With the exception of one winter spent working for Sears just after high school graduation, Ray Chambers has been farming his entire life.
“As soon as it got to be warmer weather, I couldn’t stand it,” Ray recalls of his short-lived stint in retail. “I had to get out of there!” In the 40 years since then, he’s never tried his hand at another job. But don’t think he’s been bored. Being a full-time farmer brings many challenges, and every day is different.
“Farming’s a learning experience. You have to fight dry weather, wet weather,” Ray shares, adding that sometimes his crops grow well and, well, sometimes they don’t. After decades of growing all types of veggies, he even admits that he was once given transplants by a friend that had to grow for a whole season before he could figure out what they were.
He currently farms approximately 40 acres in the scenic Bethel community near Canton, many of them the same acres farmed by his father and his father’s father. His brothers also farm land nearby. While the job is challenging, he recognizes he has things much easier than his dad did. “It would take him all week to plow one field,” he remembers. Today, Ray can plow the same plot in less than half a day.
Ray started his career growing tobacco and tomatoes. He still grows a large amount of ‘maters. He still grows tobacco, too, but he’s down to about three acres from much more. (His tobacco crop was at its peak in the 1980s.)
Today, he also grows corn, cucumbers, and peppers, both sweet and hot, using conventional practices. He’ll often plant other veggies, too, so that he’s always trying new things.
This year, he challenged himself to grow organically, on a plot he farms with Skipper Russell of Seasonal Produce Farm. “We’re learning as we go,” he says, reiterating that farming is always a learning process. In their first year, Ray and Skipper have already obtained USDA certification for their plot. “We found a field that hadn’t been farmed for several years, so we just went for it,” he says.
This year, they planted basil, beans, beets, corn, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, including heirloom varieties. Depending on how he and Skipper finish out the season, they may expand their organic offerings next year.
As with his conventional produce, some of the organic product will go to area Ingles stores, some to a nearby packing house, some to the WNC Farmers Market, and some to his own farm stand, which just opened this year—another testament to the constant change he experiences in his job as a farmer.
At the stand, you can pick up a cold drink, popcorn, and an “I eat local” t-shirt along with Ray’s just-picked produce and veggies from other local farms. While you shop, you can also scan the photos that dot the stand’s wooden walls. In the black and white prints, you’ll find Ray’s father and his horses plowing the fields just out the stand’s back door.
Want to Go?
Chambers Farm Market stand is located at 301 Chambers Farm Lane near Canton in Haywood County and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. But, you’re likely to catch Ray there a little earlier and a little later than advertised hours most days. That winter out of high school was the last time he worked less than a 15-hour day.
If you’re interested in having a farm stand adventure this summer, you’re in luck. More than 140 area farms have roadside stands where they sell their produce and products. To find them, pick up a copy of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s (ASAP) Local Food Guide or search an online version of the guide at buyappalachian.org and select “Roadside Stands.” You can narrow your search by region or specific town.
To contact Chambers Farm Market, call 828-421-6851.