Meet Your Farmers 17

Charlotte’s Small Farmers Share Their Stories

Jamie Swofford, The Chef’s Farmer

The name “Jamie Swofford” is one you’ll find ringing in the ears and around the kitchens of many Charlotte chefs. The farmer’s son-turned-chef-turned farmer is firmly rooted in these Carolina soils and palates, his intentionality and curation in the field a reflection of his old career.

What brought you to farming? 

I grew up on my family’s farm in Cleveland County and learned about the importance of food at an early age, but also the work that it took to produce it. There was always work to do on the farm and I had many jobs––sweeping the chicken barn, picking eggs, bottle-feeding calves, weeding the garden. After high school, I took the first train leaving. I started working in kitchens in Shelby, then moved to Charlotte and worked my way up in the kitchens of Charlotte’s early days. I’d spend the next two decades in kitchens, learning as much as I could and moving on, all the while continuing to learn about food and making connections with people in the food world.

At some point, it became evident that there was something “more,” but it took a while to figure out what that was. I’d see ingredients come in the back door every day and I’d wonder––where did it come from? Who grew this? How long did it sit on the back of the truck? How does that affect the flavor of the ingredient?

In the end, I was driven by a desire to find the best ingredients, and after some convincing and my family’s support, I moved back to Cleveland County and started growing food for chefs. I felt I could affect more kitchens, and learn more about food by doing it this way. That was six seasons ago, in 2010.

What’s your favorite thing to grow? 

Roots, in general, are my favorite thing to grow. In particular, turnips and radishes. But asking me about my favorite vegetable is like asking me to pick a favorite child. Ask me next week, and I’ll probably give you a different answer. I like roots because they are so versatile. Some are grown for the root, some are grown for the greens. So many different colors, sizes, shapes and textures. And they grow really fast, so there is an instant gratification thing happening.

What’s a fun fact about yourself? 

I guess the most fun, and unexpected, fact about me is that I am in the beginning stages of owning a botanical beverage line, Old North Shrub. Through my work with Jason and Jeff Alexander at Free Range Brewing, I was given the opportunity to make the non-alcoholic beverage they would serve on tap. My only guidance was to make something that was “not kombucha.” So I chose an old colonial-era beverage made with vinegar, fruit and sugar. It became so popular that people began asking me to bottle it. So I did, and I’ve now started selling to retail stores, mixologists and restaurants around the state.

Kim Shaw, Small City Farm

True to its name, Small City Farm is located on three acres in Charlotte. Here Kim Shaw and her husband grow heirloom vegetables, fruits and chickens, some of which make it onto their own table, others the rough wood of farmer’s market booths, and still others into some of the finest restaurants in the region.

What brought you to farming?

In 2007, I was working as Director of Catering at The Club at Longview. I had started a garden there (Paul Verica was the Executive Chef) and was really enjoying growing produce for our members. We were out of space at the Club, but I asked Paul, if I were to grow things at my house (then .40 of an acre in Cotswold), would he buy more for the Club? He said yes! […] That was August, we started building raised beds at the house and were at the Yorkmont Farmer’s Market selling produce that October. Paul was my first commercial customer. In 2010 we bought the property we have now (3 acres) and sold our house in Cotswold.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

I only cook the bacon, but my favorite is a tomato, cucumber and bacon sandwich. Can’t be beat.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I also love to sew. Next project is making aprons for Paul Verica’s second restaurant. (I made them for his first one, too.)

Dani & Joe Rowland, Rowland’s Row Farm

A product of the The Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Concord and a shared passion for food—both in the garden and the kitchen—Rowland’s Row Farm’s husband and wife duo offer sustainably grown produce, non-GMO poultry and fresh eggs via CSA boxes and restaurant dishes.

What brought you to farming?

Joe grew up spending summers with his grandparents on their farm in Indiana. As a child he wanted to be a farmer like his grandfather and as an adult he always idealized the farm life. Joe and I met in 2008 while working for a local organic grocery chain. Joe had just returned to NC after 5 years in Boston managing restaurants and I had just returned from studying nutrition at University of Georgia. Joe moved here with the goal of buying land and farming. We bonded over our passions for local food.

What’s your favorite thing to grow?

We grow 50-60 varieties of vegetables and fruits throughout the year. Picking one favorite is like picking a favorite child; there are some we like growing more than others but it’s hard to pick a favorite. Fall is definitely our favorite season to grow in. The days get shorter, the weather cools off, the pace and work load slow down. It’s a welcome change after summer.

What’s a fun fact about yourself? 

Many people know that Joe was in a local band in Charlotte for 4 years, but most don’t know that in 2009 his band did a USO tour in the Middle East and Joe was voted male vocalist of the year in 2010 by Creative Loafing.

Brad Todd, Lucky Clays Farm

After stints in the military and college, Todd joined Lucky Clays Fresh (part of Lucky Clays Farm) and helped design and build progressively larger and more efficient aquaponics systems that were based off of research and actual experience, attracting global attention.

What brought you to farming?

I grew up in a very rural area with a love for nature and self-sufficiency. Throughout my travels in the Marine Corps, I became very interested in intensive agriculture, as well as fish farming. This was the catalyst that created my interest in combining hydroponics and aquaculture into an age-old farming method, today know as Aquaponics.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?  

Anything that was produced with my own two hands. I love eating, although sometimes a bit too much, but there is something about using ingredients that you produced that is beyond description. Even with using very few ingredients, the meal takes on a whole new aspect when you can enjoy the fruits of your own labor.

What’s a fun fact about yourself? 

I am an avid knitter.