If someone had asked former Cary mayor Glen Lang 10 years ago what he would be doing in 2014, his answer probably wouldn’t have had anything to do with protecting baby chickens from hawks or growing hydroponic lettuce by the side of Holly Springs Road.
Lang and Jim Loy bought about 1 acre of land and opened LL Urban Farms nearly two years ago. Now they spend their days selling fresh produce and meat to people who stop by their roadside stand between Cary and Apex.
The farm is a second career for both men, who live in Cary. Loy, 58, used to work as the general manager of a storage and moving company in Raleigh.
Lang, 57, was chief executive officer of Capitol Broadband and served as Cary’s mayor from 1999 to 2003.
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As mayor during a high-growth time for Cary, Lang pushed for slower development. Some of his policy decisions were met with resistance, especially as he advocated for development fees.
But Lang has put politics behind him. For him, running a farm is a way to relax during retirement.
Neither Lang nor Loy had even grown a flower before opening LL Urban Farms. They mostly learned what they needed to know from the Internet.
“We’re YouTube farmers,” Loy said.
Lang and Loy watched clips about how to grow crops and build greenhouses.
“When you’re a small business, you have to be resourceful,” Lang said.
The men’s friendship bloomed about 12 years ago, when their children met while attending Athens Drive High School. Now Lang and Loy are more than business partners – they’re in-laws.
Loy’s daughter, Taylor, married Lang’s son, Dustin, last October.
It was a match made in a gardener’s heaven.
All about lettuce
Armed with newfound knowledge about farming, Lang and Loy set up the stand to offer fresh fruit and vegetables for people in western Wake County who don’t want to drive to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. Much of the selection at LL Urban Farms comes from vendors at the market.
“We try to keep everything as local as possible,” Loy said. “We believe in supporting local farmers.”
Cindy Huntley of Raleigh said she likes the convenience of having the farm close by. With two small children, it’s hard for her to go to the State Farmers Market.
“This place is just way more convenient,” Huntley said. “I like knowing that they have set hours, and it’s less crowded, so it’s easier to keep an eye on my kids.”
The business sells everything from local honey, fresh fruit, meat, vegetables, spices, sauces and even fresh seafood from Topsail. It has sold pumpkins and Christmas trees during the holiday seasons.
A chicken coop sits behind the stand, and hens peck the ground. A rooster struts around the yard, the only non-producer of the fresh eggs sold at LL Urban Farms.
Hydroponic lettuce is the specialty, something unique for a farm of its size. The lettuce is grown in green houses, but instead of using dirt, the leafy greens are grown with just water. Pesticides and herbicides are out of the question.
It takes less time to grow hydroponic lettuce, according to the owners, and they sell it to local Whole Foods stores.
“It’s a convenient old-man system,” Lang said with a laugh. “The lettuce is high up off the ground, and we don’t get any weeds.”
The owners are working on a system to also grow tomatoes that way.
“With the health movement, people want to know where food comes from, and what’s in it,” Loy said.
Carla Squires, who owns Bamboo Ladies, a Raleigh business that specializes in pickled bamboo, lives down the street from the farm. She said she likes to support local farmers.
“You just know the food is safer and fresher,” Squires said.
Running an urban farm with virtually no agricultural background isn’t always a bed of roses, so to speak.
Things go wrong unexpectedly, like malfunctioning pipes and broken doors. Daily tasks can be daunting, such as feeding the hens and watering the produce.
“Even though things go wrong, it’s kind of fun for us to try and figure things out and make things better,” Loy said. “We both love solving problems.”
The farm is still fairly new, but people can’t seem to get enough of the tiny roadside stand.
“We always tell people, ‘Thanks for coming!’ But then they’ll cut in and say, ‘No – thank you,’ ” Loy said. “The positive feedback is really rewarding, and people just keep coming back.”
Although his political days are behind him, Lang said he hopes Cary leaders will make sure the town has the necessary infrastructure in place to support new development. His business is very close to town, after all.
“Cary’s growth is picking up speed,” he said. “The government needs to focus on infrastructure.”