We know that at least one of us on staff, Executive Director Scott Marlow, will be carving into a Peregrine Farm turkey today. Our board president, farmer Alex Hitt, made sure to save him the biggest one in the flock.
Alex recently took a group of Americorps VISTA staff on a tour of Peregrine Farm. It’s where he and his wife, Betsy, decided to start a life — and a farm — straight out of college.
That was in 1982, when a dream to farm with respect to the land wasn’t as commonplace as today. The Hitts were among the first farmers to sell at the highly acclaimed Carrboro Farmers Market, in 1986, and have built a sustainable model for farming, for a business and for their livelihood.
“Three of us live off of 3 ½ acres,” Alex told us. “That’s an anomaly.”
But it wasn’t always so easy. Standing by one of many solar-powered greenhouses, Alex pointed at their house. While building the home, the Hitts lived in a tent for eight months. “That tractor over there? That was the ‘dining room.;”
“As a farmer,” he explained, “you have to learn to be mechanics, electricians and plumbers because you can’t afford to hire those folks.”
The hands-on approach is no secret to anyone who farms. With a strategy and a plan, the Hitts have flourished as experts in their field (no pun intended!): Alex is renowned for his work on heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables, while Betsy has created a successful model for naturally growing cut flowers that outshines any other approach.
According to a recent article by Andrea Weigl in the News & Observer, “In 2006, the couple was honored with a prestigious regional award from the USDA that recognizes farmers whose methods ‘are profitable, good for families and communities and beneficial to the environment.’”
Part of this model, and much of why we appreciate the Hitts so dearly, is that every apprentice on the farm earns an honest, fair living. Because of that, the Hitts don’t even advertise for work.
“It’s never been our intention to be trainers of farmers,” Alex told us. As stated in the article, the Hitts “are helping to grow the next generation of small-scale farmers. Over three decades, they’ve had 21 people work full time on their farm from late March to early October. Of those, 10 are still in farming.”
All Peregrine Farm employees get a living wage, paid time off, and get to go to field days and conferences on the clock.
“For us to have a business run like it should, we have no secrets. So people get it,” Alex told our staff. “We believed from the beginning in treating people as employees. I live in the real world. We pay people as well as we can. We’re maybe not the highest pay, but were pretty good. Everyone gets a week’s paid vacation in summer, gets paid every week. We are living in an economic reality.”
The Hitts smile constantly, and it is contagious. Alex and Betsy are incredible resources in the community. Today, as we gobble up our turkey, we’re thinking of them and thanking them for being exceptional people.
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Alex Hitt at Peregrine Farm with his Thanksgiving turkeys. Photo by Daryn Lane.