One warm January afternoon, rows of produce left drenched and nearly frozen overnight find a sunny day’s worth of respite. Blooms of collard greens adjacent to a wide, one-level house in Roxboro gradually plump their leaves up toward the sun’s rays.
This home and land belong to farmer Mark Paylor and his extended family. And on this warm winter Sunday afternoon, greens harvested just before the frost now simmer gently on a stove. Supper is a few hours away, but the Paylor family has already begun to gather at Grandma Paylor’s home.
The matriarch smiles comfortably from a wheelchair in her living room as she watches television. The program on the screen shows legendary Italian-American chef Lydia Bastiach shuffling around a kitchen, making her signature meatballs. Yet Mrs. Paylor keeps a very watchful eye on the stove, where a verdant aroma slowly waltzes through the air.
“I used to love to cook, but now I can’t,” Mrs. Paylor says. “So Mark helps me.” I tell her that, by how wonderfully it smells, she must’ve set a great example in the kitchen for her children growing up. She beams proudly.
After an operation left his mother in a wheelchair, farmer Mark Paylor, age 50, took on the duties of preparing the family Sunday supper, using the produce from his farm, 4M Farm.
He saunters in from a front-porch conversation with his brother-in-law. With a quick peek under the lid and a swift stir, he checks on the greens and swings the front door back open. Within seconds, he has climbed back into his pickup truck, off to check on his rabbits.
“It’s one of those things,” Paylor says of his cooking. “My brothers said, ‘Mama’s coming home. So you go over there and start cooking.’ It wasn’t like I was given a choice!” Paylor chuckles, as he often does.
4M Farm currently produces about ten acres of produce. He keeps about an acre of produce growing right next to his mother’s home, he says, “because it makes Mama feel good to see our work.”
Paylor speaks with a hard-earned jovial cadence that comes from a lifetime of working with the land, of rolling with the punches and of growing a business to support his family.
“I’ve been farming, oh God knows, on my own, ever since I was about 22 years old. But I’ve been farming practically all my life.”
4M Farm is more than eighty years old. Paylor’s father and grandfather farmed tobacco, making the transition to vegetables and free-range poultry in 2000.
“Back when we started, it was out of necessity,” he explains. “You worked on a farm because that’s what your parents did. Jobs weren’t really available and everybody worked on a farm. And I just took a liking to it. I reckon ‘cause I was crazy.”
Again, Paylor’s laughing and smiling through a hearty conversation. He says that his eldest son, Mark Jr. (MJ for short), plans to be a farmer, too. MJ studies agriculture at North Carolina A&T University.
“I’m hoping that within two years, by the time Mark Jr. gets out of college, that this right here will be self-sufficient on a small scale. It’s kind of hard to be that way, but we’d like it to,” says Paylor.
Mark Jr. takes a lot of the produce back to college with him after weekend visits at home, especially the collard greens. These same greens are also making it onto dinner tables throughout the Triangle region, as part of Farmer Foodshare’s effort to deliver fresh food to low-income families.
In turn, Paylor and other farmers are paid a fair price to help them support their own farm and families.
“We have an abundance of crops, and Farmer Foodshare is helping us get rid of that overflow,” Paylor says. “Joining with Farmer Foodshare has really helped us with the collards this year. We hope we can grow it to be more.”
Since October, the program has been buying at least a few cases of produce a week from 4M farms. 4M was key in helping provide fresh food for big events like Farm Fresh for the Holidays and PORCH’s holiday outreach.
Around Thanksgiving, and again at Christmas, Farmer Foodshare helped the IFC Pantry fill holiday bags with fresh produce for around 500 families. This year, every family’s bag included collards and/or kale from 4M Farm. Mark has really helped Farmer Foodshare’s POP Market meet the huge the demand for local food, especially during a season when most farms are at very low capacity.
I ask Paylor how it feels to help get fresh food to families who don’t have regular access to it.
“Oh, it makes me feel real good. We wish we could do that in Person County. I’m on the board for the Person County Farmers’ Market and we hope to do that there, too.”
Paylor sells at both the Person County Farmers’ Market and the South Durham Famers’ Market. Many times, he’s accompanied by family, including his nine-year-old nephew Jordan, another youth in the family interested in farming.