Building An Organic Small Grains Operation


Farm Name: Looking Back Farm
Location: Tyner, Perquimans County, NC
Operator Name: Ben and Kenny Haines
Acreage in Production: 300 in grain, 20 in vegetable and livestock
Production: Grains, Vegetables, Livestock
Markets: Livestock producers, bakers, farmer’s markets
Certifications: USDA Organic
Growing grain and turning it into a useable product is the next step to a thriving regional food economy. Ben Haines and his father, Kenny, converted to organic farming over 20 years ago in eastern Carolina under the name of Looking Back Farms. They were the first to start growing organic produce in their area, surrounded by conventional corn and soy operations that occupied thousands of acres of coastal plain country. It was a tough challenge to grow organic corn when GMO contaminated pollen permeated the air during the growing season. The Haines’ adapted to a late planting schedule to avoid cross pollinating with their GMO neighbors. They have created an oasis of organic, sustainably grown grain and are a leading example of good ethics in farming ,going against prevailing practices that are harmful to the rural environment and community.

Like the adaptations they had to make to grow organic corn and wheat, they also recognized the need to adapt to different markets. They couldn’t sell their grain to the big buyers like the rest of their community. They had to branch out and find new economic alternatives. Ben Haines had the idea to create their own value added grain product on the farm. He would acquire an on-farm mobile mill and grind his corn and soy into feed, thus creating the first certified organic feed for eastern North Carolina. The on-farm feed mill would provide Looking Back Farms with an economic alternative to selling their whole grain to a big buyer, receiving relatively little in return for their product. By controlling every part of the feed making process, they could ensure a high quality product. This grain project would also have an impact on their community because they could provide an organic feed for local livestock producers, something that previously would have been bought in bulk amounts, trucked in from a few hours away. The closest source for organic feed in North Carolina before Looking Back Farm started producing it was Elon, 3 ½ hours away from Eastern Carolina.

Since the grant was awarded in 2010, Looking Back Farms has successfully managed to sell their organic feed to local livestock producers in their area. Somerset Farm in Edenton uses the feed to raise their animals, primarily selling their products to consumers in Manteo and other restaurants and towns on the Outer Banks. However, there have been challenges with maintaining the organic certification and keeping the feed at a price that is affordable for small farmers in Eastern N.C.

In order to continually diversify their operation and reach out to new markets, the Haines’ applied for an additional grant in 2011 to begin growing organic wheat. They wanted to sell their organic wheat to the burgeoning local milling industry that is emerging in North Carolina. They needed a seed cleaner in order to process the wheat grains to send to mills in other areas of the state. The seed cleaner has helped their grains production tremendously, allowing them to go to new buyers who desire a product that is ready to be milled. The organic wheat production has supplemented their feed operation and provides another economic opportunity for farmers in their area. The Haines’ have loaned out their mobile feed mill and seed cleaner to try and encourage other farmers to adopt their organic grain cultivating practices.

Looking Back Farm is a diamond in the rough in eastern Carolina. They are doing things differently for the health of their farm, their community, and the folks that they ultimately feed.
Ben Haines explains Looking Back Farm and the on-farm feed mill:

Ben Haines, Looking Back Farm: Portable Organic Feed Mill from RAFI-USA on Vimeo.