Meredith Leight has big plans for the land at Granite Springs Farm. What began as a small family farm is poised to become an intentional community of farmers, food artisans, and craftsmen.
Meredith and her husband Ed started the farm west of Pittsboro in 2009. “It was an expression of hope,” she says, “because he had been diagnosed with cancer, and we wanted to do something that was life-affirming.” Ed passed away that fall, and Meredith continued farming. “It’s been a great space of healing for me.”
Meredith had no background in farming, just some gardening experience. “I really didn’t start this out of some great passionate love of plants,” she confesses. “I did it because I love living here, and I wanted to spend more time here, and when I found out a little bit more about the industrial food system, I thought that maybe I could help out a little bit.”
The farm attracted employees and volunteers, and Meredith found a great community of helpful farmers in Chatham County. Eventually she decided to start an intentional community. The farmhouse she and Ed built will become a common house for meetings and potlucks, and residents will live in small, sustainably-built cottages on the property. Meredith envisions some residents participating in the farmwork, while others might bring their own talents, like cheese-making or bread-making. She hopes someone with knowledge of pasturing animals and rotational grazing will bring that know-how to the community, which has 140 acres that can be used for the purpose. Some residents might run cottage industries, made affordable by their community living. She also has plans for extra cottages for visiting artists or agri-tourists. “[It’s] sort of like an eco village, that we’d like to build here.” (They have open meetings on the third Monday of each month.)
The farm, which practices organic methods, now has two acres of cultivated fields and a 50-member CSA. They sell at two farmers’ markets as well as to restaurants and the Kappa Delta sorority at UNC, who have one locally-sourced meal a week. We walk past the farm’s intern, Austin, wheeling a wooden seed planter with beet seeds down the row. Austin is graduating from CCCC’s sustainable ag program, but plans to stay on at Granite Springs through the summer. In a small greenhouse, giant black vats of water absorb sunlight and heat up for the day. Meredith has to open the vents because it’s so warm; she uses a grippy-claw to move blocks of pink Styrafoam. “Highly, highly scientific, what we’ve got going here,” she jokes. “We do a lot of figuring out what works, using what we have.” Tiny basil, tomato, and eggplant seedlings wait to be transplanted. Next door in the hoop house it is cooler, only four degrees warmer than the brisk spring air outside. Still, the chard has survived all winter.
Through the trees and around the pond, we find the flock of chickens and their mobile “egg-mobile” coops. The chickens swarm towards us, but drift away when they realize we haven’t brought treats. Like many farmers, Meredith moves the coops to new fields, allowing the chickens to fertilize and eat bugs. The small flock is not a money-maker, as feed costs so much, but “people love ‘em.” While a few extra roosters have been used for meat, Meredith plans to let the hens stay with the flock even when their productivity declines.
We don’t get to see the farm’s favorite project, the oyster mushrooms, which grow in straw that hangs in bags from the beams in the hoop house. Meredith is timing the mushrooms to be in full swing (no pun intended) during the Farm Tour. She’ll also be selling mushroom kits for those who’d like to give it a try at home—it’s a great science project for kids. She’s doubled mushroom production this year in order to supply more restaurants, who’ve been enthusiastic about them.
Meredith realizes her farm is one of the “beginners” on the tour, but hopes it will inspire other would-be farmers. When she went on the tour, she enjoyed going to the new farms as well as the established ones, and seeing people just getting started and how they did it. “It was really encouraging for me to go, and that’s my hope, being a pretty new farmer on the tour, that if anyone is considering doing this, they could maybe get some inspiration from us, that you can’t do everything at once, in your first year, and it takes time, and this is what it looks like at the beginning.”
“Everybody’s farm is different, and everybody has something unique,” she adds. “Everybody’s got their own story of why they do it and how they do it, and how they got started.”
“I love what I’m doing, and every day there’s something new. There are lots of heartbreaks when things don’t work well, and then a lot of triumphs and joy when things do.”
Watch a video of our visit on our Youtube channel. Visit Meredith at the Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market on Thursday afternoons, and online at granitespringsfarm.com. And be sure to stop by on the Farm Tour!