by Janie Hynson, member of the Capital Area Food Network Farm Advocacy Circle
Down a beautiful road in Willow Springs, you’ll find Hilltop Farms, run by Fred and Virginia Miller. Virginia was born and raised on this land, which used to be family-owned JC Rowland Farm, and many of their family members still live close by. As a 44-acre certified organic farm, Hilltop Farms is committed to using no chemicals on their crops and only uses non-genetically-modified (GMO) seeds. I talked with Fred about how they got into farming and what they hope to share with visitors during the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 23-24 from 1-5PM.
How did you get into farming?
In 1999, Fred read an article in the News and Observer about organic farming and community supported agriculture (CSAs). At that time, there were only about seven CSAs in North Carolina. The article inspired Fred to leave his job working in corporate sales to begin farming. In his first year, his CSA had two members. In the second year, membership rose to seven then 16 in the third year. When Fred became a member of CFSA in 2002 and was also featured in another N&O article about CSAs around the same time, his CSA grew from 16 to 84 members in one month!
Number of years farming?
Fred has been farming for seventeen years and full time since 2002. He primarily runs the produce side of the farm, while Virginia manages their eight-stall horse barn.
Most unique product/top seller?
Hilltop Farms’ top seller is tomatoes though Fred says they are not easy to grow! Their most unique product is organic strawberries. Since 2004, Hilltop Farms has been the first and only certified organic farm in Wake County, so this makes the farm very unique and a must-see on the tour.
Where you can buy
Hilltop Farms sells their produce at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers’ Market, Apex Farmers’ Market, and through their CSA. They also have an on-farm produce stand, though it’s not open this summer.
What advice would you offer new farmers?
Before getting into farming, Fred recommends that new farmers get experience working on someone else’s farm.
What are people going to love seeing on your farm?
When you come for the farm tour, be sure to check out the organic fields at Hilltop Farms. They’ll be offering hayrides about every half hour, which will take you by the fields. Visit the horse barn to see the horses up close and learn about them from Virginia. You can also feed the goats and say “hi!” to the chickens, if they’re not hiding!
What do you love about farming?
Fred considers himself very lucky to have the opportunity to have a job he loves. Farming motivates him to get up every morning and to feel that he has accomplished something every day.
What have been your biggest challenges?
It’s important to remember that the produce in the grocery store or at the market is the very best that a farm has to offer. What customers don’t see is all the hard work that goes into produce which never makes it to a market. Just because it may not be pretty enough or ends up in the compost, a lot of work is put into growing every fruit or vegetable on a farm.