Farm Hands Charlotte: Micro-funding new farmers

 

by Lisa Moore

bluebird 1Since 2009, William Lyons and Marie Williamson, co-owners and operators of Bluebird Farm in Morganton, NC, have lovingly practiced the art of farming. The pair raises organic-fed, pasture-raised pork and chicken as well as 100 varieties of organic vegetables.

Dedicated to building living soils to ensure the quality of their products, they use no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. By harvesting at the peak of freshness, the ripeness, flavor and nutrition of their produce is optimum – a far cry from less nutritious grocery store produce that may have been shipped across the country.

But small-scale farming is physically tedious and labor intensive, and Lyons and Williamson spend about two weeks a year hand planting in rows that don’t always end up in a straight line. What they dreamed of having was a water wheel transplanter which would do the work in two days with straight, parallel rows. Because of the cost of the machinery, their dream remained on the back burner.

Enter Farm Hands Charlotte, a community-centered micro funding program for beginning farmers (10 years or less) dedicated to supporting the growth and vitality of Charlotte’s agricultural community. The organization is run by a passionate group of women from the local food community – Lynn Caldwell, manager of Atherton Mill and Market; Cat Carter, Publisher of Edible Charlotte; Katherine Metzo, Friendship Trays; Erin Brighton, Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council and freelance writer Keia Mastrianni.

In February, the group held a bi-annual Farm Hands event to raise money to help local farmers fund their “big ideas” so they could work better, smarter and more sustainably. Local farmers and food entrepreneurs from eligible counties sent in applications to pitch their projects.

From this pool, Bluebird Farms, Wish We Had Acres and Bulla Family Farms were selected to present their ideas at the gathering at Triple C Brewing in South End. Proceeds from ticket sales funded the micro-grant, along with donations from sponsors and community members. Attendees voted for the winner at the close of the presentations.

Bluebird Farms’ wish for a water wheel transplanter was granted when they won the $1200 grand prize. Lyons said the machine is a simple but highly effective tool that is critical for farmers to work more efficiently.

“As we all work hard to produce healthy food we have to be careful to remain physically healthy by taking care of our bodies as we work. In addition, the straight, parallel rows will then make mechanical weeding much easier.”

Keia Mastrianni, event organizer for Farm Hands Charlotte, says their long-term goal is to help as many farmers as possible with increased funding and to continue to bring the community together in support of local agriculture.

“If you care about where your food comes from, then you know how important it is to support your farmers. These individuals work extremely hard, under all conditions, to bring fresh food to the public. Though there are grants available, it is often a lengthy process with many applicants. Farm Hands allows the community to come together to raise money for farmers through an accessible process.”

Lyons says it is an uncomfortable truth that most farmers are only able to earn a small portion of their income from farming and encourages the public to become more involved in the quality of the food that sustains them.

“It is critical that food become more valued at all levels – from production to eating. We are all made of what we eat, how we eat affects how millions of acres of land are managed and our food choices affect our lifelong health. Finding local farmers at farmers markets and choosing organic and sustainable food at restaurants and stores are important steps to building a sustainable local food system. With strong communities partnering with strong farms we can all work together to help pioneer a new environmentally, economically and socially sustainable agri-culture.”

For information, visit FarmHandsClt.com, BluebirdFarmNC.com, BullaFamilyFarm.com, and WishWeHadAcres.com.

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