Finding Your Niche
Farming is a lifestyle and business. That’s what farmers and entrepreneurs Donald and Doris Kidd of Kidd Farm want those considering it to know. The husband and wife team started farming as a second career specifically for the lifestyle, which took them out of the city and into the country. They found that to make a living from it, they needed to find their niche and think like entrepreneurs.
On this episode of Farms, Food and You, we talk to Doris and Donald Kidd — some of the few producers of elephant garlic in the state — to discover what it means to be a niche farmer and how a community of younger farmers and entrepreneurs at the Black Farmers Market in Raleigh and Durham helped them expand their scope and their market sales.
Farming is a lifestyle and business. That’s what farmers and entrepreneurs Donald and Doris Kidd of Kidd Farm want those considering it to know. The husband and wife team got into farming as a second career specifically for the lifestyle, which took them out of the city and into the country. What they found was that to make a living from it, they needed to find their own niche and think like entrepreneurs.
Today on Farms, Food and You, we talk to Doris and Donald Kidd — some of the few producers of elephant garlic in the state — to discover what it means to be a niche farmer and how a community of younger farmers and entrepreneurs at the Black Farmers Market in Raleigh and Durham helped them expand their scope and their market sales.
Donald and Doris Kidd were not strangers to farming when they decided to leave downtown Raleigh and start a farm in 1989. The former school teacher and boiler inspector for the N.C. Department of Labor took their pensions and bought 16 acres in Johnston County with plans to farm as they had growing up.
DORIS AND DONALD:
We just like being outside. I like growing things. The desire for the lifestyle is what took us out of the city. We used to live in Raleigh, and we bought this farm out in Johnston County. We wanted Brandon to grow up pretty much like we did on a farm. We were trying to maintain control over what our future is going to look like. You want to hold on to a little bit of yourself, and the world is changing so very much. This is an attempt to hold control a little bit of our future.
My family never really made a profit on the farm. We raised all of our food for our family, so we never really sold products or anything on the farm. And I think the same thing is true for Don. They were subsistence farmers, so we knew about farming; we knew what it was.
What they would come to learn is that farming for profit takes not just produce, but marketing know-how.
DORIS AND DON:
We live on 16 acres, but we only grow on about five acres. We do pretty much traditional farming. We don’t have a lot of equipment. We have a tractor and a few implements, but we’re pretty much just really small farmers.
Their initial goal was to make a go of it as farmers of all kinds of produce, but they soon discovered that focusing on elephant garlic — a cross between garlic and leeks — made their farm more profitable.
We just could not compete with Johnson County farmers who do that much better than we did, so we had to look for a niche market. Don was the brainchild behind the elephant garlic. We grew it for one season, and it was very popular, so we’ve been doing it ever since.
Elephant garlic was such a profitable crop that they expanded their operation in 2019. They applied for and received a North Carolina AgVentures grant in 2019 to buy a larger garlic-drying barn. AgVentures is supported exclusively by the state’s Tobacco Trust Fund Commission and administered by NC State Extension with help from County Cooperative Extension agents. The grant paid off.
We really did develop the market for elephant garlic in the Raleigh area because when we first started growing, very few people were familiar with it, so we had to sell it, customer by customer. And it’s taken a lot of years, but we really have developed quite a customer base.
Part of their success included becoming a regular vendor at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh on the weekends April through August.
We found the State Farmers’ Market and it proved to be a very lucrative market, so we put all of our eggs in that basket. Because, like I said, it is extremely lucrative. If you can get into that market, when you have a desirable product, you can sell that primarily.
While they found a great market for their elephant garlic, the State Farmers Market was limiting to the Kidds in other ways.
We are some of the only Black farmers at the State Farmers Market, so that can be a little bit isolating. My nephew mentioned the Black Farmers Market, so we decided to check that out. It opened another door to meet other farmers who look like us and who encounter some of the same issues that we do, and that’s a network that has been difficult for us to develop at the State Market.
We meet a lot of young people who are Black and are very interested in farming, and they want to know a lot of different things. It’s been really interesting to work with them and to talk with them and to sort of steer them into what we think is a good career choice, and, you know, lifestyle.
The two markets sort of mesh, and we’re hoping that this season we can mesh more in that the attendance at the Black Farmers Market has waned somewhat. One of our plans for this season is to sort of advertise the Black Farmers Market at the State Market in that we have flyers that we’re gonna put up, and when Donald is there, and we spend a lot of time just talking to people. We want to talk that market up more.
The Kidds have been a part of the Black Farmers Market since its creation in 2020. Their goal is to make more folks aware of the market and how valuable the community experience is there. The entrepreneurship they’ve encountered inspired the Kidds to consider expanding their operation.
The vendors at the Black Farmers Market are producing lots of value-added products, and we’re just amazed every week at how much they sell and the price that they get for it. We’ve been so impressed over the last two years that we’re now looking for funding for a kitchen for our farm so that we can develop a value-added product to sell on the market.
We have been offering a sample of the garlic as a spread as a way to encourage people to buy the garlic and we want to turn that into a product to sell to the public.
It’s been interesting how they have impacted us because one of the things we recognize is that, as time goes along, we’re not gonna be able to continue to even maintain the farm in the way that we do, that we’ve gotta be able to work smarter and not harder. That’s one of the things that we’ve been able to pick up from them and learn from young people and the entrepreneurs at the Black Farmers Market, too. They have a great impact on us.
The Kidds started making a roasted garlic cream cheese spread to sell at the market and are currently in the process of expanding their farm to include a kitchen. The Black Farmers Market awarded them a grant to help as they develop the idea.
Beyond inspiration for a new value-added product, and community and financial support, the Black Farmers Market — rotating bi-monthly between Durham and Raleigh — is also a plain good time.
There’s live music. A lot of the vendors aren’t traditional farmers. They’re more entrepreneurs who develop different products. They are just lively, they’re young, you know, and that makes a difference and stuff, and they just bring a lot of energy to what they do. They are marketing savvy, and they are just very successful at pulling in their clientele. They use social media a lot more than I do, and it’s more effective for them. The people who come are a little bit different and stuff.
That market idea is rubbing off on the State Market also, which is starting to have pop-up markets, so some of the people from the Black Farmers Market now are popping up at the State Market, so it’s very interesting how they’re influencing each other. There are lots of foods that people can eat and consume right on the premises. And that is sort of a real modern idea, too. People wanna taste it right there. They don’t want to take it home and cook it.
For those looking to get into niche farming, you’ll be in good company. Of North Carolina’s 46,418 farms, just over 21,125 are less than 50 acres, according to 2017 Census data. The Kidds recommend focusing on a niche market where consumers pay more for value-added products and locally produced food.
My advice would be to be persistent and to get to know what your market would be, and the market you are targeting. Be as knowledgeable as you can about your product that you have. And you have to be passionate about that product. You have to be able to talk to people. You have to be able to convince people to buy, and it’s just all about how you market it. Make sure you have something that people really want, that people are interested in, and have a way of getting people to stop.
If you’re shy about talking to people, then that may not be the business because you’re gonna have to talk to so many people and just make it a pleasure. That’s one of our successes at the State Market has been that we talk to everybody. We talk to everybody, and you know what’s interesting, we have customers who watch my kid grow up and they stop and they’ll ask about him and we’ll chat it up and we’ll talk, and you gotta be willing to do that. If you’re going to be successful, you have to be willing to meet people on the street.
Thank you for joining us on Farms, Food and You. This podcast is a product of NC State Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. If you would like to support the show, please share this episode on social media and leave a review on your podcasting app of choice. We’d love to hear from you. Let’s talk soon!