If you were looking for Julie Mansfield and Carl Evans during the dot com boom of the 1990s, you’d find them at their desks in front of computers, developing software for banks and insurance companies.
“We worked together at a startup company and then we started to burnout,” Evans remembers. “So I called up my boss one day and said you know what, we really want to go back to North Carolina,” Mansfield adds.
They found an old farm in Madison County that was for sale and named it Mountain Harvest Organics. They were inspired to make such a big life change because of their love of fresh produce grown without pesticides, which was harder to find back then. So they planted vegetables on the weekends and traveled for work during the week. But when they returned, they found veggies rotting on the vines and weeds taking over their fields. They quickly realized that farming couldn’t be a part-time job.
“So at the end of ‘99 we quit our corporate computer jobs and we became full time farmers,” Evans says with pride.
For nearly 20 years, farming has been their life. They grow all kinds of greens, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, corn, peppers and over 200 cultivars of vegetables. They’re the first to admit that it’s taken a lot of work and plenty of long hours to become a working farm.
“There are days when we wonder why we’ve done it, but I wouldn’t want to go back. Everything we’ve done has been worth it in the end.” Evans says.
“Every morning we wake up we walk outside we look up at Bluff Mountain and we breathe in this fresh air and we’re not sitting in a desk,” says Mansfield. “We know we’re going to make it. It’s a matter of when we’re going to make it, and it can be very stressful, but then you’re with the dogs all day long, with the cats all day long, you’re with plants all day long. I don’t know if I could leave this place.
Farming has taken its toll on their backs and their bank accounts, so they decided to switch gears to agritourism. “We really want to try to figure out how we can still live off the farm as we age,” Mansfield says. “That’s our big thing right now because, physically, we can’t do the work we used to do because we’re nearing 60.”
They’ll continue to grow produce, but they also renovated their barn into a three-bedroom vacation rental, and set up a camper with a hot tub and a beautiful view. Although the farm is fairly remote, the Appalachian Trail is nearby and there is plenty for guests to do on the farm during their stay.
“We want to decrease our production still do a small CSA, but we really want to try to blend agritourism with the farming because it’s still our first love, and we want to teach others where their food comes from,” Mansfield says. “And become a food destination because our focus is on food,” Evans adds. “Being farmers living and breathing food, we want to share that with people.”
They hope that agritourism can be the beginning of their journey to retirement, and also a way to enrich the lives of the people who visit. “I love the idea of this environment providing for good conversation and connecting and sharing your feelings for one another. So that’s important for us, to focus on gatherings for people where they can have a good time and get away from it all and just enjoy one another,” Mansfield says.
Although farming hasn’t been the weekend hobby they once envisioned, it’s allowed them to connect with agriculture and nature in a meaningful way.
“It’s an ecosystem with all the animals, the bugs, the air, the water—we’re all interconnected,” Mansfield says. “Being a part of that interconnectedness, you become hooked on it. The soil gets in your blood and you just have to go dig your hand in the dirt and you have to put a seed in the ground and you can’t quit.”
Learn about the lives of other farmers and read about more farms that are adding agritourism to their offerings in ASAP’s Local Food Guide, appalachiangrown.org
Re-run aired: June 24, 2019