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ORRUM —Scotland County native James Bailey never had plans to become a farmer, even if it was the family business.
“It all started when the pandemic had started, noticing food shortages and just wanting to give people access to fresh, organically grown produce,” he said. “And as you see in the area where we are, it’s pretty much a food desert. The closest grocery store is like 25 minutes away. Everybody doesn’t have a car, everybody can’t travel. So, I just wanted to come back to the land where my grandfather worked so hard for.”
Bailey grows tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and kale. He has plans to grow okra, watermelon and collards as he grows the farm on the 15 acres of land.
He calls the farm, For The Soul Farms.
Bailey said he plans to take his vegetables to farmer’s markets around the area with plans to expand to shipping across the country.
At 31, Bailey is a rare breed of a farmer. According to the USDA, the average age of farm producers in the US is 57 and they have been working on their land for more than 21 years.
Bailey came back to the land full-time in 2020 after starting soil testing at the end of 2019.
“What we’re using is sustainable and regenerative practices. So with that, you’re depending on the microbiology of the soil to do the work for you, instead of having to add all these fertilizers and different chemicals and things. We want the things that we’re growing to have their full nutritional value. You can go to the grocery store and buy things, but you’re not getting that full nutritional value.”
Bailey said you can taste the difference between organically grown vegetables and those that have preservatives to keep them fresh on grocery shelves.
With his first harvest, which Bailey said was mostly greens, he was able to provide salad mixes and heads of lettuce. “With that, I gave mostly giving that away. I was just like breaking the ground and seeing where things were with the soil. That’s what I was doing when I first started out,” he said. “It’s a very rewarding thing. When you’re talking about farming, everything starts from seed. Seeing that little seedling come up, it’s like you’re creating life and you have to sustain it. It’s definitely cool and rewarding.”
But this wasn’t where Bailey planned to be when he graduated from high school. When he left Scotland County for college, he’d majored in information technology.
However, when the pandemic hit, he noticed how people were losing jobs without a backup plan and thought what better time to come back to the land.
“The pandemic got me in gear, but at the end of 2019, I was attending North Carolina A&T getting my undergraduate degree in ag business,” he said. “I always had plans to do something in agriculture.”
When Bailey’s grandfather, Herbert Robertson, passed away in 2018, he wanted to honor his history. Robertson taught World War II veterans how to start farming and he also helped to establish the Robeson County Farmers Market. Bailey said he was the only one in the family that had an interest in farming.
Returning to the farmland hasn’t been without challenges. Mainly funding, Bailey said.
“I believe in growing slow, so you don’t owe. This land is debt-free and I prefer not to go sit in front of a bank,” he said. Bailey said his farm isn’t just about the food, but he wants to create jobs in the area and plans to have positions available starting this summer.
Cheris Hodges can be reached at (910) 506-3169 or [email protected]
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