Old Farm, New Farm. John and Jessica Rowe of Cannabis Consortium Breathe Life Into Montgomery County Farm
“They aren’t going to make any more land, especially the land you grew up on,” thought Mary Jo Shuping when she recently bought the 140-acre Oak Bluff Farm from her grandmother in Montgomery County, NC. A traveling RN at the time, Mary Jo came back to North Carolina from Texas when her father died unexpectedly and bought the family farm from her grandmother who had made up her mind to auction it off. However, Mary Jo currently fills a vital role in the operating room at the Randolph Health Hospital in Asheboro, and she does not have the time or energy to keep the farm productive. Wondering how she might manage the farm, Mary Jo did what we all do when we have questions about what to do next, she got on the internet. NC FarmLink, a program of NC State Extension, was first on the search results when she typed in “rent farmland NC”. Mary Jo created a farm profile on October 25, 2018, and waited to see what would happen.
About an hour away in Apex, NC, John and Jessica Rowe were keeping an eye on the NC FarmLink site to see if the right opportunity would present itself for them to pursue their dream of farming hemp. “When I found NC FarmLink and saw that it was run by NC State Extension I bookmarked it,” noted John. “It’s such a great resource, and just the fact that it was run by NC State Extension was comforting. When we saw Mary Jo’s farm we quickly called her and set up a meeting.” The three hit it off immediately and commenced to draft a 1-year lease agreement with an option to renew as a starting point for John and Jessica to use the existing greenhouse frames and a four-acre field.
“We have 3 kids, 2 cars, 1 house, and a dream,” remark John and Jessica. “We have put everything on the line for this adventure, because we truly believe in the cause. We are just regular people with amazing friends and family who support us in our adventure. We are so thankful for the opportunity to be in this industry at all.” Part of the Rowe’s responsibility operating under the NC Hemp Pilot program is to collect and report data to NC State University at the conclusion of each growing year. John and Jessica are taking note of different growing mediums, temperatures, cloning methods, and plants’ responses to these different conditions to fill out a survey at the end of the year.
John and Jessica’s excitement is palpable as they describe their passion for hemp. “The opportunities are endless right now! It is truly incredible. Hemp can pull heavy metals out of the soil (planted at Chernobyl recently), it cleans the air at twice the rate most trees can, it can replace the more harmful version of concrete, textiles, plastics, and medicines that are currently dominating the market. Hemp truly has the capability to change the planet! The biggest challenges right now primarily are misconceptions. There is still a lot of confusion over what this plant is, and what it is not. We have a unique opportunity to help advocate for positive change through research and correct information.”
John and Jessica live in Apex, about a one hour drive to the farm. John works at the farm every day and Jessica works on the farm roughly two days a week. On most Saturdays, Jessica and John strap in their children Isaac (8), Zoe (6) and Emma (4) and head to the farm. “Being able to include the kids in our work and seeing them enjoy it has been a great pleasure,” say the couple. “We are so thankful that our kids enjoy it. So far they have learned how to clone plants, catch butterflies, pot plants, and most importantly, play in the dirt! One of the great unexpected experiences we have had as new farmers is to discover how open and helpful the farming community is. Everyone is so helpful and open to sharing information. We didn’t have that experience in the corporate world where everyone is was so guarded. People want to help us! Honestly, this makes us feel hopeful about humanity.”
John’s interest in farming probably started when he was a kid when he would go for a week at a time in the summer to stay with his grandparents in the small coastal fishing village of Engelhard in Hyde County where his grandfather exposed him to their vegetable garden and small blueberry patch. John’s grandfather, Ronald Ballance (known fondly as “Ronald B”) eventually went on to own and operate a small local grocery store in Engelhard.
John and Jessica met in 2002 while students at NC State University. John’s passion for horticulture developed while he studied at the Department of Horticulture during 2001 – 2004 and Jessica got a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Communications. John was born and raised in Raleigh and attended Millbrook High School (class of 2001). John’s family bleeds red and several of his family members are NC State University Engineering grads. Jess attended West Forsyth High School (class of 2000) before her time at NC State University.
“John and Jessica are super reliable,” says Mary Jo. “Our relationship is kept open. They have respect for my land and for the infrastructure. It’ been a really good experience. John and Jess have revamped the 2 bay greenhouse by replacing the plastic and repairing the wet well, and they took the time to take soil tests and have since been amending the soil. I enjoy coming out to help fill pots, scoop dirt, and transfer plants when I can. I get a kick out of the kids too. NC FarmLink has helped me out by broadening my perspective on what I thought was possible for the farm. The farm seekers that inquired about the farm were all genuinely wanting to farm and had legitimate goals of pursuing an agricultural purpose. I would not have had the opportunity to interact with the caliber of respectful people without the NC FarmLink Program. Being introduced to, and having the opportunity to work with, Jessica and John has enriched my land and enriched my life.”
The staff at NC FarmLink could not be more pleased that Mary Jo Shuping and Jessica and John Rowe found each other, and are able to make a positive impact on each others’ lives. An agreement like this between a landowner and a young bold family venturing into a new agricultural sector embodies the spirit of what we are hoping to spark with this program. NC FarmLink is committed to providing ongoing support to John and Jessica and Mary Jo as the Rowes assess their progress and deliberate their next steps as their business grows. Keep an eye on Jessica and Johns’ website to see what products they are about to launch, to contact them, and to see pictures! The passion and hard work that John and Jessica put forth every day will inspire you.