Chatham County Agribusiness Wins Sustainable Agriculture Award!
A Chatham County business was named Business of the Year in front of a cheering crowd of 800 farmers, gardeners, educators, researchers, and activists at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference last November! Pittsboro-based Country Farm & Home was honored for their commitment to serving the community of organic growers throughout the piedmont region of North Carolina. The store offers certified organic seeds and transplants as well as organic fertilizers, soil amendments, organic pesticides, organic animal feed, season extension supplies, fencing, equipment, drip irrigation supplies, fruit trees, and much more.
I had the honor of presenting the award to owner Melinda Fitzgerald at the conference. I was just so full of pride because I know how hard Melinda has worked to continue to build the business her father Dallas Hurley started over 20 years ago, working tirelessly to turn it into a one-stop-shop for the ever-growing community of organic farmers and gardeners in our area.
Dallas and long-time store employee Fritzi Eckstein were at the conference to see Melinda accept the award. Melinda’s gratitude to her father was evident in her emotional speech, as was Dallas’ pride in watching his daughter accept the award.
After the conference I sat down and talked with Melinda about her not-so-straight path to winning Business of the Year and what she feels contributed to her success. Owning a farm supply store was certainly not her original plan when she graduated from college. Melinda taught middle school science for 13 years before she decided she needed a change and started working at Country Farm & Home with her dad in 2008. She told me how when she first started working at the store there were customers who would not talk with her. They only wanted to talk with Dallas. She and her dad would laugh about it, because everyone thought of the store as Dallas’ store. Melinda and her dad both wondered if anyone would ever think of it as “Melinda’s store”. Years later, when she hears customers at her store talking on their cell phone saying “I am over here at Melinda’s”, it makes her feel good and shows how far they’ve come.
Melinda feels fortunate that her father was able to pass along the business to her as well as much of the knowledge that goes along with it. Dallas owned the store for 21 years before Melinda bought it from him in 2014. She’s grateful that he had a banking and finance background and was able to teach her about accounting and business management. Dallas also taught Melinda to treat her employees as a team and to involve them in decision-making about the business, so everyone is invested in how well the store does.
Melinda attributes a big part of their success to the fact that as the store’s customer base has expanded it has enabled them to increase their buying power. Now they often have enough volume of popular items like row covers, cover crop seeds, and seed potatoes that they can bypass the distributor and go straight to the manufacturer or grower and buy in tractor trailer loads. These savings are passed along to the customers.
I was at the store recently when one of these big deliveries arrived: seed potatoes! 20,000 pounds of seed potatoes to be exact. That’s 10 tons! Dozens of farmers pre-ordered 35 different varieties of certified organic seed potatoes that will be pre-sprouted and planted in the next couple of weeks and harvested this summer. Look for them at your local farmers’ markets. See photos below of the staff unloading and sorting potatoes.
For more information about Country Farm & Home, visit their website. Email Melinda or call Country Farm & Home at 919-542-3353 to get on their email list so you don’t miss out on orders of seed potatoes, garlic bulbs, strawberry plugs, sweetpotato slips, and other exciting items!