by Ron and Nancy Bryant
July 14, 2017
After moving to our new farm, 3 Eagles Sanctuary, south of Norwood, NC, in Stanly County on the Pee Dee River, Nancy and I made the decision to switch from conventional farming to more sustainable agriculture.
The first idea was to establish an incubator farm for new small farmers on a portion of our fields, so we worked with people from Anson, Stanly and Montgomery Counties to do that. Instead of an incubator farm, we established the Upper Pee Dee Farm and Food Council that worked to help the counties develop small farms that were sustainable and economically-viable, to provide food for local communities.
Then we realized that we might find someone, probably an eager young farmer looking for land, who might come here to establish his or her own small, sustainable farm. We really didn’t put out lots of feelers, but slowly shared the vision with various people, including our friends at LandTrust for CNC.
One day in July, 2016, we got an email from Travis Morehead about an inquiry from a young farmer looking to lease land for his proposed organic farm. We contacted the farmer, Holt Akers-Campbell, and thus began the big adventure of draft horse-powered small farming at 3 Eagles Sanctuary.
Holt came to visit in August, along with his college friend, Hailey Sowden (who herself said she wanted to establish her own farm in the next couple of years.) They walked and talked and examined and maybe even tasted the land while we four discussed the possibilities. After more exchanges by phone and email, Holt decided that he would like to make 3 Eagles his home, and we agreed. He finished up his apprenticeship at a farm in Vermont and moved to 3 Eagles on November 1.
The written agreement between the two parties, came after much deliberation and exchange of ideas. We agreed to lease 8-10 acres to Holt for a three-year period, after which, if we all still wanted to continue, he would lease for 99 years. The first and second years Holt would pay us $1 for the lease; the third year, 2% of gross income. The following years’ payments would be 4% of gross income. That would allow for flexibility for Holt in years when the weather or other factors do not allow for as much income as anticipated. We, as landowners, understand the vagaries of such things, so 4% was agreeable to us.
Each year of the first three years we are to have a review of how the farm is progressing and how there might be changes to help either of the two parties. After that, there will be a review every three years, but we all know that we can talk among ourselves at any time if there is a problem. We understood that, because as we were working out the agreement, a couple of matters developed that caused misunderstanding and which we resolved when we all listened to understand each other.
Holt named his farm Lazy Heron Farm, which one can view at his website, www.lazyheronfarm.com. There were no buildings or infrastructure on the acres he leased, so part of the agreement was that we would have the well and barn and food shed and electricity installed before he arrived on November 1. We were to pay one-half of the costs for the infrastructure, and if he should decide to leave before the three year period is up, we would begin paying him the other half on a depreciated schedule. Holt bought draft horses in Vermont, a pair he had had the opportunity to work with before he bought them, and they arrived the first week in November along with all of Holt’s belongings and other equipment which he had purchased along the way, including the trailer that he lives in.
Hailey arrived in February after she finished her work in Vermont, and she joined Holt in earnest to get the land ready to produce for their anticipated Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and the Albemarle Farmers’ Market and the NoDa Farmers’ Market in Charlotte. Holt and the horses had a learning curve to deal with the clay soils that were fairly hard at that time, and certainly different from the Vermont farms where Holt had apprenticed. Gradually, in early spring, the fields began to show green in the rows that the horses and the implements had prepared, and the CSA began in May, along with a weekly newsletter filled with photos and information. Actually, they had so much produce that Holt sent out the word to CSA participants to come to the farm for a free weeks’ worth of produce before the actual start date.
Holt started at the Albemarle market and Hailey took the Charlotte market, and from the looks of the photos, both had lovely, lush displays of produce and flowers for their customers. In June, they invited CSA folks and friends to a potluck at Lazy Heron, and, of course, we, the Bryants, were delighted to be included on a lovely evening.
So far, the agreement and our relationship have seemed to flow smoothly, and it is, perhaps so, because we are as enthusiastic as Holt and Hailey that Lazy Heron Farm be a success.
We would be delighted to share our experience with any landowner willing to consider leasing a portion of land to such a farmer looking to invest his or her work and life in creating a vibrant, economically-viable farm to sell local food to the local markets.