Takeaway: Whitney and Isaiah put their hands where their hearts and heads are by producing organic fruits, vegetables and more to share with their communities at local markets and restaurants. With their new grant to expand to forest farming, they’re increasing both the economic and environmental sustainability of their land.
Reading time: 3 min 42 sec
When most of us look at a piece of land with an eye for growing things to eat, we tend to direct our attention to the sunny open spaces, but Whitney and Isaiah of Rocky Run Farm have some shady plans—they’re going to farm the forest. Between customers at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, Whitney told me about their current operations and explained what they’ll be growing in and on the edge of their ten acres of wooded land in Mebane with the proceeds from a 2017 Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) grant (see below).
“The Agricultural Reinvestment Fund assists innovative and entrepreneurial farmers and collaborative farmer groups in developing new sources of agricultural income through the provision of cost-share grants. the grant program is dedicated to assisting all kinds of farmers in transforming and strengthening their farms, enhancing their sustainability and financial viability. In 2002, RAFI-USA began receiving funding from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission to expand the program to serve more farmers all across North Carolina. The grant program continues to rely on the generous support of the Commission.”
About the Farm
Whitney and Isaiah started their farm back in 2012 after period of distressing discovery of how our modern food systems operate. “We read a LOT of books and watched documentaries,” Whitney recalled, only slightly joking. Fast Food Nation, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and similar books became galvanizing calls to do…something. That something was farming and advocating for eating local and organic. And while she’s pretty nonchalant about becoming a farmer, it’s clear that providing local, healthy food to the community is something this UNCG business graduate must do.
After spending a summer working on Ever Laughter Farm while her chef-husband Isaiah Allen was cooking with increasingly local ingredients at Il Palio in the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, they eventually purchased their first 10 acres of undeveloped land in Mebane.
Like most farms in this blog, Rocky Run Farm raises their diverse crops organically, but isn’t certified organic by the USDA for cost reasons. The strongest thing Whitney uses is an occasional springtime spray of a bacteria (bacillus thuringiensis, Bt) that kills developing pests, but does no harm to bees and other good insects.
Farming the Forest
Though they originally considered requesting grant money for expanding their orchard, they decided to pursue their dream idea of creating an edible forest. With Isaiah’s passion for perennials and Whitney’s research-driven farming approach, they decided on a variety of nut trees and fruiting bushes and trees that thrive in shade, including:
- Juneberry, AKA service berries
- Sour Cherry
- Paw Paws
- Alpine berry
- Hardy Kiwi
Not only will these trees and bushes increase the biodiversity of the ecosystem, the nuts and berries produced will increase the diversity of their income stream, making the economic and environmental sustainability of their farm more likely.
Unlike carrots, kale and the other crops at Rocky Run, these trees and bushes won’t produce sellable amounts for at least one year, some of them not for ten years. Without the grant, their ability to make such a long-term investment would have been unlikely and certainly would have been scaled back and riskier. Because of the grant, Whitney and Isaiah purchased more mature trees that will give them a five- to ten-year headstart over what they could have purchased on their own. While they cost more, these more mature trees are hardier, and that much closer to being profitable.
They’re obviously excited about this opportunity to innovate and diversify. Whitney is cautiously optimistic that the eagerly-growing elderberries might be producing enough in 2018 to bring some to market.
Shop local, Eat local, Feel good
When I asked Whitney what she wants the community to know, she had an immediate, passionate answer, very similar to Russell Farlow: “How much WORK farming is!” As a mostly one-woman operation, with help from her husband when he isn’t cooking at The Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, and with their first real employee after five years of operations, her prices are as low as she can get them without going in the proverbial poor house.
Food bought straight from the farmer isn’t just another part of your meal—you’re also paying for the knowledge of where and how the food was grown, fair wages, and land and cultural preservation. Considering that, her food is a veritable bargain.
Where to find their produce:
Greensboro Farmer’s Curb Market
Wednesdays, 8am-1pm (Seasonal)
South Durham Farmers Market
Greenwood Commons Shopping Center
5410 NC Highway 55
Durham, NC 27713
The Eddy Pub, Saxapahaw, NC
Mebane Downtown Table, Mebane, NC
Email them via their website