People can take the pledge on their website to buy roughly 10% of their food locally, and in doing so they join the movement to stimulate their city’s economy and help the hardworking food producers who live a stone’s throw away from them.
Not to mention, local foods are fresher, healthier and haven’t traveled hundreds of miles to get to you. It’s not that much more expensive to buy, and the products are more diverse and in season. What’s not to love?
Blink and you may miss the tiny, sustainable farm 15 minutes off the highway in Saxapahaw, N.C.
Laughing Spirit Farm is located on an understated piece of land in owner Rob Tolbert’s front and back yards, which are equipped with the necessary tools for the farm’s commitment to sustainable growing practices.
The farm is truly a family operation. Tolbert, his wife Melissa and their two daughters, Ashlyn and Schuyler, help with daily tasks on the farm, which focuses less on commercial growing and more on organic small market farming.
Tolbert said he farms to have access to fresh, healthy food for his family, and he doesn’t farm primarily for selling.
“I love simply growing things that taste good,” Tolbert said. “And I love selling to people who eat my food with their families.” Plants are grown in the most natural way possible, without fertilizers, synthetic chemicals or fungicides. The soil is the basis for the healthy foods they grow, so Tolbert uses cover crops like clover, as well as natural plows, his chickens, to maintain soil health.
A sweeping view of the farm shows a few traditional rows of plants like beans, tomatoes and strawberries, with patches of freshly blooming flowers sprinkled throughout the yard and several man-made greenhouses constructed from recycled wood.
Then there’s the unconventional parts of the farm – the hidden patch of artichokes growing underground, the beehives caked with wax that will be used for candles, the pen of chickens with two ducks that seem a little out of place.
“They sometimes think they’re the roosters,” Ashlyn said.
The family’s two dogs, Tessie and Clover, also act as unofficial herding dogs for the chickens that provide playmates for Ashlyn and Schuyler, who seem to know as much about the farm as their father does.
The beginnings of Laughing Spirit Farm
Tolbert was raised on a farm near Greenville, S.C., before moving to Travelers Rest. He wasn’t exposed to much of the farming process until he attended the College of Charleston, when he took the opportunity to live on Parris Island near Beaufort, S.C.
He was able to pay low rent while living and studying on the island by himself, and he learned a lot about living off the land.
After graduating from the College of Charleston with a major in English, Tolbert received his Master’s degree in Teaching in Special Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After marrying Melissa, Tolbert became involved in a smaller urban farm called Aimless Farm.
“It started out more commercial,” he said. “When Ashlyn was six months old and starting to eat solid food, I took her to a farm one day and tried some of the things they were growing. I recognized the importance of providing the healthiest food possible for her.”
Tolbert said he enjoyed farming, but eventually felt it was time to move on to a less commercial type of farming, a smaller operation that would grow for a food source rather than for mass product.
In 2008, after an unofficial brainstorming session, his wife came up with the name Laughing Spirit Farm, which Tolbert said embodied the type of environment in which they wanted to run a farm.
“The name keeps us guided,” he said. “And the farm is 100 percent a family affair. We always wanted that.”
From raspberries to shiitakes
Tolbert grows a non-traditional mix of plants and food that aren’t usually found in the central region of North Carolina.
“We essentially have a conglomeration, a montage of anything we can grow,” he said. “We grow what people usually don’t, and we’re kind of stubborn about that.”
Given North Carolina’s history of unexpected temperature drops and unpredictable weather, many farms in the area stay away from crops that rely heavily on weather.
Tolbert welcomes the challenge of growing plants, such as raspberries and strawberries, and he relies on trial and error to determine the best way to grow these plants.
Down a short path to the woods in Tolbert’s backyard, a dozen piles of wood are stacked Lincoln Log style with special wax coating and plugs. This is where Tolbert grows shiitake mushrooms. Tolbert and his family do not eat meat, so the mushrooms are an ideal meat substitute.
“We try to grow things like shiitakes and edamame beans because they taste good but also because of their other great qualities,” he said. “They have a lot of anti-cancer properties.”
Organic farming for the future
Tolbert said recent United Nations research on the future of farming said that industrial agriculture alone cannot sustain the food needs of the world.
“Smaller market farms, the local farms, will be the real providers,” he said. “When I go to a more traditional farm, it’s so obvious that when you have more production, you need more unnecessary chemicals.”
Laughing Spirit Farm illustrates Tolbert’s commitment to “pure” food that is edible and wholesome for his family.
“A lot underlies what we do and grow,” he said. “Food and medical matters go hand in hand. If you don’t eat right, you’re not healthy. Food is important to family and to mental health, so we love providing people with access to healthy options.”
Laughing Spirit Farm sells produce on Wednesdays at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. Many times, Tolbert brings the whole family to help out at the stand.
Last weekend was full of some of my favorite moments of the semester, and I am lucky to have some great pictures of everything that happened.
On Friday, I went strawberry picking with a few of my friends. I had heard about Iseley Farms, a local strawberry farm, from my French teacher that morning and immediately set my mind on going there that afternoon. I picked some of the best fresh strawberries I have ever had –so luscious and wonderful, I’m so sad they’ve all been eaten! Later that night, we took about half of the batch and make chocolate-covered strawberries…again, wonderful.
Then, after an epic game of Apples to Apples (sadly I did not take many good pictures of the game, it was too intense) I headed to Merlefest on Sunday. The 4-day bluegrass festival was held in Wilkesboro, North Carolina and the headliners were the Avett Brothers, one of my all-time favorite bands. Their sound does vary a lot, but it is rooted in a bluegrass style and has often been called “punkgrass” for its occasional rock/alternative tendencies. They are a unique brother duo with strong voices and great song lyrics and I could honestly go on and on about them, but I’ll just show you my pictures instead.