Dharma Creek Farm, near Asheville, Keeps It Real.

— Written By
Mark Scearce

Mark Scearce walking his field in Haywood County

When Mark Scearce and Nicole Thoennes were living in Chicago and Los Angeles writing and performing music for television and advertising, the last place they imagined themselves ending up was to be farming vegetables and flowers in the Beaverdam Valley of Haywood County. Today, Mark and Nicole, who married in 2012, and their two children Nelson (6) and Rose (3), have a bustling business growing vegetables and flowers for their CSA , selling primarily to their customers in Asheville. Mark and Nicole lease 3 acres of prime bottomland from Mr. Bondurant where they operate and manage Dharma Creek Farm. Mark and the landowner found each other on NC FarmLink.

Nicole with flowers

Nicole Thoennes tending to the flower crop

Mark Scearce was kind enough to spend some time with me on the phone to be interviewed for this article.

  1. Do you have a written lease? “We have a four year lease agreement that we revisit each year.”
  2. When did you get started? “We got started out there in the fall of 2017.”
  3. What is your and Nicole’s background? How did you get into farming? “I come from a family of Virginia tobacco farmers. My dad was a minister, so farming skipped a generation in my family. Nicole comes from a family of corn and soybean farmers on thousands of acres in Illinois through her mom’s parents. Farming also skipped a generation in Nicole’s family. “
  4. Why did you move to Asheville, NC? “We moved to Asheville to fulfill a purpose driven career, something more fulfilling. When we were living in LA, we looked up progressive small towns and Asheville popped up. I spent a number of years writing and producing music for television shows and advertising in Chicago and then in LA. I started my own business in 2014 doing the same thing. I found I could do this from anywhere, so we moved to Asheville. I am still writing and producing music, but we have really gone full bore on farming now. I didn’t have to quit a full time job to start farming, and now I can farm when I need to. Farming is our passion.”
  1. Do you see yourself staying out at the farm in Beaverdam for years to come? “We have been very calculated about the process. We are not into a major upfront investment. The classes we have taken from ASAP and Mtn Bizworks stressed starting out small, so that’s what we have done. We still feel very new at this.”
  2. What challenges do you face day to day while farming in Haywood County yet living in Asheville? “There is a trade off of not living on the land where we farm. We have to run back and forth to manage the kids, to manage the temperature in the hoop house, and we have to keep our cold storage fridges in our basement at our house in Asheville.”
  3. What are your long term goals? “Nothing happens overnight. When I was first starting out in the music industry, I worked for a really long time for next to nothing. The same goes for farming. We are mainly focused on an enterprise that enriches our lives and enriches the lives of everyone around us.”
  4. What kind of infrastructure do you have out at the farm? “We have our own source of power which was very helpful to get. We have a 20 x 50 greenhouse, a 30 x 80 high tunnel, and a 14 x 30 caterpillar tunnel.”
  5. Do you have any other comments? I don’t believe is is prudent to go out and buy a bunch of land when you are first getting started. Leasing land is the way to go. My father once told me that you over estimate what you can do in a year, and you underestimate what you can do in five years. Heck, the farmers in Illinois lease most of their land. You hear about so many farmers going belly up. My understanding is that the amount of small farm bankruptcy is sky rocketing. My advice is to just lease some land! Figure out what you want to do and then go do it! We started out leasing ½ acre. We went up to 1 acre after 6 months and are now up to 3 acres. We love small farm grants. We have received grants through ASAP and Mountain BizWorks.. We have used the money for things we had to have. We also really enjoy the ASAP Business of Farming Conference. We use a weekly itemized availability list that we got from ASAP. It keeps us operating at a professional level. When we went to look at the land for the first time we made sure to dig up some dirt, take a look at the sun exposure, and to look for a water source. We went with it because it had the sun, the dirt, and the water we needed. We have more to learn, but what we are doing is working. We feel blessed to have a program like NC FarmLink in the state.”

I’d like to add, from NC FarmLink’s perspective, that we feel blessed to have Mark and Nicole living and farming here, adding to our quality of life, and we are grateful to the landowner, Mr. Bondurant, for making his land available through NC FarmLink. Be sure to check out Mark and Nicole’s website at Dharma Creek Farm.