30 Days: Karen McAdams, McAdams Farm

The Carrboro Farmers’ Market in North Carolina boasts renowned acclaim as “one of the finest markets in the country.” Tucked behind the tables that line the perimeter, anchoring the lush array of produce, meats and artisan goods, stand some of the finest farmers in the country. (They’re our neighbors, so we are a bit biased.)

Karen McAdams and her husband, Howard, are among those farmers, selling at the market since 2000. Like many farming families in the South, the McAdams family began growing tobacco generations ago in 1885. Click here for a full history of their family.

But a sharp decline in tobacco put a dent in the agriculture industry, hurting North Carolina family farmers economically. According to the CDC, the number of tobacco-growing farms declined from more than 500,000 in the 1950s to about 10,000 in 2007.


Karen and Howard did not want to abandon agriculture. Instead, they shifted the way they farmed, incorporating strawberries, cut flowers and free-range meat to their land.

McAdams Farms is known for its gorgeous array of fresh-cut flowers, especially in the springtime, as well as pasture-raised, grain-finished beef and lamb, and a very popular pick-your-own strawberry patch.

“I do think it makes people appreciate their food more when they actually sweat a little bit,” Karen laughs.

We at RAFI think all farmers are amazing. But what makes Karen among the most unique is that she has dedicated her life to agriculture in ways that directly support the farmers in her community. For 30 years, Karen served as a cooperative extension agent in North Carolina’s Orange and Durham counties.

“I’ve spent a lot of my career working with farmers and coming up with ideas, helping them with different things on the farm,” she told us this week. “I’ve really been fortunate in my career in agriculture.”

Karen also is among our selection committee for TCRF grantees, which she says is some of the most exciting work.

“It’s really rewarding to see farmers who are innovative and to come up with the idea of something a little bit new or a different take on something old,” she says. “To see young people get involved in operations, that’s definitely been rewarding.”

While she says that farming is still a very challenging career path, she appreciates the local food movement. To that, we say: Karen, we appreciate you!

To nominate your favorite farmer or food hero for RAFI’s 30 Days of Thanks, click here.

Follow along every day at rafiusa.org/30daysofthanks

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