Roderick McMillan could never get behind the clock system. After losing his job at a local industrial plant, he turned to farming — an industry that knows no hourly pay. While this might have been a jarring adjustment for some, farming provided Roderick with the opportunity he had longed for.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can you provide a brief introduction? Tell me more about yourself and your business.
Roderick: MG3 Farms is a family-owned operation. We’re located in Maxton, North Carolina and we grow a variety of leafy greens, lettuces and hydroponic herbs including cilantro, basil, parsley, swiss chard, kale, collards, cabbages and mustard greens.
So what drew you to farming?
Roderick: When I was in eleventh grade working at Burger King, I kind of figured out there’s a better way than punching a clock everyday and getting the same pay for every hour.
Would it be fair to say you enjoy farming then because you quite literally get to witness the fruits of your labor?
Roderick: If I go to a plant and I do 10,000 units of whatever versus 1,000 units of whatever, on that hour I'm still getting $14-$18. [In farming] The more work I put in, the more I yield. I would think that’s what anyone’s looking for, so I don’t understand the clock system. I can’t get with the clock system.
You mentioned your operation was family-owned, so did you grow up with your mom and dad running the business?
Roderick: We’ve always done row crop farming, we grew corn, wheat and soybeans. All of this [points to soybeans behind him] is going to dry out, it’s intended to dry. It’s a completely different market than fresh farming. You can sell this 2-3 years in advance, that stuff there..lettuce, if you don't move it, it will rot fast. It’s an all the time thing.
Why did this style of fresh farming appeal to you?
Roderick: It’s clean. It’s efficient. It’s off of the ground, we don’t have any pesticides or herbicides because we don’t have any soil.
Walk me through the process of starting this new venture….how did it begin?
It was a family project that began in May of 2016. I got laid off from work, and I learned all of this on YouTube, studying, figuring out how it works. I presented the idea to my parents. They backed me, helped me get the money. I’m the one on camera, but there’s a whole family here. Mom, Dad….and there’s 5 kids. One brother, three sisters, and my girlfriend. And a community of help.
Where do you sell your products? CSA? Markets?
Roderick: This is a 10,000 square foot greenhouse so our main market is wholesale. We sell to University of North Carolina at Pembroke, St. Andrews University—those are our main markets that pay the bills. Extra cash at the farmers markets up in Raleigh and Southern Pines and a few local restaurants.
What’s the hardest part of farming and what’s the most rewarding?
Roderick: The hardest part is keeping a forward mindset, a positive mindset. There are daily setbacks and frustrations in this. We’re doing the same things, but we’re never in the same environment every day. It’s not like I’m going to the plant and it’s going to run through here at this speed every single time. It’s different every day.
Why do you think it’s important for your community to buy locally grown food?
Roderick: The consumer’s mindset isn't necessarily on fresh, but the university is really helping change a lot of that. Younger minds coming in. I think we’ve been recognizing that eating at McDonald’s everyday is not going to cut it.
On the topic of farm to university programming, how did you get connected with the universities you sell to?
Roderick: When we got the idea of this, we were looking for schools, universities, someone that could take a whole lot. UNCP and St. Andrews has been really willing to help. I haven’t had to push it that much, they’ve been wanting the fresh local stuff.
How long have you been selling to these universities and what do you sell to them?
Roderick: We sell to Robeson Community College, St. Andrews and UNCP. It’s mainly all lettuces and some herbs.
Why do you think it’s important for these universities to buy from local farmers?
Roderick: There are a lot of people at universities that want to eat clean. The students that you are feeding are looking for fresher food. They’re the ones paying and it’s 8 or 10 minutes down the road. I don't see why you wouldn’t.
Find out more information about MG3 Farms on their facebook page.