Farm: Riverbend Nursery
Operator: Brian Rollins
Acreage in Production: 10 and growing
Production: Grains, Artisan Bread, Vegetables
Markets: Farmer’s Markets, Grocery
“The vision for the farm and business is to combine our current farm and the food business by planting 7 acres in winter wheat, to be harvested, milled and used to make artisan, rustic bread, baked in a Brian built wood-fired oven.”
Riverbend Nursery was a successful B&B nursery business for almost 25 years until it was destroyed by a combination the recession and a bad drought. The owner, Brian Rollins, had made a career as nurseryman in landscaping, being self-employed and making a living from growing plants for the bustling housing industry. The housing industry collapsed and along with it, Brian’s business that depended upon it. He did not want to give up the land and go work for someone else, having been successfully self-employed for so long. Rollins had a side business catering events by cooking wood-fired brick oven pizza. He also sold brick ovens that he made himself.
When the nursery went bust, Rollins transitioned the land from young trees to diversified specialty crops, including shiitake mushrooms and various vegetables. He also planned to grow 7 acres of wheat to be harvested and milled for making the pizza dough for his famous wood-fired brick oven pizzas. The project would integrate his pizza catering business entirely into the farm. Growing the wheat, processing it into dough flour on site, and then growing the vegetables that would be used as pizza toppings would make farm to fork pizza catering service a reality. Although the pizza dough idea was not feasible, Brian still wanted to integrate the milling and baking process into his small grain operation on the farm. By sourcing his own grain, he could experiment with different varieties, adjust harvest and planting times, and also ensure the quality of his own raw material for baking breads. By being more in control of his raw material, he could produce a variety of delicious artisan breads from the grains grown on his own soil.
Rollins applied for RAFI’s TCRF grant to help assist him in building his bakery operation. He used the grant to buy a small-scale Austrian-style mill that would be perfect for turning his wheat into a value added product.
He built a bakery, with the mill as the centerpiece, to create a diversity of breads that he direct markets to consumers.
Brian’s goal was to harvest 350 bushels of wheat from the 7 acres of land that he planned to cultivate. He has since managed to harvest 400 bushels of wheat in a year and has expanded his acreage to 10, with plans to continue expanding. Rollins has not had any major complications with growing wheat in North Carolina and has been able to steadily increase his yield since the grant was awarded to him in 2013.
The goal for the Rollins’ is to make their farm more sustainable by growing the raw material, processing it, and selling it. They believe that the business could become a family owned and operated endeavor. They are also working towards sustainability through stewardship of the land by putting 35 acres of the farm into a conservation easement to “…preserve the open farm land for future generations”.
Brian believes that the project could be similarly duplicated by other farmers but with their own signature bread products. His major challenges are finding a reliable source for organic fertilizer that would be able to adequately fertilize several acres of grain. He also has limited machinery for harvesting and processing his grain. A seed cleaner is the next piece of equipment that is essential for expanding and still ensuring a high quality product.