It was 2005 when Lee was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. We learned that blood cancers were growing in occurrence while many other cancers were subsiding. The Greensboro oncologist stated that while there was no concrete evidence why this was so, there were indications that exposure to pesticides led to a higher incidence of lymphoma and leukemia.
Lee began researching the role of healthy food free of pesticides in keeping her disease at bay after her treatments. She laid out kitchen garden beds at our Greensboro home to grow organic vegetables and herbs for ourselves, and Larry helped with the gardening and maintenance. As she discovered and developed tasty, nutritious recipes and read more about the role of super foods in maintaining good health, she began teaching classes on our back porch. Participants also toured the kitchen gardens discovering that vegetable gardening can enhance a landscape with pleasing combinations of colors, shapes, and textures and also learned more about gardening organically. They learned how organic methods increased the productivity, taste, and nutrition of what was grown.
We caught the organic gardening bug and started exploring the possibility of expanding our efforts to full-fledged farming. We attended farm tours, workshops, and conferences, and Larry enrolled in the Sustainable Agriculture program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. Our farm search began leisurely in 2008, and by August, 2010 we were closing on an 18-acre farm in southern Orange County bordering the ancient Haw River.
We like to say that we’re not from here, but we’ve come home. Lee’s circuit-riding Quaker pastor great-grandfather studied at nearby Cane Creek Meeting’s Sylvan Academy and was pastor at area Meetings. Larry’s great, great, great, great uncle, John Newlin, had one of the earliest textile mills in the state in the little nearby community of Sissipihaw, which he changed to Saxapahaw so that his secretary could better spell it. He was an abolitionist who was bequeathed 40 slaves to take freedom and was also a founder of Guilford College. Larry’s father grew up in a Quaker farming community near the Revolutionary War battlefield of Lindley Mill. Each day for us is like a segment of Alex Haley’s Roots, where we feel the constant presence and influence of those who came before us.
The 18-acre farm had not been farmed for decades. The house had been built in the late 90’s and was on the 1999 and 2000 Solar Tour of Homes. A horse barn on the east part of the property had been converted into a retreat center where yoga classes and meditation groups met. The house and adjacent garage needed a lot of rehabilitation when we moved in, and the first year Lee supervised the redo of the house inside and out and the remodeling of the garage into an Education Barn. We also did extensive landscaping in addition to getting the farm going with deer fencing, irrigation, and cover cropping.
The farm was laid out with the help of our farm coach, Tony Kleese, and to blend in to the beautiful rolling hills and valleys. The design of our twin market gardens was inspired by a visit to the Edwardian Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, England to be aesthetically appealing. We grew a diverse amount of vegetables and berries.
Sustainable farming is more than avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. We followed National Organic Practices. Sustainable farming is a way of gardening/farming that builds soil (one tablespoon of healthy soil contains 6 to 8 billion microorganisms). It is environmentally friendly and SUSTAINABLE by not polluting waterways, enhancing the productivity of soil, promoting biological diversity, and encouraging pollinating flowers and insects. Sustainable farming promotes local consumption and farm support and thereby enhances rural community economic development. Sustainable farming is certified – you don’t have to guess if your food is safe or not. It is not genetically modified. Sustainably grown food also enhances the taste and nutrition.
The name, Peaceful River Farm, came to us almost mystically during Meeting for Worship at our home Meeting, New Garden Friends, when singing the spiritual, “Peace Like a River”. The name “speaks” to us each day and night – with stars so close that you feel like you can touch them, with approaching storms that can be seen from miles away, with the emergence of new sprouts, and with the prancing and dancing of goldfinch, bluebirds, titmice, hummingbirds, and martins. Farming, conducting classes, and hosting farm dinners are not so serene. Our bustling days began with long to-do lists each morning and seemed to grow longer by day’s end. Yet, this has been a very satisfying life, and we have enjoyed sharing it with more than 5,000 visitors since we began this adventure.