Sunset Farms Interview

By Alison Smith

The latest and most popular diet has nothing to do with losing weight. Rather, this trend is about looking at where your food comes from. Locavorism, the practice of eating locally produced food, is catching on quickly. Nowhere is this more evident than the Carrboro Farmers’ market on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons.

The ECHO visited Sunset Farms, a family farm in Alamance County whose produce stand is a regular attraction at the Carrboro Farmer’s market, to talk about the challenges of farming sustainably and the advantages of eating locally. We talked to farmer Chris Murray, his wife, Jamie Brie Murray, and his father, Gary Murray.

ECHO: How did your family get started farming? What crops are you growing?

Jamie Brie: My husband grew up doing this and it was his dad’s hobby. We didn’t do it full-time until about three years ago. We started with strawberries, and that was the big thing going to the market at first. The next main crops were tomatoes and corn, then squash and summer melons. When we came back and made it our full-time job,  we started providing a lot more spring crops including lettuces and peas. This year we’re adding fall crops, which we haven’t really done before.

ECHO: What does a typical day on the farm look like?

Jamie Brie: He [my husband Chris] usually gets up at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m, depending on the season, just for office work and to get ready for what he’s going to do that day. Certain days are picking days, and they try to get out early, so they can do other things later like seeding. Even in the middle of the summer, it’s already time to start seeding for the fall. Right now, they’re doing a lot of picking and planting as well as getting ready for the fall crops and for next year’s strawberries.

ECHO: Where do you sell your food?

Chris:  We sell at [the Farmer’s markets in] Carrboro and Durham, and this year we have a 25-member CSA . We see the biggest potential with the CSA.

Note: CSA refers to Community-Supported Agriculture, a system in which customers pay in advance to receive a box of produce weekly.

Jamie Brie: What’s nice about the CSA is having a guarantee, a consistency. With the market, you never know if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day, because it depends on who comes out, what they want to buy, if you have what they want to buy, and if you have enough.

ECHO: What happens to the leftover food?

Chris: With all that we’re doing, we don’t usually have a big overage. What’s left, the quality is usually so poor that the animals are happy to have it or we compost it. After the market, we give some to the food-share folks and the Inter-Faith Council.

Jamie Brie, smiling: We eat as much as we can.

Chris: We’ll freeze peppers, or something like that.

ECHO: What is the most challenging part of running a family farm?

Chris: The weather is tricky. The challenge is learning to work with the weather, and that’s where I want to be. My dad will say it’s a poor, as in unskilled, farmer who blames the weather for something. I’m trying to stop that habit early on by asking myself ‘Sure, it rained a lot – so what? What did I do to adapt?’ every week. Sustainability is economic, environmental and social. If we’re not making money, we’re not going to be here very long. And when you add the weather in, it gets more complicated.

ECHO: What is the most rewarding part?

Jamie Brie: For us, it’s the lifestyle. Especially having a newborn baby this year, we’ve proved that it is the lifestyle we wanted, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. He (Chris) has a lot of long days, but he’s also right outside every day and he can eat three meals a day with us. We’re homeschooling our kids, and they’re learning about all this, and we love good food, so that’s free, as much as we want.

ECHO: There’s been a lot of talk lately about locavorism. Is it happening?

Chris: It’s a movement.

ECHO: A movement or a fad?

Chris: I think right now it may be slightly faddish, but my theory is energy will only get more scarce. Local food systems right now are kind of cool and in vogue, but before I retire it may be that local food systems are the only thing that makes sense. We might be able to produce tomatoes cheaper than [farmers in] California when diesel fuel is 12 bucks a gallon. That’s what I think.

ECHO: What is the advantage of eating locally?

Chris: Any normal, rational human who looks at my hens and goes to look at the factory where those eggs [contaminated with salmonella] came from, anybody would understand why there’s an egg problem….

Jamie Brie: …and would be willing to pay more for our eggs.

Gary: Just remember, chickens are chickens, cows are cows, eggplants are eggplants, and tomatoes are tomatoes. It’s how they’re grown that makes the difference.

For more information about Sunset Farms, visit http://www.ncsunsetfarms.com/

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