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"People have got to be visionary—they’ve got to look down the road and see that they can make a living in farming.”
-Mary James
Farm and Food Voices
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North Carolina Farmer Works to Diversify the Hog Market

Mary and Nelson James at the farmers' marketMary James from Pender County, North Carolina, not only dreams about a better farming future, she makes dreams come true.

Some of her dreams are for the specialty farm that she and her husband Nelson, a third-generation farmer, own. Since retiring as a reading tutor from the local school system, she’s become a full-time farmer, adding new products to the operation.

The James’ produce vegetables, flowers, ducks, rabbits, Cornish hens, free-range chickens, brown eggs, and pasture-raised Niman Ranch pork. They also rent out ornamental plants for weddings and special events and sell their Dogwood Farms’ products at farmers’ markets and on a new Web site.

This year James will add shiitake mushrooms and more herbs. She and Nelson have also qualified for USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which will provide technical assistance so they can expand their hog operation while improving environmental practices.

“I am on cloud nine,” James says. “We’ll have 16 acres in EQIP, and we’ll be able to sell 250 hogs to Niman Ranch when we’re done. It’s a blessing to get this assistance for what we’re trying to do.

“I am a visionary. My biggest goal was to build a small processing operation so we didn’t have to take our hogs to one place to be killed and another to be processed before we could market the meat.”

Type of Operation:
Vegetables, flowers, plants, rabbits, ducks, Cornish hens, free-range chickens, brown eggs, pasture-raised hogs; markets her own meats

Land in Agriculture:
35 acres

Greatest Challenge:
Farm profitability and energy costs

Program Participation:
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

Unmet Need:
Programs to help small farmers market their crops; incentives for beginner farmers

Her other dream is to introduce more people to agriculture as an enterprise. “You can’t get more farmland. When the older people pass on, if their children need money, they’ll sell the estate. In New Hanover County, there’s a lot of housing development like that.”

That vision made James one of the first people selected for North Carolina’s new Farmer to Farmer Mentor program. Through the program, she shares her enthusiasm and experience to help other small farming operations.

“I talk with people and show them how they can turn a profit on the land, or if they don’t want to farm, how they can keep the land in the family and get payments through the wildlife program or easements.”

“My plan for this summer is to introduce more young people to agriculture. I want to see school kids come here to see how our food is raised and processed. I can start to work with them with the rabbits. I want a training program, because we need to reach them when they are young.”

James would like to see federal farm programs support her vision. “The best thing to help us out would be to assist the small farmers in marketing their goods and to create new incentives for beginning farmers.

“That could be a young person or an older person who is just retiring and needs an incentive to work the land. People have got to be visionary—they’ve got to look down the road and see that they can make a living in farming.”

» Read more Farm and Food Voices

American Farmland Trust