The folks who run Vollmer Farm are used to loading up wagons full of kids for hayrides through its 100 acres dedicated to organic products and agri-tourism.
But on Friday, the owner of the fifth-generation family farm led an educational hayride that was for adults – a mix of farmers and members of the general public. It was part of three farm tours organized by Farm Aid leading up to the nonprofit’s annual fundraising concert, set for Saturday at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Amphitheatre.
Though the concert is what draws the most publicity to the Farm Aid organization, officials with the group say the educational component of their program is equally important to their mission.
“We have farmers that come to Farm Aid from all over the country,” said Jennifer Fahy, the group’s communications director. “They always ask us, ‘We’re going to go on farm tours, right?’ We do it for that purpose and also to introduce the public to the farmers in their own backyard. It’s a success every time we can introduce a new person to a farm and its farmers and make that connection.”
Russell Vollmer led the tour around his operation, detailing how his Franklin County farm made a successful transition from tobacco farming to offering organic fruits and vegetables and field-trip opportunities.
The conversion is hard to miss. Tourists unloaded from vans outside a barnlike farm market and cafe building that once stored pesticides and other chemicals.
“It really is about a shift toward becoming more organic and a sustainable system,” Vollmer said. “What my dad saw was that he was having to apply more fertilizer, more lime, more products into the soil in order to keep his yields up, and through that (he learned), well, maybe there’s a different way. Maybe there’s a better way for us.”
The farm is now nearly 100 percent organic; the exception being its asparagus crop, which requires a herbicide to control weeds.
That story of a change in direction, plus proof that it can work, was what Friday’s visitors came to learn about.
“I wanted to see what a transitional farm looks like,” said Lynn Henning, who works for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and is trying to cut back back on the use of chemicals on her own grain farm in Clayton, Mich. “It gave me lots of ideas to take back because I have a lot of friends who are trying to make the transition.”
Planting that seed with those on the tour was Vollmer’s ultimate hope.
“Maybe with some of the things they learn here, it will give them maybe the push they need to start that transition,” he said.
Vollmer Farm’s business model allows the consumers to buy directly from the farm. The farm has pick-your-own and wholesale operations.
That’s the inspiration for the insignia on its employee T-shirts.
“My dad was the first to see the real desire to go direct to the customer and create a relationship, a strong bond, between a consumer and a farmer,” Vollmer said. “That’s kind of why we ask the question, ‘Who is your farmer? Do you have a local farmer in your community that you can research and support?’ Of course, we’re here in the Bunn community, and we have a lot of people come long distances to come to our farm, but we also need and want that support of our (own) community.”
The visit to Vollmer Farm was the final stop of a Farm Transitions Tour that began at Cypress Hall Farms, a Louisburg outfit that specializes in pasture-raised poultry and livestock. Cypress Hall also has on-farm processing and is part of a community of farming veterans.
Farm Aid also organized two other tours: one that visited Olusanya Farm in Oxford, and another that visited Raleigh City Farm and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Urban Farm.