Keeper Creek Farm
Kim Rector, along with her husband Thurman Rector, are the third generation to farm on Kim’s family’s land. Sitting on 20 acres outside Mt. Ulla, Keeper Creek Farm grows blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. We visited Kim and Thurman to learn more about their story and their hopes for Iredell County where local food is concerned.
Growing up in Iredell County, how would you describe the agricultural landscape of the county? How has it evolved?
Kim: I was raised on 1,000 acre dairy farm. Daddy still owns the land, he gave my brother part of it for him to continue farming. He still has beef cows, but the dairy is gone. When I was a kid, we drove tractors all the way from here, to over there, to rake hay and put hay up. Now it’s a golf course and a housing development. This area has changed so much because of the lake, people trying to get away from Charlotte, and part of it too is the kids don't want to farm anymore.
What drew you to farming? I know you said it’s in your blood, but was there ever a time you wanted to escape it?
Kim: We milked 320 cows, twice a day, all my life. 365 days a year. I didn't want to stay on the farm. Every time you plan something, something goes haywire, so I left. When I met Thurman, by then I had figured out that the grass wasn't always greener on the other side of the pasture.
I never ate a homegrown blueberry ‘till he brought me some. I had never seen blueberries grown. It had always been his dream. When we got this place, we put the first batch of blueberries in, and then decided we wanted more. Then about two years ago he wanted to put in blackberries.
We had a hail storm a couple years back that took every leaf off every bush. We didn’t have a blueberry or a leaf! We lost the entire crop. I’m used to it, from being raised on the farm. Farming is gambling. That year, for me to make some money, we planted some green beans and I don't care if I see a green bean to this day.
Well on the note of that hail storm, what’s the hardest part of farming and what’s the most rewarding?
Thurman: I think the most rewarding part is providing the kids with a job and providing a product that someone really wants.
Kim: It makes you feel good when you go to town and everybody hollers, “There’s the blueberry lady!”
Can you expand upon that sense of pride for me? Is it tied to the success of your business or something deeper?
Kim: It’s deeper than just the business.
Thurman: There’s a lot better ways to make a living.
Kim: Well, theres a difference between making a living and making a life.
You had just mentioned that you provide kids with a job, can you expand upon that and tell me more about your business?
Kim: The majority of the berries you see at the grocery store are machine picked. They run over the bush with a machine that just beats all the berries off and then they’re through. All of our berries are hand-picked, so they're picked when they are ripe. That’s the reason they taste different.
So, it gives a lot of the local neighborhood kids their first job. Normally they start here at 11 or 12 years old. We don't stay on the kids as far as pushing them, they get paid by the pint. I tell them what order we've got to have and what time we have to have it by. Usually the kids get really competitive, and they have fun seeing who picked the most that week.
As far as the upkeep of the berries…the kids are good for picking, but they are not too good at weeding. With the blackberries, you have to be so careful because you have your little small sprouts coming out, and that’s where your berry is next year. So you can’t just turn anybody loose pulling weeds in the blackberries. That definitely falls on me, I think I’m the only person with calluses on my knees.
Why is it important for your community to buy locally grown food?
Thurman: They know where their food comes from and what’s in it. Stuff you get from China or South America, you don't know what kind of chemicals are in it.
Kim: It’s not necessarily that. I was at the farmer’s market one day and one woman came up with her little boy. He was begging for blueberries, and she said, “No, I'm not buying them. The last ones I bought you wouldn't touch,” and the little boy kept begging for blueberries. So I handed the kid a handful of blueberries, and he's like a chipmunk. He’s just shoving blueberries in his mouth. People don't realize there’s a difference. They don't. There is a difference in something off the small farm, than “fresh” at your grocery store. You can’t get a tomato here from Mexico and it be “fresh.” It’s not. Cheap ain’t always best.
We’re not certified organic mainly because we don't want the headache and the expense. I just don’t think it’s necessary. I don't think near as many people could enjoy the berries.
How are you investing the money that you earn?
Kim: Basically we feed ourselves from here. We live the way we were both raised. It’s just what we do, it’s something we’ve always done. There may be a monthly grocery store run for toilet paper, paper towels and coffee. When I make the jams and jellies, that stuff is bought locally. We don't hire people from other countries, we want to keep it in the community. All of it is done with local kids. Our containers for the berries, they come out of Hickory.
Keeper Creek Farm is located at 1679 Triplett Road in Mt. Ulla, North Carolina. Kim and Thurman invite you to visit their farm for pick your own blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Their products can also be found at Josh’s Farmer’s Market in Mooresville, including homemade jams, jellies, pickles and relishes. For more information call Kim on her cell phone at (704)-634-8228.