On Sunday night, Franklin County farmer Martha Mobley will gaze out on a meadow across from her family’s home place and, she hopes, see hundreds of people gathered for a feast.
For Mobley, this will be more than another farm-to-table event in a community where those happen every other week; it will be the fulfillment of a promise made to her late mother and her late husband.
Mobley, 55, works as a livestock extension agent in Franklin County and owns Meadow Lane Farm in Louisburg. She sells grass-fed beef, pork and goat meat as well as organic vegetables at the Durham Farmers’ Market. In 2012, she lost her mother, Marjorie Leonard, who ran the family’s 1,000-acre farm for decades. In August 2013, Mobley lost her husband and fellow farmer, Steve, at the age of 58.
After her mother died, Mobley and her husband accepted donations instead of flowers to start a nonprofit to help women in agriculture, a cause dear to her mother. Steve Mobley was actively organizing an event for last fall as a fundraiser to fulfill his mother-in-law’s wishes.
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After her husband died unexpectedly, Martha Mobley again asked that donations be made in lieu of flowers to start a nonprofit to help small-scale farmers, a cause her husband embraced. Mobley said people have donated $4,000 in honor of her mother and husband.
To draw continued support, Martha Mobley rallied herself and the support of her friends and family to organize Sunday’s event to help start the Leonard-Mobley Small Farm Fund. Tickets are still available.
She hopes the event will raise $20,000 to help fund grants for small farmers and to purchase equipment that small-scale farmers can borrow instead of having to spend thousands of dollars to buy their own. (Mobley said they are defining small farms as those that gross no more than $250,000 a year.)
Fellow farmer Judy Lessler says it is fitting that the Dinner in the Meadow event will honor both Steve Mobley and Marjorie Leonard. Lessler said Steve Mobley often described his mother-in-law as his best friend.
“It’s really perfect that Martha has set this up to honor the both of them,” said Lessler, who runs Harland’s Creek Farm in Pittsboro and served on the board of the Durham Farmers’ Market with Steve Mobley.
Farming in her blood
Martha Mobley, the first female extension agent in Franklin County, comes from a long line of strong women. Her grandmother had to take over the family farm in 1940 when her grandfather died. Her mother took over the farm in 1997 when Martha Mobley’s father died.
Mobley said her mother experienced firsthand how much harder the challenges can be for women. Mobley said her mother had to stand up for herself as a Franklin County teacher when she discovered her male counterparts were getting 12-month contracts and reimbursements for going to education conferences, perks not given to her.
After her mother talked to the principal about the disparity, Mobley said, “The next day, she had her 12-month contract.”
Meanwhile, her husband realized that he was luckier than most small farmers selling at the Durham Farmers’ Market. He and Martha had advanced degrees and full-time jobs. They also had a house and 20 acres from Martha’s family on which to start their own farm.
Steve Mobley cared about the challenges facing young farmers, said George O’Neal, who owns Lil’ Farm in Timberlake and sold for years next to the Mobleys at the Durham Farmers’ Market. O’Neal said Steve Mobley was concerned that many new farmers faced many challenges, including being unable to to buy land and having to lease it, becoming part of a trend called “new sharecropping.”
‘Local food, fellowship’
O’Neal added that Steve Mobley was a mentor to many young farmers and and advocate on the farmers market board on how to improve the market and reach more customers.
Martha Mobley hopes the small-farm fund in honor of her mother and husband can do some good “creating awareness of the challenges facing women in agriculture and for small farmers.” At the least, Sunday’s event will be a celebration her mother and husband would appreciate.
“That’s what Steve and my mother were all about – good local food and fellowship,” Mobley said.