Farm: Grateful Growers Farm
Location: Denver, Lincoln County, NC
Operators: Cassie Parsons and Natalie Veres
Production: Livestock, Vegetables, Herbs, Fruit
Markets: Charlotte area consumers, Farmer’s markets
Location: Denver, Lincoln County, NC
“This project will provide a desperately needed commercial outlet for value-added farm products. It will not only financially support our farm but all of those selling us their product, hopefully resulting in the need for farm growth and expansion. We see the cart as a means to helping us stay on our farm by keeping us profitable and helping to move products that are difficult to sell as fresh (uncooked) meat. The more “lesser” cuts we can sell, the more we can grow profitably. Long term, our community could potentially support multiple carts like these, further helping the local economy in many ways; not the least of which will be supporting local farmers.”
Selling locally produced goods raw from the farm directly to consumers is the most popular method for marketing produce from a small sustainable farm. This method of selling has it’s limitations; consumers don’t want to purchase raw items during limited market hours, they have tight schedules where they may not have enough time to cook the raw produce that they can get, selling raw produce also does not give the farmer the greatest returns. The value-added method of marketing turns the farm product into something that can be readily consumed or used by the buyer. It makes the product more valuable and gives the farmer a greater competitive advantage over other farms growing the same produce.
Parsons and Veres started their farm business in 2003, primarily selling pork products. Before this, Veres served in the Army for 3 years and then in a manufacturing company in various management roles for 11 years. She grew up on a small farm in Ohio and pursued a Bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University.
Cassie’s vision for value-added products from Grateful Growers consisted of turning their raw farm goods into cooked meals that people could purchase and consume on-the-go. Parsons’ experience in the fine dining industry inspired the farmers to pursue the local food vending cart. Veres could stay at the farm tending to the animals and the land while Parsons would cook and serve their goods in Charlotte via the food cart. Cassie Parsons’ years in the kitchen as a lead chef provided the duo with the know-how to create delicious menu items with the produce they had available.
“Our food will be different than what is currently offered, and our menu will frequently change with varying availability of seasonal products. This will keep patrons interested and anticipating our next new offering. We expect to hook regular patrons interested and anticipating our next new offering. We expect to hook regular patrons and have them buying from us multiple times per month. Our marketing will emphasize the variety, freshness, quality, and local origins of the food. These aspects of food are gaining importance in today’s market.”
Imagine being able to walk down the street, on your way to the office or going to grab some lunch, and on the street is a food cart, like any other hot dog or ice cream trucks that occupy the corners of most American inner cities. On this particular food cart, however, there are value added goods that are healthy alternatives to your normal food cart fare, and it would be 100% locally sourced ingredients primarily from one farm where one of the farmers is actually serving your meal. Parsons’ and Veres also hope to source produce from other farmers in the area to use in the food cart recipes. This will give farmers in their area another economic outlet, simultaneously strengthening the capacity of their rural region by supporting their neighbors through the project. The vending cart would be the first of it’s kind providing an all local lunch for Charlotte consumers.
Parsons has spent most of her professional life as a fine dining chef. Both partners have a passion for food, farming, and sustainable food systems. They hope that the local food vending cart will be an example for other farmers to try creative ways to sell value-added farm products. The vending cart is especially attainable for small farmers because it has a very low overhead cost, unlike starting a full-service restaurant or mass producing a packaged product like jams or relish. They expect to take the produce they have available from their farm and other participating farmers and, using Parsons’ cooking creativity and skills, turning it into a meal. They anticipated $45,000 in sales in the first year of operating the cart, in addition to netting $125,000 per year.
The cart was named Harvest Moon Grille and was a great success for Parsons and Veres. After operating for a year in the cart, they decided to expand into a full-scale restaurant, realizing Charlotte’s need for a premier farm-to-table restaurant. Parsons enjoyed her time running the cart but believed the time had come for their enterprise to expand into a more formal dining experience. The cart is now being utilized by another small farm like an incubator for another successful farm-to-table business.
Cassie speaks about the cart and the transition to doing a full restaurant:
Charlotte Magazine’s coverage of Grateful Growers and the Harvest Moon Grille restaurant:
RAFI’s grant program is supported by a generous grant from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.