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Happy Valley farm grows food for Hickory Farmers Market, restaurants on 1 acre of land

A small family farm in the Happy Valley community of Caldwell County produces fruit and vegetables on a little more than one acre of land.

Mike and Sara Hedge cultivated their interest in farming while living in Florida.

“We started off growing microgreens in our apartment in South Florida,” Sara said. “And tried to launch a little farm business, indoor operation and then quickly felt unsatisfied. Because I don’t particularly find enjoyment in just eating microgreens. I want a varied diet.”

During the first six months, while they got the farm started, the Hedges lived out of a campervan. They later moved into a duplex at the Patterson School Foundation. Last year, they purchased a house in Happy Valley, Mike said.

Eventually, the couple began leasing space at the Ripshin Goat Dairy, Mike said, where the couple has another roughly half-acre plot of crops, a greenhouse, two walk-in coolers for storing freshly picked crops and a work area for cleaning and packing produce.

“When we started farming over at Patterson, we started with hard red clay,” Mike said. “There’s lots of nutrients in red clay but it has to be softened up to use it. We added organic OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed compost and we added earthworms. We actually went out and bought earthworms and put them in there.”

As Mike walked between each of the 50-foot-long beds, he pointed out the various crops. Mike would occasionally stop to pick a leftover tomato or strawberry to eat. Mike said they don’t spray chemicals, such as pesticides or herbicides, on their plants.

“It’s a philosophical choice we have made for the integrity of our farm,” Sara said. “It’s caused a lot of heartache sometimes when things get eaten up, but I don’t want to sacrifice my health.”

The Farmers’ Almanac defines microgreens as, “a variety of vegetables and herbs that are harvested at the first or during the early leafing stage.”

In 2020, the Hedges left Florida in search of land. The couple settled in North Carolina. They began leasing and farming a half-acre plot of land at the Patterson School Foundation along N.C. Highway 268 in Caldwell County.

As a form of pest control, the Hedges release beneficial insects into the soil, which attract natural predators, such as wasps. The wasps, Mike said, will also eat harmful insects.

The Hedge Family Farm is a certified naturally grown farm, meaning everything used to grow crops is organic. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, the Hedges turn harvest leftovers into compost and use other natural resources such as alfalfa meal and minerals.

“The Certified Naturally Grown (organization) is like a peer review inspection system,” Mike said. “That allows me to go and inspect another farm. And then, every year my farm gets inspected by somebody in the Certified Naturally Grown network.”

The Hedges have roughly 100 beds. The majority are covered by plastic caterpillar tunnels. The space between each bed is just wide enough to walk through. Sara said this is a key way to utilize their limited space.

Almost every bed has a different fruit or vegetable growing in it. The Hedges’ produce varies from garden staples such as salad greens, carrots, onions and tomatoes to exotic and native crops such as pawpaws, passion fruit and Hawaiian ginger. Mike said each year they try to grow something new.

Most of the tomato and strawberry plants were barren because the harvest season is nearing an end. The Hedges use a high rotation gardening method.

“Every bed changes throughout the year, three or four times,” Mike said. “(Also) Where I had tomatoes last year, I’m going to plant something totally different this year like cucumbers.”

This year’s harvest yielded roughly 150 pounds of potatoes and 150-200 pounds of tomatoes each week, Mike said. During peak strawberry season, the Hedges would bring around 100 pints of strawberries to the Hickory Farmers Market and sell out within the first hour.

Every Monday, the couple harvests crops for restaurant customers. On Fridays, they harvest for the Hickory Farmers Market.

In preparation for the next year, the rows get covered in silage tarps as the Hedges finish using the beds. This allows the leftover plants and leaves to be eaten by worms, which adds nutrients back into the soil. When the Hedges are ready to plant again the next year, the tarps are removed to reveal a healthy bed with minimal weeds, Mike said.

The couple first started selling their produce at the Hickory Downtown Farmers Market in September of 2020. The farm has a stand at the farmers market nearly every Saturday. The Hedges started selling to restaurants earlier this year.

Sara said the farm sells to about 10 restaurants that change their menus seasonally. One of the restaurants is the Happy Valley Filling Station, which is about a mile away from the farm.

Sara said the farm sold $90,000 worth of produce last year. They plan to exceed that amount this year, she added. Mike said about 60% of the produce is sold to individuals at the market and 40% is wholesale purchases.

Some of their most popular items at market are fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, onions and carrots. The fingerling potatoes sell for $4 per pound. The onions are $3 per pound. Carrots are $5 per bunch. The cherry tomatoes and strawberries sell for $5 per pint.

Read the article at Hickory Daily Record.

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