In 2016, the Agricultural Reinvestment Fund awarded grants to 23 individual farmers and 2 collaborative groups to carry out entrepreneurial and innovative projects in agriculture. The grants were possible by generous support from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The projects increased the success of farm businesses in North Carolina in addition to serving as demonstrations of entrepreneurship and innovation for farmers both across the state and the country.
2016 Agricultural Reinvestment Fund Grantees
Collaborative Project Grantees
Transplanting Traditions Community Farm is a non-profit project of the Orange County Partnership for Young Children. TTCF provides refugee adults and youth access to land, healthy food, and agricultural business education opportunities. There are 28 families farming at the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm and they are all originally from Burma. Transplanting Traditions helps the refugees become familiar with growing conditions and the business of agriculture in the U.S. Kelly Owensby and others who operate the TTCF are being awarded the grant to install a movable high tunnel system on the farm in order to extend the season for the unique Asian tropical produce that are grown in their collaborative operation.
Shawn Hatley, Sun-Raised Farms
Sheep Traceability from Farm Gate to Your Plate
Louisburg, Franklin Co.
In sheep production, breeding stock selection is a key determinant of lamb quality. Farmers need to make breeding decisions that balance the need for high yields (e.g., low lamb mortality) and meat quality. These characteristics are not automatically found together in currently available breeding stock /seed stock suppliers suitable for outdoor pasture-based production systems. The goal of the Sun-Raised Farms collaborative project is to enhance their lamb quality and yield. Their specific objective is to identify breeds that both achieve good meat quality and prolificacy/good mothering characteristics.The grant funds they were awarded will allow the group to establish and collect baseline records and data sets for their network of sheep farmers working on solar farms through the implementation of an EID (electronic ID) record keeping system.
Individual Farmer Grantees
Bender Farms is a mid-scale diversified operation that produces tobacco, vegetables, and fruits in Warren County. Jeff Bender hopes to expand his vegetable and fruit production with institutional and wholesale customers, but the farm is limited by its ability to deliver produce in a fresh, refrigerated condition. Bender Farms will be installing a refrigeration unit into a repurposed box truck to use as a delivery vehicle for supplying institutional and wholesale customers.
Oxford, Granville Co.
Charles Bishku is operating his family’s small farm in Oxford. The family bought the old tobacco farm in 1979 and converted it into a successful vegetable, fruit, and nut operation. Currently, there are no cherry producers in the Eastern region of North Carolina, but because of a snow belt that keeps temperatures slightly cooler in the area where the Bishku farm is located, Charles hopes that a cherry orchard will be productive. He will use the grant funds to establish fencing and to buy the trees from a local nursery.
Bryce Bjornson runs Duck Daddy Ranch, a small farm in Seagrove specializing in sales of heritage breed duck meat to chefs and consumers across the Piedmont region. Bryce raises his ducks in the woods because of the improved flavor of the meat and the well being of the animal. The grant funds will help Bryce build a permanent processing center on his farm in order to reduce the cost of outsourcing the processing of his meat products.
R Britt Farms produces livestock and various commodity crops. In order to expand the farm operation and keep the farm profitable, Lee Britt, owner and operator, will begin cold pressing premium oils for large wholesale buyers as well as local restaurants. The oil will be pressed from peanuts and sunflower seeds that are raised on the farm. These crops produce a “heart healthy” oil for consumers to cook healthier meals. The cakes that are produced as a byproduct can also be used as supplemental feedstock for livestock. Britt will use the grant funds to retrofit a structure on the farm for oil pressing.
Danny Cowan and George Allen operate Red Tail Grains in Southern Alamance County. With their expertise in small scale farming, they are producing high quality, whole grains for the burgeoning local food economy in North Carolina. They are growing both old and new varieties of grain for local brewers, bakers, and consumers who want to extend their pallet beyond plain white flour. Danny and George are receiving grant funds to install an artisan mill that they will use to stone grind the grains that they grow in order to sell a product directly to consumers locally.
Piedmont Biofarm is a diversified vegetable operation near downtown Pittsboro. The farm is operated by Brett Evans, Will Carmine, and Geoff Seleen. The farm has been very productive and successful selling produce to Triangle consumers of fresh, local produce. In 2015, the farm started hosting on-farm dinners where all the produce used in the meals was sourced from the Biofarm and prepared by Geoff who is an experienced chef and caterer. The Biofarm will use the grant funds from RAFI to expand their on-farm dinner series by renovating their packing shed to include a food preparation and catering supplies area.
Ann Gayden, Shrooms To Grow
Improvements to Infrastructure for Mushroom Production
Louisburg, Franklin Co.
Ann Gayden is a shiitake and oyster producer in Franklin County. Her mushrooms are “forest farmed,” grown out of logs, and sold to many consumers in the Raleigh area. She wants to expand and diversify her operation by constructing a spawning lab and sterilization equipment on the farm so that she can create her own mushroom inoculate and be able to sterilize her growing medium. The grant funds will help her purchase the construction materials as well as the sterilization equipment.
Dawnbreaker Farm is a 20-acre farm in Hurdle Mills operated by Ben Grimes that raises meat and eggs. The farm is located on a historic tobacco farm and has many tobacco curing barns still standing. Ben is using the grant funds to retrofit one of the barns, built in 1979, into a poultry processing barn. This will allow Ben to save money on processing fees as well as treat the birds humanely by not having to transport them to a processing facility.
Buck Naked Farm is an 86-acre farm located in Moncure. The farm was formerly an abandoned chicken hatchery that has since been loved and improved by the small-scale restorative agriculture of Buck Naked Farm. The farm primarily produces honey, jam, and other beehive products. In order to improve the apiary, Jennifer wants to expand the apiary as well as add an educational component to the farm. She will use the grant funds to add more hives to the operation as well as establish small fruit beds and a bee forage garden.
Jillian Mickens runs Open Door Farm in Cedar Grove. Open Door Farm was originally conceived on the Breeze Incubator Farm in Orange County and has recently expanded onto its own property. The farm mostly produces cut flowers and microgreens as well as produce year round at farmers markets in the Triangle region. Jillian has been awarded a grant to construct a produce washing and packing shed to increase the operation’s efficiency and to optimize sanitation standards in post-harvest processing.
Martha Mobley is an extension agent and farmer in Franklin County. She raises beef cattle, goats, sheep, and organic vegetables for direct markets. Martha is the 3rd generation to operate on Leonard Farm and has worked to transition it to a direct market farm selling natural meats and vegetables. She is using the grant award to add asparagus to her operation as it is a high value crop that can be easily produced and managed. In order to increase efficiency on her operation and keep products fresh, she will also use grant funds to build a mobile refrigeration unit that she can use to harvest produce and keep cool from the field to the farmers market.
Sunset Ridge is one of the largest bison producers in North Carolina. Primarily serving local consumers in the Triangle, they sell bison meat products at the Carrboro and Durham farmers market. The farm will receive funding to help with testing native Midwestern grasses as supplemental feed for the bison in order to increase carcass weight on a grass-fed diet. Jack Pleasant, owner/operator of the farm, will be hosting demonstration events and farm tours to share the results with other farmers and consumers.
Deborah Price raises vegetables and cultivates a vineyard on her family farm in Vance County. She grew up helping her mother and father raise tobacco and vegetables. Deborah is growing luffa; as a niche product that is in high demand for environmentally conscious consumers in the U.S. Luffa is a sponge-like material that is derived from a gourd. It has several uses and applications for cleaning as well as for manufacturing into industrial and craft materials. Luffa is an underdeveloped crop domestically as most luffa products are imported into the United States. Deborah is using the grant award to establish a luffa growing greenhouse that will allow her to increase the yield and the quality of the product.
Jennie Reese, Ellington Farm
Local, Pasture Raised Hog Farm Expansion Plan
Manson, Warren Co.
Jennie Reese and her husband Jamie operate Ellington Farm in Manson. The farm has been in Jamie’s family for many generations, previously as a tobacco farm, and now as a diversified strawberry, cattle, and pasture raised pork operation. Jennie and Jamie also own and operate a general store in Manson called Buchanan’s Store which has been a central part of the rural community for many years. They want to increase their pastured pork operation by adding hog fencing as well as establishing the infrastructure to raise more sows that will be bred to greatly increase the herd size. Jennie and Jamie will use the grant award to buy fencing materials as well and other supplies to help achieve this pastured pork enterprise expansion.
Huckleberry Trail Farm is an agritourism farm in Chatham County. Most of their activities for the public occur in the fall including corn mazes, hayrides, pick-your-own pumpkin and other various activities that are fun for all ages. The farm wants to increase safety and accessibility so that customers with limited mobility can enjoy the on-farm experience as much as anyone else. Huckleberry Farm is using the grant funding to install a wheelchair ramp that will allow all to get access to the “farm yard”, the hay ride, as well as other features around the farm that will improve accessibility for limited mobility guests.
Prodigal Farm raises and milks goats to create artisan soft and hard cheeses that have won national recognition. The farm raises the goats on pasture including areas that are partially wooded. In order to reduce the risk of parasite outbreak, a principal concern in pasture-based goat dairy operations, Prodigal Farm institutes pasture rotation, high grazing, and other cultural practices that are successful in reducing risk of parasites on the farm organically. Native plants like sericea lespedeza and black locust are also scientifically proven to improve herd health because they contain naturally anti-parasitic properties. Grant funds will be used by Prodigal Farm to purchase and seed native plants into pastures to improve herd health as well as increase milk yields.
Ches Stewart operates Haw River Mushrooms near Saxapahaw in Alamance County. The operation is fairly new and Ches does not have the proper infrastructure to increase yields and varieties of mushrooms that can be grown for local markets. Chefs and other consumers in the Triangle are on a waitlist for Ches’ mushrooms. He needs to build a special facility that will allow him to meet the market demand. A growing room would allow Ches to control the temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide creating an environment that could provide the operation with year-round mushroom production. Mushroom varieties that are not widely available, like Lion’s Mane, could be grown in a facility where the conditions that are suitable for these rarer varieties can be established. With the grant funds, Ches will purchase supplies and materials to build this mushroom growing facility on the farm as well as equipment for creating his own spawn.
Valee Taylor owns and operates Taylor Fish Farm in Cedar Grove, Orange County. Taylor Fish Farm supplies grocers in North Carolina with fresh farm-raised tilapia. Stores that carry Valee’s fish include Publix, Whole Foods, Piggly-Wiggly, and other major grocery chains in the state. To reduce the cost of production and therefore the cost for the consumer, Valee will use grant funds to construct a fish processing center on site to filet and package the fish without having to transport it to an off-site facility.
Dr. Rachel Tinker-Kulberg is a professional researcher in plant biology and has acted as a scientific consultant on small-scale aquaponic production systems. Rachel is designing an aquaponic system to raise shrimp from Biofloc technology. Biofloc uses a plant-based feed to encourage the growth of microorganisms that provide the shrimp with a diet that is high in Omega-3’s and sustainably grown. Rachel’s goal is to create an aquaponic system that is closed-loop, requires low input, creates zero waste, and maximizes the nutritional value that comes from an integrated fish and vegetable aquaponic operation. She will use the grant award to buy materials such as pumps, aerators, and an oxygen meter.
Heritage breeds of livestock animals are increasingly becoming protected by growers who are dedicated to keeping these high quality breed strains in production. Charles Treis sees a gap in producing heritage livestock breeds with turkey. According to Charles, turkey is an untapped market in the local niche agricultural economy. He aim to produce the Narragansett and the Royal Palm turkeys as they are high quality breeds that are rapidly declining in the face of industrialized agriculture. Charles will use the grant funds to kickstart his heritage turkey enterprise.
Chatham Rabbit is a top producer of rabbit meat for restaurants and consumers in the Triangle area. Crystal has sold to over 80 restaurants and continues to deliver high quality rabbit meat. Rabbit meat is becoming more popular with consumers because it is the highest protein, lowest fat animal that you can eat. In order for the operation to be more efficient both financially and with time, Crystal wants to create a facility on the farm where she can process rabbits “on-demand” to deliver fresh meat to buyers in the area. Currently, the closest processing facility for rabbit is about 3 hours away. Crystal will use the grant funds to install a processing facility so that she can reduce the time and money in outsourcing the processing of her rabbit meat.
Lilly Den Farm is a mixed livestock operation in Chatham County. Tucker Withington of Lilly Den Farm grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York and has continued to work in agriculture. He moved to North Carolina in 2008 to get involved in sustainable agriculture and to start his own livestock operation. There is a great, untapped source of energy production in livestock operations through a material that is otherwise waste and a potential pollutant in the environment: manure. Tucker plans to use the grant funds to install an anaerobic digester on the farm, which can recycle the manure into pure methane gas that can be used to generate electricity. The electricity created by the digester on the farm, which will save the operation a lot of money by reducing the amount of energy spent on refrigeration and other farm uses of conventionally sourced power. The digester also stores manure, which can be used as a byproduct to add nutrients back into the system through pasture improvement.
A map of all farms participating in the 2016 Agricultural Reinvestment Fund