Like many producers in our area, Robert Jones didn't start off as a farmer. Although he grew up on his family's land, his first love was computers and technology, so he went off to Raleigh to work for IBM at the height of the computer boom in the eighties. But, he says, he always knew that he would eventually come back to the land. He jokes that watching Green Acres made him realize that he wanted to be a farmer when he retired, although hopefully he'd do better than the gentleman depicted in the television series.
Even before retirement he started preparing himself to move back to Eastern North Carolina and work the farm land that had been in his family for generations. He was in the first class of beginning farmers to graduate from the WC Breeze Farm class in 2009. He worked there on the plot of land that they provided until his retirement in 2010, when he returned to the family farm.
Although his parents had been tobacco farmers, no one in the family had been farming the land for some time and so it had been leased out to a larger farm across the street. When he returned he took over half of their 33 acres and has been working the land with his brother and nephews. They grow amazing Beauregard and Clemson sweet potatoes and are experimenting with sweet corn, collards, and a variety of crops in the low tunnels that they're building.
Robert's love of technology and learning has led to the implementation of a solar panel on the farm, which provides power for the lights in the tunnels. This has allowed them to extend the already very long Eastern North Carolina growing season. He's also recently applied to RAFI for funding to further his low tunnel projects with squash, greens and tomatoes.
The next step for him will be to scale up his farming production and take over the other half of the family land. He’s attended classes to be able to sell to institutions, and says it seems doable, but requires significant investment in infrastructure on the farm in terms of cold storage and water usage. While he’s not there yet, he’s definitely looking to the future. He's enjoying the partnership developing with Farmer Foodshare, and is looking to plan for next season specifically for selling through the Farmer Foodshare POP Market. He'd like to base it on what would sell best on the wholesale market. We're delighted to help him provide more variety and some top sellers for our buyers!