Jason Roehrig of Tumbling Shoals Farm in Wilkes County, North Carolina grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until he went to Madagascar that he realized he wanted to be a farmer.
He was a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 2000s, helping villages embrace sustainable eucalyptus production. His future wife and farming partner Shiloh Avery was also a Peace Corps volunteer, and when it was time for them to return to the U.S., they started talking about making farming their livelihoods.
“Living there among all those farmers and everybody in the country is, to one extent or another, is a subsistence farmer, and the culture kind of rubbed off on me. So being involved in food production was definitely something I took from the Peace Corps experience as a kind of real, honest way to make a living,” Roehrig says.
The couple moved to Pittsboro, North Carolina where Avery took sustainable agriculture courses at Central Carolina Community College. She also worked at a vegetable and livestock farm outside Chapel Hill. The owner of the farm had a neighbor, Melvin Whitfield, who had a former dairy where he raised quarter horses.
Mr. Whitfield’s vegetable garden was overgrown, and he was looking for someone to farm the half acre. Mr. Whitfield and his neighbors let Avery and Roehrig borrow their equipment and set up irrigation from the pond. Everyone came together to help them start their farm.
“The motivation of people to help out new farmers, and we see it lots and lots, where people just like the idea that the land is being put to use. Mr. Whitfield had this ethic where if his farm was in weeds it reflected poorly on him, so he wanted to make sure that he was putting the land to productive use,” Roehrig says. “He had been a farmer and knew how difficult it was for a new farmer to access land, so it was just something that he could do and very generous of him to help us out.”
Eventually it was time to move on, and after years of searching they found land in Millers Creek in Wilkes County, North Carolina. For Roehrig, it was a chance to return to the landscape he grew up with in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania.
“We were going to end up in the mountains because that’s really where my heart is. To me, sitting where I am now, it just looks a lot like home,” he says.
They named their farm Tumbling Shoals, after the creek near their property, and they now grow 100 varieties of certified organic fruits and vegetables. They sell at farmers markets in Hickory and Boone, and have a large CSA.
They’re also part of a multi-farm CSA which pools produce and food products from several small farms in the Boone area. It’s an example of the collaboration among farmers that Jason has experienced.
“In small-scale, organic agriculture there’s this attitude that exists that people are very willing to share information,” Roehrig says. “They are extremely generous with their knowledge.”
Tumbling Shoals Farm employs five people each season, this year from Kentucky, Arizona, and Maryland. It’s part of Jason and Shiloh’s efforts to help pass on the knowledge and kindness they experienced when they started out as farmers.
“We’re still young people and we have a lot of farming left ahead of us, but we’d like this farm and this business to be something that carries on in the future,” he says. “We imagine that in a few years a young person will come along and we will help them to take this over and Tumbling Shoals farm will be part of the Western North Carolina food system for a long time, if not forever.”
Hear more stories from ASAP about local farms and the people who grow your food at our Growing Local radio series.