Lessons from a dirt farmer

So you want to be a farmer? The story of Lee Mink is both real and inspiring. Lee owns Leap Farm, located in Polk County, where he grows over 70 different heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs — on only a couple of acres.

For the past several years, Lee has developed his own strategy for how to maximize profits by developing several streams of income, including value-added products. By selling both direct, wholesale, and retail, he is able to sell every last bit of produce. In fact, he has a method for having everything sold before the seeds even go in the ground. By planting only what he can sell, he doesn’t waste any of the inputs. “The key,” says Lee, “is not to grow too much or too little.”

Leap Farm specializes in organic, bio-diverse, sustainable methods and growing diversity for local markets. Lee insists that at its essence, sustainable farming is all about local service — local farms providing food to local residents and restaurants — so he has chosen to sell his produce within a 25-mile range of the farm. This also enables him to focus on what he does best: paying attention to the details and care for the land like it’s a family member.

In fact, Lee considers himself a “dirt farmer” because in order to grow the best produce in the most sustainable way, his job is actually to cultivate the quality and health of the soil. “I’m not taking from the land,” he says, “I’m giving to it. The way to get maximum yield is to put more into the soil than you take out of it.”

We are lucky to have Lee Mink farming in our community and even luckier that he is so willing to share his knowledge and wisdom with the community. He recognizes the trend of returning to the earth, and he knows that once people learn how to make money from the land, more people will take responsibility for its stewardship. And that’s good for everyone.

Lee Mink will be speaking on the topic of “Getting Your Farm To Scale” on Friday, Nov. 9, from 9 a.m.-noon at Mountain BizWorks. Enjoy coffee and refreshments, and meet other farmers during this free networking event. For more information and to RSVP, contact Ashley Epling at 253-2834 ext 27 or ashley@mountainbizworks.org.

Jo Ann Miksa-Blackwell is the director of rural entrepreneurship, and Carol Lynn Jackson is a business developer, both at Mountain BizWorks.

Mountain BizWorks supports small businesses in Western North Carolina through lending, consulting and training. For more information, visit mountainbizworks.org.

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