2012 Grant Awards

We are proud to announce our 2012 grant award recipients. This group of 34 farm enterprises represents some of the most creative farmers in the state. They are finding ways to breathe life into rural economies and provide food to rural communities, piloting new technologies and business models to keep farms environmentally and financially sustainable, and producing everything from passion fruit to drinkable yogurt. These grants are made possible through the support of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.

Like all of our grantees, these farmers will share their experiences with other farmers, spreading new ideas for revitalizing rural economies. A 2011 economic impact study showed that the average Reinvestment Fund grant creates 11 new jobs and stimulates $205 of economic activity for every dollar invested within one year.

We’re excited to get to know each of these farmers better in the next year and share their stories with you. For now, read on below the jump for a taste of what they hope to accomplish:

2012 TCRF Grantees

Increasing Access to Fresh, Local Food

Mobile Markets

  • Nicole Spruil, a young farmer in Dare County, is bringing local food to the small communities and food deserts of the Outer Banks. She has teamed up with several other local farm to create mobile market. She’ll also be raising vegetable starts and helping her customers establish raised-bed gardens so that they can grow their own food.


  • Kids in Bladen County will have fresh peaches in their school lunch thanks to Jerry Dowless. Dowless will sell fresh peaches into two public school districts. He will plant peach varieties that bear fruit during the school season and document each step of the process, creating a farm-to-school road map for other farmers.

Creative CSAs

  • Triad Farm-to-Table sells 2,500 boxes of local food from 12 – 15 farms each year. The group, coordinated by James Hester, will use grant funds to expand their logistics and marketing management capacity.
  • Customers of Smith’s Nursery Doorstep Market can customize and pay for their CSA boxes online each week. The farm will double CSA production and storage capacity on a farm where two generation of family members still work.
  • Rob Glover, of Market Fresh CSA in Nash County, will be able to expand his CSA from 90 to 250 members in the next year by installing an irrigation system that will let him increase his production acreag

Expanding Healthy Food Production

  • Seth and Corey Saunders, two high-school age farmers in Chowan County, will test out season-extension technology that they designed. The boys already raise five acres of melons and sweet potatoes. They will install a new well and drip irrigation that will allow them to expand to seven acres, and will compare new low-tunnel row covers with a lower-cost system that they designed and share the results with their Future Farmers of America and 4-H peers.
  • Heirloom collards are the cornerstone for Keith Hollowell’s new enterprise. He will plant three acres of his family’s heritage collards and three acres of sweet corn for sale through local grocery stores and a road-side stand. Hollowell is a life-long tobacco farmer who will adapt old tobacco equipment for this new undertaking.
  • The empty air at the top of Meredith Leight’s greenhouses at Granite Springs Farm will soon be put to work. She will grow oyster mushrooms in hanging bags suspended in her high-tunnel greenhouse in Chatham County. She predicts that the mushrooms will thrive in the moist environment.
  • The Saxapahaw General Store has already gained national recognition for providing delicious, local food in a small Alamance County town. The Saxapahaw Farm and Business Collaborative, coordinated by Cozi Farm‘s Suzanne Nelson, will improve local-food storage and marketing infrastructure and enable farmers to sell an even greater volume and diversity of products.
  • Jeremiah Dixon will expand production at Dixon Family Farms in Greene County, where he raises rabbits and hogs. Jeremiah hopes that the equipment upgrades made possible through this grant will enable him to lower prices and sell more food into his low-resource community.
  • New farmers in the thriving Triangle local food scene often have to wait years for a spot at a farmers’ market. The new South Durham Farmers Market, coordinated by Kathryn Spann, will provide a sales outlet for 37 farmers and include four cooperative slots for beginning farmers.

Innovating for Sustainability

  • Sam Bellamy is bringing wind power to the farm. A new windmill will run a well pump and electric fence and put in 20 more acres of organic vegetables on Indigo Run Farm. He will use grant funds, USDA Rural Energy Access Program money, and federal and state renewable energy tax credits to offset the cost of investing in green energy.
  • Jason Smith describes his project on Fox Squirrel Farm as a “silvopasture.” He and his wife will plant fruit and nut trees on his family land and put up fencing to allow them to intensively graze chickens, turkeys, goats, and sheep in the same pasture.
  • Robert Jones will construct full mechanized, solar-powered low tunnel greenhouses on Jones Farm in Greene County. The low tunnels will enable Jones to double his production of organic vegetables. Jones is a graduate of the Breeze Farm Incubator who served in the military and worked as a computer programmer and systems analyst before returning to his farming roots.
  • Roller-crimper technology allows farmers to plant cover crops and then roll them down onto the soil, improving soil quality and water retention. Jason Shupig of Oak Bluff Farm in Montgomery County will test this no-till soil improvement method in hopes of adding sustainable pumpkin and gourd production to his farm despite very sandy soil conditions.
  • Ben Ketchie will install a rotational grazing system on the Iredell County land where his grandfather farmed. Ketchie will continue the family business of raising milk cows for sale to local dairies, while lowering feed costs, increasing sustainability, and improving the health of his animals and land.
  • Morgan Milne will reduce feed and fertilizer costs on his New Hanover County farm, Red Beard Farms, by using a chicken tractor to raise hens for egg production directly over his vegetable plots during crop rotation.

Producing Creative New Products

  • Jicama, chayote, and passion fruit are more likely to be found in the exotic foods isle than the farmers market in North Carolina, but Felix Vargas will plant the traditional Latin American crops on the 75-acre, Cleveland County farm where he and his wife raise strawberries, blueberries, and wholesale vegetables. He will also process some of the fruit into sugar-free jam for diabetic customers. Vargas was raised on a farm in central Mexico, and worked as a crew boss for migrant farmworkers in North Carolina before becoming a farmer. (Click on the video on the right for more on Vargas Farms.)
  • Mark Williams will establish a creamery and bottling facility for low-temperature-pasteurized milk and drinkable yogurt. Williams, who grew up farming dairy, tobacco, cotton, and grains, now operates a grass-fed dairy in Wilkes County.
  • With their 2012 grant, sisters Janice Lindley and Ann Campbell of Lindley Dairy will begin making mozzarella cheese and cheesecakes with milk from their family’s Chatham County dairy. Their cheesecakes should be appearing soon in local stores and restaurants.  (Click on the video on the right for more on Lindley Dairy.)
  • Gary Sikes will breed heritage chickens and turkeys for sale to farmers in the Southeast on Bountiful Harvest Farm in Anson County.
  • Feed is the largest expense for most livestock farmers, and locally produced feed is rare. Charlie Beheler and Linda Johnston of South Mountain Farms will grind organic and chemical-free grains and beans into feed for their animals. They will also offer use of the equipment to other local farms.
  • Alex Draughow will diversify his Surry County tobacco farm by selling baled shavings to feed mills, poultry growers, and livestock farmer
  • Local food isn’t just for humans. Dale Thompson of Hilltop Angus Farms will make beef liver jerky for sale as dog treats, reducing waste and bringing extra income to his Montgomery County farm.
  • Charles and Jane Trivette will expand their production of partridge and chukar at C&J Farms to allow them to sell the game birds to customers and restaurants as well as game preserves.
  • The Community Honey House in Cleveland County will provide processing and packaging space and a pollination and hive health service for local beekeepers. The project is coordinated by Kim Hamrick.

Encouraging Agritourism

  • Zane Sells of Clodbuster Farms in Forsyth County will convert an old tobacco shed into a storage facility, classroom, and CSA drop point.
  • The wedding business on the Fryar family’s Guilford County grain farm is growing rapidly. Gerald and Elaine Fryar will convert a large dairy barn into a climate-controlled wedding venue, making summer events possible and expanding the opportunity for their daughter to return to the farm.

Lowering Costs

  • Brian Howard will be able to hire more labor and spend more time in the field because of his model CSA processing, sorting, and packaging facility at Howard Family Farm. It will enable him to efficiently sell produce on his farm.
  • John Blue is sourcing his own fuel from his farm. Highlanders Farm has been in continuous production since 1804. Blue will use a woodchip boiler to power his former tobacco greenhouses for off-season tomato production. He hopes the energy savings will enable him to keep the farm financially sustainable enough for him to pass it on to his young son.
  • Gene Cox, a former Johnston County tobacco farmer, will use new equipment to group, tag, and vaccinate his cattle for sale at online auction. The method, called alliance marketing, allows farmers to sell source-verified cattle at a higher price.
  • Stanley Hughes, one of the first certified organic tobacco growers in North Carolina, will build a model grading and packing shed at Pine Knot Farms. The shed will integrate with his organic and Good Agricultural Practices certifications. The shed will increase freshness and expand his production potential.
  • The Alexander Cattlemen’s Association will purchase equipment that will allow its members prepare beef cattle for sale at auction. Sharing the equipment will allow local farmers who converted tobacco land to cattle production to save money and increase farm income. The project is coordinated by Daniel Chapman.
  • Greg Foster, a former tobacco farmer, raises grapes for Duplin Winery on his Franklin County farm. He will install a solar-powered pump and piping to allow him to irrigate additional acreage from a stream on his farm.
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