Sanders Ridge Farm Brings on New Farmers in Yadkin County

— Written By

Claudia and Steven Townsend drove the back roads of North Carolina for two years looking for farm lease opportunities they had found on NC FarmLink. When they met Neil and Cindy Shore in Yadkin County, they knew they had found the one; a small house to rent, equipment all in place, and an established market were part of the deal. Not only that, Neil and Cindy offered six generations of farming experience to share. Now Claudia and Steven are buying a house close to the farm and are getting geared up for the 2020 season growing a large variety of produce for sale at Sanders Ridge Farm and at the Cobblestone Farmers Market. My fascinating interviews with Cindy Shore and Claudia Townsend are below.

Interview with Cindy Shore  3/25/2020

1) How did you learn about NC FarmLink? What inspired you to post your farm on NC FarmLink? I got a newsletter from either the Forsyth County or Surry County Cooperative Extension Center about the new NC State Extension Program NC FarmLink. I knew I needed help on the farm as Neil’s mother who is 99 had recently come to live with us on the farm. I also realized that Neil and I aren’t getting any younger. There is a real need for younger farmers to come on-line and grow healthy, wholesome FOOD! It has always been my goal to do my part in inspiring somebody else to farm, to pass on all that we have learned, and to provide the tools and the land for them to do it.

2) What’s your history with Sanders Ridge Farm and the Cobblestone Farmers’ Market in Winston Salem? I met Neil in 2005 and started farming organic vegetables and herbs with him in 2006. Neil is the 6th generation to farm on the land that has been in his family since the 1800s. Up until around 1999 Neil had been producing soybeans, corn, wheat, and tobacco on hundreds of acres. He had been doing that for about 45 years. When the tobacco buyout came around, Neil had to decide what he wanted to do. He also wanted to keep his children engaged and interested in the farm, so he decided to establish a vineyard. He soon realized he needed to not just grow grapes, but needed to produce wine for retail sales in order to make things pencil out. He agreed to help me with my organic vegetable farm business if I would help him build a retail wine business. Thus: Sanders Ridge Vineyard and Winery came about. Today, Sanders Ridge is a 150-acre Century Farm and consists of both the Sanders Ridge Vineyard and Winery and Sanders Ridge Vegetable Farm.

When Neil and I started producing vegetables on the farm in 2006, there were no local retail markets for us to sell the produce. We got together with four or five other local growers and other folks interested in creating a local farmers market, and with the help of Krankie’s Coffee House in Winston Salem, we started an outdoor market.  We soon outgrew that space and moved across the street to a cobblestone alley way. When we outgrew that, the market moved to Old Salem, and that’s were the market continues today.

3) What is your arrangement with Claudia and Steven? Claudia and Steven pay rent for the 4 acres of land where we have been producing organic vegetables, for the farm equipment, and for a small rental house on the property. We supply them with a line of credit to buy inputs and they pay us back without interest. I also help them with planning. Claudia and Steven use the Sanders Ridge Farm booth at the Cobblestone Market. They typically go on their own to sell, unless I go to sell wine or other value-added products.

4) What do you like about Claudia and Steven? I really appreciate their work ethic and their love of all things natural. They work tirelessly. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty, and they are great with people at the market.

5) Was using NC FarmLink a good experience? Yes. NC FarmLink is the only thing like it I have ever seen for someone who wants to rent their farm or needs to find help. It was a great resource for us. The interface was easy and efficient. I was prompted to give good information about our farm so when I talked to Claudia, she already knew a lot about it. The site connected us directly with Claudia.

6) Anything else you’d like to add? Well, Claudia and Steven are under contract to buy their own house just around the corner. We learned that our neighbors wanted to sell and we introduced them to Claudia and Steven, so now they’ll have more room and their own place, which is great for them. Its very close to the farm. 

Interview with Claudia Townsend 3/26/2020

1) How long have you been living and farming at Sanders Ridge Farm? We moved down here in August 2018.

2) What got you interested in agriculture? What experience did you have prior to finding Cindy and Neil on NC FarmLink?  Steven and I worked for one season with Annie and Isaiah Perkinson on Flying Cloud Farm in Fairview outside of Asheville which was a great experience. One of the smartest things we did was to enroll in Organic Growers School’s Farm Beginnings Program in 2016 which helped us formulate realistic goals and exposed us to a lot of different operations and farming techniques. We were in the first graduating class of OGS’s Farm Beginnings Program.

3) What crops are you producing and selling at Sanders Ridge Farm? We have about three acres under production right now, and working on a fourth. We have 2 ½ high tunnel hoop houses where we produced about 1 ½ tons of tomatoes last year. We grow mostly open-pollinated and heirloom vegetables including Beck’s Big Buck Okra, crowder peas, specialty spice peppers, kale, chard, mixed arugula, beets, parsnips, watermelon radishes, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and a variety of beans. I felt a huge responsibility when Cindy handed me over their family heirloom Effie Bean seeds that Neil’s family has been growing and saving for over 75 years!

4) What do you like about Cindy and Neil? Oh my gosh they are so great. They just want us to be successful. They cover all of our input costs and we pay them back when we earn the money from the sale of produce. Input costs can be a lot, and they realize that. Cindy and Neil have really welcomed us into their community. They found us a place to buy from a neighbor so we could have our own house. To help us deal with the coronavirus problems, she helped us set up an online store and is helping us set up a CSA. Cindy and Neil are so generous with their time and assets. Cindy wanted to buy some chard from us last summer. No way, we said, she can take and eat all she wants! They have also been instrumental in finding us paid help when we need it. They know everyone around here and know who to call. They have been both been instrumental in helping us plan out the season and decide what risks are worth taking when it comes to what crops to grow.

4) What would you tell other farm seekers using NC FarmLink to find land to farm? How did you do it? Steven and I got really good at driving back roads and searched for two years. There were times when we wanted to get started so badly that we almost got into some situations that I think we would have regretted. We knew there would eventually be a match out there somewhere. Once we expanded our search outside of the Asheville metro area we found Neil and Cindy. My main message for other farm seekers would be to say, don’t force it and go with your gut! I think a lot of folks like us start out with the mentality of wanting their own land. That’s a tall order if you don’t have family land or family backing. NC FarmLink can provide a really awesome way to get started without a huge amount of capital or family land. We were in the black after our first season!

5) What have you learned during your first season? We learned to check the weather all the time. Facebook used to be the first thing I would pull up, now it’s the weather forecast! We are wanting to get better at succession planting. This is really important for always being able to have product for the market and the CSA. We are also figuring out the balance of doing all the work ourselves and paying for help to come in and help us when we need it. We’ve realized we can’t do all the work ourselves, but we have to get used to the idea of putting money out for labor.

6) Anything else you’d like to add? For young folks getting into farming, the programs like NC FarmLink and OGS Farm Beginnings are really helpful for putting your dreams into action. These programs allowed us to start farming a lot further along than we could have without them. This is a really awesome way to get started. I can’t imagine starting out with no infrastructure and equipment and mentoring and wanting to stick with it.

 Steven and Claudia have two sons, August (12) and Orion (7). In addition to working with Steven who works full time on the farm, Claudia is a pre-school instructor at Gibson Elementary School in Winston Salem. You can reach Steven and Claudia at stevenandclaudia@sandersridgefarm.com or Sanders Ridge Farm. In addition to guiding Claudia and Steven, Neil and Cindy are focused on the winery and event center and value-added products at Sanders Ridge Vineyard and Winery. You can reach Cindy and Neil info@sandersridge.com, (336) 677-1700, or Sanders Ridge.