Commuter Farming

Kevin Toomey and Christina Carter of Ten Mile Farm are somewhat unlikely farmers. “I definitely didn’t grow up farming by any means. Quite the opposite,” says Toomey. In fact, he lived in a sports-only world while in school, and ate a diet far from farm-fresh — mostly sugar and processed foods.

Studying agricultural societies in college anthropology classes piqued Toomey’s interest in farming. “At that point, I knew I wanted farming to be a part of my life, but exactly how or when, I didn’t know.”

After graduating with his anthropology degree and a newfound interest in agriculture, he took a job on an organic farm in upstate New York. “I went to see if it was something I really wanted to do, and I just fell in love with it,” says Toomey.

He left New York behind for Asheville, but didn’t start the business of actual farming right away. “I was doing kitchen gardening and working at restaurants and selling to them,” he says. Toomey also worked in landscaping for three or four years. During that time, he met Carter.

Shortly after they met, Carter, who had a relationship with plants from her herbalism and massage therapy background, suggested the two take up farming. The rest, as they say, is history. “We met, fell in love, and started working together,” says Toomey.

Their current approach to farming is somewhat unlikely, in the sense that they’re up against a few challenges. Since 2005, they’ve been farming on leased land in two different locations in Candler. Toomey and Carter call themselves “commuter farmers” because they don’t live near the rented land. Five or six — and sometimes even seven — days a week, they commute 10 miles each way from their home in Asheville to the fields, which are two miles from one another.

The commute means that they have to gather everything for the day before they leave Asheville, and have to bring the day’s harvest back home to wash and pack up again for markets and their CSA. Despite the distance, it’s clear they’ve both found their passion.

Ten Mile Farm currently grows about 40 different varieties of vegetables using a combination of biodynamic practices, cover crops, rotation and organic-approved applications. With such a variety, it’s hard for either one of them to choose their favorite thing to grow. “My favorite is whatever comes in!” Carter jokes. But, there are some crops that are more difficult to grow than others. Carter calls those “wimpy things.”

“Tomatoes can be such wimps! And eggplant, everything wants to eat eggplant plants,” she exclaims.

They pride themselves on the diversity they offer, something their CSA subscribers and tailgate market shoppers enjoy. On average, Ten Mile CSA boxes contain seven to nine constantly changing items each week during the season. Their selection is displayed (again, seasonally) at the Asheville City Market on Saturdays (off Charlotte Street) and the Wednesday Co-op Market (downtown next to the French Broad Food Co-op).

What does the future hold for Ten Mile? Toomey and Carter are on a constant search for farmland of their own and will be ready to take the leap when the time comes. “When we started out with our first field, Toomey had this Gravely ‘tractor,’ a walk-behind tractor from the 1960s,” Carter remembers. “I couldn’t even watch him using the thing, because I thought it was going to kill him! Now, we have tractors, irrigation (Toomey used to carry buckets from the spring to water all the crops) and a greenhouse.”

When asked about their ideal farmland, Carter doesn’t have to pause to think: “10 acres of bottom land, another five or more for orchard, brambles, and berries, a nice barn, and definitely some woods.”

Toomey chimes in, “If anybody has a farm out there they want to sell…”

Meet at Market

Ten Mile will offer up their veggies at Asheville City Market downtown through Nov. 20. Look for winter squashes, potatoes, garlic and more at their booth and from other vendors. As you stroll your neighborhood market, also be on the lookout for apples, meats (turkey, chicken, lamb, beef, bison, port and trout), cheeses, honey, baked goods and all manner of value-added items — from candles to cleaning products.

Many area markets remain open into November and even December. Visit Appalachian Sustainable Project’s website, asapconnections.org, for holiday market details and final market information. To find the locations of tailgates and roadside stands throughout the region, visit ASAP's online Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org. 

For more information about Ten Mile Farm, including their CSA program, visit tenmilefarm-nc.com, or call 236-1822.

— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at ASAP. Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org

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