From the Editor: Happy Friday, Everyone! This next piece is the second in our series of farm profiles from the wonderful English 102 students at UNC. (If you missed the first one from last Friday, no worries – just scroll down.) Enjoy!

by Stefanie Protasowicki

After a long drive, the trees finally pull back to reveal a vast expanse of farmland that, according to my navigation system, could only be Vollmer Farm. Pulling up in the gravel driveway, there is so much to take in, from the tractor pulling the covers off the new broccoli plants to the workers fertilizing the blueberry plants to the cream colored dog perusing the neat rows of blackberry vines. Almost every kind of vegetable that you can think of has been grown on this farm. The cozy house and the ease with which the Vollmers navigate the farm makes it impossible to believe they haven’t spent their whole lives here in Bunn, North Carolina.

After John and Betty Vollmer were married, they moved around quite a bit from Mississippi to Indiana where John worked as an agricultural chemical company and then as a market researcher. With three young children, Betty and John decided it was time for something different. So, John decided to move his family back to the farm that he grew up on: Vollmer Farm.

Vollmer Farm has always been a family farm. Currently, Farmer John is the third generation of the Vollmer family to work the farm and soon enough, their son Russell will begin the fourth generation. Eventually their current grandchildren will be the dawn of the fifth. The importance of family is really reflected in the way the couple has a market and their products aimed toward young families interested in anything from finding out more about sustainable farming, to buying hand made ice cream and jams at their mini market, to just taking the kids out for a fun day trip. In fact, a large portion of the farm is integrated with kid-friendly activities that could keep your children entertained for a good couple of hours according to Farmer John. There is a hay lift, corn maze, and fruit picking. When the sun goes down, a movie projector comes to life and plays family films on the side of a little red barn.

But those aren’t the only things to do on Vollmer Farm. As soon as the strawberry patch is ripe for the picking, in mid April, families from far outside Orange County swarm the farm and raid the bushes for their juicy and organic products. Strawberries are the main attraction at Vollmer Farm, but once there, it is impossible to leave without picking up some of their leafy cabbage heads or the plump dark blue blueberries, grown with all-natural fertilizers, and without the harmful chemicals that seem to be ubiquitous in many of the foods we eat today. With all the activities, from hay lifts to picking berries, John and Betty both believe that they have built a “sustainable enterprise that will allow the next generation to step in and take it on without worrying about what will happen.”

John and Betty believe that the purpose of farming includes the cycling of nutrients rather than just the reaping of a harvest. For this reason, what goes into their soil and how is just as important to them as the green plants that sprout bearing fruits and vegetables. All of the pesticides they use on their crops are naturally occurring and certified organic. They also use cover crops for soil amendment. After planting a crop and allowing it to sprout, they then plow it back into the soil without harvested it. The growing plants absorb energy from the sun that is then returned to the soil when they are chopped down, since those nutrients decompose right back into soil. This way, the farm doesn’t have to purchase as much soil from a conventional source to put back on the ground. Farmer John sums up this approach by saying, “If you don’t treat your farm as a complete unit, where if you take something out over here and it goes off to feed somebody, then part of that circle, that little link, is missing.” He stresses the importance of giving back and recycling the earth because “if we are taking from the farm, we have to be putting back for it to be sustainable.”

Another guideline that they use on the farm is a heavy reliance on natural products to help them grow the crops. The three requirements for these products are that they have to be naturally occurring, they must cause no harm to the environment, and they must leave no residue on the plants that are going to be eaten themselves. As John says, “If they have those three components, then you have a sustainable system.”

When asked about the practicality of feeding the world with only local and sustainable farms, John did not hesitate to agree that it was very possible, but getting there would be a process. Right now, very few farms are feeding the world but there is a growing trend toward eating local and organic foods. One popular slogan is “Know Your Farmer,” and Betty and John are strong supporters of this idea. At the supermarket, Betty buys only foods whose origins she can verify. She refuses to buy anything produced in other countries. John believes, too, that there is a large need for more young farmers as it is a very practicable idea in these hard times when jobs are hard to come by.

John and Betty’s hope for the future is that the movement supporting local and organic food never dies. Their undying care for overall health motivates them to stay local. John and Betty both nod in agreement, and say almost simultaneously, “your body is important,” and that is why, in the end it shouldn’t matter how much more expensive local food is. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself. And always remember that what you put in is what you get out.