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Watching seeds grow, organically, with Judy Lessler of Harland’s Creek Farm

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Judy Lessler showing visitors around her fields.  Photo courtesy of Tazza Kitchen.

 

Judy Lessler is a the owner and proprietor of Harland’s Creek Farm, a certified organic farm specializing in flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and pasture-raised chicken eggs, located four miles west of Pittsboro N.C.  She is also a panelist on this Thursday’s pre-Climate Conference “Amuse Bouche” evening gathering, hosted by WUNC’s Frank Stasio, at Fearrington Barn.

I interviewed Judy in anticipation of her appearance on the panel, to get an idea of what sorts of ideas and perspective she would be bringing to the table.  My questions and her answers below.

But first, a bit about Lessler and her Farm.

The historic house.

Harland’s Creek Farm is the site of the historic Alston-Degraffenreid house, built in 1810 and surrounded by 53 acres of land, five of which are currently farmed. When Judy and her family first moved into the house in the early 1970s, kudzu covered the yard and had begun to grow up on the porch. After some initial clearing, the family discovered old orchards, flower gardens, and fields.

In fall of 2001, they started returning the fields to food production.  Judy’s husband died in 2002, and all her children have grown up and moved out.  Now Judy devotes her time to raising vegetables, flowers, and chickens on the five acres, while her Jack Russel terrier keeps the groundhogs in line.

 


The interview:

What drew you to farming in the first place?

I worked on my grandfather’s farm when I was a teen. My parents had a large garden and grew food. I loved preparing food. And I lived at an old farm site.

What do you love most about being a farmer?

Planting a tiny seed and seeing it grow into a plant that produces pounds and pounds of vegetables.

Have you personally suffered from the effects of climate change, at Harland’s Creek Farm?

Weather is our most important variable and the one we have least control over. Climate change has resulted in warmer summers, and some have been so warm that the red pigment in our tomatoes was destroyed, and they did not ripen as they had in the past.

What strategies do you employ to cope with the effects of climate change?

We employ general strategies to deal with weather problems. We have a pond to store water for irrigation. All plots are irrigated. We use raised beds, row covers, high tunnels, drip irrigation and mulch.

Most importantly, we farm organically.  Organically managed soils store more carbon than non-organic soils. We also have water ways to prevent runoff into streams after large rains.

The dahlia harvest at Harland's Creek Farm. Photo by Debbie Roos, courtesy of Growing Small Farms.

The dahlia harvest at Harland’s Creek Farm. Photo by Debbie Roos, courtesy of Growing Small Farms.

 

Do you think farmers have a responsibility to farm in such a way that is easy on the land, or that does not contribute to climate change? What sustainable practices do you employ as an organic farmer?

Of course. Our livelihood depends on it. We use cover crops, crop rotation, waterways, mulches and raised beds that run across the slope to prevent run off.

How can consumers of local food help farmers out?

Buy local organic if it is available. Buy local sustainable otherwise. Buy organic from the Americas as your last choice. It will be years and years before we will have a completely viable regional food supply. The best thing a consumer can do is to buy organic to protect the health of the environment, climate, and the people who work in agriculture.


Where can you buy Harland’s Creek Farm’s products?

They sell their products at the Durham Farmers Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. LoMo Market, a market on wheels that moves from place to place in the Triangle area, also stocks Lessler’s items.  To find a location, go to the LoMo web site.

The following local restaurants carry their produce:

Or you can sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), or buy directly from the farm. Learn more at harlands-creek-farm.com.

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