by Evan Swink, CFSA Intern
Only miles from downtown Hillsborough, NC, a new farm is overcoming the beginning challenges of producing food for their community. Will Cramer, 25, and Sam Hummel, 32, are now in their fourth season as farm operators of Ever Laughter Farm. Their home sits on their original 7 acres, while a recently purchased 10 acres lies six miles away. Overall, they have approximately 4 acres planted in cash crops with another few acres of cover crops for upcoming seasons.
Will graduated from the Sustainable Agriculture certificate program at Central Carolina Community College. Sam’s background as Director of Sustainability at Duke University propelled him to purchase land and start a farm of his own. They teamed up back in 2008 to start Ever Laughter Farm. Will’s apprenticeship at the Breeze Farm incubator program provided valuable training as they ironed out some “beginner kinks.”
Before they started planting, they brought in consultants to help design and map out their farmland. According to Will, “Having that planning stage really helped us manage our choices for where to site our crops and animals.” For them, applying basic permaculture strategies is key to their farming philosophy of integrating natural systems in a way that mutually support each other on the farm. Will reiterates, “We want to produce fresh healthy food while trying to enhance the quality of our environment, the robustness of the environmental health of the property and soil fertility so that someone who is farming here later will find it better that we found it.” In saying this, Will emphasized their attention to cover crops and crop rotation for soil quality, weed suppression, and pest and disease control.
Ever Laughter Farm uses electric fence wire to keep out the groundhogs and deer while containing their pasture-raised chickens and pigs. To protect their crops, they use fencing with multiple staggered lines at different heights and depths to throw off deer, while also including a low strand to keep out the groundhogs. Unfortunately, hungry groundhogs and deer aren’t their only pests. Ever Laughter applies organic pesticides as sparingly as possible, including insecticidal soaps, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and Spinosad.
The most visibly innovative structure on the farm is their two-story greenhouse that is attached to the back of their home. Not only does it provide a warm workspace in the winter to wash greens and raise transplants, but at night they use fans to channel the heat inside so they don’t have to use energy to heat their home.
One of their ongoing projects is the perfection of their mobile chicken coop, the result of true innovation and experimentation. Their choice of chickens includes Barred Rock, Buff Orphington, and Americana breeds for their variety of colored eggs. The chickens don’t just contribute eggs to the farm, they also provide an added benefit of increasing soil fertility as the chicken coop is moved around the fields.
Ever Laughter Farm also raises heritage pig breeds from wean stage to slaughter weight. Half of the pigs’ lot is in a wooded area in order to give the pigs shade. The pigs will also root out some of the woody brush as well as increase soil fertility. Will and Sam anticipate using this area as an edible fruit forest in the future.
In addition to livestock, Ever Laughter produces salad greens like spinach, arugula, kale, and lettuces in the spring and fall. Their summer crops include tomatoes, peppers, okra, and sweet potatoes, but they’ve added some variety with crops like ginger, shittake mushrooms and an assortment of colorful flowers. Sam and Will regularly attend the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market on both Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons, as well as the downtown Durham Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons.
They’ve modified conventional CSA methods to increase consumer participation and satisfaction. Although members prepay for a subscription, Ever Laughter sends out a weekly survey. Sam and Will note the requests while harvesting and then transport them to their drop-off sites at farmers’ markets.
Sam and Will were recently part of a pilot program for Mintmarket.com, an online business in the Triangle area that connects local restaurant chefs and farmers. This website allows farmers to upload inventory for restaurant chefs to view and purchase, which, as Will commented, “really reduces the amount of back-and-forth between restaurant chefs and farmers to check on available products.”
However, these eager farmers aren’t only about producing sustainable food—they’re also about building relationships in their community. Sam went door-to-door in their neighborhood to offer a one-week summer camp for younger children. The kids who participated learned about the farm, food and nutrition, and even about their own backyards. Will shared, “We’re not just about growing food; we’re also about sharing what we know and what we’re trying to do here.”
Despite the ongoing struggles of establishing a new farm enterprise, Ever Laughter Farm continues to show resilience through innovation, trial and error, and connection with local support networks. To beginning farmers, Sam recommends patience when searching for land. “Look for established infrastructure, such as greenhouses, sheds, workspace, and water resources,” he specified. When assessing potential land for farming Will cautions, with a bit of sarcasm, to “factor in Bermuda grass as part of the cost, because you’re going to be fighting it!”
Evan Swink, a CFSA intern, is working on a Master’s degree at the UNC School of Social Work.
> Learn more about Ever Laughter Farm at everlaughterfarm.com.