When Brett Evans of Red Hawk Farm approached us with interest in growing produce for Weaver Street Market, he was growing at the Piedmont Biofarm in Pittsboro, NC. That was back in 2015. I was thrilled to hear of his plans to grow some much-needed crops like year-round lettuces, early-season hot house peppers, tomatoes, and more.
Over the past five years, Brett’s farm production has evolved immensely. First moving to a new farm in Hurdle Mills, then establishing greenhouse and high tunnel production for year-round salad mixes, and then partnering with retiring greenhouse grower Jim LeTendre of Sunny Slope Greenhouses to carry on his legacy of high tunnel tomato production for local markets. Oh, and somewhere in there, Red Hawk also became certified organic!
For the last several years now, Red Hawk Farm has fulfilled an extremely important niche in our food system—providing a year-round supply of locally grown salad greens. Salad greens are a staple in the produce department, and before we were able to purchase from Red Hawk, almost 100% of those greens came from mega-farms on the West Coast. Switching to a local supplier for salad greens reduced our reliance on that distant and increasingly fragile supply chain, decreased the carbon emissions taken to transport those products from the West Coast, and strengthened our local food economy—a win win win in our book!
Brett’s farm in Hurdle Mills started with a propagation greenhouse and a few 200-foot unheated covered greenhouses, also known as high tunnels. At that point, he was raising greens both in the field and in the tunnels, but the subsequent years of extreme weather proved to be a challenge to growing the delicate greens. After many crop losses to heavy rains, most of Brett’s salad production has now moved entirely indoors. His covered production area has grown to one-and-a-half acres, plus another two acres outdoors for less-tender field crops.
An exciting addition to the salad greens in the last two years are year-round microgreens, plus “season extension” cucumbers, basil, and tomatoes. Season extension means that the crops are started indoors with heat but are grown much of their season without climate control. Starting the crops with heat gives them an early start, so they start producing earlier than crops grown in the field would. One of the reasons I am excited to have these products from a local farm, in addition to the environmental and sustainability reasons, is because they taste SO much better than cucumbers and tomatoes that are shipped from far afield.
The addition of these year-round and season extension products is so important to Weaver Street Market’s goal of driving the growth of local and sustainable foods. As we eat three times a day, 365 days a year (more or less), our local food supply needs to find ways to meet our nutritional needs more than just the six months of the year when fruits and vegetables are “in season.” Additionally, many growers are finding that cultivating crops outdoors, with the increasing pressures of climate change, is becoming more and more challenging. This is where high tunnel production of produce becomes extremely valuable. In the last twelve months alone, Weaver Street’s purchases from Red Hawk Farm have increased by 50%. That is amazing!
Next time you’re in the store, try one of Red Hawk Farm’s products. Look for the black-and-white label with the soaring hawk!