Mike and Melinda Roberts of River Sun Farm, have always enjoyed “playing in the dirt.” Sitting on a bountiful two acres northeast of Statesville, River Sun Farm grows certified organic vegetables. Mike and Melinda’s other venture, Kindred Souls Flower Farm, produces cut flowers for clients and events. They joined us one busy morning to share their story and their hopes for Iredell County where local food is concerned.
Mike: My name is Mike Roberts, my wife and I, Melinda Roberts, own River Sun Farms. It’s about a two acre vegetable and cut flower farm in production. We’re about in the fourth year of growing.
You’ve certainly grown since you started production four years ago! Can you name the different vegetables you have?
Mike: Yes. As we’ve started, the farm has just grown itself, it’s becoming bigger and bigger. We do kohlrabis, all different cabbages, mustards, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, beans, watermelons, okra, beets, bok choi, Swiss chard, winter squashes, summer squashes. It’s just growing, growing, growing.
Talk to me about your background, what drew you to farming?
Melinda: We were in Asheville, and we had both been in the agricultural industry. Mainly landscaping, the ornamental side of things. At that time, I worked for Cooperative Extension as a small farms agent and it really opened my eyes to the need for the next generation’s education on local foods, and knowing where their food comes from, and sustainability, and farm preservation and all that stuff. My parents had this property and they kept saying, “If y'all would just move home we could help you with the children and you could do something with the land,” and we decided, why not. We wanted our children to know how to grow a tomato, not just on a backyard scale, but on a commercial scale.
Where we were living the market was pretty saturated, we knew that coming home we would have an open market for organic because there’s not really any organic farmers in our area, they're mostly conventional. It was a big challenge for us to go organic because all we knew was the other side of it, being in the agriculture industry. We had always worked with plants and we had always sprayed round up. I was done, we were done. It’s just not what I want to eat and not what I want to represent.
We like playing in the dirt. We’ve always done it, and we’ll always do it.
Your love for playing in the dirt is something that got passed down to you?
Melinda: For him, it’s something he acquired on his own. My grandfather had 100 acres right here, it was all watermelons and cantaloupes. So I was driving a tractor at six, seven years old and thumping watermelons.
What is the hardest part of farming? What is the most rewarding?
Melinda: I’d say the hardest is time management.
Mike: Time management. Labor.
Mike: Expenses. We’re on a very strict budget. I don't have a lot of equipment, I do a lot of things by hand still. Which I'm good for, it’s fine. Seeing my CSA people come up every week and say, “Man that was some of the best stuff I ever had.” Every week. If I do CSA’s for the rest of my life I'm good with it.
Melinda: And flowers
Mike: And flowers.
Why is CSA ideal for you?
Mike: We started at the market here in town, but I want to stay right here and sell off the farm. That’s another reward, being here and having my kids here all the time.
Melinda: We really like the longevity of our members coming on the farm and the relationships we’re building with people. At our height we will probably max out at 40 members, but right now we have 25 members. That’s 25 families that we feed for 18-20 weeks, and we also do an extended fall share now. Eventually we would like to do it year round and maintain these families for however many years they want to participate.
What else do you do to benefit your community aside from the CSA program?
Melinda: I volunteer a lot. We donate food to our schools and to our food bank; we donate plants to our schools too.
Why do you think it’s important for your community to buy locally grown food?
Melinda: That’s a no brainer, to me. Nutritional value of your food, and another one that’s huge is just supporting your local economy. I buy local as much as I can. If we could find a local source for inputs we would buy those. We try, every year we find something closer to us. We hate driving two hours away to give someone our money for products we need to farm because you can’t find organic inputs in Statesville. Maybe we’ll be a supplier one day, I don't know, to help fill in that gap.
When you talk about the happiness you receive when customers express their gratitude for you and your products, is it a happiness rooted in your business’s success or a deeper sense of fulfillment?
Melinda: I love seeing my daughter come home bragging about—we donate plants to the school—and she’s the only one that knows how to plant them. She used to teach her girlfriends about farming, and now her best friend wants to farm this summer. She’s nine years old. If her mom goes to the store, she makes her buy organic produce now. I didn't do that, my daughter did that.
Do you have a favorite quote that drives you?
Melinda: When I worked out at Boise, I worked at a garden center out there, they had this big sign that hung up, “In search of my mother’s garden I found my own.” That’s what we did, we found our own garden. And it’s because of our parents and generations ahead of us that we get to do what we do.
What are your plans for the future where expansion is concerned?
Melinda: We’ll stay small, marketing straight to the public. Making it a drastically larger venture, takes away from the sustainability of us as a family. We want to stay small. Maybe we’ll grow to four acres. We’re going to add more fruit. We do lots of cut flowers for weddings and events, that’s where we’ll expand.
River Sun Farm is located in Statesville, North Carolina. For more information about the Community Supported Agriculture shares, call Michael at 828-773-0760, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. River Sun Farms can also be found on Facebook. For information about the Kindred Souls Flower Farm, call 828-773-1310 or email email@example.com
River Sun Farm & Kindred Souls Flower Farm