Meet some of the New Farmer Entrepreneurs That We (and You!) Supported This Year
Over the course of the past year, Raleigh City Farm has collaborated with Old Milburnie Farm to formalize a new grant-making program: the Growth Fund. The concept for this Fund was put forth by Daniel Dayton—himself a new farm entrepreneur—after a massive fire at Old Milburnie destroyed his home and set back the farm’s production by many months. With intimate knowledge of how hard it can be not only to get a new farm up and running, but also to recover from unexpected setbacks, Daniel decided he wanted to make something good come from this tragedy: he wanted to raise money for other new farm entrepreneurs. This idea became a reality last spring with the creation of the Growth Fund, a partnership between Old Milburnie Farm and Raleigh City Farm.
With this Fund, we award seed grants to new high-potential farm entrepreneurs whose production practices will be greatly improved with capital support for a specific project. Fundraising for the program kicked off in May with a dinner at Old Milburnie Farm featuring Raleigh Ciy Farm member and Farmers’ Chef James Edwards. That evening, all proceeds from an auction of VIP dinners donated by local chefs supported the Fund. The generosity of these chefs, as well as Sour Grapes Wine and New Belgium, donors Frances Bobbie and Eliza Kraft Olander, volunteers, and those diners who won our auction items, all contributed to the “seeding” of our Growth Fund.
This fall, at our Farmstock event, we presented the awards to the first cohort of farm entrepreneurs, and we thought you might like to hear a little more about the recipients. None of these farmers are new farming . All have worked on other small farms before, and many have advanced degrees in related fields. What is new for them is that they are all launching their own small farms for the first time, putting that experience and education to work. And as any entrepreneur knows, the first few years are the hardest, which is especially true in the fragile business of small-scale agriculture.
That our community will continue to be able to access fresh, healthy, locally grown food depends on the success of farmers like these. We are proud to support their work.
Color Fields Farm
Kelly Morrison and Joe Palumbo are the people behind the produce at Color Fields Farm. Color Fields is a flower, vegetable, and herb farm—now with a small flock of laying ducks—located on two acres just north of Hillsborough. Kelly worked on a small, organic farm while studying at Warren Wilson College, but it would be several years before she would fully commit to a life of farming. She moved to NYC to attend graduate school for environmental studies and worked on hunger and food security issues at an international nonprofit. But office jobs didn’t suit her. She spent the next several years managing small, sustainably run farms in New York and Pennsylvania before starting Color Fields with her husband, Joe—and with the help of Breeze Farm Incubator—in January 2014. They began selling at the Western Wake Farmers’ Market that April.
Because of Kelly’s background in environmental sustainability, every decision that she and Joe make for their farm weighs the environmental impact it will have. They farm organically, and minimize waste by avoiding products that can’t be re-used or recycled easily, like plastics.
“I farm because I believe in good land, air, and water stewardship,” says Kelly. “I want to feed my community safe, clean food that they can feel good about feeding to their families. I farm because I believe in local economies and community. We have a lot of work to do to educate consumers on why local and sustainable farming is important if we want to re-build our local food system. It is mission driven work that is incredibly complicated and challenging, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The Growth Fund seed grant that Kelly and Joe received from RCF paid for the purchase of professional-grade farm equipment, including two wheel hoes, a precision seeder, a greens harvester, and electric, portable poultry netting. These upgrades will save Kelly and Joe hours of manual labor and take their small operation to the next level.
Foot Prints in the Garden
Tim and Carrie Martin established Foot Prints in the Garden less than two years ago on farmland that had been in Tim’s family for five generations. Both grew up in the agricultural community of Mount Olive, NC, where Foot Prints is now based. The children of tobacco farmers, Tim and his siblings and cousins helped on the family farm as kids, raising vegetables and small farm animals.
Tim and Carrie pursued degrees in business, marketing, and education. Carrie began a career in the mental health and education sectors, and worked with individuals with disabilities, foster families, and other disadvantaged populations. Tim spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, during which time he was deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield, Operation Joint Endeavor, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. He also worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
But both Tim and Carrie remained deeply connected to their agricultural roots and when Tim retired from service they returned to their family’s land to establish Foot Prints in the Garden, a “produce production and collaborative local food aggregation network.” Their business model involves four family farms that together aggregate and sell low- or no-spray produce to consumers and restaurants through Raleigh City Farm and other markets. Foot Prints is also being used as a path for therapeutic healing: Carrie runs a therapy garden at the farm for children and adults.
Carrie and Tim’s own children also contribute to the business, helping out with everything from social media to youth education to the hiring of seasonal agricultural workers. “Footprints in the Garden is a family run business that involves the entire family in as many aspects as possible,” says Carrie. “We are teaching and encouraging our children to become agricultural entrepreneurs, preserve farmland, and to demonstrate and advocate for sustainability.”
In 2014, Tim, who is now a certified Master Gardener through the local Cooperative Extension and a certified beekeeper, was awarded a Bob Woodruff Farming Fellowship through the Farmer Veteran Coalition. With additional funding from the USDA he was able to purchase a hoop house, drip irrigation, and pipelines to their well. The construction was performed by a local veteran-owned business.
The Growth Fund seed grant that Tim and Carrie received from RCF paid for the repair of a tractor and the purchase of a new tractor implement. Fixing the tractor and increasing its functionality were crucial to the scaling of Tim and Carrie’s business. Before receiving the grant, they had to borrow this equipment, so the new funding will also allow them to become more self-reliant.
Ever Laughter Farm
Ever Laughter Farm was founded in 2008 and is owned and operated by Will Cramer and Tracey Slaughter. Will grew up in Chapel Hill and studied sustainable agriculture at Central Carolina Community College. He has spent time working on several small farms and taken classes at the Breeze Farm Incubator, where he maintained a farm plot. His involvement with Breeze led him to found Ever Laughter Farm, and he’s been there ever since.
Tracey grew up in a wooded area of Maryland, where she developed a deep love of the outdoors. She worked on trail maintenance crews and hiked the Appalachian Trail before moving to NC in 2010 to attend UNC Chapel Hill. After earning a Master’s of Public Health in Environmental Sciences & Engineering, she worked for a year and a half on a small farm in Orange County prior to joining Will at Ever Laughter Farm.
Will and Tracey sell high-quality vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers directly to customers through two year-round farmers’ markets (Durham and Chapel Hill), and to local restaurants. They also recently embarked on a collaborative CSA venture with Open Door Farm to pool resources, mitigate risk, and provide more diverse products. In addition to produce, they sell herb and vegetable plants, and raise a flock of chickens that are used for pest control, fertilizer, and eggs. They’ve also raised bees for pollination and honey.
Will and Tracey have implemented a variety of farming practices that replenish the soil, use only organic fertilizers and pesticides, and follow permaculture design principles. They also believe that ensuring a living wage for farmers and farm employees is an important component of sustainable agriculture, as is education and outreach in the community. They’ve participated in the Piedmont Farm Tour, Crop Mobs, and panel discussions, and have visited classrooms at local schools. “By sharing our farm practices with the communities around us, we hope to increase people’s understanding and knowledge of food production, nutrition, and ecological systems,” Will says.
The Growth Fund seed grant that Ever Laughter Farm received from RCF allowed Will and Tracey to move forward with plans for an improved and expanded workspace for washing and packing produce. Ever Laughter increased its fall and winter production three-fold last year to keep up with demand, and they’d quickly outgrown their current workspace. Progress is now underway to build a larger, well-lit, sanitary space for washing and packing produce. This will increase food safety and workspace efficiency, allow for expanded vegetable production and greater capacity to support additional personnel.
From all of us at Raleigh City Farm, thank you to our supporters for helping us give back to the local farming community.