We’ve had a long relationship with Vollmer Farm. The farm has had some exciting changes this year, but we’re glad one thing hasn’t changed: the first local tomatoes of the season!
Visiting the Farm
We visited Vollmer Farm for a tour back in 2015. The farm sits on Highway 98 east of Bunn, a tiny town about an hour’s drive from the Triangle. During the growing season, the farm store sells produce, preserves, “Who’s Your Farmer?” tees, ice cream, and other goodies. (This year, the store is opening later in the season.)
On our tour, farmer Russ Vollmer walked us through the greenhouses, where tomatoes grow from spring through the summer. The tomato plants are not in the ground but in bags of dirt. Their trellis consists of plastic wires dangling from the ceiling. As the plants grow taller and tomatoes are harvested, the lower leaves are stripped, the wires are lowered, and the plants are pushed sideways; this keeps the ripe zone within arm’s reach. By the end of the season, the plants will be 25 feet long! A bean plant at the end of each row attracts aphids, which are trapped on a sticky trap. Growing inside the greenhouse keeps other pests away. The greenhouse also lengthens the growing season: the seeds are planted in December so that tomatoes ripen in May.
The Farm’s History
Vollmer Farm was not always an organic produce farm. At a picnic table in the shade by the old farmhouse, Russ told us the farm’s story. His great-grandfather started the farm in 1908. It was a tobacco farm when Russ was a teenager; the Vollmers also ran a farm supply store (now the farm market) that sold chemicals and fertilizer.
Russ’s father, Farmer John, began to see that over time, his soil needed more and more inputs to keep producing; he knew he needed to make a change. He adopted organic practices such as using cover crops and adding organic matter to the soil and saw an increase in yields. Then he began experimenting with growing crops organically; at the time, this involved a lot of trial and error. In 2000, Vollmer Farm had its first certified organic crop, and in 2015, the farm itself was certified. Russ described going through the certification process with his wife, Vanessa. “It’s a very high level to meet, and it should be.”
After our interview, Russ introduced us to the farm staff, Ava, Kayla, and Maybelle, whom he credited with running the greenhouses. He showed us the cool room where tomatoes are stored (the old tobacco pack house), including a double stack of boxes headed for our stores. But we still hadn’t seen the farm’s most exciting attraction: the Back 40 Playground.
The playground originated as a way for the farm to diversify its income through agritourism and school tours. It’s open in the fall, when it boasts a corn maze in addition to attractions like a giant underground slide, the “tot rocket zipline,” a cow barrel train, a hayride, a duck pond, and the Great Pumpkin Jump, a 2500-square-foot jumping pillow. We waved goodbye to Russ and headed over to the playground for a quick bounce on the Pumpkin Jump before driving home.
For years, Weaver Street Market bought organic strawberries from Vollmer Farm, which also hosted U-pick strawberries. This year, the Vollmers took a break from growing strawberries. This break will give the fields a chance to recover from disease. (A conventional farmer would fumigate the soil to kill pests and diseases, killing beneficial soil microbes in the process. The Vollmers used a rotation of up to four years, with each field having three years without strawberries to allow strawberry diseases to die off.) It will also give Russ and Vanessa time to work on their new venture: Rustic Roots, a farm-to-table restaurant on the farm that will serve both paying diners and those who can’t afford healthy, delicious food.
If you’re interested in visiting Vollmer Farm, a great day to go is for their Blueberry Music Festival on June 23, 2018. This year, the tickets ($10 in advance) support the construction of Rustic Roots. The playground will be open, and there will be music, pie-eating contests, and more. Read more on their website: http://www.vollmerfarm.com/