Protecting Pollinators

by Preston Peck, Toxic Free NC

Advocating for Pollinators

Rally outside the NC State Capitol to protect bees from toxic pesticides in September 2015


Many pressing issues facing today’s ever-changing regulatory atmosphere leave consumers, growers, and other “agtivists” questioning, “What is the most important issue facing our food system and how I can make an impact?” The first thing to recognize is something my mentor told me: “Advocacy is an art, not a science.” Nevertheless, I would like to offer some broad suggestions to agtivists on effective issues-based advocacy and communications based on my experience working on Toxic Free NC’s agriculture-related campaigns, especially our fight for the Pollinator Protection Act.


Know your issue and your strategic entry point

Many times people try to know a little about a lot without diving deeply into an issue. I encourage people to learn, research and talk to as many people affected by the issues as possible. Getting a firm grasp on the issues, BEFORE reaching out to decision makers is crucial. Sustainable, effective policy decisions start from the grassroots, and if we are to create policies that benefit our communities, we need to fully understand how policy decisions will impact multiple stakeholders.


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It is equally important to understand political context. What works in California will not necessarily work for the Carolinas. I saw this most recently through our work with the Pollinator Protection Act (HB 363), introduced this legislative session in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). This bill would restrict the sale and use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) to licensed pesticide applicators, farmers, and veterinarians. Prior to the introduction of this bill, I worked with legislators and other decision makers to educate them on the harmful effects of pesticides, relative to the perceived benefits. Specifically, I concentrated my efforts of neonics because they are the most widely used pesticides in the world. This chemical class was hastily brought to the market in the mid-1990s, so the science is just now catching up to how they are being used.

The bottom line: know your issue and think creatively about how it impacts your community, then leverage that for sustainable policy change.


Pollinators are getting a lot of attention as the USDA continues to publish information about declining honeybee populations. Pollinators (including native bees, birds, beetles, etc.) contribute more than $29 billion to our agricultural system every year. Agriculture was an $84 billion industry in North Carolina in 2016. These factors, along with similar legislation being introduced and passed across the U.S., allowed for a strategic point of entry to engage legislators about the importance of a bill like the Pollinator Protection Act. 


Cultivate champions and know who can give you what you want 

Build relationships with decision makers now.  I cannot stress this enough. The process of getting a good idea into policy is long and arduous, and you will need people directly involved in the decision-making process to help carry your issue. These people may be legislators, council people, agency heads, or others in a decision-making position. If you are unsure where to start, begin building relationships with council people, county commissioners, or state legislators that represent your district. These folks need to hear from you, as they cannot know everything about all the issues that matter to you. Let them know how you feel, that you are paying attention, and holding them accountable.


Preston Peck, Policy Director at Toxic Free NC

Preston Peck, Policy Director at Toxic Free NC, speaks to reporters alongside bill sponsors of HB
363 during the bill’s introduction in March 2017


Equally as important as cultivating champions is to know exactly who can give you what you want. My mentor also used to joke, “Who is your target?” and if anyone said, “government”, then they had to go sit in the corner.


It is extremely important to have a firm grasp on the process of policy development at whatever level you are working, so that you are being efficient and effective with your time. That being said, it is also important to think about secondary and tertiary targets, those who influence your main targets. Think about their golf buddies, family friends, religious leaders, etc. These people are not necessarily involved in government or in a position to make decisions, but they greatly influence the perspectives of those that you are trying to influence.


In the case of the Pollinator Protection Act, Toxic Free NC worked with the NC Pesticide Board, which is the regulatory authority on pesticides in North Carolina, for more than two years, educating those seven members on the impact of neonics on North Carolina’s waterways, aquatic species, and pollinators while simultaneously building relationships with state legislators. When the Pesticide Board refused to take action, the advocacy strategy pivoted and leveraged relationships that were built in the NCGA though years of educating legislators on issues relating to pesticides. This allowed the bill to be introduced with bi-partisan support and 20 bill sponsors during the 2017 Legislative Session.


It’s not just legislators or city council people that you will need on your side. You will also need a strong communications plan to help spread awareness and build support.



Define and build your narrative 

A strong communications plan is essential to any successful advocacy campaign. There is a tool in policy advocacy that was developed by the Center for Story-based Strategy called The Battle of the Story, which forces advocates to think about their issue in the frame of telling a story. This is crucial as most decision makers and the general public will not be as informed as you are on the issue. Telling a strong story is essential to involving your local media. Relationships with reporters and news media can help amplify your story as well as help to define the narrative that you want to tell.


When developing your story, think about your messengers, the spokespeople for your issue. Identify relatable experts that can speak confidently to the issue, but also convey the importance in a way that is digestible and trustworthy. When developing messengers, think about a diverse group of people that can build a case for your policy initiative from multiple perspectives.  You never know what sort of support you will need to garner from decision makers or what their backgrounds might be, so it is important to have a wide array of options in your communications arsenal.


Farmers, beekeepers, health advocates, mothers, children, and many more supported the Pollinator Protection Act and thought it was a reasonable step forward on curbing the unknown, long-term effects of neonics on human and environmental health. Every storyteller played a role in messaging for support of the bill. Also, I worked with reporters at local papers across the state for many months leading up to the introduction of the bill to place editorials, opinion pieces, and other articles in outlets with a wide, diverse readership. This allowed people to become familiar with the issue prior to the bill being introduced. 


Enjoy the process and be creative 

Advocacy can be hard work, no doubt about it. However, the policies that are put into place by the North Carolina General Assembly, or in Washington D.C. affect us on a daily basis whether we notice the direct impacts or not. It is crucial to stay informed and take action on issues in addition to signing online petitions. Although policy development is serious business with serious effects, advocacy efforts can allow you to connect in a meaningful way with your community, bring folks together, and develop sustainable policies from the ground up.


Charles McNair, Program Manager with Toxic Free NC

Charles McNair, Program Manager with Toxic Free NC, addresses a crowd at a Keep the Hives Alive rally in June 2016


Know your issue, know who can give you what you want, passionately tell your story while allowing others to tell theirs, be creative with your strategy, and celebrate your victories, no matter how small you may think they may be!


Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, The Pollinator Protection bill did not make crossover this year, which means the General Assembly will not consider it in this legislative session. But, Toxic Free NC is currently exploring study options within the Environmental Review Commission to be put in the House version of the budget. It’s an up-hill battle, but they are not giving up. To get involved, visit their website: Toxic Free NC.


Preston Peck is the Policy Director at Toxic Free NC, based in Raleigh. Toxic Free NC continues to fight pesticide pollution for over 30 years, working toward the transition to a toxic free society through initiatives that promote human and environmental health.

Peaceful River Farm: Our Journey to Sustainable Farming

by CFSA Members, Lee and Larry Newlin of Peaceful River Farm in Southern Orange County, North Carolina

Preparing a farm dinner at Peaceful River Farm

Preparing a farm dinner at Peaceful River Farm


A Diagnosis Leads to Education

It was a personal concern for health that unexpectedly led us into sustainable farming. We are Larry and Lee Newlin of Peaceful River Farm, and we purchased an 18-acre tract on the Haw River in southern Orange County in 2010. But it was Lee’s 2005 diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that started us on this journey.

In January 2005, we met Lee’s oncologist for the first time at Greensboro’s regional cancer center. He didn’t bother to look up from his clipboard as he apologized for keeping us waiting. “What do you know about your prognosis?” he asked.

“We were told by the surgeon who performed the biopsy that the cancer is not aggressive,” we responded.

“Oh no,” he replied curtly, “it’s aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and we’re going to treat it aggressively.” When the shock wore off, Lee asked how she could have gotten cancer. The doctor matter-of-factly responded, “Blood cancers are on the increase, and research is showing a linkage to pesticide exposure. A minority of patients don’t have a recurrence; most do, and some do not respond to treatment and die.”

Needless to say, we soon left that doctor and found a wonderful healer, a nationally recognized researcher at the Duke Cancer Center, who has guided 13 years of Lee’s rebound from the bombardment of earlier chemotherapy while remaining cancer-free.

Lee studied a ream of books about cancer-prevention and nutrition, and was inspired to begin teaching healthy cooking classes from our home in Greensboro. It was overwhelming how few people knew about this connection in battling disease. As part of the educational experience, participants learned more about organic gardening practices from our small kitchen garden.


Journey into Sustainable Farming

We began a quest to learn more about organic gardening. We attended a Sunday afternoon organic gardening class hosted by Fred Broadwell, former Education Director of CFSA, and taught by former CFSA Executive Director, Tony Kleese. Fred pointed Larry toward Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro as one of the best sustainable ag programs in the country. That spring we attended our first Piedmont Farm Tour, followed that fall by Larry taking classes at Central Carolina Community College and attending our first Sustainable Ag Conference.


Don’t like feeding your family harmful chemicals? We need more organic production in the Carolinas and CFSA is leading the way. Join us!


We caught the organic farming bug and began thinking seriously about moving from our suburban Greensboro home to a small farm. The Triangle beckoned because of its appeal and because of our ancestral roots in the Snow Camp/Saxapahaw area.

Larry giving a farm tour

Larry giving a farm tour

We viewed a number of small farms for sale and happened one weekend on a former retreat center. It was more house and more land than we were looking for, but its location on the Haw River and its natural beauty spoke to us. We could envision Lee’s healthy cooking classes taking place in the building adjacent to the house. It also had the appeal of having five applications of alternative energy.

Yet, the house and soon-to-become Education Barn needed much work. Before we sold our Greensboro house, Lee spent the year overseeing remodeling work, and Larry began landscaping around the house, deer fencing, and cover cropping. We installed irrigation and cleared the streams of invasive undergrowth. We renovated the deck on the back of the house where we now host farm dinners, and below that installed a 1,200 square foot demonstration garden to show visitors what an intensively managed vegetable garden might look like in their own yard (potential savings of $4,000 in annual grocery bills).  We added a quarter acre market garden each season.

Demonstration Garden at Peaceful River Farm

Demonstration Garden at Peaceful River Farm

Soil health is at the forefront of our farming activities today. We add compost and incorporate cover crops to improve moisture and nutrient retention, improve drainage, and stimulate microbial activity.  The Haw had once been declared “dead Nature” from textile pollution, agricultural runoff, and suburbanization. By following National Organic Practices we help ensure the continuing rebound of the Haw’s health. We are surrounded by small towns and villages (Saxapahaw, Pittsboro, and Hillsborough) who are robust today in part because of their support of small farms and their care of their respective rivers.

Our crop selection is based on nutrient density, profitability, consumer demand, and the visual appeal both while growing in the market gardens and on the farmers market table for sale. Our packing room has stainless steel tables and sinks to keep the harvested produce clean. We spend a lot of time processing – washing, spinning, and packing and then to the produce cooler to ensure the freshness and health of our product. We drip irrigate many of our crops to reduce pathogen and weed pressure, seek to maintain an aesthetic in our market gardens to inspire visitors and to also aid in efficient maintenance and harvest of crops, and generally, train and encourage our staff to use care in how the produce is handled to ensure it arrives safe and fresh to our customers.

Sharing the Journey with Others

Lee’s Healthy Cooking Classes are engaging and fun. Participants learn about healthy recipes, what makes them nutritious, and helpful kitchen tips. They get a chance to tour the farm and when they return to the Education Barn get to sample the recipes discussed. They also have an opportunity to purchase farm-fresh produce to take home. Often, there are visiting chefs, authors, or medical professionals to lead the class. Sometimes classes focus on a regional cuisine – South Asian, Southwestern, Chinese stir-fry, and Mediterranean. Classes have also focused on fermentation, nutrition and methods for reducing joint pain, microbiome, and disease preventing recipes. Some of the recipes developed for these classes are on our website,

Lee's Healthy Cooking Class

Lee’s Healthy Cooking Class

Similarly, our farm dinners are primarily plant-based and are prepared by a visiting chef. The dinners begin with a welcoming reception in our Education Barn featuring plant-based appetizers and a cool and unique beverage, prepared by Lee, followed by a farm tour, and dinner on our back deck overlooking the market gardens. The evening ends with the visiting chef discussing the menu and fielding questions. Folks leave with a new appreciation of farm-to-fork eating and an understanding of why fresh, sustainably grown produce is more nutritious and delicious than what is trucked in from 3,000 miles away.

We also discuss the impact that buying local produce will have on the health of our state’s economy (tens of thousands of new jobs) and especially our rural communities, many of them in economically distressed counties where manufacturing loss coupled with farm loss has hastened the exodus of their young people. We point to the burgeoning interest in sustainable farming among young people and encourage folks to consider how we can make our food system more sustainable by assisting young people to make farming a viable career option.


Standing for What We Stand On

They say that as you grow older, you need to learn new things. We’ve been on a steep learning curve these past few years and have stayed busy by…

  • holding over a hundred healthy cooking classes
  • welcoming over 3,800 people visiting the farm
  • hosting dozens of farm dinners and celebrations
  • providing our nutrient-dense produce to some of the top restaurants and niche grocers in the Triangle
  • employing and guiding a number of young people wanting to farm or homestead or simply wanting to do something congruent with their values (Central Carolina Community College alumnus, Andrew Mayo, is our team leader and oversees several part-time staff)
  • making a number of wonderful new friends
  • welcoming our daughters, Meredith and Kathryn, and their spouses to the area from their homes in Greensboro
  • babysitting in our “spare time” for our three grandchildren, Eleanor, Oscar, and Evangeline – the thrill of our lives

We are voting with our feet and sweat equity that we want a future for our children and grandchildren that is healthy and joyful, free of pesticides and pollution, and where the perils of ecological collapse are less ominous than today.

In our younger days we wanted to change the world. Now that we are wiser and more experienced, we want to change the world more than ever. Paraphrasing Wendell Berry – we’re standing for what we stand on.


Good for the Farmer; Good for the Land

by Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator

Will Metts of Metts Organix

Will Metts of Metts Organix was featured on Channel 7 news bringing gorgeous heads of lettuce to market

“Seven years ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” shares Will Metts of Metts Organix in Greenwood, SC. “He passed away in February, 2016, at the age of 58. He is the reason why I’m farming today. And he is the reason I’m farming organically.”


Will’s dad, Bill Metts, grew up on the family’s conventional farm in the 1960s and 1970s. The conventional practices included lots of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Bill spent his youth working in the fields, often in clouds of these chemicals. While the link between these products and prostate cancer has not been proven, higher rates of prostate cancer have been shown in farming communities, and Bill believed his cancer was related to his exposure to the chemical sprays.


We’re on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer you can trust.


By the time Will was born, the Metts family was no longer financially able to farm the land.  Will also grew up on the land, but during these years, the 100 acres were given over to wildlife and to hay production. Will went to college at Lander University in Greenwood as an Economics-Finance major. It was his senior year when his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

 “I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to use chemicals,” says Will.


“I had always told Dad there should be a way we could return the land to farming,” Will says. “I knew I wanted to farm but I didn’t know how.” With his father’s encouragement, Will put that Econ-Finance major to work and developed a farm business plan. Turning the land back into farmland wasn’t easy, especially using organic practices. “I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to use chemicals,” says Will. “I did a ton of research on organic practices, companion plants, beneficial insects, and soil health.”


Will started developing the farm in the fall of 2011 by planting a field of Daikon radish and purple top turnips because their extremely long, strong roots (up to 24 inches deep) are a natural way to open up the soil. In the following spring, with a loan from the Farm Services Agency, he tilled the land and began growing. Like many young beginning farmers, Will worked full-time during the day and farmed full-time at night and on weekends.


Harvest, Metts Organix

Bringing in a bountiful harvest from Metts Organix fields


In 2015, Will was able to quit his day job and farm full time. “It takes a whole support team to be able to do what we do as farmers,” says Will. “The workshops and programs of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), the New and Beginning Farmers program at Clemson, and the network of agricultural professionals and resources in the Carolinas have been essential for me.”

“For me, it’s not all about profit or money, but rather peace of mind. Am I providing the healthiest food for my community and producing it in a way which is healthiest for the land?”


With the technical assistance of CFSA, Will was able to develop an organic Conservation Activity Plan (CAP-138) for his farm which provided lots of practical learning, as well as access to funding for practices which will improve his production and increase the biodiversity of the farm. “Increasing the biodiversity of the farm is my number one goal,” says Will, “because this is what will improve the wildlife, the soil, and the environment for generations to come. One of the commitments I’ve made is to devote at least 10% of my gardens to habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.”


Creating a profitably sustainable farm that provides as much good for the community as it possibly can is Will’s overarching purpose. That Econ-Finance background shows up again when Will shares that his strongest advice to other new farmers: make sure the market for products is there first. “I will not plant anything until I know it is already sold or dedicated to a particular sale. Extras then go to the farmers’ market.”


Winter lettuce in high tunnel, Metts Organix

Metts Organix winter greenhouse. It was 16 degrees on the night this was taken and the lettuce is still looking great.


Will got married last November and a friend gave the couple two goats as a wedding gift, helping to jump start their plans to increase the biodiversity of the farm by incorporating livestock. They have since added chickens and rabbits. The chickens work for the farm by providing rich manure and cultivating compost into the beds. “Following the chickens with months of cover crop and then planting the market garden provides rich soil and incredible biodiversity,” says Will.


Up until two months ago, Will did all of this farming on his own. In March of 2017, he was able to bring a full-time employee onto the farm. With four acres of market garden under production (and an updated business plan!), Will knows that the two of them will be able to increase the efficiency, use of space, and production of the farm. Metts Organix grows a wide variety of vegetables and herbs and sells at the Greenwood Uptown Market and to restaurants.


This farmer, steeped in Econ-Finance and business planning, sums up his farming: “For me, it’s not all about profit or money, but rather peace of mind. Am I providing the healthiest food for my community and producing it in a way which is healthiest for the land?”


You can find Will and Metts Organix at the Greenwood, SC, Uptown Market. And you can visit the farm on June 10th or 11th as part of the Uptown Market Upstate Farm Tour. 

PHOTO ESSAY: A Week in the Life of a Beginning Farmer

Raw Logic Farm is starting its first season in the Farmer-In-Training Program at the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm.  An organic farm specializing in vegetables, Raw Logic Farm is run by Chuck Danielka who believes farming should be a logical way of life! Chuck shares photos from a week in his life as a beginning farmer.


Up at 5am driving to the farm to water transplants and then to the day job and back to the farm. Total driving a day is 120 miles round trip and 840 miles a week.



After getting off work at the day job, I water tomato transplants before working in the field.



Washing and packing produce for the market. This takes about 12 hours on Friday to complete unless weather is an issue.



Raw Logic Farm sell produce Wednesday and Saturday mornings at the downtown Hickory Farmers Market!



After our Saturday market, we go back to the field to get the beds ready to put transplants into the ground. 



Bed prep for the transplants normally happens on Sunday at Raw Logic Farm.



We round out the weekend with planting the transplants on Sunday.


Think you’ve got what it takes to be a Farmer In Training at Lomax Incubator Farm? We are accepting applicants now. 

Handing Down the Farm

by Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator 

Ashley, Jarrett and baby Tyler.

Ashley, Jarrett and baby Kayleigh Tyler.


Jarrett Tyler grew up on Tyler Farms, the fifth generation on this land in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina. He and his twin sister, Whitley, loved being immersed in the family farm and life in this small community on the Pee Dee River just inland from Myrtle Beach. Jarrett spent summers working with his dad, Greg Tyler, in the fields. “What do I love best about farming?” Jarrett considers. “I enjoy being outdoors, the satisfaction of watching something grow, working as a family, and accomplishing something important.”


Handing down the farm from one generation to the next seems as American as apple pie. The younger generation has the advantage of learning how to farm seemingly by osmosis through years growing up on the farm and learning alongside the wise elders. There is a deep tie to and love for land which has been in the family for generations.

The average age of farmers nationally is 58.3 years old and fewer than 30 percent of farmers have identified a successor.


Current data, however, paints a different picture. In the mid-twentieth century 1 out of 3 Americans grew up on a farm. In 2016 less than 2% of the population farmed for a living. The Carolinas have lost almost a million and a half acres of farmland since mid-1990. The average age of farmers nationally is 58.3 years old and fewer than 30 percent of farmers have identified a successor.


Tyler Farms almost became one of those statistics. Greg and Jarrett’s story highlights some of the barriers which must be overcome and how CFSA is working to ensure that farmers have the training, resources and support they need to farm in new markets.


Give to CFSA to help us grow the next generation of organic farmers!



After high school Jarrett tried some off-farm work. His dad, Greg, quit farming tobacco in 2004 because he could no longer make a living at it. Tyler Farms seemed destined to join the statistics of failed family farms and lost farmland in the Carolinas. Jarrett, however, missed farming and convinced his dad to try again together. “I knew where my heart was and I just had to get Dad back into farming,” says Jarrett.



Jarrett with a load of transplants ready to go in the field. 


They grew peanuts in 2012, tobacco and peanuts in 2013, and then began growing organic tobacco for Santa Fe Natural Tobacco in 2015. To grow tobacco organically, a farmer has to rotate the tobacco crop, which takes a heavy toll on the land, with another organic crop.


Jarrett knew that the market for organic vegetables is expanding and he wanted to try to grow them. His vegetable business, Sandy Hill Organics, is the only USDA certified organic vegetable producer in the county. “We have generations of conventional farming friends in the area,” Greg says, “and they all think we are crazy.”


Organic broccoli fields at Tyler Farm.

Organic broccoli fields at Tyler Farm.


Jarrett and Greg began growing organic broccoli and cabbage. They quickly learned that in order to sell into wholesale markets, they needed to become certified in Good Agriculture Practices (GAP)/Good Handling Practice (GHP). GAP/GHP certification are buyer-driven, voluntary audits that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food hazards, positioning small growers to compete with mainstream supply chains. Greg heard about a workshop being offered by CFSA at Greenbrier Farm in Greenville, SC, in November 2016.


“The GAP workshop and then the individualized on-farm consulting from CFSA was a lifesaver!” said Greg. Greg and Jarrett worked to thoroughly review and standardize all of their food handling practices and were successfully GAP certified in December 2016. They agree that, “Vegetable handling is so much more complicated than tobacco. We could not have passed our audit without this professional help from CFSA.”




Growing vegetables is one part of the business of farming, but finding good markets is another important piece. CFSA introduced Greg and Jarrett to GrowFood Carolina, a regional food hub which aggregates, markets and distributes source-identified food from local farmers to wholesale, retail and institutional markets. GrowFood provides local farmers the sales, marketing, logistics, warehousing and distribution functions they need that have previously been available only to large-scale industrial farms. CFSA helped the Coastal Conservation League launch GrowFood in 2011 and since its opening GrowFood has returned over $3 million to South Carolina farmers.


Jarrett’s farming business, Sandy Hill Organics, grows on about 6 acres now and his goal is to grow more varieties of vegetables on 20-30 acres in coming years. He has ideas about accessing the Farmers Markets nearby in Myrtle Beach and possibly selling on-farm someday.  “It means a lot to me that my Dad feels comfortable turning the farm over to me,” says Jarrett. Greg echoes that, saying, “I always hoped Jarrett would be able to take over the farm and … carry on the tradition and care for the land.”


Jarrett’s wife, Ashley, had never farmed but now it is “all she wants to do” says Jarrett. “She helps with all the paperwork of the farm and hopefully, she can join the business full-time someday.”  Jarrett and Ashley are new parents with a four month old daughter, Kayleigh, and they look forward to giving her a farming childhood and life. “Ashley and I live on the farm, my sister lives next door to Daddy across the street, and other family members live nearby. It’s the life we love,” says Jarrett.


“Organic farming is not easy,” says Jarrett, “but we hope it will provide us with a living.” He circles back around and emphasizes again what he loves about farming, “I love watching things grow; it makes you feel good, like you’ve done something important. We’re feeding America.”

Member Spotlight: Lauren Small

This Columbia, SC Mother, Gardener and Small Business Owner is Passionate about Eating Healthy, Local Foods



CFSA’s Amy Armbruster:  Why are organic foods important to you?

Lauren Small: I used to have no knowledge of the importance of good nutrition and organic food. I ate terribly. Cheese fries between jobs, a candy bar for a quick snack, fast food late at night. I never thought it was affecting me; I was thin and thought that “healthy eating” was only for people trying to lose weight. Fast forward a few years and I was in a health crisis. To be honest, I had health issues for years, but it took me quite some time to put two and two together and realize that the food I was eating was contributing to my quick decline in health. I started studying up on nutrition and “clean eating”. I transitioned to a much more holistic lifestyle, cutting out toxins from all areas of my life. I started by buying organic produce if it was on the dirty dozen list. Now I prefer to buy everything local, organic, and in season when possible. When I began eating a paleo diet I learned the importance of organic meat. I had been buying organic produce and putting meat on the back burner, but I learned that grass-fed, organic meat is very important, especially for people trying to cut down on inflammation.


CFSA: Why are you a member of CFSA?

I think it is vital to support our local organic farmers. Without them,  fresh, organic food would not be as easily accessible. My husband’s family has been farming in South Carolina for years and wouldn’t have been successful without the support of the community. One day I hope to have a small homestead of my own and I like knowing there is an amazing support system in place at CFSA.


Join Lauren in becoming a CFSA member. Together we’re working toward a vibrant, sustainable food system in the Carolinas! Join CFSA today!


CFSA: Tell me about your ‘aha moment’ when you realized that eating organic foods was an important choice for you and your family.

My health had hit an all-time low. My body was chronically inflamed and I was struggling to get through each day. We were also wanting to start a family and I realized that something had to change. I had a lot of knowledge regarding food and nutrition but I wasn’t applying it to my everyday life. I realized that with every bite I was either feeding disease or fighting it. It was like a switch went off in my head. I started eating a very nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet full of organic veggies, organic meats, grass-fed beef liver, bone broth, and healthy fats. The change was like night and day. My health took a 180; I felt so alive and like I was thriving.


CFSA: Tell us a little about how being pregnant and breastfeeding your baby changed your thinking about what is safe and healthy to put in our bodies.

Before I got pregnant with my son I started priming my body to give him the best start to life that I could. I avoided inflammatory foods and ate nutrient dense, organic meats and veggies. I thought it was amazing and so crazy to look at my pregnancy app and see how quickly my baby was growing each week. My body was providing this little pea with everything he needed to grow! That was a big motivator to be careful of what foods I ate. Breastfeeding has been an amazing journey and I’m so grateful that I’m able to nourish my baby in this way. I find it incredible how little we actually know about breastmilk though. I can tell a difference in my son’s overall mood and sleep habits when I eat certain foods. Especially food containing dyes, excessive sugar, preservatives or other yuck ingredients. It has definitely helped me stick to my own goals of eating healthy by seeing the negative effects he experiences when I slip up.


CFSA: Your son is just starting to eat solid foods. What does he like so far?

We are giving him super nutrient dense, gut healthy foods, cooked how we would eat them instead of mushed up like purees. So far he has had chicken bone broth, avocado, sweet potato and egg yolk. He really loves the sweet potato and egg yolk! He loves drinking from a cup so broth has been a big hit because of that. Avocado he doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of, I think it’s the texture. I plan on only feeding him organic, non-processed, nutrient dense foods for quite a while.


CFSA: The food and farming community in Columbia is really taking off and now there is a new fresh-from-the-farm delivery service – perfect for moms! Tell us about it.

I just found out about this local farm that delivers and I am so excited about it! Leesville Aquaponics Homestead will deliver for free on any orders over $20. This is a great option for families with young one especially, or the elderly! I am expecting my first order this week. I ordered a little bit of all the veggies they have available, some eggs and a rabbit. I’ve never cooked or even eaten rabbit before so I’m excited to try something new. A friend of mine recommended this farm when I was asking where to buy eggs from pastured chickens fed soy free feed. I love the farmer’s market but I’m not able to make it out there that often with a little one. My plan is to order from this farm each week and hit up the farmer’s market about once a month to stock up on my other meats.



CFSA: You are an avid organic gardener. When did you first start gardening and what got you interested in organic gardening?

I love gardening! I’m not really that great at it, but that’s not what matters to me. I like getting out in the sun and dirt each day and putting my time and energy into something that gives back. My first garden was in a pallet with dollar store soil and seeds. Needless to say, not much grew. But with some guidance from my best friend, I learned enough about organic gardening to get a nice little garden started. My husband built me a 4×10 raised bed and my father in law built me a big ole barrel composter. It’s been a learning experience and each year I learn a little more. It’s been mainly a hobby but I am hoping to produce enough veggies this year to offset our grocery bill a bit. I’ve heard the quote, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes,” and it’s so true! I’m so excited to teach my son about gardening and have him out there helping me pick veggies!


CFSA: As a mom myself, I know what a challenge it can be to put food on the table every night. What’s your go-to organic dinner ?

I love soups for those days when I’ve waited until the last minute to throw something together. We always have some homemade bone broth in the freezer so I’ll throw that, some meat and fresh veggies all together and let it do its thing. Sometimes I’ll do chicken broth, chicken, carrots, celery, and onion. Or I’ll go with a heartier soup with beef broth, ground beef or stew meat, potatoes, and carrots. But you can really throw in whatever you have fresh at the moment. Also kale or spinach, those bulk up the soup and add a little bit of green in. During the summer I’ll just go pick some lettuce out of the garden for a super fresh salad also.


CFSA: Would you share a recipe?

My chicken soup is a go to in our house for sick days, freezer meals, or anytime we need an easy meal. It’s easily prepped the night before and just throw it in a pot or crockpot the next day.


1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts

2 cups carrots, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3 stalks celery, chopped

4-5 cloves garlic, minced (or more, I don’t think you can overdo the garlic)

3 Tbsp EVOO

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

6 cups chicken broth (homemade is best)

1 cup water

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

A bunch of spinach or kale


Put all ingredients in a 6 quart crockpot and cook on low 6-7 hours. Remove chicken and cut into bite size pieces or shred. Put the chicken back in the pot and add the spinach or kale. Cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the greens have wilted.


CFSA: Dreams for the future?

I grew up wishing I could live on a farm. I still do. My dream would be to move to the country and have a little self-sustaining homestead. I’d have a huge garden, free range chickens, a pig (for fun not to eat), a goat for the milk, some rabbits, and a few grass fed cows. I would love to have a large family. I’d have all my children outside each day, learning about life through nature. Who knows, maybe that will happen one day. But if it doesn’t I will still teach my son how to garden, care for whatever animals we may acquire and hope that he grows up with a passion for organic, holistic living like his mama. I would be thrilled if he grew up to be a farmer. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit. My husband grew up in the country, feeding cows and taking care of turkeys. He has a work ethic like a farmer. Rain or shine, he’s always the first one to roll up his sleeves and get the job done and get it done right. I would be proud for my son to turn out the same.


CFSA: Anything else you’d like to share with the good food and farming community in the Carolinas?

It is my passion to spread awareness of the chemicals that we put in our bodies and my hope that we can arm the next generation with the knowledge to make healthy decisions for themselves and our planet. With this knowledge we can have happier and healthier children. I’ve put my passion to work in planning this year’s Children’s March for Humanity in Columbia, SC. Our goal is to ignite desire in the hearts of the masses to yearn for more information on topics such as glyphosate, GMOs, and various chemicals. Through inquiry grounded in love, respect, and empathy, our goal is to tear down the defensive walls which: divide, hinder sparked curiosity, and discourage the masses from seeking the truth. The main march will take place in Washington, D.C. and we will be rallying at the South Carolina State House on June 17, 2017 10am-2pm.

Please visit for more information and to get involved.


Lauren Small is a work-at-home mama to a precious little chunk of a baby. Her passions include babywearing, breastfeeding, studying holistic health, gardening, long baths, and fair trade chocolate. Check out her all natural and organic oil cleansers at

10 Things You Should Know about the Organic Checkoff

Submit your comment about organic checkoff by April 19, 2017.
If you know what you want to say, click here and you’ll be taken directly to instructions to submit your comment and CFSA’s suggested talking points. If not, check out this blog post.

Organic seal with veggies

by Rochelle Sparko, CFSA’s Policy Director

In May 2015, the Organic Trade Association submitted a proposal for an organic checkoff program to USDA. In January 2017, USDA requested comments about an organic checkoff proposal similar to the one submitted by OTA. We’ve got a deep dive into some of the provisions of USDA’s proposal.

Comments about the USDA’s proposed checkoff program are due on April 19, 2017. USDA will then review all the comments on the Proposed Rules and decide whether to go ahead with an Organic Research, Promotion and Information Order (organic checkoff). If the USDA decides to start an organic checkoff program, it will publish a Final Rule which will address the comments they have received and lay out the details of the organic checkoff. CFSA will alert our certified organic farmer members should this happen. A separate Final Rule will explain how and when a referendum will take place, and which farmers will be eligible to vote either for or against implementation of an organic checkoff program. When do we expect all of this to happen? Since the Final Rule for both the program and the referendum will have to go through all of the vetting by various government agencies, Implementation before 2019 is highly unlikely.


How will the proposed checkoff program work?

Q: Who will have to pay into the checkoff program?

Some certified organic producers and handlers, as well as some importers of certified organic products will have to pay. Others can opt to pay, which they might want to do so that they have a say in who sits on the Board, so that they themselves can run to serve on the Board, and so that they can vote on whether to have an organic checkoff program at all.

  • Mandated Assessments: Organically certified producers and handlers who have gross organic sales for the previous marketing year in excess of $250,000, plus importers (not necessarily organically certified) who import greater than $250,000 in transaction value of organic products for the previous marketing year. Gross organic sales means the total amount the person received for all organic products during the fiscal year without subtracting any cost or expenses.
  • Voluntary Assessments: Those organically certified producers and handlers plus importers of certified product who are not mandatorily assessed but choose to participate in the program.
  • Producers and handlers who are in an existing Federal checkoff program have the choice between becoming part of the organic checkoff and continuing to pay assessments to the conventional checkoff program. If the organic checkoff is implemented, there will be no exemptions from other checkoff programs for organic producers and handlers. This is the case regardless of the farmer’s gross income. In other words, if a certified organic farmer has gross income under $250,000, and is selling a product covered by a conventional checkoff program, that farmer must participate in either the conventional or organic checkoff program. Some examples of products covered by conventional checkoff programs include: cotton, eggs, beef, dairy, pork, watermelon, mushrooms, soybeans, Christmas trees, blueberries, peanuts and sorghum.


Q: How much will assessed participants have to pay?

Each certified organic producer or certified organic handler with gross organic sales greater than $250,000 during the previous calendar year shall pay one-tenth of one percent (0.001) of net organic sales to the organic checkoff program. Sales of exports are currently excluded in any calculation of net sales. The proposal doesn’t say anything about whether the value of exports is excluded from a calculation of gross organic sales.

Net organic sales means total gross sales in organic products minus (a) the cost of feed and agricultural inputs used in the production of certified products and (b) the cost of any non-organic agricultural ingredients used in the production of certified products.

Agricultural inputs means all substances or materials used in the production or handling of organic agricultural products (e.g. fertilizer, lime, soil conditioners, agricultural chemicals, beneficial insects, other approved materials for pest control, seed, plants, vines, trees, feed purchased for livestock, etc.).


Q: How much money will the checkoff program generate?

The USDA estimates that the assessments will total $25.3 million in the first year based on USDA census information, reports from importers, and their projection of net organic sales.


Q: How will the money collected be used?

Reimbursement to the USDA for costs involved in running the program. There is no limit on what this might cost. This is paid out first.

Next, staff and administrative costs for the Board and program will be deducted next before evaluating what funds are available for Programs, Plans or Projects. The program staff and administrative cost, plus whatever costs the Board has, can be no more than 15 percent of total assessment raised. Reimbursements to the USDA are not included in the 15 percent.

The remaining funds are used to Programs, Plans or Projects. The use of any of the funds has to be approved by USDA. Because the program is run through USDA, which prohibits disparaging or degrading other products, checkoff funds may not be used to claim that organic products are “better than” conventional or “more healthy than” conventional. The funds cannot be used to advocate before the National Organic Standards Board or for a particular position on any regulation or statute.

The Board (more about who is on the Board below) will determine how funds will be used, within certain parameters, so we don’t know exactly how the funds will be divided between research and promotion. Here’s what the proposal lays out:

  • No less than 25% will be used for research and at least 50% of that will be used for agricultural research.
  • 25% will be allocated to information with at least 50% of that allocated to producer information. This includes extension activities like disseminating research to FSA or producers.
  • 25% is allocated to promotion.
  • 25% is discretionary.

So what might this look like in terms of dollars?

Organic Checkoff Budget $million
USDA AMS Projection of total assessments raised 25.30
USDA administration cost (OTA’s projection)  (0.30)
Board and program administration at 15%  (3.80)
Available for Programs, Plans and Projects (PPP) 21.21
Research allocation (25% of total for PPP) 5.30
      Agriculture research (50%-100% of research allocation)    2.65-5.30
      Other research    0.0-2.65
Information allocation 5.30
      Information for producers (50% -100%of information allocation)    2.65-5.30
      Industry and consumer information    0.0-2.65
Promotion for expanding organic markets 5.30
Discretionary funds 5.30


Q: When are payments due?

All payments must be received by the organic checkoff program no later than March 31st for the previous calendar year in which the product was ‘produced, handled or imported.’


Q: How will USDA enforce checkoff?

Payment into the checkoff program will be enforced in accordance with the requirements laid out in The Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996. Penalties range from a court order to comply with the program to fines of $1000-$10,000 per violation. Because there is already a database of certified organic producers and handlers, it will be relatively simple for USDA to determine who hasn’t paid into checkoff. Late payment (90 days after the end of the year) of the assessment will result in a late payment fee and the collection of interest on the amount overdue.


Q: How much paperwork will I have to do?

It depends on whether you will be paying into organic checkoff, claiming that you are exempt from checkoff because of your gross income, or are paying into another checkoff program.

Just paying into organic checkoff:

Producers and handlers who either have to or choose to pay the assessment and whose crops/livestock aren’t covered by another checkoff program will calculate their net organic sales (remember this is gross sales less certain inputs) for the previous year ending on December 31st, multiply it by 0.001 and submit a check to the program by March 31st.

In addition to a check, producers and handlers have to submit a report that would include, but not be limited to, the entity’s name, address and telephone number, and the value of its net organic sales. They need to maintain books and records to document their gross income and the deductions used to determine net income and retain those records for at least two years beyond the applicable calendar year.

Eligible for a different checkoff program:

Producers or handlers who are part of a commodity with an existing conventional checkoff will have to apply annually for exemption from assessment by that program. Before the start of the calendar year, producers and handlers will fill out a form and submit it to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting an exemption from assessment by the conventional program to ensure that they would not have double deduction. These producers and handlers would have to prove that they paid into the organic checkoff the previous year. It appears that producers would need to request refunds if conventional checkoff deductions are taken when farmers receive payment, for example dairy, beef and lamb.

If the entity is part of a State promotion program rather than a Federal program, the USDA will “encourage” those programs to recognize the Federal program. Entities can apply for an offset of 25 percent of the payment to the federal program to compensate for monies paid to a State or Regional program if the State and Regional programs

Not mandatory assessed and choose not to be voluntarily assessed:

These producers and handlers will apply annually, prior to January 1st, for exemption by supplying proof that they had gross organic sales of under $250,000 in the previous year. They would submit to the program past shipment/sales data that would document their gross organic sales. They would need to maintain books and records that document the amount of gross sales, and retain those records for at least two years beyond the applicable calendar year. The Organic Research and Promotion Board (Board) would then issue a certificate of exemption for that calendar year.

Those producers and handlers that are part of a conventional checkoff program and choose not to pay into the organic checkoff will have to pay into their conventional program. The existing exemption for organic producers and handlers exempting them from the conventional programs would disappear.


Q: Who serves on the Organic Research and Promotion Board? What does the Board do?

The proposal includes a 17 member Board including 1 non-voting member and a quorum of 9 members. Board members are appointed by the Secretary of the USDA. The Board is made up of:

    • 7 either mandatorily or voluntary assessed producers, one of whom has to be from the following list of states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia;
    • 1 voluntarily assessed producer grossing under $250,000;
    • 5 mandatorily or voluntarily assessed handlers;
    • 2 mandatorily or voluntarily assessed product processors;
    • 1 mandatorily or voluntarily assessed importer; and
    • 1 public member at-large who is a non-voting member.

The first time a Board is appointed, nominations will be handled by the Department and the Organic Trade Association. The terms for service of the initial Board shall be staggered for two, three and four years. Board members will only be reimbursed for travel and other expenses but not for their time. After the first Board is appointed, future Board members will be selected following voting among those the Board member will represent. The top vote getters in each category will be submitted to the Secretary, who will select a nominee from among the two submitted names for each seat.

Members of the Board have a number of powers and duties. They are responsible for hiring and setting the salary of one or more people to implement the checkoff program; for advertising, holding and keeping minutes of Board meetings; to develop programs, plans and projects using the checkoff funds; investigate violations of the checkoff program, to recommend changes to the assessment rates, and more.


Q: Who gets to vote on whether there should be an organic checkoff program?

The first time there is a referendum, producers, handlers and importers who will have to pay into the checkoff program get one vote. Voluntarily assessed entities can vote if they sign an affidavit promising to pay into the program for the majority of years before the next referendum. Every domestic, certified organic entity in the NOP database will receive a ballot by mail.

Every seven years, there will be another vote to determine whether the majority of participants want to continue or disband the checkoff program. Voluntarily assessed entities have to sign an affidavit to participate in the majority of the next seven years in order to vote as well as showing that it paid into the program for a majority of years since the last referendum. Dual covered entities (those that could pay into either the organic checkoff or commodity-based checkoff program) must show they paid into the organic checkoff rather than the commodity-based checkoff for the majority of years since the last referendum. A new organic farm must demonstrate that it has paid into the organic checkoff for all years since it received its certification in order to vote.

Ballots are cast by mail, in person at the local FSA office, or in another way established by USDA.  The program will be implemented if a majority of those voting agreed to it.

Choose Your Own Adventure on the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour

PFT 2017 Collage


You’ve got a map, a ticket (good for a whole carload of people), a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to get a little dirty and the whole weekend ahead of you.


Sounds like the setup for one of those Chose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s, right? Well, kind of. There’s definitely adventure and you’re in control of your route, but instead of chasing mythical creatures, you’ve got the opportunity to get up-close and personal with 35 sustainable farms in the Triangle area on the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour, 2-6 p.m. April 22-23.


The family-friendly (and budget-friendly) two-day event features farms spread across Alamance, Chatham, Orange, and Person counties. The tour really does have something for everyone. Just a small sampling of the things you’ll have the chance to experience: sheep; buffalo; ducks; pasture-raised cattle; vegetables; and solar power and hydroponics in action. Each farm showcases innovative tools for farming sustainably with respect for the natural environment and animal welfare. At each farm, you’ll find a variety of farmer-led and self-guided tour options.


Get up close and personal with the baby goats at Celebrity Dairy

Get up close and personal with the baby goats at Celebrity Dairy


Choose your route to see a variety of farms across the region!

PFT 2017 Kick Off FarmsGet an early start with SEVEN Kick off Farms!

You’ve asked for longer tours and we are delivering! A select group of farms will open their gates early — starting at noon on both days. At these seven farms only (indicated by stars on the interactive map) you can get a jump start on your farm tour adventure. The extra hours add another layer of excitement to the day, depending on where you chose to start. Please remember, only these special farms will be open early so please wait to visit all other farms until the tour officially begins at 2pm.


Plan your Farm Tour Route!

To maximize farm touring time and minimize driving, we suggest picking a favorite farm per day as a starting point and choosing 2-3 other great farms nearby. There are about 60 miles between the northernmost and southernmost farms, so try to choose farms within about 15-20 minutes of each other. Check out the list of farms below, follow the link to their website or Facebook page, and plan your route based on their locations. Once you factor in driving time, you’ll likely need to budget 1-1.5 hours per farm. Plan to visit 3-4 farms per day

Dreaming up your perfect farm tour adventure? Start by picking out your number one, MUST SEE farm, and then choose 2-3 nearby farms for variety. Add a Kick-off Farm in the mix so you can to start your day early!


Farm Tour GuideThe guide has all the information you’ll need: a full description of each farm and their products; which farms hold more appeal for children; which are offering snacks or lunch (for an additional fee); and where you’ll find restrooms. In your Farm Tour Guide, you’ll find the farm tour map has been drawn across three regions: Farm Tour North, Farm Tour Central, and Farm Tour South.


Google Map: Use the interactive google map to plan your self-paced tour. Farm Tour regions are color coded on the google map: Farm Tour North Farms have green icons,  Farm Tour Central Farms have yellow icons, Farm Tour South farms have red icons.


There’s no rule that says you must stay within the color coded groups; you can visit ANY farm in ANY order! Your car pass gives your group access to all 35 farms on both tour days.


Farm Tour North

Stoney Mountain Farm

Stoney Mountain Farm


Find the Farm Tour North map on page 5 of your printed guide, or check out the GREEN farms on the google map. For a sample route on the Farm Tour North Map, you might start your day at a kick-off farm (Stoney Mountain Farm OR Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm), head to a nearby produce farm for an early afternoon tour (Nourishing Acres), take a break and grab a snack at a diversified farm with animals AND veggies (Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm), and finish off with a trip to Open Door Farm to pack the cooler with microgreens to then head home and whip up a farm tour inspired dinner for the family. Mix and match your own adventure trail from the farms in this region below! 



Farm Tour Central 

Plow Girl Farm

Plow Girl Farm


Find the Farm Tour Central map on page 8 of your printed guide, or check out the YELLOW farms on the google map. Kick off farms in this region include Minka Farm, Woodcrest Farm, AND Peaceful River Farm. For a sample route in the Farm Tour Central area, we’d start out with a kick-off farm at 12, and then choose 2-3 nearby farms to get a variety of farm tour fun in at a diverse selection of farms. For example, if you wanted to see the adorable barn animals and orchards at Minka Farm, you could start your tour at this kick off farm at 12 and still have time to visit neighbor farm, Fickle Creek Farm (chickens, shep, lams, cows and pigs) for a late lunch of grass-fed beef hotdogs or Polish sausage. From there, head down the road to Dancing Pines Farm to see their year-round produce production in hoop houses, or a bit farther to visit Rocky Run Farm (chickens and intensive vegetable and fruit production) or, in the opposite direction, to Woodcrest Farm (grass-fed beef, pork, dairy cattle, chickens and produce, plus a super cool blacksmith shop and if you’re still hungry: farm-raised BBQ plates!). Finish up your day at RambleRill Farm and bring home farm-fresh products from their new farm store. 


Farm Tour South

Reverence Farm

Reverence Farms


Find the Farm Tour South map on page 13 of your printed guide, or check out the RED farms on the google map. Okay, the Farm tour South region is ACTION PACKED!!! Luckily there are TWO kick off farms – Reverence Farms and Braeburn Farm – where you can get started early and then work your way through the Southern farm tour region at your leisure. Consider spending one day visiting Pittsboro Farms, one day visiting Saxapahaw farms, and/or a day visiting Snow Camp/Siler City Farms. The Snow Camp and Siler City Farms would also make great additions to a selection of 2 or 3 farms in either the Pittsboro OR Saxapahaw Area. 

The farm tour is an incredible opportunity to see where your food comes from, to meet your local farmer and see first-hand how they grow and raise sustainable crops and livestock.


So gather your group, plan your adventure trail and don’t forget to pack a cooler (to store the produce, eggs, cheese, meat, and other farm products). We can’t wait to see you at the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour.


Tour tickets purchased in advance are $30 per car for all farms, all weekend. Become a CFSA member and you’ll save $5 more on advance tickets! Tour is rain or shine.




Day-of tickets are $35 (available at the first farm you visit). Or, visit Weaver Street Markets in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough or one of our many other ticket locations across the Triangle to pick up your printed guide and buy your car pass!

The event is co-sponsored by CFSA and Weaver Street Market, an essential partner in building the Piedmont Farm Tour into a Triangle institution over the past more than 20 years. Tour proceeds support the work of CFSA.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes, Indian Spicy Peppers and Snake Gourd

How an Organic Farm In Alamance County Grows the Flavors of Childhood for Immigrant Communities in the Triangle 

by Elizabeth Read, CFSA’s Communications and Development Director 

Clay Smith of Redbud Farms shows off his field of extra large garlic, a variety prized by South Asian customers. Photo by Elizabeth Read

One of the best parts of working at CFSA is gaining a greater understanding of the innovative ways that farmers are able to solve problems. Sometimes that means figuring out how to hack the perfect tool to keep something from going haywire, but other times it means recognizing a space in the market where your product meets a real need. Having the knowledge to meet unmet needs is not something that comes from browsing seed catalogs, it comes from building a relationship with customers and really knowing what fruits and vegetables they are looking to cook with – but just can’t get anywhere else.


When Clay Smith and his wife, Nancy Joyner, started Redbud Farm, a certified organic produce farm on his family’s fallow tobacco fields in 2009, they wouldn’t have been able to dream of some of the crops they grow now. And it is not just because farming inherently requires farmers to adapt to a changing marketplace to keep their farm successful. It’s because they had never eaten or heard of those vegetables, let alone grown them for market before. But thanks to a request from a customer at Western Wake Farmers Market, Redbud Farm is now a vital part of the North Carolina Japanese cooking scene.

The greenhouse at Red Bud Farm. Photo by Elizabeth Read

The greenhouse at Redbud Farm.                       Photo by Elizabeth Read


Keiko Ueda was already a Redbud customer when she mentioned to Clay and Nancy that she dreamed of being able to eat a variety of Japanese sweet potato variety that she remembered from her childhood in Japan. She just couldn’t find it in North Carolina, where she teaches Japanese language and cooking classes. The sweet potato is a staple vegetable in Japanese cuisine and Keiko’s uncle had grown it on his certified organic farm in Japan.


Already growing Carolina Ruby and a few other sweet potato varieties on their Alamance County farm, Clay and Nancy saw an opportunity to supply a product to a niche market. Working with NC State’s sweet potato micro-propagation lab, Clay was able to source a certified organic slip of the variety Keiko remembered eating. In that first year, Clay grew a few hundred pounds of the Japanese sweet potato. Keiko, deeply integrated in the Triangle Japanese immigrant community, helped connect Redbud’s produce with eaters throughout North Carolina. “Soon after we began selling the Japanese sweet potatoes to Keiko, we began to receive ‘Thank You’ emails from Japanese folks all across central North Carolina.” Today, Clay and Nancy grow well over 1,000 pounds of Murasaki sweet potatoes and sell almost all of them through Keiko and a few other regular Japanese customers at Western Wake Market.


Carolina Ruby and Japanese Sweet Potatoes.
Photo by Elizabeth Read

Carolina Ruby and Japanese Sweet Potatoes


This isn’t the only time Clay and Nancy have been able to be savvy farmers and respond to a market opportunity. Clay had spent time in India as part of the Peace Corps, and was a frequent customer of Indian restaurants in North Carolina. He soon found out that chefs at these restaurants often struggled in finding specific varieties of peppers needed to create the right spice in traditional dishes. He worked with chefs to grow those native peppers, and they can now be found on menus throughout the Piedmont. Redbud Farm also grows some Indian vegetables to sell to the many Western Wake customers from India. These include bitter gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd and a small purple eggplant. Redbud Farm also participated in the 2014 CFSA organic broccoli variety trial. The trial was in response to another market need – the supply gap for organic broccoli grown in the Carolinas. With Redbud’s participation, CFSA was able to test to see the best varieties of broccoli to grow in the Carolinas.


While farmers often get stereotyped with the notion that they are all growing the same kind of kale, the truth is often something much more like what Clay and Nancy experience. If farmers all grew the same variety of tomato or pepper, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business for long. In response, you’ll find farmers at your local market using business ingenuity to find new customers.


Satisfying this market need for a specific sweet potato variety is a terrific example of how the relationship between a farmer and his or her buyer goes beyond the weekly market transaction. It gives an opportunity for the buyer to connect with the farmer – and this instance, impact an entire community.


Farmers Clay Smith and Nancy Joyner with their grandson, Jameson, on the farm.                   Photo by Elizabeth Read

Okfuskee Farm: Young Farmers Use Holistic Management as Innovation

by Cindy Flowers, CFSA Intern

Bronwyn, Holland and Bobby Tucker. Photo by Bronwyn Tucker.

Bronwyn, Holland and Bobby Tucker. Photo by Bronwyn Tucker.


The Farm in Silk Hope

From the road at Okfuskee Farm, you see a modest farm house, a packing shed, a double green house, a freshly planted shade house and grass growing across gradually terraced fields dotted with young trees. What you may not see, at least not from a passing glance, are the animals Okfuskee Farms is known for–their sheep and pigs.

You’ll have to spot them among the dense grass, where young farmers, Bobby and Bronwyn Tucker have put them out to graze intensively, methodically moving them around the property. The Tuckers see the livestock and the crops at Ofkuskee as tools in the farm’s holistic soil management plan, and, second to that, as part of the farm’s offerings.

This was not always the case. Bobby started farming this 20-acre plot of land in 2008 using permaculture and sustainable practices to raise mostly pigs and market crops. Even though he was using sustainable farming techniques, the long, hard hours had Bobby close to a burnout when Bronwyn came into the picture. She brought the idea that their quality of life should be part of Ofuskee’s well-defined farm vision even if maxium output was not achieved. These days Bobby and Bronwyn focus more on producing lamb and less on growing crops which gives them a better work life balance.

“Being a happy, financially solvent family farm seems like a great mission,” she adds.

Photo by Cindy Flowers

Photo by Cindy Flowers



Okfusksee Farm’s Holistic Management as Innovation

Holistic Management is not a new concept but, as Bronwyn explains, it has become the “planning and decision making framework that guides both our farm and personal lives.” Their holistic plan has helped “simplify and connect major ecosystem processes with the tools of grazing, animal impact, rest and human creativity, all while minimizing the use of technology.”

Okfuskee Farm pasture. Photo by Cindy Flowers.

Okfuskee Farm pasture. Photo by Cindy Flowers.

Today, the farm implements simple, low-impact technology: specialty hand tools for digging, pruning and grafting; no-till planters; a wood chipper; a flail mower; portable electric fencing; and GIS and CAD for planning and designing grazing and planting patterns and well as computer based record keeping.

Bobby and Bronwyn think about farming at Okfuskee farms as “building an ecosystem above and below the soil.”  “In our climate,” the Tuckers explain, “we can often get away with a ‘less is more’ approach to land management.”

As a part of their Holistic Management plan, the farm boasts native fruit and nut trees, planted alongside berries, and standing over lower-lying native plants like yarrow and dandelion, chosen for their climate-specific hardiness and planted with the curve of the land in a Keyline design to optimize water retention. The over 400 woody plants have been selected based on what would be optimal for the soil and climate.

“Holistic management helps us effectively make decisions as a family across the spectrum of social, environmental and financial perspectives,“ said Bobby.

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Some of these plants aren’t for the market either, but grown for the livestock to graze. The rest, especially the onions and greens grown year around in the greenhouse, are for the market.

Farmer as Activist for Small Farms

Okfuskee Farm has been lucky to take advantage of government grant programs, like the New/Beginning Farmer Cost Sharing grant through NRCS’s EQIP program to install a solar well and water distribution system. This system allowed the farm to optimize livestock and crop rotation, capitalizing on their Holistic Management plan with a deep focus on efficiency and conservation. “The payback from this investment is immeasurable.”

Because of his experiences as a new farmer, including his experience with government grant programs, Bobby participated alongside 30 other farmers in a “fly in” trip to DC to lobby on behalf of small-scale farmers. Bobby said he “was able to personally attest to the first-hand benefits provided to our farm through programs supported in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (CFSA is a partner) bills as well as discuss the challenges faced as a new farmer.”

The trip was sponsored by NSAC with travel assistance from the policy wing of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Bobby advocated for the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act.

Bobby positively recalls his experience meeting with Representatives, and now focuses his activism toward the local level of government. He is pursuing a Holistic Management Certificate in hopes that he and Bronwyn can consult beginning farmers on land, soil and water management. “We want to pioneer new ideas for both preserving and helping to improve the viability of farms in our community.”

Where can you find Okfuskee Farm Products?

Okfuskee Farms participates in a multi-farm CSA, sells their produce to Terrastay, a local farm aggregator, and sells their meat directly to Rose’s Meat Market, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe and Sethi’s Restaurant. Okfuskee Farms also hopes to supply lamb to First Hand Foods, a North Carolina pasture-raised meat distributor, in the coming season.

What will you see on the tour?

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Follow @OkfuskeeFarm on Instagram and Facebook for an exclusive preview since this is the farm’s maiden year on the Piedmont Farm Tour, April 22-23 from 2-6PM. The farm has a walkable gravel drive that makes for easy viewing of all the farm has to offer, including:

  • An active double green house with rain water retention system,

  • A newly planted shade house,

  • Momma pigs and piglets (yes, PIGLETS!),

  • Holistic farm tools like a no-till planter, prepping roller and a three point hitch wood chipper that is used for agroforestry management and mushroom production,

  • An old Ford Tractor,

  • Water retention pond,

  • Solar panels,

  • And more!

Make sure to look down at the grass! You won’t see any sheep here. The sheep grow on a neighboring 20-acre pasture and are finished on the farm’s fields. The first round of sheep will move onto the farm’s fields in the summer.

Okfuskee Farms is one of 7 new farms on the 2017 Piedmont Farm Tour. The 2017 #Piedmontfarmtour is April 22-23 from 2-6pm, advance tickets are $30 per car for all farms, all weekend; day of registration is $35. Click here to see the full brochure.

Cindy Flowers, former Marketing Director at Deep Roots Market in Greensboro, is a graduate student in the NC A&T School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and intern for the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour. She has a certificate in Sustainable Livestock Management from CCCC and is a long time advocate for sustainable farming, small producers and North Carolina’s local foods system.