From Philadelphia to Mitchell County, from a life as a fire department lieutenant to a savvy farmer, the Hartys completely changed their lives and their livelihood in 2004. They love raising rabbits for food, growing mushrooms and keeping bees for honey at Harty Farms in Red Hill on Big Rock Creek.
The couple knew about the area because of an aunt who lived nearby, and had visited many times, fascinated by the minerals so prevalent here. “Every time we came over the mountain it just felt like home,”said Alice Harty.
The couple knew they wanted a new life as self-sustaining farmers, but they also knew they had a lot to learn to get there. “We had raised organic rabbits in Philly, but we learned more when we came here,”said Rick. “We took advantage of every learning opportunity we could, and we’re still doing that.”
The Hartys quickly realized that they needed to find a niche or two to be successful farm entrepreneurs. “We did a lot of research, looking at strawberries and shitake mushrooms, and took advantage of NC State’s Agricultural Extension Service,”explained Alice. “Then we read about bees and honey in the paper and took a course at Mayland Community College. That led us to add hives to our inventory.”
Growing mushrooms is paying off now for the Hartys. They are receiving help from Mayland to develop the local mushroom industry, and are involved with the new NC Mushroom Growers Co-op; they will be board members. They also teach a class on mushrooms on a volunteer basis, encouraging others to join the budding industry.
Their expertise in beekeeping is also growing, thanks to connections to local beekeepers associations. They are writing a grant to teach children about the importance of bees and nutrition.
In addition to tapping into all the educational resources available in the area, the Hartys also learn from their customers at the local farmers market where they sell their products. “We enjoy talking to our customers and learning from them—they teach us a lot, things such as the best ways to harvest honey and different ways of processing,”said Rick.
Alice and Rick both say that people in the area are very supportive. “They really want us to succeed, and you couldn’t pull us away from here now,”concluded Rick.
Their advice to entrepreneurs who are considering this area? “You have to work hard, but be flexible, and just stick with it. It also helps if you can divide and conquer the work.”