When Martha Mobley’s phone rings these days, it is frequently someone with 5 or 10 acres of land asking this question: “How can I make money?”
Mobley is the N.C. Cooperative Agricultural Extension agent for Franklin County. Her job is to educate farmers – big and small, current and future, experienced and novice – and help them to be successful.
She works with people such as Ranell Bridges, who had never lived on a farm before buying her Louisburg acreage, but always dreamed of being a farmer. And Robert Elliott, who grew up on his family farm before pursuing a career as a U.S. Marine and Department of Defense contractor, and now finds himself back at Cypress Hall Farms in Louisburg looking for a way to make the land work for him.
Mobley is bringing experienced and aspiring farmers together for the daylong Successful Small Farms Opportunities Conference on Saturday in Louisburg. The event is designed to help people network, share information and get the help they need.
Small farmers here have a lot of options: herbs, flowers, honey, nuts, fruits, vegetables and even organic tobacco. Many find themselves in the pasture-raised meat business to meet the growing demand for locally and humanely raised meat products.
“When we first moved back to the farm, we decided that we wanted some chickens just for eggs, just for personal use,” Elliott said. He and his fiancee, Michelle Martin, liked dealing with the chickens so much that they decided to begin producing organic, pasture-raised chickens and turkeys. They plan to add pork and beef later.
When Bridges and her husband, Gary, purchased Two Bridges Farm three years ago, they weren’t sure what they were going to produce. Then they got a few goats for weed control.
One thing led to another and now they have a small herd of meat goats in addition to chickens and pigs. All of their animals are humanely raised in accordance with the stringent standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Approved program. They sell their meat and farm fresh eggs at the Western Wake and Wake Forest Farmer’s Markets every Saturday.
Nutrition for minds, bodies
Traci Nachtrab of Lucky 3 Farm saw her organically fed, animal welfare-approved meat business grow so quickly that the Louisburg farm was at capacity within three months of starting its monthly home-delivery service.
Nachtrab says her customers are concerned about their health and they want to eat meat that is raised humanely and fed organic feed. “We really think that animals that provide nutrition for our minds and bodies deserve the utmost respect and care that we can give them, and that’s what we do.”
Kelly Cassell-Borth of Wake Forest became a Lucky 3 customer in November after being on the waiting list for almost six months. She became interested in healthier meat sources when her son was diagnosed with Lyme disease and the family pediatrician recommended a documentary about the food industry.
When Cassell-Borth visited Lucky 3 Farm, she was “really blown away by the love they have for their animals.” While it is a little more expensive, she said, “once you start doing this, you don’t want to go into the grocery store for your meat. It’s an eye-opening experience.”
Small farms are vitally important to the local food movement, but making a living as a farmer can be challenging and risky.
“There are many opportunities for income development,” said Mobley, and that’s why she decided to hold the conference.
Experienced farmers and experts will present on topics such as obtaining grants, making money with nut tree production and improving sales through online marketing. The conference fee is $20, which includes lunch and a binder containing detailed information on all 11 presentation topics. The conference is open to anyone, not just Franklin County residents.
“It’s all about farmers helping farmers succeed. If we don’t, not all of them will stay around,” said Nachtrab, who will share her marketing expertise.