory: Cool.
>> Mark Robinson: Mindy, tell us a little bit about yourself.
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, I grew up in Northeast Tennessee, and I grew up on the edge of my grandfather's farming at the time.
By the time I was growing up, he only had about 100 acres and he grew mostly cattle. That's also tobacco country, so he had some tobacco. And I grew up with my older brothers more involved with his farm because they were required to do things like sucker and top tobacco and things like that.
My dad did not farm with his father, but he was still right there and available to help his dad when he needed help. So I guess I just grew up in a very rural area. We had a big garden, there were six children in my family, I knew the difference between a bloom and a piece of fruit and a root and which one went which direction.
So I think Mark and I both appreciated having grown up in that kind of community. I know Mark talks about when he was growing up, his dad would sort of loan him and his brother out to the neighboring farms to help when it was time to hay. And my brothers did the same thing, they just sort of made the route and the expectation was, everybody came to your house.
The day was your turn to hay, and no money was exchanged, it was just free child-labor.
>> Mark Robinson: Lot of awesome lunches.
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] Yeah, you got fed well. So I was used to that way of living. I grew up working in everybody's gardens. Again, my mom would let me out and I'd go help my aunt.
And then my aunts would come up and help us. Or, we'd call each other when snapping [INAUDIBLE] will just come down and help. And so I just understood, so as Mark and I courted, and were married and nearly started in our marriage life, we always had that idea, wouldn't it be cool to have a farm?
And be able to raise our children in that atmosphere of knowing that what they contributed really made a difference in the day to day life of our family. So when Mark's job was sort of in between jobs and his parents had money to loan us, and this opportunity came up.
We were already mindset-wise oriented toward, let's have a farm. But around here it's sort of hard to find farmland unless you live way far out or something like that.
>> Mark Robinson: Even 20 years ago.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, even 20 years ago.
>> Mark Robinson: Springs had bought up.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Most everything here.
>> Mindy Robinson: Sure, well it's just people are developing it to live in, but they're not developing it to farm on. If you wanna farm around here you usually go to the other side of the lake, and go to Clover. But again that's family land usually, so it's rare that you're gonna buy a big enough piece of land to have a farm that is actually financially viable as a farm.
I think a lot of people over there tend to farm on the side. And I saw that a lot when I was growing up, I had I had friends whose parents maybe kept cattle or would run tobacco or would cut hay or something but they had day jobs, too.
So it wasn't so much. There were a few people who just farmed, but a lot of people, it was sort of just a side income. That was how I grew, too. So for us, we didn't realize it at the time how novel we were gonna be. But we were sort of at the front end of people getting interested in eating local food.
The CSA model was just starting to sorta come out and get some press and things like that. So for instance, when we first started going to farmer's markets, the farmer's markets were only open spring, summer, and fall. They would close by Thanksgiving. And so that left and it wouldn't open until March, so that's December, January, February.
That's 4 or 5 months in the winter when it's difficult to have a market. Therefore, what's the point trying to grow something through the winter? So it was, anyway, it was, but now both of the markets we go to are open.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, when we were the-
>> Mindy Robinson: It's changed quite a bit.
>> Mark Robinson: And we intentionally looked at greenhouses. The challenge all year round it comes. He didn't want to be bound, it's either wealth or Nothing at all, and a part of Mindy was actually a lot of the driving force [LAUGH]
for Matthew's to go year round because our customers knew that Mindy had a product.
And so even when it didn't go year round, many would drive over. Her folks would meet up with her on the market grounds and they'd make a drop, and that was how the winter market started finally. They saw that there was enough farmers doing season extension work, work meaning-
>> Mindy Robinson: High tunnels.
>> Mark Robinson: High tunnels.
>> Mindy Robinson: Low tunnels, anything that you can cut.
>> Mark Robinson: Covering their crops, being able to get two months more of production, which you're trying to fill four months, that's not too bad. So I give Mindy the credit for seeing Matthews really go ahead and open up for winter.
>> Mindy Robinson: Desperation, [LAUGH] we need more income, so make the push.
>> Mike Gregory: No, it's great. And even we live right across the street from the Matthews Community Farmers' Market. And I've grown up in the area pretty much all my life. We came here, in the Charlotte area, back in 1987, and we used to frequent Matthews.
There wasn't anything in the area still. It was Matthews and the closest mall at the time was Monroe. And so if you lived in the Charolotte area, you still had to kind of go to some of these markets. A lot of the grocery stores had not really picked up in the area.
And the Matthews Community Farmer's Market, it was very seasonal. Sometimes they were only open two and three hours during the morning on weekends. And even still today they'll run year-round but you still see a lot of more conventional seasonal farming in the area. And so I guess that's-
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, and it's interesting, too, because I mean, we're talking about agriculture as a whole, here's a huge variety of the kinds of farms that you can be. So if you drive out of this area, and let's think about this, not, how can I say? I didn't grow up in this area, so I'm speaking about it just from what I've observed.
But there are a lot of what we would call a commodity farmer, which are great. People who have acres and acres of land and they grow acres and acres of corn, or acres and acres of fill-in-the-blank, whatever grows well around here. And that is a different farming model than a market farmer, which is what we are, which is people who grow maybe more variety, maybe not as much acreage.
But your intention is to sell it as closer as possible to the end user and not have so many middle people, mostly with the idea of capturing more of the profit on that. So for instance, we sell our tomatoes pretty much comparably priced to what someone's gonna buy in the grocery store.
I don't go to the market with rock bottom tomato prices because I'm my own middle person. I don't sell it to someone who marks it up who sells it to someone else who marks it up, who gets it to the grocery store. But I also don't have the economies of scale.
I don't have picking equipment. I don't have big trucks to move stuff around. I mean, when we walk around, you'll see it's wagons and buckets and what you can carry in your two hands kind of stuff, which on two acres is fine. We don't need a truck to drive from the back of the property to the front of the property with what we've just harvested.
That would be ridiculous. But I think the other thing that we hear from our customers at the market, and even from the chef customers we have, is they really do like knowing the face and the people behind the produce. And that's again, sort of us not knowing at the time, but riding the wave of that locally grown interest.
That focus, we didn't invent that. That just sort of, well, I know a few of the roots of that. But it just sort of has become something and we happen to be at the front end of it. So by the time that became a buzzword, you want to buy locally grown food, we were like, we've been doing that for ten years.
Here we are, which was a good place to be because we had made a lot of the mistakes that you make as a farmer first out. We sort of figured out bookkeeping and keeping up with records and things like that so we were a little bit more stable.
So it made us viable. Whereas I've seen a few other farms have started and stopped in those 20 years for various reasons.
>> Mike Gregory: Also you mentioned getting to know, you have your buyers get to know you as farmers, kind of a benefit of having a smaller farm, too.
You have a little bit more of an opportunity to be right out there in front.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: So I have a question. I wanna backtrack just a little bit here. And I know you purchased the farm in 1999. And both of you come from very different states.
Mindy, you're from Tennessee and Mark, you're from Ohio. How did you end up in Fort Mill, South Carolina?
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mike Gregory: Give me a little bit of background on that. I wanna hear it so much.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, so we met in Montreat, North Carolina. And so Mark's ten years older than I am.
Full disclosure here. So he was working at a college and I was a graduating student at the time that we met. So that's not too weird, but anyway. And we end up sort of catching each other's eye and within about a year and a half we got married.
Yeah, cuz we met in that summer and we were married by the next summer. So we dated across the mountain because he was working in Montreat, and I had gone back home to live with my parents in Tennessee and continue my education. So anyway, we got married. And then we went through several changes following sort of his jobs.
And our last place before we came here we lived in Boone. And I really liked Boone, but his company actually was bought and sold. Well, it's my company. But both of us were working for this company by this time in Boone, and they were bought by a company that wanted to move them down off the mountain and relocate to Charlotte.
So that's how we got to this area in general. And when we took that move, Mark continued working for the company and I was expecting our second child by that time. So I took a step out of corporate America, such as it was, and stayed home with the children.
And as we were looking in this area, someone that we knew in Boone said, well, you ought to look into Fort Mill because we're from South Carolina and they have really good schools there. And it's just over the line. So that's how we actually ended up in Fort Mill as opposed to Charlotte.
We just knew we had children coming up and wanted to have good schools for them.
>> Mike Gregory: [CROSSTALK] I know people who work in the Charlotte area-
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, I work down here.
>> Mike Gregory: And commute from Fort Mill.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and the taxes are better. At the time, we weren't really thinking about that as much.
But sure, we're happy about it now, but-
>> Mike Gregory: Gas prices are certainly better [LAUGH].
>> Mindy Robinson: Gas prices are better, you don't have to drive across the state line to get your gas. You just go down around the corner. So our son, who at the time was 3, will be 28 this year, so all of our children have been grown up, gone to school here and been in this area.
They consider this home, for sure. So that's basically how. It was a job move that got us to this area. And then so we moved here in 94, and so five years later in 99, I was working with the same company, but that's when the next buyout happened.
And they wanted to shift the corporate location to Baltimore. And we said, we're not going there, so stay here.
>> Mike Gregory: So when you came here and you decided you were gonna look to get into farming, were there any other locations that you looked at purchasing prior to settling on this one?
Or did you really just find this one and have your eye on it?
>> Mindy Robinson: We drove all around. Do you remember, we used to go out on weekends in the afternoons, we'd go over-
>> Mark Robinson: We used to wear the roads out over the past.
>> Mindy Robinson: Because part of, again, sort of the perfect storm, [LAUGH] Mark had six months of severance, if you can imagine that.
He had a month for every [LAUGH] year he worked for the company, which I don't think that happens anymore. So we had this really sweet spot of full income, full benefits, and he didn't have work to go to. I mean, it was, so we took that time. And his parents had just sold their business in Florida and they had money to invest.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, I did it. I had worked with my father who started his own corporation. And I worked with him for about two years, and then it had built up and done very well for itself. And ultimately somebody came and bought his business. He made a good bit of money, not,
>> Mark Robinson: Nothing outrageous, but then he made the offer to myself, and my brother, and my sister that if any of us wanted to do a business, they would entertain a pitch.
>> Mindy Robinson: So we looked at different business opportunities in the area. Mark had had experience. His uncle had a billiard company and made billiard tables, so he had experience in that.
And we sort of looked around Charlotte, and thought, well, with this market, was that something we wanna do? We just entertained different ideas. And then we sort of honed in on the idea, because when we first moved here, we tried to find a piece of property that was big enough to have a small farm with it.
And again, the normal neighborhoods around here don't have that kind of. You would have to be out in the country for it. And at the time, it was a little bit more of a price point than we wanted to just have a house on. So now, we had this opportunity, if we could find the right piece of land or whatever, to maybe have a small farm.
And I'll have to say this. When we got married, the first magazine we ever-
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Bought a subscription to was Mother Earth News. I mean, it's just sort of was in our, and I don't wanna say it was in our blood, but it was just like we were oriented to.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, and we give them an idea in the realm of history what we bought. We had the whole, shoot-
>> Mindy Robinson: Foxfire.
>> Mark Robinson: We bought the whole Foxfire library.
>> Mindy Robinson: Foxfire, I don't know if you're familiar with that, because, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, I mean, we lived in the Foxfire books.
>> Mindy Robinson: So definitely a romantic view. We knew from working in it that it's hard work, but we probably still had slightly idealistic views of it. So all of that being said, we looked all over. We went as far as Kings Mountain looking at different, and of course, this was in the days before the Internet.
So you would just get the newspaper and see land for sale, and we'd go trekking out to look at it. And we looked at some old greenhouses that were over down 49, 274, down through there. And we scoped those out. And a lot of that property, it was already rezoned for commercial, so it was way out of our price on it.
And Mark had been back, I didn't even realize, lots of times people drop by these greenhouses and don't even see him. Because it's a straightaway on the road and people pick up their speed and they focus down the road and they don't even notice them. You'll say what, I live over there where those greenhouse are.
And they'll say, there's greenhouses on [INAUDIBLE] road? And these are people who've lived around here for years and they've never been paid attention to them. And so we'd seen them, and came over and talked to the owners at the time and sort of got to know them a little bit.
And again, offered that and they said, we'll just sell you the farm. So that just sort of changed our orientation.
>> Mike Gregory: So was there a time maybe where you were looking at more conventional farming or were you always looking for greenhouses for-
>> Mark Robinson: We actually went to a conference that NC State puts on to do aquaculture.
>> Mindy Robinson: In Newbern, yeah, we- In New Bern. So we thought about a lot of different things, I would say. I was trying to think, I also remember going over and getting in touch with the people at Springs and making, not a full pitch, but we talked to them about what they would lease us property for.
But again, I think that was the idea of doing greenhouse stuff.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, Baxter was just starting to be built back then, and we had tied into this idea of a community farm, or CSA. [COUGH] But wondering if we could,
>> Mark Robinson: If they would set aside a green area or whatever to farm for the Baxter community.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and we talked to the guy who was the manager of the Peach Stand at the time.
>> Mark Robinson: Right.
>> Mindy Robinson: And talked to him about, cuz he had land in this area, and about maybe setting up. But I remember distinctly, we had the idea of a greenhouse even then, because his wife was concerned about the view out of her kitchen window, if she'd be looking at a greenhouse.
And so anyway, I don't know really how we got the idea, other than, I think, well, I'll say Mark is very, he's like the mechanical, I can do it kind of guy. And I think the idea of having something that's year-round is nice in agriculture, because you got a little bit a buffer against crop failure.
Because you can always do something in the winter. You don't have to get all your money in that little spring and summer window. But I think for Mark, it didn't occur to him that he couldn't figure out how to run a greenhouse from a mechanical kind of point of view.
And it didn't occur to me that he couldn't either, so sure, we can do that. [LAUGH]
>> Mike Gregory: Trial by fire is a little fun.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, I mean, we didn't even know it was trial by fire [LAUGH].
>> Mark Robinson: We actually went and took a course on raising greenhouse tomatoes.
>> Mindy Robinson: But we did that after we bought the farm.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so we were already bought in by then.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: Where did you take the course?
>> Mindy Robinson: It's in Ohio.
>> Mike Gregory: Northeast Ohio.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, there's a company called Crop King, and they-
>> Mark Robinson: They still sell packages.
>> Mindy Robinson: They sell greenhouse packages. They'll set you up with all of the internal workings of a greenhouse. They'll do training. They have a certain marketing program, if you wanna buy into it. And so, they do sort of a three-day weekend to try to pitch their products, and that kinda stuff.
But it's also a pretty good, a little tiny taste of the hands-on that it takes to grow things in a greenhouse. So we just went up and took that course.
>> Mike Gregory: So what was Teagan Hills Farm like prior to your purchase of it? And maybe how did you change the model around or what kind of produce do you do now maybe that they didn't before?
Just talk to me about that.
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, the farm was originally started in the early 70s, and I can't give you an actual date, because we weren't here to know it then. And it was started by a gentleman who was a chemist at Celanese. And my understanding is that he lived in Charlotte, of course, there's a Celanese or there was a Celanese plant in Rock Hill.
And the story that was handed down to us, this is good oral history, right?
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Is that he was on a flight back from Brazil And he picked up one of those inflight magazines, and it had an articles about hydroponic tomatoes in it. And if you think, everybody always says, I've seen something like this at Disney World.
So, whatever, Epcot Center, is that what that is?
>> Mark Robinson: Yep, that's it.
>> Mindy Robinson: And so, there was an article there, and this is my intersection with that. I think with him having been a chemist, he was probably intrigued by the chemistry of hydroponics because the idea with that is that you are mimicking ideal soil conditions and soil nutrients.
And so somehow or another he acquired this land and put up the three original greenhouses and some of the sheds. And there's a couple of sheds that still exist from that. And he evidently had some connections with folks in Charlotte because he would grow an early spring crop of tomatoes.
As Mark said, he would have them picking by the middle of March. And he mostly sold into the Reid's grocery store market, and at the time that was over on,
>> Mark Robinson: What is that?
>> Mindy Robinson: It was on Providence at that time, and it's different, it's a slightly different location now.
And I don't know if he just knew those folks or if he just went and pitched it to them.
>> Mark Robinson: And what was it, Black Cockerel or who's the hardware? [CROSSTALK]
>> Mindy Robinson: Providence Hardware, he also would sell some tomatoes to Providence Hardware. So he had those two major accounts who would buy in bulk.
And then he, somehow, developed out here a base of customers who would commit. They committed verbally, not with their money. [LAUGH] They would commit at the beginning of the spring to stopping every week and buying either a 5 or a $10 bag of tomatoes. So that let him sort of know where his overage was gonna go.
The main customers were the Reid's grocery and the hardware store, and then, these people here, the farm, he committed to having enough for them to pick up their $5 bag. And that was just, it was a little community event, they'd stop either Friday after dinner, Saturday morning, and pick up their bag and pay for it.
Then, what he didn't do is he didn't collect the money upfront. Now, as a business now, I would collect all the money [LAUGH] up front because we tried to run with that model for a couple of years and part of it the customer base was literally aging and dying.
And so I know I had at least two or three instances where somebody would come up in the spring and say, well, daddy died over the winter, but could I still get his $10 bag every week? They wanted [LAUGH] this legacy of the $10 bag. But eventually, for us, that model didn't work because not enough people actually came and I didn't have any money.
They had no skin in the game. So if they didn't stop one weekend and I held their bags, it hurt me but it didn't hurt them. [SOUND] I need to take this real quick.
>> Mike Gregory: Go right ahead.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, hi Betsy.
>> Mark Robinson: So we actually ended up with everything that was growing here on the farm at the time was hydroponic tomatoes.
It was a mono crop, I mean-
>> Mindy Robinson: So, but what we tried first was, so the second owner bought that and used it definitely as just a secondary income. Her husband had a full time job and he had benefits. And Mr. Waller, the original guy, was still a chemist.
And this was definitely just a secondary, almost a hobby for him, I would say. And so, when we bought it, we bought it with the idea of having year-round crops and transitioning it to becoming profitable enough for our family to make their living at it, to support our family with it.
And so the first thing that we did was try to grow tomatoes year round.
>> Mark Robinson: We were living in Tiggy at that time, so.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so that first crop, in fact that first year usually the woman who owned it before us would have taken that tomato vines down in the first of July.
And she would have probably not even come back over to this property for three or four months cuz she was done with it for a while. And then she would start it up again in November with planting the seeds and doing transplants and things. But we push that first crop later into the year, trying to see, can we sell them, will people still stop and get them?
Well, part of the problem you run into is everybody's Uncle Joe has free tomatoes starting in July around here. That's when the field tomatoes are coming in, and the vines are getting old. There's a good reason to take them out than if you're doing that model. So anyway, we tried the next couple of years to just grow tomatoes and struggled from the point of view of not growing them well, having markets that weren't really reliable.
So we would have tomatoes that we had to throw away because nobody bought them. As Mark said earlier, trying to grow them through the winter and have them to harvest during the winter is really difficult. Tomatoes just like to have their their roots at 65 degrees and that's really expensive if you're heating with natural gas and a greenhouse to try to keep.
Heat rises [LAUGH] so it may be hot up there, but down at the root zone where they need it, it's not gonna be. And so I would say within the first 18 months you started experimenting with lettuce and troughs. Is that accurate, do you think?
>> Mark Robinson: We would have had the PVC.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, in the- Gutters. In the gutters, yeah, in some sort of gutter system.
>> Mark Robinson: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so Mark pretty quickly started experimenting with growing lettuce in different kinds of systems. And lettuce is a cool weather crop, so it's good to grow during the fall, winter, and the spring.
Just as something extra to have to try to offer and, again, we were still thinking grocery store and people stopping to buy here. And we went to some farmers' markets. I know the first time I took lettuce to the farmers' market, I was only charging $1.25 a head, and somebody wanted two heads and she handed me $3.
And I didn't immediately give her $0.50, she said, don't worry about it. It's like, okay, and I just pulled all my signs in and change them to $1.50 a head. And put them back out [LAUGH] cuz I thought, obviously, I can sell them for $1 50 and that's not a problem.
We sell them for more than that now. But it was just sort of like learn as you go, what will the market sustain and we did so many different things. We've grown beans and peas and had another baby along the way and, anyway, this conversation could go lots of different directions at this point.
But that's basically, so we started with the tomatoes, thought that we were gonna be the tomato king and queen of this area. And within the first 18 months started diversifying and that became our new business models. To try to find niche markets that were not being met, but that we could fulfill because we have these greenhouses and we can grown things year round.
So as we would see things, and that's when like cooking shows became more popular, I think 20 years ago. You're a little bit younger than me, but there wasn't anything but maybe PBS and The Frugal Gourmet on television. But I know, Food Channel exploded.
>> Mark Robinson: [INAUDIBLE]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
>> Mark Robinson: [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah, but all this exploded and so you could see stuff that you've never seen before. It's like, well, can we grow that? So a few years into it, so I mark my time in my life by children being born [LAUGH] and major moves.
So we moved over here, put this house on this property in 2002, and our third child was born a few months later. And so, by the time Martha was born, we were still growing lettuce in NFT systems. Because I can remember having her in her baby backpack and the guys were harvesting it and bringing it in for us to pack it for the market.
I can remember that so that's that's why I have that picture in my head. But we were starting to transition within the next year after she was born, we moved to the deep tank. When we moved to the deep tank system with lettuce, which is a different way of growing it ,it's just more stable.
And the year that she was a baby, we started growing microgreens. So she's 16 now, so we've been growing the microgreens for about 16 years now this summer.
>> Mark Robinson: And that, microgreens gave us the opportunity to be truly profitable.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, because it gave us a product that, and the reason we started growing microgreens, so this is your story.
Mark was at, so by that time, that summer, we had been allowed, it was the first year we were vendors at the Matthews Market, because you have to apply early, and you get vetted and they come out and visit your farm and stuff like that. So, by then, we had lettuce, we had beans, we were growing cucumbers, we had squash.
We had several different kind of things to try to have like this diversity of produce. Part of the idea was somebody may stop for one thing at the market, but they'll buy other things. The other thing is if something dies, you've got other things that are not dying so you can sort of, it's a buffer.
Just like with any business and a varied product line, more than one kind of shirt on the rack.
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: And so Mark was at the Yorkmont Market, and I would load up and take things to the Matthews Market that spring and summer. And he was selling lettuce and beans and all the stuff.
And he had a chef stop and say hey, can you grow microbasil for me? I'm ordering it, I'm having to have it, pay to have it shipped in overnight. I pay just as much for shipping as it do for the product, and when I get here, it's no good, and I have to pay somebody to pick through it and get the bad stuff out of it so I can use half of what I've ordered.
Can you grow microbasil? And Mark said, well, I'll give it a try. So we had an acquaintance, another farmer who lived up in Cherryville, North Carolina, who was getting out of his greenhouse business and he had tried growing microgreens. I didn't even know what they were, but Mark knew what they were, and he had a lot of seed on hand that he sold us at a discounted price.
And Mark had some teenage guys who were working for him that summer who were real sharp intellectually, and so they set up trials. And they're like, per square inch, how much seed do we put on it? How long do we let it grow? [CROSSTALK] Different things, they grew it several different ways on these little, like two by two inch squares and sort of settled in a way to grow it that seemed to work best.
So about two months after that guy approached Mark, Mark still had his card. He called him up and went back in with a selection of microgreens. And they sat around and ate them and made an order. And he said, you ought to go talk to these, I think they gave him about five references.
They said you should go talk to these guys. They would be interested in microgreens from a local grower, and Mark went over to the mat store, still over there Kings Drive, or whatever that is. Cuz again, this is before smartphones, picked up, found a phonebook, found the address, and went and knocked on the back door of these different restaurants with the other samples that he had on hand, and just, and they ordered some stuff.
And that was the beginning of us having restaurant businesses. But restaurants gave us year round customers, and that was huge because we still had this gap in the fall, as far as our customers. And it gave us a year round product with microgreens cuz you can grow that year round if you get good at it.
And then over time, I would say it took about another year, to year and a half, the chefs would say, well, do you have anything else? And we'd say lettuce, tomatoes, or they would see us at the farmers market and they would stand there at the table and say, I didn't know I could get lettuce from you.
Do you have enough let us to bring it to the restaurant the next time you bring microgreens? Yes, we can do that. So, now microgreens are still about 50% of our restaurant sales, but the rest of it is lettuce and other produce that we grow.
>> Mark Robinson: And we have certain niche, the other solid commodity that we sell to-
>> Mike Gregory: [COUGH]
>> Mark Robinson: Restaurants are squash blossoms. We sell between eight and 10,000.
>> Mike Gregory: Wow.
>> Mark Robinson: Squash blossoms a year here.
>> Mindy Robinson: It's just a nice little extra.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and edible flowers.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: It's worth.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: The squash we grow, we have an heirloom Italian variety that actually produces that many blooms.
On a 40 foot row, in first part of April, [CROSSTALK] to the end of October, and it'll produce a ten thousand blooms, that about, and then we do edible flowers, and that generates comparable, about the same.
>> Mindy Robinson: For no more work than they are, it's a nice little extra, yeah.
So it's funny, from a business point of view, where do you make your profit? Well, if I took out squash blossoms, I wouldn't have that chunk, or if I took out this, I wouldn't have that chunk. And you can drill down and say, well, I don't make that much money on it, but in the end, you add up all those things and you get probability.
>> Mark Robinson: But what happens is with residents, microgreens are our anchor in these restaurants. And our services, we have been conscious, when we first starting out from the business model, these guys had been ordering from either the east or west coast to get microgreens. They would have to have them shipped in overnight.
They were paying over $16 a pound for a pound of beet microgreens, and we were basically offering them for half that amount. The shelf-life was double what they were getting for something that had been shipped overnight, so it was a better product. We were very conscientious. So the arrangement of, we delivered on Tuesdays when we first started out, hoping that, no, we delivered on Fridays when we first started out that folks who use their microgreens over the weekend, over the whole week.
We saw that they were trying to hold a product that wasn't holding, so we decided to add another delivery day. That immediately increased their sales by 20%. They're holding back from using them, and then we told them look, don't you order more than what four days can sustain?
>> Mindy Robinson: So most of our customers now order twice a week. They know they're gonna get it as fresh. They don't have to, like Mark said, they don't have to use less product to try and make it last for a week. Cuz they know they're gonna get another delivery, so they are a little bit more-
>> Mark Robinson: But then, with each little niche that we do, like squash blossoms, why we've been doing for years, other growers know we do it, and they have squash plants, why they're not doing squash blossoms? I have no idea.
>> Mindy Robinson: Because it's a pain to go out and pick them everyday.
I know exactly why they're not doing squash blossoms.
>> Mark Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: But anyway, when squash blossom season starts, that's when my bookkeeping. System usually takes a hit, because there's only so much time in the day.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: It's a little bit extra, it's not that much extra but it's enough, my margins.
>> Mike Gregory: You said you have how many green houses?
>> Mindy Robinson: I say five, one of those is technically a high tunnel, but we'll say it's a covered controlled environment structure, so essentially five.
>> Mike Gregory: So with all this demand and everything, I believe I remember you saying you have family members help out as well.
But you also do employ some help?
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: So about how many do you have working here, and what all kinda responsibilities are there?
>> Mindy Robinson: We have right now three full-time folks, and then we have, I'm adding up, I should know this better, Pat, and Jennifer, and Kerry.
And we have basically four part time folks who all together make up about another two. So about the equivalent of about five to five and a half what we would say FTE, full-time equivalency. And so over time we sort of have a microgreen team, which is two people.
One is a full-time, he's here all week and he can sort of keep an eye on things. And then the days we harvest and plant, he's very dedicated to that. And we have a lady who works with him, who harvests and packs the microgreens. So she's still here working today, because she's packing the microgreens right now for the orders.
And then I have another crew which I consider to be our lettuce crew, I've got sort of a lead full-time person. And then three part-time gals who work with her, who are harvesting and packing and getting it replanted. So that that whole process is getting taken care of.
And they also take care of the greens, things like arugula and kale, or anything that's a green. And then seasonally, which we're getting ready to start and add in and plant right now. Is we'll have peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes and we have a guy who is more Mark's maintenance assistant.
And in the season, he ends up doing more of what we call an agricultural, cultural war. So that's not necessarily harvesting, but it's things like checking for bugs, applying, we use organic pesticides. But applying pesticides as they're needed, making sure that the nutrients are right. And that the hydroponic tanks are heat [INAUDIBLE] Mark on that.
>> Mark Robinson: Well-trained [CROSSTALK]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and that's why in the tomatoes, especially, you have to twine the vines of the tomato plants up and clip them up. And you have to pull suckers, so those kinds of things, he's doing that, plus he's helping with the harvest. And then we end up in the summer, usually, hiring at least one or two more just summer employees.
To help with that extra production load, because we've got extra harvesting to do and extra packing for the market. So it's a base of about five and, it can swell to about six to seven full time equivalency. Just depending on how I can, it's like a puzzle, you just have to put it together as far as who's available and what they can do.
So I wouldn't have to lady the packed microgreens go and mix up feed for the nutrient feed, it's not her thing. But I could have the guy who's mixing up nutrient feed, if he had to, he could go pack microgreens. It just sort of depends on what people do well and what they're trained for.
So, for instance, I was gone, I went on a trip a couple weeks ago, of course, Mark was here. But I had to push out some of the stuff that I normally do onto my crew. Because things, where I sort of pick up the slack, I wasn't here to do it, so they had to do that.
>> Mike Gregory: Makes sense.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so if nobody shows up, then Mark and I get out and get going and that happens occasionally.
>> Mike Gregory: So with the microgreens and having a relationship with some of these restaurants, what sort of restaurants do you sell to?
>> Mindy Robinson: Well, let's see, we sell to Halcyon and Fern, these are like sister restaurants, we sell to Barringtons Good Food.
We sell to, Upstream and Mimosa, we sell to Fig Tree, we work with Legion Brewing, we work with Longview Country Club. And we work with Gaston Country Club, we have a couple of restaurants over towards Gastonia. One of them is called Lotus and one of them is called Jia, we work with Lily's, which is down here on 49.
We work with the Flipside restaurants here in Fort Mill, let's see Wolfgang Puck in the Phillips Place area, the Reeds grocery stores. I'm going back down, there's two Pure Pizza restaurants in town, there's one on Central. And one up at the Seventh Street Market, we work with them, The Asbury, King's Kitchen, Bentley's on 27th.
Also in that Seventh Street market area, there's an Orrman's Cheese and they make sandwiches and stuff, they use our salad greens.
>> Mark Robinson: Luna?
>> Mindy Robinson: Luna's Living Kitchen, let's see, Bistro La Bon which is down Central Avenue. We work with some of the caterers like and Best Impressions, they will get from us.
There's two Foxcroft wine shops, there's one in Dilworth and one over in the South Park area, so we work with them.
>> Mindy Robinson: And New South, there's an Oak Steakhouse in the South Park area we work with them.
>> Mark Robinson: Barcelona?
>> Mindy Robinson: Barcelona Wine Bar, just started, you know this better than I do, I'm the one who takes the orders.
>> Mark Robinson: Let's see.
>> Mindy Robinson: So I work with them.
>> Mark Robinson: Down to on the river?
>> Mindy Robinson: Which river are you talking about?
>> Mark Robinson: The river down here.
>> Mindy Robinson: The Pump House, yeah, we work with the Pump House, and they have a sister restaurant called Napa on Providence, we work with them.
Carpe Diem, we still work with them, I think I hit the major ones right there. That was sort of scattered, I was just trying to picture Charlotte in my head.
>> Mark Robinson: [CROSSTALK] in Valentine except for along right now, so we have never advertised.
>> Mindy Robinson: So that's all word of mouth or what happens, my observation is chefs will sorta come up through the ranks.
And they'll go out to another restaurant, or in the case of the like the Foxcroft Wine Bar. They started over in the South Park area, when they did the new location, they just called back and said, hey, we have a new location. Let's get your stuff here, so I got an extra restaurant, just because they grew and so we grew with them.
But other times chefs have shifted restaurants or they get to a point where they're buying. They have that privilege of deciding who they are gonna buy from and they'll call back and say. I worked with so and so at this restaurant, but now, I'm over here and I get to choose and I want to work with y'all and get your stuff in.
So it's it's been chefs moving around and coming up through the ranks, or again for instance, we started with Barringtons. And now we work with Good Food and because of their sister restaurants under the same ownership kind of thing.
>> Mark Robinson: It never ceases to amaze me how powerful word of mouth is.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yes, it's huge and it could work the other way [LAUGH] so even when I've had restaurants who've Who have either closed or who have stopped using our product. When, well, and that's fine if you don't wanna use our stuff anymore. Happy to see you succeed. And if you ever want something again, let me know.
If there was anything we did, let us know so we can make it right. I don't think I've ever had anybody say I just don't want your stuff anymore, because it was not good. It was just different menus switched around, that's fine. But yeah, or I've had chefs call me who were new to area and said, well, I've been down talking to so and so and they said I should call you about getting micro-greens or lettuce or squash blossoms or whatever they're interested in.
So new guys or gals will come to town and sort of work the circuit and figure out who they want to talk to.
>> Mark Robinson: [CROSSTALK] was Wolfgang Puck. They recruited us literally six months before they ever moved into town. And we actually packaged up a large refrigerated bundle and sent it to New Orleans.
>> Mike Gregory: Wow.
>> Mark Robinson: To the kitchens down there, to be able to court that account.
>> Mindy Robinson: I think that was a E2 restaurant we sent it to New Orleans. The Emeril's one?
>> Mark Robinson: That's right.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah. That was them.
>> Mark Robinson: It was that Emeril's one.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, I think our Wolfgang Puck was they hired a local chef who we had worked with.
Hired him away from another restaurant, and that's how we got that.
>> Mark Robinson: But it was E2. And that one failed. Are they still open?
>> Mindy Robinson: I don't know if they're still open. They stopped working with us after a while, but that. Sometimes it's okay to not have a restaurant customer.
Sometimes they're a pain to deliver to. There's other things that make it not a great restaurant, and so there are times when I'm fine to see a customer go. And so, I'm sure that works both ways, too. Maybe they get tired of us showing up in the middle of their lunch service, and they were just like-
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and one of the things with micro-greens, and what we found is chefs want what they want when they want it.
>> Mike Gregory: Right.
>> Mark Robinson: And we're good the majority of the time.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and we can usually nail it.
>> Mark Robinson: Be able to do that.
>> Mindy Robinson: But there are certain things that we don't grow that chefs might want.
And for us, it's not profitable, and it's like a menu item. If nobody ever buys the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you stop keeping the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the menu. And you don't keep the stuff to make it anymore, because nobody is ever buying it, why waste it?
And that's easier in a restaurant than it is in a, if I'm growing a micro-green that never gets ordered and doesn't sell at the farmers' market, I'm just wasting seed and table space. So we've certainly tried things that we could grow, but nobody bought them. And you can only market it so much if it's not attractive enough.
Like, micro-scallions, once once a year someone calls me and wants those, and I'll just say no, don't grow them. Used to, but nobody wanted them, so just a waste of time.
>> Mike Gregory: You said that most of these chefs put in weekly orders?
>> Mindy Robinson: Usually twice a week.
>> Mike Gregory: Twice a week, okay.
>> Mike Gregory: Especially with the number of restaurants and [COUGH] many of these restaurants are on the higher end of- Well, that's sorta who we court.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: We did make a few cold calls initially.
We would just look at a new restaurant or we would get a Charlotte Living, magazine publication for Charlotte, and we would go through and look and see who was advertising. Or we would look them up and see how many dollar signs are next. And if it was three and four, then we're like, okay, because they will afford micro-greens.
Now, micro-greens are more common and you will see sort of regular, a little bit lower price-point restaurants will use them. And that's great if they want to buy them from us, I am happy to sell them. But we intentionally sort of work with what we would call white table cloth restaurants, originally, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And the only exception to that rule is we don't even record them. Steakhouses and high end Italian, don't use any.
>> Mindy Robinson: They usually don't use micro-greens. But I mean, sometimes we get calls for lettuce. Like the brewery. We have the Legion brewing account because the chef who is the executive chef that worked with us at another restaurant.
And so, once he, even before they were completely open, he was calling us to get lettuce in. And we hadn't worked with him for two years. And then he showed back up and got our lettuce in.
>> Mike Gregory: I'm just impressed with for you to be able to provide that much, to do this new restaurants, as well as to cater to the farmers markets.
And also to have some experience on the local grocery stores. That's an impressive amount of volume for a two-acre farm.
>> Mindy Robinson: Which is not-
>> Mike Gregory: [CROSSTALK] greenhouses.
>> Mindy Robinson: And I'll just say, which is not, I mean, we are not growing on two acres, we're growing on between a half and thee-fourths of an acre as far as the actual production area.
Cuz our house is sitting on that two acres. And the yard, and things like that, so yeah. Which is-
>> Mark Robinson: But we-
>> Mindy Robinson: I mean, we're very intense-
>> Mark Robinson: We harvest almost 3,000 heads of lettuce a week.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so again, from a business model, we tend to use words that are more productivity words than we do, I mean, we talk about roots and disease and pests, and things like that.
But It's this hopefully fairly streamline process which is why I like, we still got folks on the farm working, but everybody pretty much knows what they're supposed to be doing. And I don't have cameras out there or anything like that, but I'll know at the end of the day if somebody was goofing off because it will be obvious it wasn't done.
But everybody who, I mean, and that's been a whole whole, again, a whole other conversation that could not even be about farming. It's just about learning how to choose wisely when you're hiring people, and what motivates people to work, and trying to apply yourself to that and get a good team of people.
Cuz we've definitely have made bad choices in hiring folks here. And you put a lot of time into training someone. And then, for whatever reasoning, either their life situation isn't good, or they just have other issues. And they don't stay with you. Well, that's a waste of time.
And Mark and I, we've got plenty to do. And so, it's just a matter of, but I'm really happy and thankful and blessed by our [CROSSTALK]
>> Mark Robinson: And you know we don't have the ability, farms are really hard. Well, I don't, farms, unless you own one, and even then there's probably an argument if it provides living wage in the realm of what would be a living wage for instance.
If for whatever reason federal government sets minimum wage to $15 an hour- I'm not sure we can sustain that hit.
>> Mindy Robinson: I mean, we would have to let people go and require other people to be more productive somehow. I mean, I would have to, they would have to elevate for us to-
>> Mark Robinson: Because, I mean, prices
>> Mark Robinson: We've been growing micro-greens for 16 years. We sold our first mix for $28 a pound.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and we've increased. It's probably time to go up again.
>> Mark Robinson: Right now, we sell a pound of mix for $38. But you're talking 16 years and we've only gone up by $10.
>> Mike Gregory: Right.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah so maybe it's time to go up.
>> Mark Robinson: And so, farming as a whole last year, and this is statistically, their inputs went up by 3%, revenue went down by two.
>> Mark Robinson: So the only way to make that up is to farm more land. [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, or see if your market can sustain An increased price.
>> Mark Robinson: And a lot of those are commodity.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: I mean, commodity farms.
>> Mindy Robinson: That's very broad. Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: But it's no different. And even now a big trend that they have right now in locally grown is there's a company called Gotham Greens started in New York City.
They will build some greenhouses on top of grocery stores. But they actually are putting in a really large greenhouse range just over by Raleigh. So that they can sell into North Carolina and tell everybody their product is locally grown. The problem is they'll probably put in a four or five acre range.
And they may employ in the production of that crop two people cuz it's completely automated. Now, packing's a different show. That's where the ladies pulling stuff off the gutters and what have you. But I don't see it as being a big threat to us. All that'll be distributed by truck, and farmers market wise we're still okay.
I need to talk with-
>> Mindy Robinson: Is that Bob?
>> Mark Robinson: Hey Bob?
>> Bob: Yes sir?
>> Mark Robinson: Everything went well?
>> Bob: Everything is all watered in and set up.
>> Mark Robinson: Okay I have a favor to ask.
>> Bob: Okay?
>> Mark Robinson: I have water samples that have to go to Clempson. They're in that box.
You go down Goldhill to go home?
>> Bob: I think so.
>> Mark Robinson: Can you go that way?
>> Bob: Yup.
>> Mark Robinson: You know where the QT is?
>> Mindy Robinson: Right before you get to 77.
>> Bob: Yeah, over by Publix?
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, Publix, QT on this side. On the other side of QT is-
>> Mindy Robinson: Called the Postal Route.
>> Bob: Okay, yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: Have you done that before, have you dropped things off?
>> Mark Robinson: Would you drop this box off?
>> Mindy Robinson: It's got the label on it, and you don't have to, no money needs to exchange hands. If you just take it in and walk straight forward, there's a counter, you just drop it off.
>> Mark Robinson: Straight forward, you set it on the counter and walk away.
>> Bob: I can do that.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you very much.
>> Mark Robinson: I greatly appreciate it.
>> Mindy Robinson: Let us know if something about that doesn't work out and we will talk you through it.
>> Bob: Okay.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, thank you, Bob.
>> Mark Robinson: Have a good evening, thanks, Bob.
>> Mike Gregory: So I have a question, actually that brings up a point when you were just mentioning that in the conversation. One challenge that we definitely see now is that we have kinda this encroachment of urbanization in on farm lands. And so we have our farm lands that are becoming smaller.
They're being pushed further and further out. Ticket Hills Farm is kinda the epitome of an urban farm.
>> Mindy Robinson: It didn't start that way.
>> Mike Gregory: It didn't start that way. We have apartments now across the street. A quarter of the mile down the road looks like a brand new Publix.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: And Publix, huge grocery store, large customer base.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: And with big gas stations and everything, I mean, it's really building up around here. What kind of challenges are you seeing with that urban encroachment, especially with maybe like a big grocery store coming in?
Have you noticed that there have been any difficulties, challenges? Or have you made any adjustments to handle that over the, well, actually it's 20 years?
>> Mindy Robinson: 20 years.
>> Mike Gregory: So a 20-year anniversary.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, when we bought this farm, I can remember, we were pitching, will you loan us money, to Mark's mom and dad.
I can remember us taking, somehow we managed to get an overview of, we brought maps or something and showed them where the farm was.
>> Mark Robinson: Google Earth.
>> Mindy Robinson: Google Earth was existing there, yeah, and showed them where the farm was located and where there were neighborhoods now. And we projected that this would grow up as far as neighborhoods.
And so yeah, we've got townhomes and homes across here. This guy over here put his land in a land trust and his grandchildren will someday inherit it, and I'm not sure what they will do with it. These folks on the other side of us, again, when someone passes away, that will go to children who most likely will sell it.
We've had a couple of nibbles even on our land. But the idea was sell it as a block with your neighbors and we'll offer you a certain amount. So one challenge is probably to say no to a good enough offer because we don't have children who are interested in doing this.
And we eventually will perhaps not be able to physically, I mean, we can both do a lot from here managing it with a good crew. But you've still got to be able to physically be able to do it and sometimes you you just get tired. But as far as our customer base and things like this, I mean, across the road there used to be just a field and two houses, and there was a bridge.
>> Mark Robinson: That was two and a half years ago.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah two and a half years ago, and I still have a picture of what it used to look like there, which is pretty. [LAUGH] I mean, one way to look at that is customers. Neighbors who could also potentially buy our produce, or at least just people who might be interested in coming over and hanging out on the farm.
Because there's no place over there to hang out. There's little tiny yards and stuff like that. As far as grocery stores around here, I have people who stop by the farm stand out there. And they say, well, I just stop by here and get my lettuce from you and then I go fill in the rest at the grocery store.
Or when we have tomatoes and cucumbers. So a lot of people more and more are starting to stop here and get what they like and fill in the blank.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and a part of it is you're more adept at being able to provide a place. That roadside stand that we have right there?
That wasn't there this time last year.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so we've intentionally built that. I mean, we've talked about it for several years. But last year we made the big push to try to capture some of this market. And so-
>> Mark Robinson: And the traffic's horrendous in front of the house.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so to try to get people to stop here and buy produce, because we've got the exposure. If our farm were located down a dirt road and nobody could see us, we probably wouldn't have that as part of our business model. But we've got this big wide expanse where people can pull in.
I mean, it's a great place to have a little market and see what we can do to sell into it. That's sort of our exit strategy, to be honest. If and as we're able to increase retail, which means more money per unit. And here with the farm sales, which means maybe we don't have to truck it as far or go to a market all the time.
Then that's something again that Mark and I can manage maybe with less crew eventually. I mean, in fact we had a conversation a couple years ago. Do we wanna put up another greenhouse? And we decided not to. We've got the space for it. But a greenhouse, the difference between a greenhouse and plowing another half an acre of land is a greenhouse means electricity.
A greenhouse means sands and pumps. It means water has to be plumbed to it, and it has to be managed. As opposed to a piece of land which you might have to irrigate it but that's all you have to do and plow it. You got to amend it, and all these kinds of things.
But a greenhouse is a lot of work, not just the putting out, but you've got extra maintenance. And we just decided we're not gonna extend it up, we're not gonna expand that way. So if anything, we're trying to get more consolidated and more efficient. And choose wisely what we grow, so that, You can sell more here, yeah.
>> Mike Gregory: So your farm stand is only a year old.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yes, that iteration of it, we've always had people who we worked out some way for them to stop, even if they called me and I put in a refrigerator that we had upfront. But as far as having the farm stand like a dedicated area where people.
And a part of that, the year before we tried it, was just a canopy kind of thing, but as far as having an employee sit out there with it was miserable. It was way too hot, and we had coolers out there to keep the produce pretty decent, but as far as an employee, it was just about unbearable.
So we had to make an air conditioned place for employees to be so that they can tolerate sitting out there.
>> Mike Gregory: So do you sell different types of produce? Is there something different that you sell at your food stand as opposed to Charlotte Regional, or Matthew's Community, or do you only sell specific things at certain locations, or are you pretty open?
>> Mindy Robinson: Pretty open, the only thing is just where the money is. [LAUGH] So if I have limited things to sell, I push more of it through. Right now I push more of it through the Matthews market because that is a better crowd there as far as buying what I have in season.
So for instance, if I have ten bags of red kale, I'll send seven to six of them to Matthews and only three to the regional market. And probably I could have sold all ten of them at Matthews, but I'm trying to sort of build up the crowd at the market too to know that we have a diversity of things.
And so here at the farm, anything we have anytime, because we're right here with it.
>> Mark Robinson: We actually, we grow some crops, never planning on a chef buying it.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and so if a chef wants it, if they see it at the market, they pay our retail rate.
For instance, tomatoes, when chefs say can I get 20 pounds of tomatoes? So if I have them, I'll sell them to you, but I'll only sell at the same rate as if I were selling to a farmer's market customer. And I tell them up front, because I could sell it at the market.
And there are times when I have 20 pounds of cucumbers but I won't let the chef have it. [LAUGH] Because I want them to get to the farmers market, I mean, people, they love our cucumbers, and I don't wanna show up and sell up halfway through the morning.
And the only thing is I sold them to a chef, I don't know, that's my customer loyalty in reverse, I would rather sell it to a customer at the farmer's market.
>> Mike Gregory: Well, there is obviously some outreach there too with customers at farmer's market, they could talk to friends, helping to bring you more customers.
>> Mindy Robinson: Exactly, yeah, and again it's usually not an issue of having a price difference, cuz I'll sell it for the same rate to a chef or to the customer, so I made as much money at the end of the day. But I like the personal interaction and slightly with the marketing of it, because customers will stop, like if they know I have cucumbers there they're like white on rice.
Especially early in the season when we're the only ones with cucumbers, and then they'll stand there and pick up other stuff. If I don't have cucumbers they might not take the time to stand in my line to get the other stuff. So it's definitely a draw, and it's not a loss for me, I'm not marking my cucumbers down.
It's just we have them when we have them, and nobody else has them. And I like the interaction. I like being able to say, we grew these for you all. I didn't give them to those chefs. I have three chefs who wanted these, and you guys got them.
And they like that. They know that, again, it's that personal connection, I think. But it's an aws connection. It ends at translating into money, but it's not all about that either, if that makes sense.
>> Mike Gregory: It makes perfect sense. So I don't know a lot about policy and things of this nature, but with being in Farmville, South Carolina.
And selling products to him in two businesses in the restaurants in North Carolina and Charlotte, it's not that far, but you're still across state lines. Do you run in with any kind of issues with that or do you?
>> Mindy Robinson: After this we may. [LAUGH] Who knows? The only issue we run into, it's a very small one, is for instance for us to be vendors at the regional market in Charlotte.
We can only be in a certain building, because we cannot be in the North Carolina only market, and we pay a slightly higher vending fee to vend there, because we're an out-of-state vendor.
>> Mark Robinson: And if there are more local people that wanna fill spots at the Charlotte [CROSSTALK] They could potentially put us out.
>> Mindy Robinson: No, but that hasn't happened in a couple years. I will say the new manager has worked that to our advantage. But there was a time when we would get the short end of the stick, as they would bump us out of the building, or they would make us squeeze in with another farmer, because the North Carolina farmers got first pick.
I mean, I understand that that system is subsidized by taxes, at some point, in North Carolina, which we do not pay, so that's what that is. It might work the same way in South Carolina, it's just we don't have any local South Carolina markets that have the drawing capacity as that market does.
And Matthews is in North Carolina, not an issue there. The only thing there is technically because of the way that market bylaws are set up is that we can't serve on the board. Board membership is limited to North Carolina growers. No big deal, I can live very well without serving on the board, it's not a thing.
But as far as transportation across state lines, I mean, I don't know if we're under the radar with that, but it's never been, to be honest, even a thought, so we just-
>> Mark Robinson: Well, and I've never seen, on this state line, an agricultural inspection station.
>> Mindy Robinson: No, it's not like when you're driving to Florida or some places like that where you're supposed to pull over and let them check.
And I think that's usually more just checking for insects and critters that you don't want traveling into parts of the country. I think that's more what that is for. The food policy really that's affecting everybody is the Food Safety Modernization Act that's coming down, and that's a federally based initiative that's being-
>> Mark Robinson: FSMA.
>> Mindy Robinson: FSMA, the administration that is being pushed through the local state departments of ag. So they're going to be the ones who implement, but they now have the right to go onto any farm and inspect it. Now, they're not very well funded. They don't have a lot of feet on the ground as far as inspectors to do it.
So I just finished going to a workshop talking about food safety modernization and what we call GAP, which is good agricultural practices. So we're in the process of documenting, upping the game, and just like they say, if you don't document it, it doesn't happen. So if I don't document that I've trained my people to wash their hands and not to come in when they've got a stomach bug, then I haven't done it.
So it's extra documentation for us to make sure that we're [CROSSTALK]
>> Mark Robinson: And do-
>> Mindy Robinson: Show them that we do these things.
>> Mark Robinson: Along with that fulfilling those requirements, we'll end up with what they call a GAP certification.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Which is good agricultural practices.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And,
>> Mark Robinson: Complying with those is no small thing, you end up having to have a third party audit every year.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Total cost they estimate, and this is farmers calculating this, $13,000 to $15,000 a year to do your book keeping, and you have to pay for the auditors They traveled.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah so the moment they step in their car in Columbia they're on the clock. And you pay for all of that. So but what happens with that, the FSMA is federally mandated, and it's getting pushed. And there's some time deadlines, and things like that. So that's gonna be there.
The gap audit, there's a lot of overlap as far as the requirements but the gap audit is officially a voluntary certification but there are customers who are starting to require it. So from a business point of view if you want this customer to buy your produce, especially like institutional buyers or grocery stores or purveyors, people who buy and then resell again.
Then a farmer's gonna have to start and comply at some level with those food safety practices. And they're mostly very reasonable things. It's just a different, it's just more work. [LAUGH] I mean, it's not, if you went to your doctor, you certainly want have to wash his hands, or your dentist, or whatever.
>> Mike Gregory: I hope so. [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, exactly, and you want him to do it, and you wanna make sure that they've autoclaved the instruments and things like that. And so it's a similar idea and it cost them money to do it so eventually, I mean, we'll look and see, but we'll have to probably push our prices up somewhere.
And like I said, it's probably time to do it. But-
>> Mike Gregory: That definitely answers where I was going with that, which was, did you notice any policies that were maybe causing a challenge with your business? Or on the flip side of that, any that have helped you in the recent couple of years?
>> Mindy Robinson: Help me I haven't, I haven't seen him [LAUGH].
>> Mike Gregory: [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: But I am not complaining it's just what it is
>> Mike Gregory: Yeah
>> Mindy Robinson: And I think in the end the funny thing about [INAUDIBLE] FSMA is we are actually exempt because of our level of income and the fact that a high percentage of our sales is to restaurants or the end user.
We don't sell a lot to middlemen. And because of that, we're technically exempt, but the way that's worded is you're exempt. But if you have any kind of incident that they can trace back to your farm that what was eaten made someone sick, and they're going to come looking for the exact same documentation as someone who was not exempt.
>> Mark Robinson: So, under that brand they basically say.
>> Mindy Robinson: You have to do it.
>> Mark Robinson: You have to, well. You're exempt but you still have to do all the book keeping.
>> Mindy Robinson: And not just financial book keeping, but documentation.
>> Mark Robinson: It's amazing the garbage that they.
>> Mindy Robinson: So it's an interesting thing.
What's nice is in South Carolina, excuse me are you taking off for the day?
>> Lisa: Yes.
>> Mindy Robinson: Where did we get in house three.
>> Lisa: I've got most everything planted except for the [INAUDIBLE].
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay, I can live with that. Thank you very much. And we've got reboots in both the other houses or at least planted.
>> Mark Robinson: Hey would you look at your car title for me and find out if that is an LS, or an RS or an SR.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay so then let me ask about lettuce. Where did Jennifer leave off with lettuce?
>> Lisa: We got [INAUDIBLE] transferred.
>> Mindy Robinson: Okay and that was it?
>> Lisa: That was it, yeah.
>> Mindy Robinson: So we have to plant both houses? Okay more than I needed to know, thank you
>> Mark Robinson: Are we getting.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah you could text that to Mark, take a picture of it.
>> Lisa: Okay,=.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, just tell me tomorrow. I just wanna see if I can get that grill section for your car.
>> Lisa: Thank you.
>> Mark Robinson: You're welcome.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thanks Lisa. So, South Carolina is nice, because they will actually create a certificate of exemption. So, if an inspector shows up, all I really have to do is meet them down front say we're exempt. You don't need to come on our property because we don't have to, we've got this.
In North Carolina, you can be exempt but you have to bring out all of your books. And so you have to show them financially that you don't make more than a certain amount or financially where it all get sold. So that you can say, see I"m exempt. So, it just takes a little bit more finagling with the inspector before they keep going.
But, it's interesting that they've got those exemptions worked into that system. They're pretty broad.
>> Mike Gregory: So, I have a thought here.One thing that this this region is known for in North Carolina as well as right out here in across border to South Carolina, unpredictable weather Mm-hmm It seems like spring and winter tend to alternate every other day.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: As we're approaching [INAUDIBLE]. And sometimes we can't decide if it's gonna be fall or summer.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm.
>> Mike Gregory: Who knows how many seasons we have right now. They're all over the place. And with ice and everything that we get. Having greenhouses, that, we know that allows you to produce year round under more controlled conditions, does the greenhouse work, is it completely insulate you from weather conditions or what kind of difficulties do you still have to deal with even with the controlling environments?
>> Mark Robinson: You can.
>> Mark Robinson: Hey buddy.
>> Speaker 6: Hello.
>> Mark Robinson: To give you an example, if we were to build a new greenhouse and this is what it would cost me to mitigate all of those in all of that climate change or whatever you want to call it.
>> Mark Robinson: We could have a green house built that would be,let's just say we did a 30 by 100 foot, so we're doing 3000 square foot, greenhouse.
By the time we did everything to it that we need to do if we were going to survive all this,
>> Mark Robinson: We'd probably be somewhere in the ballpark of a $100 to $150,000 for a greenhouse like that. Now, we're talking about trying to get as efficient in heating as you can.
We would go ahead and put in lights from the get go, which is not inexpensive.
>> Mindy Robinson: You can have all sorts of monitoring devices and there's something, internal shade system that you can put in that you basically program it according to what you're growing inside and it will measure the amount of light that's coming naturally and it will open and close according to, how much light the lettuce needs, for example.
And so it's great but it's expensive because it's got little motors and they're running and opening
>> Mark Robinson: So give you an example-
>> Mindy Robinson: Turn lights on and off-
>> Mark Robinson: We say that we're harvesting 3000 heads of lettuce a week. The problem is when, give you a really good example about this winter.
This winter has just been cloudy beyond comprehension, I am so thankful we aren't growing tomatoes.
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH]
>> Mark Robinson: They take tons of lights. Well, it even affects the size we can lose- My goodness. In a five week period, we can lose two ounces off the size of a head.
And we're talking about heads that are six ounces at a finished weight. They can show up at the fifth week in the tank and only be four ounces.
>> Mindy Robinson: Or less than that, some of them.
>> Mark Robinson: And we have to turn around, we sell by the head, but we also guarantee the weight.
So a chef will order 24 heads at 6 ounces a piece. We have to make sure that- So sometimes, we end up sending him 48 heads.
>> Mindy Robinson: But we only charge for the 24, because they're undersized heads. So with our current greenhouse system, because we don't have lights in it, we can't mitigate really cloudy weather.
The most we can do is offset temperature somewhat. And then really, usually, for us the more stressful time of the year is what we're heading into, which is the summer, when it's super hot, and humid. And humid means it's difficult to cool air, because it's already laden with moisture.
And just like on a hot, humid day, you don't sweat as well, because you're not evaporating off your skin. Well we rely on evaporative coolers in the greenhouse to provide cooling, and on a humid day they're almost useless, because the humidity is so high there is no differential to take it, physically speaking.
And so we do things like we put shade covers over the greenhouse. One of our greenhouses has actually internal shades, so you're reducing the amount of light which in the summertime means you're reducing the amount of heat, which is what you're trying to do. Cuz there's enough light in the summertime.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah, your daylight's long enough, but your, for instance, infrared radiation.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yes, so you're trying to reduce that.
>> Mark Robinson: Type of screens that we used to shade with reflecting inrared out of the greenhouse.
>> Mindy Robinson: When I go to the farmers' market, I know this last week there was all this chat among the farmers about it being dry enough to get anything planted, or they planted stuff earlier and they figured it all rotted in the ground because it was so wet.
And somebody said something to me about, well, I guess you're not having problems, you're not having the same kind of problems with the greenhouse. And I wasn't being terribly snarky. I said, well we've had our share. I said that the cloudy days have hurt us too, and slowed things down.
But I do have cucumbers that are this tall right now, but we paid for it. We're paying electricity that they're not paying for, we're paying natural gas that they're not paying for. So I don't know. And she said well, you know? I understand that, she said because I was talking to so-and-so, and they said, we've expanded but we're really not making any more money at the end of the day than we did three years ago before we expanded.
Because it's just extra labor and extra inputs. So sometimes I look at our books and I'm thinking, before we had all this diversity, in some ways, we were capturing just as much out as far as profit as before we added another greenhouse and grew more things. Because it takes more management, sort of the same thing with, I don't know if there's a parallel or not, but no, we still struggle with it.
And hot's hot, in the summertime, it can be cooler in the greenhouse and we sort of rely on being the last people to have lettuce during the summer. It's rare that other people will have that, because that's a cool weather crop. But we're working against the season for the summer.
>> Mark Robinson: But we also chill the water.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah Mark is good and he oxygenates the water, he's figured out several things too.
>> Mark Robinson: Yeah we chill 50,000 gallons of water in the summertime down to the 70 degrees.
>> Mindy Robinson: But we have a lot higher electricity bill.
>> Mark Robinson: [CROSSTALK] But we don't have a choice.
Once water gets to 84 degrees, it won't carry enough oxygen to support plants that are growing hydroponically.
>> Mindy Robinson: So you have to keep it cool. And that's the other thing with, again, sort of that production line idea is, we're sort of geared up. And we've occasionally talked about, well, let's just not grow for this season.
Well, it takes eight weeks to bring a head of lettuce to harvest from seeding it. That's an average to production. So if you stopped and let's say you wanted to start again and let's say you wanna take two weeks off or take a month off, well you've gotta harvest what's in there.
And the stuff that takes two, you can't take just a month off. You'd have to take three months off and really you'd only have a month where you didn't do anything. And by then, you're already passed the hot part, or the problem part of the year. So for us we just push through it.
Sometimes it's not real pretty when you walk out there in the greenhouse and things have died or there have been issues. But it makes more sense to push through it and solve the problems than it does to just not do it. Now, next year when I do something different-
>> Mark Robinson: That's the management part of it-
>> Mindy Robinson: That's the management part of it, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Of succession planting, like we do, every week. Well, twice on microgreens. We cut twice a week, take orders twice a week, deliver twice a week.
>> Mindy Robinson: And harvest and pack and plant. I mean, we do it all-
>> Mark Robinson: We do everything twice a week. On Lettuce, we're harvesting all week long.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, and that's what that conversation I have with the through is they had gotten almost all the process done, but we have to catch up tomorrow on a couple of things so that's. But you just gotta concentrate to push though I don't know.
>> Mark Robinson: Anyway, I do this stuff in the summer time. The peppers need to be picked every, twice a week.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And tomatoes say.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, so it's-
>> Mark Robinson: It's a.
>> Mindy Robinson: But yeah, so the temperature and it, it affects our crew, people don't like to be cold, they don't like to be hot.
So in the winter time, it's not that bad because the greenhouse is a pretty pleasant to work in, they're tolerable, they're pleasant. In the summer time, it's definitely, get in here early and get done, so you're not having to be in a greenhouse in the middle of the day, because it's hot.
So again, we have to manage the work and ship to mountain.
>> Mike Gregory: That sounds like green houses, they kind of mitigate some of the weather issues.
>> Mindy Robinson: They do.
>> Mike Gregory: But they certainly don't, they're not insulated.
>> Mindy Robinson: No, if we were further north, in some ways, it would be easier to manage greenhouses.
Then you would have increased heating costs maybe, but your summer time mitigation would be a lot simpler. And then further south they treat greenhouses more like high tunnels and they'll raise the sides. And again, you just choose what to grow, it would make no sense to grow tomatoes hydroponically in a greenhouse in Florida in the summertime.
I mean, Florida has it completely flipped. They grow through the winter and try not to grow in the summer, because it's so very hot. And that's where you drill down and you figure out which cultivars, which particular variety of tomato works best in sort of our zone, for which a particular kind of lettuce works best.
>> Mark Robinson: The big thing with, to give you a really good example. The ideal places where they put these large range greenhouses, both in Mexico and in the Southwest US is high mountain deserts.
>> Mindy Robinson: So you get this nice cool off at night time.
>> Mark Robinson: Really good light year round.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Even when your days are shorter. Quality of the light.
>> Mindy Robinson: Mm-hm, not as much as clouds.
>> Mark Robinson: Humidity is low, so you have the ability to cool those tomatoes or whatever crop you're growing in the summer time, regardless. I mean I've been out west, in the desert Southwest and you are talking what 10-15% humidity.
Well, I can. [LAUGH]
You can take 110 degrees heat at only 13%, and run it through an evaporated cooler which you'll see out there, and it will come out on the other side so. It's just water running through a. Corrogated cardboard panel you saw. This [INAUDIBLE] what they use down in Phoenix in Arizona.
A lot of people use this in their house [INAUDIBLE].
>> Mike Gregory: So they choose that and then they have plenty of solar radiation to learn time, I mean it's they have big ranges. So it's a compromise trying to grow humidity's too high, or you-
>> Mindy Robinson: You know, our greenhouses are older, and they're not tall enough to efficiently provide light that would be a growing light, just because you have to have them up high enough.
And it's expensive, and so-
>> Mark Robinson: If we would put Electronic lights in.
>> Mindy Robinson: If we put like electronic lights to try to offset cloudy weather or things like that so. I feel like I've taken enough farmer problems to the market to be able to complain just enough. I try not to too much.
>> Mike Gregory: So I have one last question for you. And I am really curious about where are you seeing yourself and take Hill farm in the next couple of years or do you have any goals any markets you want to try to break through and you produce that you're interested in experimenting with.
I'll leave that pretty open for you to.
>> Mindy Robinson: That's so funny. So Mark and I have this dynamic I think we've identified the dynamic. Mark is the visionary. He is the one who is looking for new products. Wouldn't this be cool? I've always want, let me try to do that.
So I let him tell you what he wants to grow next, okay?
>> Mike Gregory: Okay.
>> Mindy Robinson: 'Cause he's the one who wants to do that, if at all possible I really would like to keep pushing and figuring out how to make our farm stand not just an offset of the employees' wage who we dedicate to it.
But to be able to have enough time to focus on figuring out how to really increase the sales through there year round. And this year we're sort of stabbed at it a little bit. Did better in the summer time. So that's where I would like to focus on.
>> Mark Robinson: If we can build our clientele,
>> Mark Robinson: Where just a general person stopping at the roadside stand and buying average produce for the average amount our goal is to get about 300 people a week to stop in. Is that not...
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, if I had 300 people who each spent ten dollars every time they stopped and they came every week.
>> Mark Robinson: That would be an increase in revenue in our pocket of $30,000 or $40,000.
>> Mindy Robinson: Which could start to be something that we throw into a retirement fund or that we just, you know, there's lots of different good things to do with that money that would be reasonable to do.
I mean, something I would love to do, again looking toward maybe a slightly different model, is I would love to have more events here about farming and gardening. But I would need to partner with someone. At the rate that we're working right now, I don't have the time to develop that.
But if that were more productive down there, then I could maybe partner with someone or hire someone in to manage that or let them manage something I'm doing so that I could do it or. Anyway, because of where we're located and we have enough parking. It would be a great place to have classes, or community events, or things like that.
I would like it to be a more integral part of our community. And that might set this property up to be something that would continue on, after Mark and I are no longer here, or able to do it, that someone actually could purchase or we could, I don't know.
There's all sorts of different ways you could make this more continuous. But in the end, it's two acres, it's not holy ground. [LAUGH] It's been really good for us, but it's not something that has to be kept in perpetuity. It doesn't you know so we try to be good stewards but not.
>> Mark Robinson: His business is the same way. He does specialty cabinets and fixtures. And so build beautiful stuff, those corporation are big but, it was one of many, he and Darrel.
>> Mindy Robinson: His partner.
>> Mark Robinson: And, they knew from the beginning, chances were even when a person's paid full dollar for it, unless they wanted to invest themselves in the business and make it their own.
In other words how the business generate division, that new business would fail. You know these folks spend 5, 6 million dollars to buy a business that failed.
>> Mindy Robinson: Because they didn't have the passion to get in and run it themselves. They were sort of trying to be
>> Mark Robinson: 'Cause it takes oversight.
>> Mindy Robinson: Absentee.
>> Mark Robinson: It takes making sure that the quality of product is good enough. This farm is exactly the same way. I mean, from the very beginning, we don't give an example. Foster Cabin's or Fresh Point calls up and he wants a quarter pound of dill micrograins. Okay.
Which we're not growing right now. We go down and we cut and we have a container that is .24. Which is not the same as .25 which is 4 ounces.
>> Mindy Robinson: It's off, it's short.
>> Mark Robinson: We will not sell that as a .25 container, won't happen. And it drives some of the wholesalers, the big broadliners.
It drives them nuts, because they put their quantities in as a unit, as a small this is a unit that we get from digging hills. They don't have the capacity to handle 100 short.
>> Mindy Robinson: Is that what they call it?
>> Mark Robinson: And was our chance at the beginning.
We get a whole bunch of people and they all decide that they want to buy micro cilantro all at the same time. Well you end up with so many. And we grow microgreens on speculation, nobody orders it ahead. So what happens is,
>> Mark Robinson: Our chefs have, they are secure in the idea that everybody orders, so you know what we do.
We short everybody. If, [COUGH] if we have ten people that order quarter pounds of cilantro- And I only have two pounds of it, then everybody gets 0.20 instead of 0.25.
>> Mindy Robinson: I'll tell him on the phone, we're spreading the love around. But all that being said, we can do that because we're running it day to day and we have these relationships.
And so if I wanted to do anything with it in the next, I would like to track along those lines and just be more, you know, get to know my neighbors across the road, cuz they're there, [LAUGH] you know? They weren't there a couple of years ago, but now they're there.
So, let's see what we can do in this local community to be a good part of this local community, knowing that it may not last past Mark and me. And that's okay. If there's some way that we could set it up so that somebody actually wanted to buy it or run it past us, and it made sense and they have the same set of skills to run it or to do something with it, great.
If not, you know, eventually, it'll not be a farm because it's not connected to somebody else who wants to buy in. And lots of times, out in the country, somebody dies or moves or shifts or whatever, and a neighbor will buy their land. Because I always wanted that little piece that lets me get down to the creek, or now my pasture goes, you know.
But we don't have that here, we're locked in. So it's either gotta stay this or become such a part of the community that other people want to keep it here or it's gonna be something. Now Mark on the other hand, would love to grow artichokes, husk cherries. [LAUGH] He's got all sorts of stuff he wants on trying.
>> Mike Gregory: You gotta dream big and try it, though.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Well you know, Chester's a really struggling town, they struggle terribly, and- Chester county, you said?
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, In South Carolina, just one more south of us.
>> Mark Robinson: Chester county, and I know that we've met a couple of different times with the head FFA teacher in the high school.
And I still believe some of the extention, Florida extension, Virginia, you can, we can grow artichokes here.
>> Mark Robinson: 90-95% of all artichokes are grown in Southern California.
>> Mike Gregory: Right now, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: Right now. And it's one of those crops where there's enough information about how to Chester could become the east coast.
>> Mindy Robinson: Artichoke capital.
>> Mark Robinson: Yes.
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: And it would have some economic influence for those people. So the part of me has this vision for beyond myself to seeing folks, communities, do some of this. I can't do all of it. The husk cherries, in Australia right now, the cape gooseberries, they're called.
They're a nightshade. They remind you of a miniature tomato. They're about this big around, and they're gold color, but they are amazingly sweet, to the point where you can dry them out as raisins and you can make pies out of them. There are a tremendous multi use, and they have a husk around like a tomatilla.
Anyway, nobody knew that you could really grow these hydroponically, and I troll the Internet with all the different publications having to do with farming and stuff. And so there's a guy down, he's tremendously successful with cape gooseberries in a hydroponic system, so we're looking at that. Looked at and I still would love to, I really wanna grow saffron.
>> Mindy Robinson: I was gonna say that we looked into saffron last year. Drilled down, really, really, and finally, I was just, I don't think we can do this.
>> Mark Robinson: The big problem with saffron is, if you could imagine pulling out, I mean, you're talking about five little threads out of each clove.
>> Mindy Robinson: We started talking about it. The people who work for us just looked at us. I said, we'd have to hire just people, because I think they were about to revolt on us. They were like, we're not gonna do that. That is so much work.
>> Mark Robinson: Well, I said, what you do if you go out every morning and you cut all the blooms that have come up, you snip them off.
And then you bring them all in, and basically, you'd sit down with them immediately and pull the saffron threads out
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] anyway-
>> Mark Robinson: I said, yeah, we'd all just gather around table first thing in the morning.
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] Everybody starts looking at me and they're like, [LAUGH] they're like.
>> Mark Robinson: Is he serious?
>> Mindy Robinson: [LAUGH] No, so if Mark and I were a stage coach, he's like the ten horses out front, going yeah, yeah, yeah. And I'm like the guy sitting on the brakes. I'm like [LAUGH] hold back. So, but it's become a good, I think we respect-
>> Mark Robinson: Sounds like you have a good partnership.
>> Mindy Robinson: I think we do have a good partnership, and since we're married to each other, that's a good thing. It's been a refining thing in our marriage for life, to be business partners. Yeah, so I don't know, maybe we'll go on the circuit someday and talk about farming as partners someday.
But anyway, it's a whole-
>> Mike Gregory: Sounds like a TED talk opportunity.
>> Mindy Robinson: That's right, if we could figure out how to do that and get our daughter to get us figured up with the technology on that.
>> Mark Robinson: But we are, how do I say it? It's kind of an end spot.
It's fulfilling to be able, we feed our staff every Wednesday. We can't afford pay them a living wage, but it doesn't mean that we, you know, we want them to come here, and at least for this period of their life, for this to be a relatively fulfilling place to work.
You hear me talk with Lisa about trying to figure out what her car is. Well, it's kind of a, we have folks working here that, they don't have a lot of money. And when you wreck a car, you either don't fix it and you drive it as is, or Mark will volunteer and we'll go get aftermarket parts and we'll put your car back together enough to where you can drive it.
>> Mark Robinson: It's just helping folks along their way. [LAUGH]
>> Mindy Robinson: Yeah, yeah.
>> Mark Robinson: So that's what we hope. For our employees,
>> Mark Robinson: It's a really important thing. As much as we grow, as much as we want them to be efficient and work tremendously hard, ultimately, the value is in what the farm gives me to raise children.
>> Mark Robinson: And we care for the people who work here, and it's just those are the important things that for our perspective, and we're not gonna necessarily get into that. And there are eternal things.
>> Mindy Robinson: Right.
>> Mike Gregory: So sounds like it's much more than a farm. It's an extended family.
>> Mindy Robinson: We look at it that way. Yep, in fact, we've got one more member coming in right now. There she is.
>> Mark Robinson: Miss Pat. Miss Pat.
>> Pat: Hey.
>> Mindy Robinson: Got us fixed up?
>> Speaker 6: Yep.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you very much.
>> Mike Gregory: Well, I can't thank you enough for allowing me to conduct this interview with you.
I'll just add real quick for whomever may be listening to this, that you have a website, tegahillsfarms.com, and it's really up to date. It's a very nice website, has all of your contact information on it. And you invite people to come and visit and to see it, and I think that's great, and I certainly would encourage it.
>> Pat: Mindy, you want me to go back down and do some work there for you?
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you, yes, thank you very much.
>> Mike Gregory: But thank you all so much, this has been such a great pleasure to get to talk to you. And I look forward to seeing how Tega Hills grows, I really do, and I hope more people hear this and come out to see you and to visit.
>> Mindy Robinson: That would be great.
>> Mark Robinson: Well,
>> Mark Robinson: It would be very fulfilling for us to really have the community. We have people in this immediate area that don't even know we exist because we have invested ourselves in farmer's markets and in the restaurant market in Charlotte, there hasn't been time to put ourselves in the community.
It would be a blessing to us to be able to have the relationships for a walk across the road, to come by and stop by and say hello, and to be even a small gathering place. And so it's something we really look forward to. If there's anything we're looking forward to, it's this summer, and what that it's gonna bring.
In us being introduced to the community across the road, so.
>> Mindy Robinson: Thank you.
>> Mike Gregory: Well, thank you very much
>> Mark Robinson: Thank you.