By Steve Huffman
For Farm Carolina
BURLINGTON – A little more than four years ago, Gary Murray got a call from his son, Chris.
“Dad,” he said, “I’m coming home.”
“That’s great,” Gary said. “What you want for supper?”
“No,” Chris continued. “You don’t understand. I’m coming home.”
Chris was at the time working as an environmental consultant in Raleigh. He had earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees at N.C. State, his master’s in the study of soil science.
Chris was successful at his job and making good money. But what he found himself missing, he said, was the satisfaction of working the soil, of planting a crop and watching it grow, of harvesting the finished product.
“The farm has been in our family more than 100 years,” Chris said. “My dad has always farmed in some capacity. It seemed this was the thing for me to do.”
So Chris returned to his family’s farm, back to the land on which he was born and raised. The soil that Chris now works is Sunset Farms, a 56-acre stretch off N.C. 49 south of Graham. Chris and Gary have one full-time employee - Kyle Stenersen, a 2010 graduate of N.C. State who majored in horticulture.
Pride in growing
The Murrays and Stenersen pride themselves on their naturally-grown produce and livestock. They work with animal and crop rotations to produce a “closed-loop” sustainable farm that produces goods free of pesticides and steroids.
Their products are sold primarily at the Carrboro Farmers Market and the Durham Farmers Market. They also sell through a program known as “Community Supported Agriculture” where individuals buy shares of production at the beginning of a season, then receive boxes of fresh produce each week for 20 weeks. The program assures families the freshest in produce while helping the Murrays pay the bills through winter’s slow months.
Since returning to the farm, Chris, 32, has introduced pasture-based livestock – everything from hens to beef cattle and turkey.
On April 28 and 29, Sunset Farms will be included in the 2012 Piedmont Farm Tour, an event sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. The self-guided tour includes farms in Alamance, Chatham, Durham, Orange and Person counties. More information about the tour can be found at: http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/piedmontfarmtour.shtml or by calling the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association at 919-542-2402.
Tour offers insight
Chris said the tour gives the public the opportunity to view farms and witness a way of living that many would never otherwise see.
“It gives us the chance to show what we do for a living,” Chris said. “It gives a knowledge of what goes on on a daily basis on a farm.”
The Murrays and Stenersen raise about 65 varieties of vegetables and fruits. It’s not unusual for Chris and Kyle to work 12 hours or more per day during the summer. Winter hours are shorter, but the markets in Carrboro and Durham are opened year-round, so there’s always produce to be harvested. In the winter, that produce consists largely of collards, broccoli and cauliflower.
Gary, 67, joked that he works the hours he wants, taking instructions from his son.
“I tell him, ‘I’m retired, what you want me to do? It all pays the same,’ ” Gary said, laughing as he spoke.
Sunset Farms was recently awarded the 2012 Conservation Farm Family award by the Alamance County Soil and Water Conservation District Board. The award comes as a result of the Murrays’ efforts to continue striving toward clean soil and water. The Murrays and Stenerson do this through a variety of means, including strip cropping, which is alternating rows of close-growing crops with normal-growing crops, as well as grassed waterways.
Gary noted the younger generation seems to be especially enthusiastic of the sustainable form of farming practiced at Sunset Farms and the naturally grown produce and livestock they produce. Gary said most of their customers are under 40 years of age.
“They realize the health benefits of it,” he said of those customers. “We see nothing but the farm expanding and getting better.”