Cathy Jones began gardening in 1975 when she moved to this area. Her husband, Mike Perry, was a Chapel Hill native—he used to watch his dad play softball on the field that’s now the site of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. With Mike’s support, Cathy began selling produce in 1991. She didn’t think she could get in to the big Carrboro market, but in 1994, the Hitts of Peregrine Farm encouraged her and she applied and was accepted. Mike began going to market, too, and helping on the farm at night, after working all day at his masonry business.
At first Cathy wanted to sell herbs, but sales were slow at a dollar a bag so she began to sell vegetables. She already grew some varieties since she pickled and canned for herself. She added potatoes and onions, a favorite to eat and to grow because they’re “fun to harvest.” And Perry-Winkle Farm added flowers—Cathy had thought they’d wait until they had vegetable farming down, but they went ahead and planted flowers anyway.
Around 2000, she and Mike got nine hens and a rooster as “practice chickens,” eating the eggs themselves. The chickens lived in a small pen but quickly ate all the grass and vegetation available, so Cathy and Mike opened the pen door and the chickens became free range. After learning how to care for the small flock, Cathy and Mike ordered 25 chicks; they now have 250 chickens who live in two fields on the farm, and they regularly sell eggs at market. Portable chicken houses help move the flocks from one field to another as crops come and go. (Mike built both houses: the original chicken house, and the 2007 Egg McMansion.) The chickens eat leftover vegetation (and ticks!) and add nutrients to the soil. When the Animal Welfare Institute used several local farms for an inspector training session, the healthy, well-cared-for chickens of Perry-Winkle Farm impressed the group. In 2008, Perry-Winkle Farm added some meat chickens to their flocks. They bought 300 chicks—cheaper than buying only females—and about 100 turned out to be hens. The rest, the males, were processed for meat when they were 15 to 16 weeks old.
Perry-Winkle Farm grows over a hundred varieties of vegetables and just as many flowers. They have , for example, seven kinds of onion, six kinds of potato, and five or six kinds of tomato. Every summer they employ numerous helpers, another blessing of farming: the farm hands often become like family. Four have been married at the farm.
Look for Cathy and Mike at various farmers’ markets and visit them on the Farm Tour!