When Kurt Stabler and his family moved to North Carolina nine years ago, they were unsure as to whether they would continue to farm. Previously, Kurt and his family had lived in Pennsylvania, where they ran a successful, small-scale farm. They moved to Dunn, NC so that they could attend Foundations Bible Collegiate Church and so that their children could attend the academy and college sponsored by the church.
Crownview Farm is one of the premier vendors at the WakeMed Farmers Market. They are also unique in that the farm is operated for the benefit of the students it employs from nearby Foundations Bible College. The students who work at Crownview Farm use the money from the sale of their crops to help pay for their college education(s). Owner of Crownview Farm, Kurt Stabler, explains:
We’re not a nonprofit, but we kind of run [the farm] that way. My wife and I don’t make anything off of the farm; it’s just for the kids.
Kurt shares the rest of their story below.
History of Crownview Farm
We moved from Pennsylvania about nine years ago, and we were doing some farming (which was small scale) up there; and when we came here, we didn’t really know if we were going to continue.
We bought Crownview Farm in 2010; and I work at Foundations Bible College, which is right next door to our farm. We have five children that are here in this area. My son, Timothy, actually runs the operations in the field and oversees the other kids who work here. We really embarked on this farm for them [the students]. Originally, we started out with one young man who needed help going to school, and last year, we had about twelve different kids involved.
How did you get into farming?
My mother grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, so I kind of had something in the background. Also, when I was young, my grandparents had gardens, and we did a little bit. When we were living in Pennsylvania, we bought a small farm. We just started with a garden, and we read and learned.
At that point, I was actually working in town, in printing. I’d come home in the afternoon and work with the kids. I had an older son who thought he wanted to farm, and he did it for a couple of years before he changed career paths. So, when he got out, the rest of the family just took it over. We had several children in the early teens back then, and rather than go into town and get a job, we decided – “Well, let’s just try to do this and make it work here on the farm.” From there, it just kept growing, and it went so well that I finally quit my town job, and we started doing it on a larger scale.
Perfecting the Art of Natural Farming
We’ve been farming now for about 15 – 16 years, and we don’t do anything original. We’ve read and talked to other farmers. For example, we had some really good Amish friends that taught us a lot – and you just read, read, read, and you try things and get better. My kids would tell you that one of my favorite sayings is, “Well, next year…” because you start, and you plant, and you see what happens about 60 days later, and then it’s too late for this season.
We’re not certified organic, but we do an all-natural, chemical-free approach, so we need things that are disease resistant.
We try things all of the time. We buy our seeds from catalogs and online, and it’s pretty much commercial seed. Most of what we grow, you wouldn’t find the seed packets at Lowes or Walmart. We’re also taking things fresh to the local markets, so we want stuff that’s tender, that’s tasty – and oftentimes, what’s at the big stores does well at the store…but you put it in the field, and it may not taste the best.
For example, we’ve tried a dozen different broccoli types to get it to the ones that work best for us, and we’ve tried a bunch of different lettuce. All of our lettuce is selected to take the heat as well as be flavorful.
I know there’s a big debate out there whether a natural, chemical-free approach is any safer. All of the chemical industry came out of what they learned in WWII- so for thousands of years, people were farming without chemicals, and they made it work.
We’re just a throwback to the way it was when my mom was a kid on the farm; we use manures and rock powders, and compost.
What are some of the challenges you face as a farmer?
My property is about 5.25 acres, and we’ll have about 2.5 acres in production. We use every bit of space that’s available to us.
The timing of the weather is the biggest challenge. We’ve got to do things when we have a window of opportunity. When we get behind, we get in trouble. Many of our crops are transplanted every week, so you have a continuous batch of stuff. Something like the squash gets planted every three weeks, and it will be harvested over a long period of time – but lettuce? You cut it, and it’s gone. So, next week, you’ve got to have the next batch in there.
If we get behind, we could dip at the market and not have something that everyone’s looking for…or if the weather is extra warm and things grow quickly, two batches could get ready at the same time, and we might not be able to sell it all.
Learning About Agriculture
Most of the kids who come to work at the farm don’t know anything about agriculture or farming. However, most of the things that we do are not hard to learn at all. We try to teach the kids not only what we’re doing but why we’re doing it.
We want them to learn the principles behind things so that they understand what they’re doing (versus feeling like they’re just doing a task).
For a lot of kids, this is their first outside-of-the-home job that they’ve had, so they have to learn how to work, how fast to work, how well to work, etc…and that’s a good process. This is a great environment for them to learn in.
How do you feel agriculture has evolved over the years?
This is a biological, living system. Today, farming has gone more towards a business model. Now, you’ve got to be a businessman to make a living in farming – but you can’t treat crops like machines! I worked in printing. It’s a lot different to work around printing presses and folding machines than it is crops. Crops are living, and you’ve got to treat it as such and respond to its needs.
The soil for us is everything. We try to take care of that and be in harmony with the way God created it, and it will grow us crops.
What is your long-term vision for everything that you’re doing?
This is for these kids. In order for us to make money for them, we’ve got to produce a really good product that’s in demand out there. People are wanting chemical-free stuff, and that’s what we do.
About Crownview Farm
Crownview Farm is based out of Dunn, NC. You can visit Crownview Farm at the WakeMed Farmers Market, Tuesdays, at the Raleigh Campus from 10am – 2pm throughout the summer.