Doug Carrigan is the fourth generation owner of Carrigan Farms in Mooresville, North Carolina. His family has been farming their land in Moorseville since 1902. During his interview, Doug discusses the evolution of his farm through the generations and of farming and the farmer. He discusses the vital role that word of mouth, whether through social media or otherwise plays in growing his business, and how he diversified and grown his farm from a produce farm to what he terms a “private park” that has a swimming quarry, pick your own produce, and events such as weddings and their haunted trail.
|0:00:23||History of family and farm|
|0:01:57||Evolution of the farmer|
|0:04:01||Moved to Direct Marketing started in 1975|
|0:04:53||Demand driven growing|
|0:05:27||Agritainment Phase of Farming|
|0:06:32||Farm to table at Carrigan|
|0:07:46||Sell beauty of the farm|
|0:08:52||80/20 rule of farmers feeding people|
|0:09:26||Marketing Integral to Production|
|0:10:52||Managing Social Media|
|0:12:15||Agro-tourism started in 1975/ Farm to Table Info|
|0:13:08||Farmer by trade/ Wedding Planner by default|
|0:13:47||Duties of him and wife|
|0:15:32||How to become the best|
|0:16:53||Day on the farm, Farming seasonal|
|0:18:55||Crew of the Farm- Equipment of Farm|
|0:27:24||Not Organic but use organic practices|
|0:33:12||No Till and Sod Planting|
|0:34:52||Government always your business partner|
|0:36:47||Diverse portfolio of income|
|0:38:09||Married to Mother Nature|
|0:40:12||Waste on Farm/ Dollars per Acre Back|
|0:42:06||Giving to Gleaners|
|0:42:44||Community Supported Agriculture|
|0:43:27||Future of His Farm- Day Camp|
|0:44:46||Thoughts on American Food Consumption|
|0:47:41||Future of His Farm-Full Fledged Restaurant|
|0:49:12||Evolving Habits of People|
|0:50:02||Organizations involved in|
|0:51:54||Bees on Farm|
|0:54:07||Misconceptions of Farming|
|0:58:12||Advice to new farmers|
|1:02:47||Homegrown Tomatoes/ Produce|
>> KL: So I’m Kristina Lance and I’m interviewing Doug here at the farm. And we’re gonna get started. Doug, will you first just tell me just a little bit about your background and your farm?
>> LDC: Well, we’re sitting in a house that was built in 1852. I’m a family of farmers.
I’m the fourth generation to live in this house. We came over from Scotland, Ireland in 1750s before the country was ever a country. We’ve been farmers virtually all before and for hopefully generation to come. The fifth generation lives in this house too and hopefully he’s gonna be enrolled at NC State this fall.
And he’ll come back and continue on with the same old tradition.
>> LDC: I grew up on a dairy farm, my dad grew up on a dairy farm and a cotton farm, and granddad on a cotton farm, so on and so forth. Same piece of dirt right here. Been in our family since 1902.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: We settled within probably 10 miles in here in the 1750s and hadn’t gone much further than that. So we’re about as deeply engrained in the Piedmont as anybody can be unless you’re a Cherokee Indian or something. So but other than that we just farm, we’re married to the land first and we live off the land, we eat out of it.
And the stuff that it produces we sell it for money and take that buy other things with it too. So that’s our only source of livelihood. Like it, enjoy it. Some days make 2 bucks an hour, some days 20, some days 200. I just keep coming in cuz I like it, enjoy it.
>> KL: So, can you tell me a little bit about how over the year the different kind of farming, things that you do seasonally?
>> LDC: Well, I say there’s the evolution of the farmer. And the first thing a farmer will produce, commodities, which are corn, wheat, soybeans, cattle, hogs, chickens, whatever.
And those are commodities. You take them to the market and say, what will you give me today for them? When I was growing up I remember we’re riding on a wagon, little kid, we’d harvest wheat, take it up to the elevator in Mooresville, the flour mill. Finally waiting in line because every other farmer was there with the same old stuff, trying to sell it at the same time.
What are you paying for wheat today? He says well we’re paying $3 a bushel. Well it cost me 3.50 to grow it. Well we’re still paying $3 a bushel. I didn’t like that and that’s not a way to get rich, it’s not a way to stay alive and continue farming.
So I said mentally, I didn’t know it at the time, but I made a good notice that I’m gonna figure out how to control the price on this. And so I went to school, majored in horticulture cuz I always loved the garden and other stuff. Cows are okay, but in the dairy business, they’re a 24 hours a day, gotta milk twice a day, 365 days a year.
There’s no break, no let-up. Growing up the biggest vacation I ever took was Mertyl Beach or White Lake or the mountains and that’s it. My granddaddy probably didn’t go, I think he went to Virginia and South Carolina. That’s about as far as he ever went away from home cuz he never could, he just stay at the farm.
Well, the evolution of the farmer continues on. Then once you go to the commodity production, then you go to the wholesale production of maybe vegetables and stuff. You can produce a truckload of squash, which I grew ten acres of yellow squash, which is quite a bit. And took those to Food Lion, sold them, generated some extra income.
But again, the price fluctuates up or down. They tell you what they’re going to give you today for them, okay?
>> LDC: The whole time we were headed in the direct market phase of it. Back in ’75, I guess. Growing up I had a stand out here. I would pull up a card table and I would go pull sweet corn and sell it right beside the road for $1 or $2 a dozen when I was 13, 14 years old.
So that was the first step at retailing, and you get a little extra cash that way, it was good. And I set the price and got it. And then after I got out of college, we came in and we’d grow and pick your own strawberries and other stuff and vegetables.
And we would sell those directly to consumer. Cuz we were at a busy location on a main highway here. So there’s people coming by, if I can get a dollar from every car that drives by, I can get filthy rich. But, I don’t get every one of them but I’ll get my share.
So, all of a sudden we came in and started growing and selling retail to the public. And I said I’m going to grow what the public wants, I’ll be demand driven. So the customer decides what they want and then I’ll produce it, figure it out. And try to grow a lot of different things that maybe everybody else doesn’t grow.
Apples, they grow in the mountains well because of elevation and other stuff. But we could grow them down here not quite as good but a whole lot closer than the mountains. So all of a sudden there’s a market to do that. Same thing on pumpkins and strawberries and other stuff.
So we try to pick the, I guess select crops or demand crops that people want and we will produce them. And then if we produce too many, we can’t sell them. So if we produce just enough, it works out right. So we’ve done that. Now after you get into the retail production area, the next phase is the agritainment.
The people come out and pick strawberries because they want the strawberries, because they want the experience. It’s a little bit of both. And early on in 71 it’s was they want strawberries. The housewives were picking five gallons of strawberries, take them home, I call cram them, jam them.
They would cram them in a freezer bag or put them in the jam. Well, most housewives today, the only thing they can make is reservations. They can’t make a pie, they can’t make jam, so they want a few to eat. So it’s more the experience right now. And as we move on up the evolutionary scale of a farmer,
>> LDC: Back in 88, we saw that people wanted people to prepare food for them. Well, we’re in the farming business so that’s a food business, so we got into, we have a beautiful spot at our farm, the rock quarry. And we do farm to table or farm to fork or farm to face, whatever you wanna call it.
So a lot of times we’ll pick the strawberries today, slice them up and put them on a piece of homemade pound cake and they go wild. And they’ll give you 2 or $3 for strawberries and the pound cake to go with it. But then all of a sudden we’ll have fresh asparagus that I just picked the first batch yesterday.
Quite delicious, and nobody grows fresh asparagus around, and still not much at all, we’ve been growing them since 88. But Southerners didn’t want to eat fresh asparagus. So I’d have to beat them over the head to get them to try it, cuz they’re used to can asparagus back in the 80s.
Well, nowadays, they’re eaten fresh all the time but we got all the Yankees that are coming down here and it’s our Southern obligation to relieve them of their burden of money. So we just gotta give them a little something in return for it. And the fresh asparagus that they grew up with, they want it here, so we sell quite a bit of it.
But then we’ll take it and sell it three or four of them. Spears of it on a plate for a wedding dinner or graduation party or birthday party or whatever. And we get a little more for it that way. So that’s where we are right now. Also we sell the beauty of the farm which is another evolution that happened.
Most people that live in the city, perhaps like you do, they’ve got a quarter acre lot, at best. They’ve got neighbors on both sides of them. If they invite more than three people over, they run out of room for parking in their yard and in their backyard too.
And so we’ve got a lot of space. And so we essentially Have become a private park where people can come and play for a day, leave a few dollars and a few footprints. And they come away with a great experience and something in their hands or their belly and they’re happy.
And that’s the evolution farming, that’s what we’re headed. And we’re always looking for the next level where it’s gonna go to. We’re making a living at it, and we can still stay on the land, and that’s the key. When my granddaddy first started, we were probably, I guess, one farmer out of was feeding, well one out of, gosh, four people was a farmer back whenever he was starting.
And now there is probably 1 out of 130 or so. And so I’m feeding 130 people on the average. There are some they’re feeding more, some less. But on average, I think the average farmer is feeding about 130. But again, about 20% of the farmers are producing about 80% of the production.
That’s the same in a lot of other businesses, too.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: 80-20 rule.
>> KL: So I noticed on your retail here, do you have restaurants that you partner with? Or just word of mouth? Or a little bit of everything?
>> LDC: The marketing is an integral part of the operation as the production, and most farmers don’t get that.
They like to produce, take it to the market, here, it’s done, walk away. Well I have to work at the marketing. And earlier on newspaper was a primary mode of advertising. We haven’t done a newspaper ad in probably, gosh, eight or ten years. Radio, again down, we’re almost 100% social media right now.
We do partner with some restaurants, some of the higher end good stuff. They want some quality product, and we work with those, like Fork in Davidson. Tim Grodey is a Cracker Jack chef in this area, and there’s a couple others around that we work with and do stuff for.
They like the fresh quality product, and they like being associated with us and us with them. So they will put our name in their menu, and we’re happy to toss their name around too cuz they’ve got, it’s associated with quality. And early on on my business card it says, where quality comes first, and that’s been the motto from the start.
Quality will always sell, price is second.
>> KL: So tell me a little bit more about social media. What do you guys do? Do you have Facebook?
>> LDC: All of it.
>> KL: Things like that. All of it?
>> LDC: All of it, okay.
>> KL: And how do you manage that?
Cuz I know social media-
>> LDC: Well I’m an old soul, and I can’t even turn the computer on, okay. But I know what I want it to do, keep up with what’s happening. And we’re on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever it is, and whatever’s coming next. And does it matter?
I keep my ears to the ground. I see what’s happening. I travel sometimes. I watch what other people are doing on the plane, on the train, in the mall, at dinner, you’re watching and seeing what’s going on. If you go to a restaurant dinner, you have four people, a lot of times you’ll see three of them on their phones, sitting there doing stuff while they’re waiting on something.
That’s not very much of a social interaction.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But it’s what they’re doing, so the phone is another body part. It’s like a brain or a heart to a lot of people, and they won’t give it up. So that is one way to access them. Now word of mouth is probably your best advertising, period.
And how that gets disseminated, via Snapchat, via this, that, whatever, it doesn’t really matter. But someone will tell somebody if they have a good time, they can’t keep it to themselves.
>> KL: Yeah, [LAUGH] so I know you said you kinda got involved in the agrotourism part, and all of that.
When did that start? Did you start that in 75, or has it grown, okay?
>> LDC: Right in 75, right from the get go. We were doing it before it was cool, before it ever had a name. We were doing farm-to-table before they ever called it farm-to-table. So for that, do you have a restaurant or do you just have little things that you make specially down at kinda the quarry area?
We’ve got a commercial food grade kitchen that we prepare the food in. And we have big grills that we cook it on down there. A lot of the special events, they like the sizzle as much as they do the steak, and so you gotta put the show on for them too.
We initially started out doing a pig picking, chicken picking, cuz we’d do them in the South probably once a month just for fun. And then we said, well if we mowed the grass and put on a clean shirt, maybe we could charge for the same stuff, and so we did and we moved on.
And one day in 88 one little gal says, have you ever thought about having a wedding here? And you never make any money when you say no, only when you say yes. And so we didn’t know what we were doing. We do probably 80 plus weddings a year right now.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: I’m a farmer by trade and a wedding planner by default.
>> KL: [LAUGH] Well that’s amazing. So do you cook or do you have-
>> LDC: Yes.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: I wear a lot of hats, okay.
>> KL: You need a lot of hats, yeah. [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But then again, I have other people that wear a lot of hats too.
>> KL: Okay.
>> LDC: My wife, she does primarily the computer, social end. She’s a little younger than I am, and so she’s a little more in tune with that. I do most of the production, although she does production too. And I create the marketing programs and this and that and tell her where I want to go a lot of times.
And right now I know that for certain, every crop or every marketing opportunity we have, there is a certain demographic group that I’m trying to target. And so I figure those out. Right now for our quarry and our open swim in particularly, it’s soccer mom and her 2.8 kids.
All right, and she is my customer so I’m gonna take care of her. Now it’s constantly evolving. For a pumpkin hay ride, it’s the two to eight year old kid that comes out and picks a pumpkin. For my haunted trail it’s 12 to 22, female more than male but both.
>> KL: Really, interesting.
>> LDC: Well they make the decision when to come, and the guy says, okay.
>> KL: [LAUGH] Fair, very fair. I actually got to do your haunted trail a couple of years ago, and it is phenomenal. Just the, it was huge.
>> LDC: Yes.
>> KL: And I’m from Tennessee, and they don’t have, or I hadn’t experienced anything that big and diverse kind of.
>> LDC: You’ve gotta be the best at whatever you do.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: There’s room at the top in every profession. And unless you get there, when you’re on the bottom the scenery’s always the same, you’re always looking up.
>> KL: So how do you go about kind of doing the research to know the demographic and get to the top and make sure that yours is the best?
Do you visit other farms? Do you just kind of pay attention? Is it just experience? You’ve-
>> LDC: All of the above. All of the above, [LAUGH] One thing I do, first of all, I have a background. I majored in horticulture, so I understand fruits and vegetables and how they work.
I’m always reading the trade journals, going to trade shows. I’ve been to two, three this year, seeing what the cutting edge is, and hopefully it’s not the bleeding edge, there is a difference there. So you can be too far ahead. We were in Florida. There’s a robotic strawberry harvester down there.
We’ve been spending about, we got about four or five million dollars into it right now. But it will ultimately change the scope of agriculture. But a robotic harvester to pick strawberries is quite amazing. Then the guy’s got 1,600 acres of farm down there, he’s growing strawberries on. [SOUND] Excuse me one second here.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> KL: So I know you wear a lot of hats and everything. Can you tell me, it may be not typical, but a regular day on the farm or kind of what you do in a day, and how you do it?
>> LDC: Well, we are seasonal. In the winter we get to play a little.
So we work real hard, we work seven days a week.
>> LDC: We work seven days a week from, probably, about mid March until about mid November, at the farm. We don’t really take much of a break at all, occasionally if you get two rainy days in a row, you maybe escape out for a little bit.
But, in the winter we get to play. So now we’re back, this is mid March. We’re getting back into the scope of things, so I wake up about 4, 4:30 in the morning. I do about an hour or two of nothing but figuring things out and watching the news and the weather, and so on and so forth.
And when it gets light, we’re starting to work and get ready to do stuff. Got a crew that comes in, and depending on what’s going on, we’re scouting the fields and watching the weather, and we notice we’ve got a few aphids, so we gotta spray for those. Last night we had to irrigate for frost.
We were up at two in the morning turning the water on to save the starry blossoms that are just starting out there. It’ll be apples next and we’re working on doing some improvements for weddings that are coming up, a wedding come up on Friday, one of the first of the year.
And so there’s just, everyday it’s a different story. We picked two pounds of asparagus yesterday. But then we had to spray to keep the weeds down yesterday too. And so today it might be planting some beets. Everyday, there’s something that goes usually in the ground, or something that comes our of the ground.
And you’re fertilizing, spraying, watching the weather, trying to improve the land, market stranded, make phone calls, take phone calls. It’s just.
>> LDC: There’s so many different things that can happen on any given day.
>> KL: Right, so tell me a little bit about your crew. I know you said sometimes you’ll have 8 or 10 or 12, sometimes you’ll have 50.
Where do you find them? How do you get them? Do you have trusted people that you keep all the time? Do you have a farm manager? Things like that.
>> LDC: Early on when we started it was just me, and I brought a little help in. A given farmer, most of the farming in the area is done by one, or two, or three people on a farm.
And they, when my granddad started out farming, he had himself, and mule or two, and whatever children he had to work the fields. And he had the ability to work ten acres of corn per year and that’s all he could manage, to plant and cultivate with the mule, and feed, and roll, and pick, okay?
Now, a farmer will spend one, actually 45 minutes, man hours per acre of corn is grown. We’ve substituted capital in the form of a big John Deere tractor, or combine, or planters, or sprayers, or other stuff. It can cover vast amount of acreage with one time. So today, to be a productive corn farmer, you need about $1 million worth of capital equipment.
And if you don’t have that, you’re not at the efficient production level at the moment. A good combine is probably a quarter million dollars. A sprayer Is very close to that, it will spread over 80 to 100 feet with one pass. So the main hour per person, per acre, is a lot less than it used to be.
And that’s the efficiency, and that’s why America is probably one of the most efficient food producers in the world, because we substituted capital for labor. Now, at the farm, and the stuff that we’re doing, which is the horticultural crops, fruits and vegetables, they require a lot more hand labor.
So we’re, we have a varied crew right here. We’ve got a couple of mid-managers. We’ve got one guy that does probably 80% of the job, is nothing but IT. I didn’t have an IT guy ten years ago, fifteen, twenty years ago, didn’t know what it was. And so we got a guy on board that does a lot of that.
He does some other stuff, too, but the social media, social marketing, that’s an integral part of it. So we got that in house. And so we do a lot of it. We also got one guy that’s more production oriented, two guys that are more production oriented. One, I call it general handyman and can fix about everything, build big shape, do.
Got three or four guys that are production, they’re Hispanic. They, well, the youngest of them has been with me probably about eight years. The oldest’s been with me 32 or 33 years. So it’s not my gut because they’re here every day seven days a week. Well no, they work six days a week.
Primarily, but they’re here all the time, and we’re consistent for them. But they want a job, they like it, they come here, and we pay them enough that they keep coming back again. So it’s not too much, but it’s enough for them, and they’re happy, and they’re good, but they do mainly production.
And we also have some, I call, frontline or marketing type crowd. A lot of high school for that, some housewife, but the high school model, we get a lot of 14 and 15 year olds, 16 year olds that come in here, first job, we get them, we try to get them smart.
We can put the training on them. Most of them are gonna be college-bound. I’d say 90% are college-bound, 95. They come in, they work their sophomore year in high school, junior, senior. Then they’ll go off to college and we’ll get them to come back for a year or two.
So we get them for three to five years minimum, usually, when we get one like that. But every year we have to hire six or eight, cuz we get six or eight that are leaving. But over the last forty years of hiring high school, I’ve got, I can name a handful of people that are doctors now, and lawyers, and quite successful in their own rights.
But it’s good talent that is smart, untrained, but it’s gonna be highly successful on down the line. We’re getting them before they know they’re good yet.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: And then we had to put some training on them, work them, and they usually have good values and good work ethics from their parents, and their parents are usually successful.
They wanna have a job, and that’s how they move up, and so, though we got them at all gender, age, color. [LAUGH] It doesn’t really matter, we just, we got them all. But usually they come from successful families and they’re smart and they’re doing well in school. And some are poor, some are very wealthy and don’t have to work but they choose to, but we get all types.
>> KL: Okay.
>> LDC: But that’s generally the work mix. There’s a couple, two or three, Kelly and myself are the main managers. We got a couple mid-managers that we can delegate to. Then we got some production that does the producing of the crops. And there’s the marketing side of it.
And lot of those are high school. But sometimes the high school is production too.
>> KL: Do you bring on wait staff and stuff for the weddings that you do, and-
>> LDC: We train everything internally. We’re very vertically integrated. We like to do everything in house that we can.
If we only do it once every now and then, hire somebody that knows that they’re doing. But if we’re doing it every day, we’re gonna be vertically integrated. We’re gonna do it from top to bottom, we’re going to do it. We have lifeguards at a quarry. We do a lot of open swim in the quarry.
There’s a place, beautiful swimming, and we weren’t doing it and we said we could do it, so here it is. And we’ve got probably up to 35 lifeguards that are certified and trained, and we train them ourselves. Kelly is a Red Cross lifeguard, instructor, trainer. So she’s kinda the pinnacle of that, so she can train them all from a to z.
And so we train them all the way we want them, the way they need to be. They’re certified, they’re good, and those lifeguards in turn become wait staff. Cuz if you’re not doing a wedding then you’re doing a swim party, but you’re not doing swim party means you’re doing a wedding.
So if you keep enough of them, you gotta keep,
>> LDC: Well with high school you gotta keep ten on the books to keep seven or eight coming in cuz one of them, I’ve got a ball game, I’ve got soccer, I’ve got dance, I’ve got this. Okay, that’s fine.
And so we really don’t schedule them, per se. We just put a big spreadsheet up and say, we need this many and at this time. You sign in when you want to work. And so they pick and choose what they want, and it works quite well that way.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: Then you don’t have to manage them. But a lot of times, we’ll say we need two seniors and two juniors, and then the rest, whoever. And the guy that’s been here three years knows what to do, but the guy that’s a newbie, they don’t know anything.
And so, but they’re learning, and then two years from now they’ll be moved up the line too. That’s kind of the way we work that part.
>> KL: That’s smart because you’re not managing day to day schedules for the kids, clock in at this time, clock out at this time, all that, kind of like-
>> LDC: Drives you crazy, so let them drive themselves crazy. And if they’re scheduled for a day and something comes up in their schedule, they call one of their friends to reschedule and get somebody in their place. If they don’t show up and they told me they’re coming, they’re on the **** list real fast.
>> KL: Yeah [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But if you’ve got a replacement, that’s fine, that’s of your equal sorts.
>> KL: Right, okay, so I know you said there’s swimming, doing different things. Do you guys farm organic or?
>> LDC: No, we use organic practices, but we’re not certified organic and never will be.
>> LDC: People vote with their pocketbook with their food. Organic is growing, but it’s still less than 2% of the total food marketplace business. And so when you come in and say, I can buy tomatoes for four dollars a pound that are organic or two dollars a pound that are not, most people vote with their pocketbook, okay.
We love organic methods, we just put out about 90 tons of organic matter on the farm the other day because it’s good and it’s good for the land, good for the soil. It’s just another tool in the toolbox. If your kids, if you’re a mom and you have kids, when they get sick do you give them homeopathic treatment?
Maybe to start with, but if they’ve got tuberculosis or pneumonia, you’re gonna go to the doctor and say, I want some high priced drugs to make them well. And that’s just chemicals to make your kids well. You’re not gonna let them go, I’m just gonna use organic methods on them and watch them die.
It’s the same with my crops and plants. I’m gonna take care of them, whatever is needed. And if it’s legal and good. Everything we use has been passed by FDA, USDA, so on and so forth. The streptomycin that we use to prevent fire blight on our apples is the same streptomycin that’s used for the Streptococcus that’s in your throat.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Just one works on a bacterium in the plant, one works on a bacterium in your body. And it’s okay for that. One of the big names, not just organic, but is the proper term today is GMO’s, or genetically modified organisms. Well that’s another tool in the toolbox.
Gregory Mendel, if you’re a student of history you might know who he was. He was one of the first guys to crack the genetic code right there, he took peas, he had wrinkled and smooth, so on and so forth. He crossed back and forth to figure out what they did and they did, so he started figuring genetics out.
And that was back in probably the late 1700s, I think, early 1800s, something like that, and now we’ve moved on up. We’ve figured out how to take the gene out of that and put it into that and work. And there’s gonna be dramatically more revolutions right now because of the crisper gene.
I don’t know if you know what that is, but it’s a clustered regulated, uneven regulated palindromes or something. I forgot the exact acronym for it, but it’s a good technique. You can take a piece of bacteria, slide one gene in out of this species, insert it in here.
It just clips and splices and slides into this, and all of a sudden we can pick up some disease resistant or this and that. Well only because the media said, that’s not good, GMOs. Well there’s two sides to every coin here. All of the sudden when they’re able to do that and let’s say they’re able to do that to someone and put insulin production back in all the diabetics and they don’t have to take shots anymore.
The line will be so long for people waiting in line to get that treatment of a genetically modified organism so they don’t have to do this, that you can’t reach it far enough, I guarantee it. And so all the stuff will be falling by the wayside. There’s some good genetically modified rice right now that they put a vitamin A gene in it, and it prevents blindness in certain parts of Africa because they don’t have enough vitamin A.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: And so it’s just another delivery system to deliver some of the form of the stuff that’s there. And it’s gonna improve lives dramatically. I mean it’s a revolution that’s here now, there’s a lot of people saying, we don’t know, we don’t know. Well get used to it, we do know.
The GMOs, the National Geographic last year came out with over 100 Nobel laureates, which are not the slackers in the world.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: That basically said it’s perfectly good, it’s perfectly safe, the rest of you got your head in the sand.
>> KL: So do you use GMOs here?
>> LDC: Yes, we use everything. We use all of the tools in the tool box.
>> KL: You gotta do what you gotta do to-
>> LDC: We don’t do what we have to do, we do what is best to do.
>> KL: Right.
>> LDC: Okay? If we can take corn, in which we got one, that resists corn earworms, and we can plant that, then we don’t have to spray it.
So we’re using less chemicals by inserting this gene in there that as soon as the bug takes a bite of it, he gets sick. So it goes right into the plant to start with. It makes the plant essentially resistant to that corn earworm, and that’s in essence what it is.
Now, also they have stacked traits. They put that trait in. They also put a trait in that says it’s Roundup resistant, so that we can spray the corn with Roundup and we don’t want to spray with other herbicides. We don’t want to use a tractor with diesel fuel to kill all the weeds by and so it becomes more efficient process with less inputs by man.
So we decrease our footprint on earth, and increase the production. We have soil that we’ve been no-tilling, that means it doesn’t till. We don’t have a plow and plow it up and so and so forth like my granddad did every year. I’ve got fields I haven’t plowed in 25 years.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: And we just don’t. We do it with chemicals and cultural practices with a sod planter that will plant in there. And our yields are going up, not down. They’re going up and our organic matter is going up, not down. So we’re better for the environment.
The Soil and Water Conservation Service was a service created in the 20s, 30s, because Americans were plowing the land. The good to be grains would wash away big gullies on farms, the dust bowl back in the 30s. They were plowing the soil, blew all away. Well now we’re sod planting.
We keep something on the ground at all times, there’s always a cover on the ground. We have next to zero erosion. The new modern practice of sod planting has essentially put the Soil and Water Conservation Service out of business.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Because if everybody did that there’d be virtually no erosion.
We probably till about less than 10 acres a year. And so it’s just a new production practice, it’s there. It’s been the cutting edge since the late ‘80s and it will be for the foreseeable future. That’s pretty cool. So tell me a little bit about, you’ve talked a bit about different organizations and stuff.
>> KL: Do you deal a lot with government? And how does different regulations affect you as a farmer?
>> LDC: Well, the government is always your business partner. I don’t really like them all the time. The government is there to do things for people collectively that individuals can’t do on their own.
Now I don’t participate in the government programs that say, if you don’t produce this, you will get this amount of money or so on and so forth. There’s some farm bill programs that basically are safety nets to keep the farmer in business. Now every government has been and always will be involved in agriculture because it’s politically infeasible to have anything otherwise.
Because Egyptians came in and said if we don’t store the food, people will eat it all now or get rid of it and won’t produce enough, and then when we have a bad year then we’re going to have to take care of them and they’re going to revolt.
Russia, the reason they fell out in the 80s, was because they didn’t have enough bread in the grocery stores. Their collective farming didn’t work, so they had to switch their models back around to be self sufficient with food. Japan still subsidizes their rice production. We can grow rice a third cheaper than they can in Japan, but they are not gonna be dependent on American rice cuz that is a staple in their diet.
And so the government has to say, we’re gonna keep a base of food production out here all the time for our food security. Now that’s okay. So the farmers are kind of married to the govenrment in that regard. I jumped outside the lines. I said, I don’t want to be involved in these programs.
I’m on my own, there’s no safety net. I’ll be demand oriented. I’ll plant what the market wants, and if it goes south on me, okay. I keep a diverse portfolio of income sources, and that would be spring strawberries, asparagus, lettuce comes in. That’s a spring crop, then I come into the summer vegetable crops.
Then I come into, say, apples and I come into pumpkins, and then I’ve got broccoli, the fall crop. I’ve also got the agritourism bit, the swimming at our quarry, the weddings, the company picnics, which take part of those food production too, to be fed to. So we take all those different areas.
Every year we know one of them is going to do very poorly and lot of times it’s not because of me, it’s because of Mother Nature. Last year we picked strawberries for three weeks, great picking. Five inches of rain, another three inches of rain and the stormy season was over and done.
We got our money back and a little some after, but not much. Two years ago we had a great crop of apples, did well. This past year we had a, just a barely, made a little bit off the apples, not much. So every year one crop’s gonna do great and one’s gonna do poor.
We don’t know what it is until it’s all over. And hopefully we’ll have more on the plus side than the minus side. And then we’ll have more money left over to do something else with it.
>> KL: So how much does weather affect farming?
>> LDC: Weather, as a farmer I’m married to Mother Nature.
I mean she is my first wife, I could tell you that. She does what she wants to do, and my job is to push the odds in my favor so I can get a little more of it. If she wants to send a bug and a disease over to get me, I better be putting some chemical on the spray and keep that away.
But if she doesn’t give me rain, I’ve go $100,000 worth of irrigation system that I could put water on. But I can’t take it off. This past year we were probably, i think last year we were up about 18 inches over normal, which really killed our fall broccoli, cauliflower, kale crop.
We got next to zero out here. They just drowned it out. Never had that happen. I’ve had years that I planted pumpkins and I would have them blooming in little pumpkins and they never had rain on them. The whole time either you’re getting completely from seed up to little baby pumpkin before it ever got his first rain.
So Mother Nature, she gives and she takes away too. And so we just have to push those odds in our favor. The irrigation system is my insurance policy. Last year they did a water survey, as far as what my irrigation uses was last year. And I said, I think I irrigated once or twice last year and that was it., because we had rain.
We made 92 bushels of soy beans on upland unirrigated ground. We were the second highest in the state last year. Right here in Mooresville, North Carolina. And that’s not your typical soybean growing area, but we slayed it because we had the right genetics, the right soils, the right stuff, and we got the right rainfall.
>> KL: Wow, so I know you produce a lot, and I’ve heard that there’s a lot of kind of waste, marketable produce versus usable, edible, but not marketable. How do you combat some of the waste of farm? And the excess, or with your strawberries, if they get mushy from all the rain, you can’t sell them, is there something else you can do?
>> LDC: In production agriculture, when you’re producing for the market, you have seconds or off brand stuff, and sometimes they can have a value, or they have no value. A cucumber with a worm in it has zero value, okay? So therefore, there’s zero tolerance if you bite into a pickle, and you got a worm in it, even if there’s a whole jar out.
Okay, so there’s zero tolerance right there, so we have to eliminate certain things like that. Now, I don’t equate the production with anything. I look at how many dollars per acre, or per square foot I get back from that, because I have pick your own apples. A lot of people will come in and pick an apple, if it’s not perfect, they’ll throw it on the ground.
Okay, I don’t like that, and a lot of people get upset. I went to an apple growers meeting, the guys were up there, they were making. The top guys were making 4, $5,000 an acre on their apples, as far as their gross sales back to them. Well I was getting 8 to 10 back for mine, so all of a sudden, I’m getting double the dollars back in, but I’m selling half as many apples.
And I’ve got a third of the crop that’s on the ground. I don’t care if they pick them and throw them out, or pick them and eat them, as long as I get paid for them, so it doesn’t really matter to me.
>> KL: Do you partner with any Gleaners or anything like that?
>> LDC: Yes, we’ve given tons, literally tons of produce to the Gleaners, okay? And that’s a St. Andrews church-based association that works, and works quite well. There’s volunteers that come in and harvest and pick, and then take it to soup kitchens and other stuff, and literally times, okay?
>> KL: [LAUGH] Do you partner with other farm organizations or anything?
Do you participate in any of the community?
>> LDC: You call them CSAs?
>> KL: Yes, CSAs.
>> LDC: Community supported agriculture. The bottom line, there’s people that don’t have a farm, so they come in and pay a year, monthly, weekly stipend, or whatever so much a year. And they basically say, we’ll take a percentage of your crop production, and it’s basically share some of the risk.
So if you don’t get a lot of production, you don’t get a lot in your basket this week. But it has to be good value. It’s just another way of marketing, another way of sometimes sharing the risk. We haven’t gone in that direction yet, I don’t feel it’s the most efficient way to market your crop to the customers.
Some people were quite successful with it, and it works with them. I just choose to have the people come to me, just to have the experience and other stuff. I’m as much experience as I am just putting food in your belly. Now, in the future, we see opportunity, I could come in and do a day care where kids from 7 to 17, which would basically be 7 to 12.
When you go to camp, you come out for in the morning eight o’clock, and don’t leave till five o’clock. We’ll teach you how to grow a garden which your mom and dad don’t know how, and we’ll let you plant something every week. We will let you harvest something every week.
And we’ll have it with our restaurant deal that we’ll feed you. You’ll pick fresh sweet corn, and eat it right now, and nothing’s better. We eat like this on the farm, and we could do that with the kids. And then all of a sudden, give them a basket of whatever they picked today to take home with a recipe.
So you can tell mom, here’s how you fix your brussels sprouts, which, a lot of people don’t eat them. But they’re good, and they’re good for you. Here’s how you do this. And so all of a sudden, the goal is to,
>> LDC: Change people’s habits, such that they will eat healthier and eat better.
America is they consume way too many calories, they’re way overweight, they’re way out of shape, and they gotta start eating better. And we’re having to drag them kicking and screaming to get there. And they don’t wanna be, but they’re often gonna be, or they’re gonna be pushing up daisies quicker than not.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So you gotta change, or else you’re gonna get left behind. And that’s what we see already, and I see certain, I see the trends coming. It’s not a trend, but it’s just a behavior that has to happen, because if it doesn’t, we’re gonna eat ourselves to the grave, one fork at a time.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So if you travel to Europe, go to Italy, you’ll be amazed. Eat like they do, drink like they do, we were there for ten days, and we both lost a pound a piece.
>> KL: Wow.
>> LDC: Because they don’t drink soft drinks. They drink distilled or sparkling water, they drink wine.
They don’t walk around with french fries and donuts.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> LDC: But they eat fruit and vegetables. They don’t eat big massive plates of it either, so America has got a lot going for it. They don’t have everything going for it.
>> KL: So tell me a little bit about the Charlotte Blue Shed, and what you think of that?
And where you think Charlotte is heading, especially with the rapid growth, in terms of food and food production.
>> LDC: The cities never will be able to produce their own food, they can produce certain amounts. And surprisingly, you can take a small area and produce a lot of stuff if you want to.
And some may, they won’t do it for the cost savings, they’ll do it for the quality standpoint, if anything. But most of the people that are on the outlying areas, but if you can put it on the back of a truck, it’ll make it to a market, and it’ll get there.
So all your grocery store shelves, your farmers markets, your CSAs, having them take a weekend, come up, pick their own fruits and vegetables. That works too, so there’s a bunch of different ways people can get their food, one way or the other. In America, food’s very cheap. America’s spending probably less than 10% of their disposable income, or 10% income on food.
Which, if you go to certain parts of the world, it’s in the 20, 30, 40% range of your total disposable income. So food’s real cheap, calories are real cheap.
>> KL: So how do you see your farm growing in the next five to ten years, besides the [INAUDIBLE]?
>> LDC: Well, that’s one way, it’s a possibility.
We’re doing special events right now, but I foresee a full-fledged restaurant at some point in time. And matter of fact, this year, this winter, we did. We went to two or three different cities, and I call it restaurant hopped. We checked out some different restaurants, and saw what made them work, what made them tick.
Why and how can we do that here now? I’m creating the the vision of where we need to go, and we’re in this right here. Hopefully, they’ll be wonderful, hopefully inaccurate and get it going. But I’m trying to lay the groundwork and what makes people come to a place?
And why do you get up and go to a restaurant? And why do you go to this and for what reasons? And those are the things that we were trying to figure out and we’ve got a better handle on it right now. But we’re in the food business and it goes all the way from the seed right to the palate.
And you gotta figure out what makes all that work, all the way. I understand science well, but the psychology, that’s more important. And matter of fact, he’s going to college to major in horticulture. But it’s gonna be mandatory that he’s gonna take some psych and soc courses, okay?
>> KL: [LAUGH] You’ve gotta understand people. And if you’re serving people to have a good idea of how to serve them, and how to get them to come.
>> LDC: But their habits are always evolving and changing too. Because when I started out southerners were not eating freshing asparagus, they were eating canned.
And now they’re eating fresh, and they don’t eat canned at all.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: And again, brussel sprouts weren’t on the horizon, but now they’re quite good. Kale, we grew in our garden when I was growing up. We ate it all the time, but now it’s become quite popular, one of the superfoods.
So there’s a evolution that’s happening. So people are actually trying to do better. And some of them are really doing better, and some of them are not yet. But when I see you come to our farm, and you bring a bag of Cheetos, I’m going like, something’s wrong here, eat an apple.
>> KL: Yeah, so do you partner with any other farms? Or anything for knowledge? Are you part of any associations in the area?
>> LDC: I’m a part of a lot of organizations. I was president of the North American Strawberry Growers Association back in 88, I guess, that was a long time ago.
But still, and I know all of the players, and I go to all these meetings. I just got back from one in Orlando from the Strawberry Growers. That was an international symposium, so I know people throughout the world in certain businesses and stuff. And you have to keep up with what they’re doing, and where things are headed, and all of that good stuff.
And we do association things, farm direct market associations, and all of that. But we go to all kinds of conventions. We have a haunted trailer that you mentioned you had been to. We just got back last weekend from St. Louis from a haunted attraction, a haunt show. And there was probably 4,000 haunters there from throughout the country.
They were there, and we were all sitting around and going to meetings and learning how to scare people and this and that. That’s another part of that agritourism, that we got the space and land. It’s fun, and it’s just another unique way to stay on the land.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: Yeah, we can do that. But we were picking up some scares, and we stole a few ideas from some folks and gave away a few ideas, and it works. But I got people I can call who really flew out the country, if I’ve got a question about some haunted aspects.
Again, I have people call me about certain things that I know about too. Everybody’s really dumb about some things and really smart about some things so just knowing who asks for what.
>> KL: This is kind of a weird question, but-
>> LDC: Go ahead.
>> KL: I interviewed a beekeeper.
Do you guys allow beekeepers to put up hives on your property? Cuz I know sometimes they’ll-
>> LDC: Got one right now.
>> KL: You do?
>> LDC: We do, yeah, for sure, yeah. And that’s, everything we have, if you like strawberries and cantaloupes and watermelons and apples and peaches and oranges, if you don’t like them you gotta like honey bees.
Cuz I mean, honey bees pollinate all those crops and they’re there for that. And they are my biggest work force. About 20,000 bees in each hive and it takes six, or eight, or ten hives to pollinate a crop. So there’s a 100,000 work force out there working for me.
And they’re out there working today, right now. They’re working on strawberries and apples are due. And in about ten days, they’ll be tearing up the apples to crop, so.
>> KL: Do you do the beekeeping yourself, or?
>> LDC: I don’t, I’ve got a beekeeper that, bees are no good without flowers.
Flowers are no good without bees, so I’ve got the flowers.
>> LDC: I know how, can do it, but I’m too busy with other stuff this time of year. And so I’ve got a beekeeping company that does it and he basically takes care of the bees. And he likes it as a hobby to do, which is fine and dandy.
And then I, in turn, take something, sell it for him or buy it from it and sell it for him. And it works because I’ve got the people too. They like local honey, and it works, and it’s good. I’ve got another guy that if I don’t, he will just bring hives in.
I will rent them from him just to pollinate the crops. And I’ve done that for pumpkins in the past. I pay him, $60, $80, $90 a hive just to bring them in for the four-week, five-week period I need to pollinate the crop.
>> KL: That’s amazing.
>> LDC: Yeah.
>> KL: That’s reallly cool.
>> LDC: Have to have bees.
>> KL: Yeah [LAUGH] that’s what they were saying, is that if the honeybees go, a third of all farmers’ crops would go. And not just as necessary.
>> LDC: For sure, yeah they are necessary. They’re not a want, they’re a need okay? They have to have them.
>> KL: So just a couple of concluding questions cuz I know you’re busy.
>> LDC: It’s okay.
>> KL: Is there any kind of aspect of farming that people wouldn’t consider or is misunderstood by the general public?
>> LDC: There’s a whole lot of misconceptions, and it’s mainly because most people are two, three, or more generations removed from the farm.
When my granddaddy was growing up, everybody had somebody they knew that was in the farming business. An uncle, aunt,a cousin, a brother or a family member that was involved in farming nowadays they so far removed. You can’t complain about farmers with your mouth full though, cuz you got something to eat and we’re feeding you.
Most people say, I don’t want sprays. Well, I don’t either, but I sure don’t want the pests to take all of it away and have nothing. So there’s always a trade-off that you have to have, benefit versus risk. The chemicals, there’s three Cs. There’s a cultivar, a cultural practice, and a chemical.
You change any one of those three and you change the whole dynamics of the that crop. Now, any crop gravitates to area that’s most climatically correct for that given crop. We can’t grow olives here because they get frost on and get killed. And they’ll grow in the dry Mediterranean type climates.
But they’d love to grow apples in or peas in. So each farmer has to maximize what he’s got. But most people’s misconceptions come Particularly when we’re so mobile right now. We get people call me in January and it’s a holiday weekend. Well I want to come and pick strawberries and it’s in January.
Now you laugh because you are from Tennessee and you know that in January no strawberries growing. But they moved from Southern California to Southern Florida, and they pick them all winter long.
>> LDC: And so, they don’t have a clue that it’s geographical and not, well I always see them in stories all the time.
So you should have them too.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: You know, and so that’s one of the big misconceptions that they’reso far removed. They don’t think they get the food from the farm it comes from the food line. But look where food line got it, that’s the key. The other thing is the chemicals that we use they are a necessary part for most all of the crops.
If you, and water, California particularly complains that agriculture using 90% of the water. It probably is, but which is more important, your green grass in your yard or something in your refrigerator? They’ll have to decide and ultimately there will come a day when they’re still fighting over water out there, and we don’t have to fight over it here as much.
We can still produce quite good without it.
>> KL: And then what advice would you give for people who are just starting out in farming, or wanna start out in farming? How do you sustain something for the long run?
>> LDC: You have to have a profit to be sustainable.
I started out and got down the road with an organic farmer and he said well you’re not sustainable. Well he’s been retired for eight years and I’m still at it because I could produce. He was having to do it all by hand, [INAUDIBLE] work, and his body’s just wore out.
And so he wasn’t using the chemicals, and I am, and so I can do it. And it works, it works quite well. So I’m very sustainable. For a new guy jumping in, you gotta have persistence, and you gotta have motivation. There’s room in every field. I know farmers that started out with next to nothing, and they’ve come up.
I had a family land base, but I rented it from them. I rented from my granddaddy. I did not go out and say, hey, just give it to me. And then I end up buying it from my dad, or bought my brother’s and my sister’s share of that, and I do it by working and making it.
So you can do it. I actually bought more land too along the way. So land is like a carpenter without a tool. Farming without land is like a carpenter without the tools. So you got the land. And a lot of the people in the urban areas, particularly Charlotte, will come out and say, you’ve got 250 acres, you’re rich, you’re this, that.
Well, if I sell my land, I’m not a farmer, I’m done. The land is only as good as what it’ll produce. If it will produce fruits and vegetables, or crops, then that’s the value of the land, to me. I’m just the caretaker for this generation. I’ll come and take care of it.
I’ll pass that land on to the next generation. Hopefully, they’ll make it more productive, produce more stuff, then they’ll be able to make a living off of it that’s commensurate with a history teacher or professor or whatever it is. Or a car salesman or a nurse or whatever.
All we want to do is just make a living like everybody else, and that’s it. But we like to go out and eat. But we have a hard time doing it, because we eat so good at the farm. Hard to find better than what you can get. I had the freshest berries, it was like one hour old, last night.
It was so sweet and so good. It was just really delicious.
>> KL: Yeah, you can’t find homegrown tomatoes, I love tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes, there’s nothing better.
>> LDC: This is one thing that we see when we actually watch people, say, at a wedding or a company picnic. We’ll take a hamburger, grill it, have some fresh onions that were growing out of the garden.
Big, thick slice of sweet onion and a good piece of lettuce right off the farm and a good homegrown tomato. You put it out there and they’ll go, wow, these tomatoes are red and they are delicious. And they’re not talking about the hamburger. They’re talking about the tomato that was on it.
Well, that’s the only way we eat it. Like when we have sweet corn, we turn the water on to get it boiling, and then we go pick the corn, and that’s fresh. Okay, any food that most of Charlotte or any of the rest of the people get in the grocery stores, it’s a week old when they get it.
Now they think it’s fresh, but if that asparagus was picked in California on Monday, then it got on a truck, it rode three days to get here, which got here at best by Wednesday or Thursday. Went to the food warehouse, [INAUDIBLE] Food Lion, sat in there for a day at best.
Got on another truck to go out to the regional store. Which sat in their cooler for a day because they had already had a box from the last day, they put it out first. And so by the time your getting it, you’re getting week old produce, at best.
And then you set it in your refrigerator for two days because you only go to the store twice a week or once a week. And it might be two weeks old when you eat it, and you go well this taste good but it doesn’t taste as good as what I had at the farm.
Well no wonder, you’re eating leftovers man.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: So that’s how we’ve shortened the time frame from the time it comes off of the field or the plant to your plate. And by doing that it really increases the quality. And it’s very evident by watching the people and what they say do that.
And that’s the quality comes first, price comes second. They will pay more dollars to get that because they go, wow, that was a great eating experience.
>> KL: Yeah, I will, I know I will, absolutely. If I can find a home grown tomato I would have them all the time versus the stuff you can get in the store.
Cuz it’s jus not the same.
>> LDC: Went to Florida, went to Homestead, Florida, which is producing the winter production there for tomatoes right now. There’s acres and acres of tomatoes down there. Well, found one guy down there that was not picking them green. Put in the box so they’d ride for three days from there to wherever and then ripen on the shelf or the back of the store along the way.
Homegrown tomatoes right down there. So good, brought a handful of them home. It was like, welcome back to July in March. But,
>> LDC: People vote with their pocketbook and they vote for quality. And that’s how we survive. They can tell the difference.
>> KL: [LAUGH]
>> KL: So are there any other questions that I should have asked you that I haven’t asked?
>> LDC: No,
>> LDC: As farmers we will produce any type of food that US customers want. And you tell us what you want. If you want all organic, we’ll do it, but you’ve gotta be willing to pay for it. Cuz if I’m gonna take a third less yield, then you’ve gotta give me a third more in price to do that.
And I still think that most people vote with their pocketbook. Mentally they can say they want this or that, but when it comes down to it. Yeah I like to drive a Cadillac, but nope I just have to drive an old Ford or Chevy.
>> KL: Yeah.
>> LDC: That’s fine.
>> KL: Makes complete sense to me.
>> LDC: Well and most people it does, they just don’t think about it in those terms. It’s their education that, again, you don’t have to like farmers, but don’t complain with your mouth full. Cuz we’re gonna feed you every day.
>> KL: That’s it, I like that, I like that.
Okay, well thank you so much for your time, I really appreaciate you, I’m gonna go and stop this.
>> LDC: Thanks for coming.