Starting a new farm from scratch is a big undertaking. Deciding what to grow, where to sell it, and tackling the unpredictability of farming can be a challenge. Yet many new and beginning farmers are finding their way in Western North Carolina.
Henry Payne of Five Pine Farm in Yancey County started his farm just last year, alongside his partner Jackie Mobley. The farm started by primarily producing mixed salad greens because they can be grown year-round and are popular with customers. They sell to the public at two farmers markets in the region and to restaurants via Mountain Food Products, a local wholesale distributor.
Henry had some farming experience under his belt before he started Five Pine Farm. He worked at an organic farm in New York State where he grew produce for their 400-person CSA. He also grew coconuts in Hawaii and grapefruits in Florida.
Most recently, he was a field manager at Ivy Creek Family Farm in Barnardsville, North Carolina. He got to experience several facets of farming while he worked there, from harvesting techniques and pest control to managing people.
His job also included many hours of hands-on farming. Although the work was physically demanding, he looks back on it fondly. “They have a huge operation and strawberry season for them is starting around June and that’s really intense,” he says.
When Henry decided to start his own farm, he looked to Paul and Anna Littman, the owners of Ivy Creek Family Farm, for advice. “Anna and Paul always been really good to me and helped me out with any questions I’ve had,” he says. “They’ve been really supportive of me starting my own farm.”
Henry and Jackie originally moved to Western North Carolina to be closer to family, and it seemed like a logical place to start Five Pine Farm. Henry says one of the most important factors in that decision was the climate here. Although some local farms have faced flooding in recent years, Henry says the consistent rainfall has allowed him to avoid having to irrigate his crops.
He’s also managed the challenges of farming in wet weather by using a broadfork instead of a tractor to prepare the soil. This human-powered tool allows him to loosen the sod on a fallow field, plant the crops on a raised mound of soil, and dig trenches for rain runoff. So far, that approach has worked and the rainfall has been an asset.
He says another advantage of this region is how people and restaurants embrace local food. “I knew that people in this area are really supportive of local food production,” he says. “I’m not looking to compete with the big farms, so I knew that on a small piece of land I would probably be able to find places to sell my food.”
That ties into Henry’s strategy to establish his new farm—start small. When he cleared out the sod from his fallow field, he initially grew about one quarter of an acre of produce. He plans to expand to half an acre this year, and is slowly adding livestock like ducks. The farm is boarding some alpacas this year and Henry is excited about the abundance of fertilizer they’ll produce.
He says one of the biggest challenges has been keeping the deer out of the crops, and he hopes to build a deer fence when he can afford it. Like many farmers, particularly those just starting out with a new farm, he also works other jobs to supplement the farm’s income.
He does landscaping, works on other farms, and assists a local vinegar company. He says his biggest goal in the coming year is to reduce his off-farm work. “I’ve been working part time jobs, odd jobs, all last year and it was pretty exhausting trying to do both,” he says. “I’m hoping to work a little less this year and get more income from the farm.”
Henry says starting a new farm is a lot of work, but he’s hopeful this season will bring continued success. “I feel really fortunate and we’ll see if I’m lucky again next year. I’m sure there’ll be new problems and challenges to overcome,” he says.
Growing Local will feature new and beginning farmers throughout the year, plus reflections from established farmers about what it was like to start their farm. Learn how to support local farmers in ASAP’s Local Food Guide – www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: February 25, 2019