Durham News: Community

Steve Mobley was a champion and fan of grass-fed beef and organic produce

Steve Mobley
Steve Mobley Photo courtesey Martha Mobley

Children in Louisburg living near Meadow Lane Farm have often woken on autumn mornings to find that pumpkin fairies visited their home the night before. Those fairies have born a strong resemblance to Steve Mobley and his wife, Martha, who enjoyed sneakily placing the home-grown gourds at doorsteps and the bottom of driveways. Their spritely gifts delighted their neighbors’ children, and more recently their grandchildren, for more than 20 years.

The Mobleys moved to Meadow Lane Farm in the early 1990s after Martha Mobley’s parents passed it on to her. Martha Mobley, a longtime agriculturalist for the state, was raised on those 1,000 acres. But for Steve Mobley, a city boy who had always longed for the countryside, the move was a dream come true.

Growing pumpkins that delighted neighborhood children was just one of the ways Steve Mobley celebrated nature. As one of the original vendors at the Durham Farmers’ Market, he was known for his passion and patience in working with customers, educating them on the glory, as he saw it, of grass-fed beef and organic produce.

Mobley died in August after a short illness – one of two Durham Farmers’ Market vendors to die that same week, said market manager Erin Kauffman. After their deaths, neither farm has missed a market day.

“Farmers, as a group, deeply understand the cycle of life. The farmhands and friends that came and sold the farms’ goods at the market said that they felt that it is what these men would want,” Kauffman said.

“They were both longtime farmers, they knew that farm work goes on, no matter what the circumstances. Keeping things running smoothly has been a nice way to honor these two hard workers who loved what they did for a living and were truly at home when they were at market.”

Mobley, 58, was the president of the Durham Farmers’ Market board. One of the most meaningful accomplishments in his life, his family said, was helping the market grow from a few booths located in the Measurement Inc. parking lot to a fixture that many consider among the best farmers markets in the Southeast. He and Martha were the first at the market to sell local, grass-fed beef, and he was known for his patience and passion in educating consumers about the value of their product.

Just about every Saturday morning on the way to market, Mobley cranked the radio up as soon as they drove over Falls Lake on I-85, proclaiming how happy he was to be on his way to “be with his people.”

“He liked diversity, he liked to talk to people,” his wife said, unable to hold back tears for more than a few moments in remembering him.

It was not uncommon for the Mobleys to socialize with their customers after the market closed. It never took long for customers to become friends, and for Mobley to invite them to the farm for a pig pickin’.

Scott Belan met Mobley when the Durham Farmers’ Market was just getting started, and marveled at the way he was able to handle what could be incredulous responses to the prices of his beef. (It is not uncommon for pasture-raised meat to cost more than double the standard variety.)

“Rather than get upset he’d say, ‘Right, and this is why.’ And he’d explain,” Belan said.

Meadow Lane Farm had long been home to beef cattle production, and when Steve and Martha took the helm they added meat goats. Working with animals had long been a passion of his. Mobley was raised in Raleigh and was a horse lover since childhood. He started out cleaning stalls to earn riding time, eventually winning three national American Quarter Horse Association honors and capturing the Youth Measurement of Merit award when he was still a teen.

When he retired from his day job in 2006 – he worked for 20 years as an equine marketing specialist for the state – he reveled in being able to farm and raise animals full time. The Durham Farmers’ Market became his home every Saturday morning. It was the happiest period of his life, his wife said.

In recent years, the farm added organic produce to its market repertoire. He was proud of the solar-powered hoop house they installed on the farm, and the lush veggies and fruits he grew within. His enthusiasm for new crops was contagious, and he was known to give away freshly harvested goods to customers because he was too eager to wait for them to purchase it and wanted to learn how they chose to prepare it. Any unsold food was donated to local food banks.

As a market board president, he was notoriously mindful of the greater good.

“Steve was a very layered guy; I was always learning things about him. But with all of the things that I knew or didn’t know, what constantly shined through was his big heart,” Kauffman said. “He would always take things to heart. He cared really deeply and he wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing.”

He was particularly passionate about supporting small farmers, his wife said. Though Meadow Lane was by no means small, he empathized with the struggles of those yearning to work the land but also working day jobs, perhaps having to rent equipment, even acreage, to see their passion through.

He talked about turning the farm into an animal preserve, perhaps also serving as some sort of kickstarter for small farmers. In talking about his plans for after they died – something they both assumed would be decades away – Martha Mobley sighed in her grief. But in trying to honor Mobley and the lessons she learned from nearly 25 years of marriage, she has created the Steve Mobley Small Farmer Scholarship Fund.

She will also continue on at the market, occasionally indulging a particularly smitten child with the gift of a pumpkin from Meadow Lane Farm, as her husband would have wanted.