Connie and Millard Locklear are the owners and operators of New Ground Farm LLC in Pembroke, North Carolina. Both take tremendous pride in building community, a lesson passed down by those who worked the land before them.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can you provide a brief introduction? Tell me more about yourself and your business.
Millard: All of the land is part of my ancestors’ land. We consist of 3-6 acres of tillable land, we got 11 acres of land that’s totally irrigated and everything. As we grow and improve our land, we improve our chances of raising healthier food. None of our foods are GMO, it’s heirloom or hybrids. We concentrate on 4 or 5 items commercially because the University might want 4-5 cases of squash, you can’t have that volume of plants in 20 different items.
Connie: A lot of the things we produce on the farm we sell through wholesale markets and farmers markets: leafy greens, different varieties of peas, okras, squash…. Some of the peas and the butterbeans are from my ancestors. The sugar cane came from my father, which we’ve had for 30 something years. Those are some of the items that…our heirlooms are our family heritage plants.
My husband Millard is the full-time farmer and producer on the farm. He is here 100% of the time. I study and grow herbs that I know are beneficial to me. Rosemary is a wonderful herb. It’s a culinary herb, and it’s a medicinal herb. It makes some of the best sinus medicine you can get anywhere in the world. I’m also a full-time employee for the public schools. I’m a teacher assistant, I work with Kindergarten and first grade. I do the outdoor classroom at Deep Branch Elementary where I teach children how to plant and grow, and the benefits of planting and growing your own food, being able to be self-sustainable in growing your own foods
Why is that important for you to teach, why is that something you feel people need to learn?
Connie: There’s so many generations that have gone by, they don't know how to plant, how to grow and that is very important in my job, working with children. If you teach them when they're young, when they grow old they can carry it on with them. Knowledge is power. If you have the knowledge, you have the power to live the lifestyle you want to live, to have the health benefits of the food that you grow yourself.
So what drew you both to farming? You’re a fifth generation farm, correct?
Millard: We’ve seen our ancestors live off this land. I got a grandson that sees me on this land. He’s been on me about getting that 100 year old Century Farm sign out there at the road. Knowledge is everything, if you got knowledge you got everything. We like to give the knowledge to everybody that’s willing to accept the knowledge.
What is the hardest part of farming and what’s the most rewarding for you both?
Connie: Farming in the heat and the cold, sometimes the weather just does not cooperate, that’s one of the hardest things in farming. In 2016 we had Hurricane Matthew and we lost a lot of our crop. In 2017, the freezing in the winter—January—we lost a lot of our collard crop. You put so much time and so much effort into growing good food, and then you have weather that just doesn't cooperate with what your plans are. And one of the best things about farming is to know that people enjoy the product that you raise.
Millard: As the world changes, the climate changes. We’ve been introduced to more things that we’ve not seen in the past. It’s kind of like ebola and all these other different diseases that have popped up over the world that weren't there five years ago, the farmers are seeing that. Bacteria, fungus, every year is a different thing. Being able to raise food that you can consume with good health benefits is very challenging to do, but the successfulness of being able to heal your mind and your body through your own hands is very rewarding.
Why do you think it’s important for your community, or any community to buy locally grown food?
Millard: The person gets fresh food that has not traveled a great amount of time, it’s less than a day old from leaving the earth and going to the consumer. It also puts the money right back into the community. The farmer raises the food and then turns around and employs young people. It’s a cycle in life, the community is built off the people in the community, it is not built any other way because the community supports itself. I know when I was a small child I heard my ancestors talk about this community. Everybody in this community had a certain person. There was a guy that had a corn meal, he'd make flour. There was people that could cure meat, people that did medicines. Everybody shared everything.
Connie: If you're supporting each other you get stronger, your community becomes better and stronger.
How do local farms effect your community’s economy?
Millard: Local farms allows it to regulate the chance of improving the community’s health…that’s the biggest thing. The health of the community is through the health of the people, and that allows growth. A healthy person is a happy person and we feel that if a person’s health is good they can improve the community. A farmer should be the biggest focal point of helping the community.
Why was it important for you to sell to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP)?
Millard: Seven or eight years ago in her school classroom, Connie asked where peanuts came from and somebody said it came off a tree. They actually didn't know where the food comes from, and it spills over into the universities. A lot of them kids in college don’t know where their food comes from. That’s going to make a terrible way of feeding ourselves, going somewhere to buy everything, and everything they eat is gonna be done by somebody else. When you go to a place that’s wanting to make fast food, fast money, that ain’t a healthy way of eating.
What do you sell to UNCP?
Millard: Leafy greens…collards, mustard, turnips. All different vegetables, squash and zucchinis, okra’s a big seller this summer. The biggest system we have to work around is the University buys their food through a contract person. Well that contract person’s inspector is at their depot, they don’t actually come out to the farm and inspect it. So it’s got to go to their terminal, turn around and come back for them to certify that the food is safe to eat.
Why is it important for universities to buy from local farmers?
Millard: It gives them a source of more healthier food, less travel time. Most universities are on this path of sustainability. They want to change all their lightbulbs and save energy. So, save fuel and time, buy local food.
What has the Local Food Ambassadors Program given you? How does being a part of this initiative make you feel?
Millard: A lot of people say well you’re in it for the money and I say no you don't do everything for the money. You do everything for the comfort of knowing you improved somebody because when you improve somebody you improve yourself.
Connie and Millard are located in Pembroke, NC at 292 Alvin Road, Pembroke, NC 28372. You can also meet them and buy their products on Saturday Mornings from 7am-10am at the Lumberton Farmers Market. For more information, call 910-521-1768.