Frances Juhlin from Candy Mountain Farm remembers the tension of her first career. It was the 1980s in Palm Beach, Florida and Frances was an assistant at a high-powered brokerage firm.
“It was so fast moving. Once the markets were open, I couldn’t leave my desk. if you try to run for a bathroom break, you better run,” she says.
Frances kept up a frenetic pace as her bosses traded commodity stocks. Agriculture was on her mind when soybean or cattle contracts passed by her desk, but her love for growing vegetables was still a memory from her early childhood in New Jersey.
“We had a big garden and as a young child I can remember picking beans when I was four years old. I think at the time, it didn’t resonate with me, but through my growing up stages, even when we ended up moving to Florida when I was 10, I always had an interest in growing something in our backyard or growing herbs and just having some kind of involvement in food production,” she says.
She met her husband, Stephen, when they were 15-years-old. His father did some commercial farming and as they got older they shared a vision for a family farm of their own. So they set their sights on a modest piece of family land in Murphy, North Carolina.
“The goal was to just make as much money as I could, and him, too, so that we could buy this piece of property, which we actually bought from family. By the time we were in our early thirties and we had made the move and of course started from scratch as far as occupations,” she says.
Stephen was a carpenter, and for two years he worked out-of-town during the week and came home on the weekends. Frances cleaned houses and raised their family, grateful for her mother who lived nearby and could help with childcare.
“We worked seven days a week and we still work seven days a week, but we don’t owe anybody any money and we’ve always kind of had that going for us,” she says.
It took a while to start Candy Mountain Farm. Growing the vegetables came pretty easily, but figuring out how to sell them in a rural area was a challenge. Local restaurants weren’t interested in buying local produce at that time. A flyer at a health food store brought in a couple customers, but not enough to support a whole farm. Week after week they were vendors at a farmers market, but they still weren’t selling as much as they needed to or at a price in which they could break even.
“We started identifying our very best customers that came regularly and pitching the CSA idea. I started with a small CSA because I had to really learn how to grow. We had plenty of growing experience, but what would do well here in the fall? So I started that way and built the CSA. If I could make a 20 dollars sale from each person, that was my goal. All of those things required a lot of effort. It took some time. But by the time we reached 2008, we felt like we could get through this and be OK,” she says.
Many more customers are familiar with the CSA model these days, and Candy Mountain Farm has come a long way in the last 15 years. Now their CSA is thriving and their fields are full of vegetables. They have about 30 CSA members each year and Frances spends her time on the farm instead of the trading floor. Squash and beets have replaced stocks and bonds.
Now she’s eager to share opportunities with young women who are interested in farming.
“Every year I get somebody that I feel has the potential and the desire to do something. Stephen and I really go out of our way to help these women by trying to hire them, trying to get them set up in the market, get them set up with customers. Whatever comes my way, I’ll evaluate if it’s something we can do to help somebody, whether it’s giving them food or giving them a leg up on getting started, that’s where we want to be,” she says.
Look for ASAP’s printed and digital CSA guide to find Candy Mountain Farm and other Appalachian Grown farms offering CSAs, or search by location in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: February 22, 2021