On July 21th, 2017, Jessica Pierce and Amanda Carlton of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture interviewed Female Producer Kelly Easterling from Ample Acre Farm in Lenoir, NC.
Jessica: What do you grow?
Kelly: Vegetables, berries, and a little cut flowers.
Jessica: How long have you been growing?
Kelly: This is my second season.
Jessica: How many acres do you grow on?
Kelly: It’s about a half-acre of vegetables, berries, and bees collectively.
Jessica: Where do you sell?
Kelly: I sell at my produce stand and the Blowing Rock Farmers’ Market.
Jessica: How many people do you employ?
Kelly: It’s just me. [laughter]
Amanda: What influenced you to get into farming?
Kelly: I grew up with my mom always having a small vegetable garden. She is a huge plant lover, but she really loves flowers more than vegetables. When I started doing it on my own, I started to read and learn, and love farmers’ markets. And, I love to cook so the interest just sort of grew the more I learned about it.
Jessica: Is gender a frequent topic of conversation in regards to farming, for you personally? Or do you hear it come up a lot?
Kelly: You know, not too much. Not really a whole lot when you think about it. No one really says too much about it... I think most people sort of have a different idea of what a small farm is now, than maybe they would have thought 25 years ago.
Amanda: Did you encounter barriers in becoming a farmer? And if so, were they gender related? Were these opportunities, or were they challenges?
Kelly: Not really just because of the way we started out. Since we didn’t go out and look specifically for any type of farm land or special property. Because our farm is so small, it just sort of made it easy for it to happen. If I decide to expand and said I really want a five-acre farm instead of a half-acre farm, then it could be different just because we do have kids and a family and my husband works, you know, off the farm. So, I think it would be very different if we would have gone about it in a different way. But for me, it was pretty easy to get started.
Jessica: What do you think is a stereotype of a farmer?
Kelly: I would say probably to most people it would be an older gentleman with a tractor and, you know... [laughter] ...Overalls and a big field of something. But, at the same time I think so many people are involved with local produce now, and they are going to the farmers’ market and consumers are seeing younger people and different types of people standing behind the booth.
Amanda: Why do you think women are the fastest growing demographic of small farmers? Have you seen the demographics change? And if so, in what ways?
Kelly: I would say that maybe my situation is unique, but I don’t really know. For me, I started out working as a chemist. I worked for a company, but I decided to stay at home with my son. So, at that time, which was like eight years ago, I really had no idea that I would ever be doing this. Now, I think that it makes sense maybe for it to be part of your family life. It allows me to be home and for the kids to be here with me. I know a lot of people who are farming who don’t even have kids or that’s not important to them. But, I think it makes sense for more people, even if they’re doing it on a small scale. Like maybe, they just have a quarter acre garden. And, they sell their extra produce as a way for them to supplement other income that they have from another job or a spouse or anything really. Farming allows you to be at your place.
Jessica: Within the movement of sustainable agriculture should gender play an important role and what should that role be, if so?
Kelly: I think it’s good for men and women maybe to equally look at the opportunity. I don’t know really if it matters. I don’t know, I’m just doing it. You know?
Kelly: Maybe for some people... Maybe young people that have a stereotype of it just being, you know, the man in charge of the farm... The whole like farmer’s wife thing, whatever. You know? Again, just in general, our society doesn’t look at things like they used to. But, yeah! I think it’s equally as important for men and women to be interested.
Amanda: Who has supported you and helped you through your experience? And, do you have a mentor and who was that? In what ways have they helped you?
Kelly: I wouldn’t really say that I have a true mentor. Our extension agent here in Caldwell has helped me a lot in the last year. And, she’s got a good background in sustainable agriculture so, she answers questions. We communicate a lot through email, I can email her and ask questions like, “What is going on with this plant?” But, really in a lot of ways I feel like I’m self-taught. I haven’t worked on a farm. A lot of people start out maybe apprenticing or taking a job working for another small farmer and then they learn and go off and do their own thing. But for me, it was more like... I read a lot of books, I look online, you know?
Amanda: And, your chemist background probably helped too, right? A little?
Kelly: Yeah, maybe. [laughter] Yeah, I mean trial and error. Maybe there are mistakes I wouldn’t make if I did work for someone else. You know what I mean? But, it just wasn’t really practical for me to go and work on another farm. So, I guess I would kind of have to say that I don’t really have a mentor.
Jessica: Would you be open to mentoring other people? Like, would that be something you would be interested in?
Jessica: Like, more local farmers?
Kelly: I mean I’m totally open to people coming here and maybe learning from me. But, I feel like I’m so new at it that I’m not like in the position to be one. But, it’s amazing how quickly you learn, which has a lot to do with there not being a huge amount of vegetable farms in our area. And, the ones that are, are more doing like two or three different crops and not doing, you know, thirty. You know what I’m saying?
Jessica: So, there aren’t a lot of small sustainable farms in your area?
Kelly: Yeah, and I think there are other parts of the state, other parts of the country, that have even more. But at the same time, I have friends and acquaintance that will stop by and ask, ‘Can come over here and just do stuff with you, because I’m are interested in gardening and learning?’ It’s just funny how you can kind of move up from being new and learning to teaching someone.
And to answer your question, yeah, I’m totally open to mentoring someone. Because I think that in the long run, that’s really what we need. Yes, you can go to school and there are programs now that can teach people how to be small farmers. But, at the same time, there is a lot to learn. When we got into beekeeping it became that way. You really need someone to mentor you. You need the hands-on experience and someone coming over. Even if they don’t tell you what to do, and they are just giving you advice on how to make the decisions.
Amanda: And a lot could go wrong with beekeeping, can’t it?
Kelly: [laughter] Yes! Bees are complicated. Vegetables are complicated, but I think bees are more complicated. And, it’s a big investment to get into beekeeping so it’s not always just that side of it. We aren’t just interested in being beekeepers just because. We actually want to help pollinators, you know? We enjoy it, so the honey is like a fringe benefit. But, we’re not in it just to make honey. But yeah, I’d be happy to help people as much as I can. And, I think you learn through that too.
BRWIA PROFILE PROJECT
Each month we do our best to profile a Woman in Agriculture in our region. These women are diverse - they have come from a variety of backgrounds and include farmers, homesteaders, and activists. They exemplify the multitude of ways women are working to connect with and change our food system.
Female Farmer Profile Project
The BRWIA Profiles evolved out of the Female Farmer Profiles which can be found archived HERE.