For Rachel Schiffelbein, running the Lyon Farms produce stand every summer bankrolls her commitment to graduating from UNC-Wilmington debt-free.
Since high school, Schiffelbein and co-manager Erin Boltz have worked their way up at the farm to be entrusted with the lucrative Raleigh location.
But the stand collided with Raleigh permit law this year and got kicked out of its Creedmoor Road location, leaving the students with nowhere to set up shop.
“We’re getting desperate. I’m ready to get down on my knees if I have to,” Schiffelbein said. “We need this.”
Schiffelbein and Boltz appeared before the Raleigh City Council last week asking for a 90-day variance to sell from the Abbotswood at Stonehenge retirement community in the Creedmoor Road area. Their appeal could cause previously unplanned changes in how farm stands are handled in city zoning code, which is currently being rewritten.
Under current city law, farm stands are in the same category as Christmas tree sales and fireworks vendors: eligible for a special events license that allows them to set up for 20 days or four weekends per year.
But with a growing season that extends from April to August, farm stands need a much longer time period to sell their wares.
“It’s asking us to pick between strawberries or blackberries, lettuce or watermelon,” Boltz said in her letter to the council.
In the meeting, the council’s reaction to Boltz’s proposal was positive.
“Anything we can do to increase access to fresh fruit and vegetables” would be a good idea, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.
The stand has already been shooed away from numerous other Raleigh locations over the years: from their spot near Raven’s Ridge when Falls of Neuse Road was rerouted, from their spot at Springmoor Retirement Center because of a zoning conflict, and from their most recent location at the corner of Creedmoor and Lynn roads because of the permit conflict last year.
“Every time, they come up with new reasons,” said Rose Lyon, who helps run the main farm.
The problem with their most recent location was zoning: their permit barred them from being in a residential area.
This is the first time they have appealed to the City Council about a decision, Lyon said, because they’re having a hard time finding other places to sell.
“We’ve run out of vacant lots in Raleigh, and that’s where we do best, because we’re not bothering anybody,” Lyon said.
Current regulations are intentionally tight, said Travis Cane, Raleigh senior planner.
“One argument I’ve heard throughout my career is that if you start with produce, you end up with velvet Elvis paintings on the side of the road, and people don’t like to go there,” Crane said.
But with the girls’ appeal, Crane said, the city may consider adding a provision for farm stands into the new unified development ordinance, whose long revision process is drawing to a close.
Lyon Farms gets multiple calls a day asking when they’ll be back in Raleigh, Boltz said. The stand has already renewed its business license through next year.
The farm runs one stand on its property in Creedmoor, a small Granville County town, as well as others in nearby Butner and Oxford. But they’re hoping to maintain a presence in Raleigh, so their devotees won’t have to drive an hour or more for fresh produce.
“Our customers are loyal. They’ll find us anywhere we go, if we could just get somewhere,” Lyon said.