Carolyn Twesten and Steve Rankin bought a run-down tobacco farm in 2010. It had no plumbing or electricity and an antique, inoperable well. They moved onto the land in a camper and began restoring the house, and somehow managed to start farming, too. After just two years they started selling their produce and eggs at farmers’ markets, and by 2015 they were ready to open Sweet Pea Farm to visitors on the Piedmont Farm Tour.
With only an acre in produce production, Sweet Pea has to manage its rows carefully. A cover crop of Austrian winter peas can still be seen in the rows between the spring greens during our March visit; the peas survive frost and spend the winter fixing nitrogen in the soil. Similarly, a field of rye and clover fixes nitrogen and prevents soil erosion during the winter; it will be tilled into the soil as organic matter before summer crops like tomatoes and melons are planted. Row covers deter pests without the use of pesticides and keep plants warm early in the season; the bok choy that didn’t make it under the row cover are dinky and beetle-bitten as compared with their covered neighbors.
Steve points out the pond (used for irrigation), one of the many shiitake-log stacks, and the heirloom apple and pear tree orchard. There are young blueberry bushes as well. Fortunately, a friend keeps his bees on the land, providing both pollination and honey. A pollinator garden lines the walk from the driveway to the house. The chickens live in a spacious henhouse with boxes and roosts and an open exit into their yard. They have bushes for cover from hawks as well as rotating pastures on which they peck.
The diverse farm makes use of all its space to be productive. The flatter expanse is used for vegetables, while the slopes have the fruit bushes and trees. The shady back pasture is used for the chickens and the shiitakes. “We’re hoping that even with such a small space, we’ll be able to make a viable living on this farm,” Carolyn says.
Carolyn is a powerhouse of knowledge as she leads us around the farm, describing everything from choosing the right onion variety for your climate to the different effects organic matter has on sandy and clay soils. She and Steve will be leading tours during the Farm Tour. For an educational visit, come stroll across the pond’s dam and into the rows at Sweet Pea Farm.
Look for Carolyn and Steve at farmers’ markets. (You can also find Carolyn in the Produce Departments at our stores!) Visit Sweet Pea farm on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sweet-Pea-Farm-NC/393129337365667, or watch a video of our visit, below.