Jamie Rye, CFSA Communications Officer

Located in Conway, SC, just a little past a stone’s throw from the busy beaches, shops, and restaurants of Myrtle Beach is a unique dynamic small farm aptly named Microledon Farm. Microledon Farm is the brainchild (and, some days, burden) of Oscar Chavez, an entrepreneur, father, husband, and first-generation US farmer.

Microledon Farm started as just a twinkle in Oscar’s eye.

When Oscar and his wife were expecting their first child, he became interested in growing organic food to feed his family better-quality and more nutrient-dense foods. Coming out of the tech industry with little experience growing food, he started reading books, watching YouTube videos on small-scale farming, and dabbling in growing food on a 25-30 sq ft section of their then backyard. His first year of farming was extremely challenging, with poor production, and his wife challenged him to “make farming more profitable within a year or keep it as a hobby.”

But inspiration can strike when you least expect it. One day, Oscar was enjoying food at a local restaurant when he noticed they were utilizing microgreens on their menu. That led to a seemingly innocent question: where did this restaurant get its microgreens from?

As fate would have it, Oscar jumped in and began growing and selling microgreens, first to that restaurant that was his inspiration, then to eleven others.

 After that backyard farming validation, having more space just made sense. Oscar’s family moved from their small rental property to Microledon’s current 5-acre property. With approximately two acres of this property under production and a permanent residence, he now had the stability and space to dream, plan, and grow. Today Oscar’s full-time farm dream is a reality with a flourishing microgreen business serving twenty-five restaurants while expanding to salad mixes, leafy greens, and edible flowers, all driven by Chef demand.

Beginning and seasoned farmers alike will tell you that it’s essential to have support systems and, more specifically, collaborative relationships to carry you through the challenges and opportunities found in farming. Reasonably early in Microledon’s journey, Oscar connected with Kim Butz, one of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s (CFSA) skilled Technical Assistance team members. Kim forged a lasting relationship with Oscar and helped Microledon navigate food safety and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. These early building blocks opened the farm to new market opportunities and undergirded farm growth. 

Then, in 2020/2021, Oscar, looking for new opportunities to improve his farm, began exploring how to implement conservation practices around the farm.

But where do you even begin?

Navigating the conservation planning process

Navigating what conservation practices are best for your context and goals, how to access USDA funding, or even where to start the process can feel like drinking from a firehose. With the support and guidance of Mark Dempsey, CFSA’s primary Technical Service Provider (TSP) at the time (now 1 of 3), Oscar was able to navigate the Conservation Planning Activity “Transition to Organic” process (CPA 138) with relative ease. Mark could set foot on Oscar’s land and dig in, getting to know the farm and the farmer, the heart and vision behind Microledon. The end result of this explorative and collaborative process was a robust, thorough, tailored plan that would serve as a guide to help Oscar implement the ideal conservation practices for the ongoing thriving and growth of Microledon. 

With the plan in hand, Oscar has the opportunity to more easily access USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding to implement the identified conservation practices and also explore additional TSP support from CFSA through the USDA’s new Design and Implementation Activities (DIA 140) process. DIA 140 takes the CPA 138 a step further with significant hands-on support, strategizing, and planning.

Ultimately, as I talked with Oscar, I got a sense that we are all in this together and need one another’s experience on this tremendous food-producing journey. 

“Becoming a farmer, I’ve learned a lot through failing. I like it when someone who knows more than I says listen, let’s plan this right the first time; let’s get this where you need it… Once you’re on the property, you can see it. You get a better understanding, and I think that’s where having that onsite third perspective is really helpful. Of course, I can go out there and just start throwing things everywhere, and then next thing you know…I wish I would have done that over here or that over there… knowing what to do from the start comes with experience…”

Whether you are looking for a sounding board to bounce new ideas off, on-farm technical assistance, or the guidance of a Technical Service Provider, CFSA is here for it. We are that “third perspective” that you can count on. We are here to help you thrive and find the support you and your farm need to feed your community, grow your farm business, and care for the land you call home.

The CFSA Farm Services Team is here to support you with all aspects of conservation planning, organic production, transitioning to organic practices, and season extension. If you live in the Carolinas, let us know how we can help.