NC Farm School Supports Sustainable Enterprises

Article by Grace Kanoy

Many young folk leave their rural homes in pursuit of higher education and new found opportunities. Noah Miller was no different as he set off for college to study sustainability, which then led him even farther away, as far as Thailand, halfway across the world to work and travel.

Eventually home came calling and Noah found his way back to Stony Point, North Carolina. His father was ready to pass on the farming torch. However, this time, Noah saw opportunities at home.

Noah’s family farm was traditionally a tobacco farm. “When tobacco farming became too demanding for my family, we decided to transition to beef cattle production.” Noah explained, “Located in the foothills, our farm has many open fields and streams that make transitioning to beef cattle production a natural fit.”

Noah enrolled in NC Farm School to complement his education in sustainability. “NC Farm School emphasizes the big picture that we are not alone by introducing us to an entire network of support including teachers, agents, specialists and other farmers ready to help.”

Under his farming vision, he plans on using the land’s natural resources sustainably to insure that the farm remains resilient for future generations. “We are in the process of enhancing pastureland and improving fencing for more efficient management of our herd.” He intends to make sure that the farm also provides him with a solid financial return by investing in greenhouse production, agritourism and vineyards, all topics he learned about in N. C. Farm School.

Noah reflects appreciatively on his family influence on his life.

“I’ve been told that when I was old enough to sit up, my grandma would place me in a cardboard box at the end of a tobacco row under the watchful eye of my grandpa while she helped set out the tobacco crop,” explained Miller. “So I guess you could say I’ve been farming all my life.”

Noah offers a tour of the farm from the cow pastures to the farm’s renovated tobacco barn that has become a small historical museum, an archive of his family’s tobacco farming tradition. Returning to his family farm was an intentional decision. He credits his grandparents and parents for his love of his family’s land. Working outdoors, the freedom of working for himself, his connection to his family’s farming tradition all guided him in his decision to plant himself back at Stony Point.

When Noah thinks about sustainability, he is not just referring to the farm but to the farmer. “Sometimes working on a farm and not seeing anyone for days at a time can make farmers feel isolated. Take care of yourself: eat right, go to the gym and socialize.” He added, “Surround yourself with a strong support network including great mechanics, welders, suppliers and loan officers. Don’t be surprised or dismayed by breakdowns because they are inevitable. Get good at maintenance by keeping up equipment and learning to do many of your own repairs. Pay your bills on time and let others know you appreciate them.”

His final advice: “Smile and enjoy the journey. Take time to appreciate the fruits of your labor. There is satisfaction in each accomplishment whether it is completing a new fence or dragging cow manure!”