The Midtown Farmers Market profile series is back, and this time we’re featuring Homestead Harvest Farm, owned by Jan Campbell. We had a chance recently to speak to Jan about how and why she got started in farming, her involvement with Midtown Farmers Market, and the unique offerings her farm produces each season.
North Hills Live: Hi Jan! Have you always been a farmer?
Jan Campbell: No, this isn’t a family-run farm that was passed down or anything. I used to do cancer research at Johns Hopkins and Duke before I started farming, but with five kids going to college, my husband and I needed to make a plan on how we could afford that. So we started the farm! My husband has an existing business in Raleigh, so the farm is his second job.
In order for this to work, we agreed in the beginning that whatever needed to be done on the farm would have to be done by a woman. I couldn’t run this farm if I had to wait on him to do things, so we made sure that I could be autonomous. He does help me build coops on the weekends, but the entire operation is run primarily by me.
NHL: What prompted you to become involved with Midtown Farmers Market?
JC: We were looking for a market that was close to the farm, but also not in Wake Forest. While we do live in Wake Forest and the farm is in Wake Forest, my mentor who taught me how to raise and process poultry already has a booth at the Wake Forest Farmers Market, and I didn’t want to become his competition.
NHL: How long have you been participating in Midtown Farmers Market?
JC: We started eight years ago, and at that time there weren’t many markets in existence in this area. I had a booth at the North Raleigh Farmers Market, but that one was closing, which meant the only two options I had at that time was Midtown and Western Wake Farmers Market. And we choose Midtown!
NHL: Regarding what you feature at your booth, is it customer or production driven? In other words, do your animals or your customers decide what you sell each Saturday?
JC: Farmers have to balance what they can grow versus what is in demand, but we have always farmed according to what our customers want. We’ve always tried to provide customers with what they have been asking for, and incorporate that into what we are already growing. Our turkeys are a great example of how we have to balance the two. Our customers always requested turkeys for Thanksgiving, but they started to let us know they prefer something different for Christmas. So, we now offer Christmas geese!
Another example of this is when our customers started asking for organic and non-GMO products, and we wanted to find out if going organic versus going non-GMO would be better for the animals. Because of my background in cancer research, we were able to accurately test this using different feeds. We initially thought going organic would be better, but we quickly discovered the organic feed wasn’t enough to keep our livestock alive, as it was lacking nutrients. Going organic would have resulted in undernourished animals and would have caused them harm. Because of this, we now use a non-GMO feed. What is great about this is the feed company we use is able to tailor the feed to add more protein, or whatever nutrient is needed, so our animals are thriving.
Balancing what feed is available and at what cost with what your farm can produce and what your customers want is the final part of the puzzle. We have to find the right mix of these three. Organic feed is three times more expensive than non-GMO feed, so any time we change we also need to be sure that customers will be willing to help pay for this increased cost.
NHL: What’s your year-round best seller?
JC: Eggs are always the best seller because they are easy to produce! But most people don’t know eggs actually have a season, like tomatoes, because you can get eggs anytime at the grocery store. Egg production is actually based on daylight exposure. In the summer, we get an egg a day because there is about 14 hours of light, so that is the best season for eggs. But in the winter, we have half as much daylight, so it takes two days to produce an egg. Chickens also take a reproductive break during winter time because the weather typically isn’t good for survival.
Commercial farmers use artificial sunlight to combat this, but they only let the chicken produce eggs until the first molt, then they kill them. We do not use artificial lights here. Our chickens are not in big houses where we could put lighting, so we follow our chickens’ natural production schedules.
I always tell our customers you can freeze eggs so that you have the best eggs that were produced during the summer when you want to bake and cook during the winter months. You simply crack the eggs, separate the yolk from the white if you like, beat it up and then freeze it in a container.
NHL: I see you offer duck and chicken eggs. Why, and is there any taste difference between duck and chicken eggs?
JC: Well, I discovered I’m allergic to chicken eggs, so we started offering duck eggs. Duck eggs are good for people who have celiac disease, or if you are on an alkaline diet. Duck eggs are what you should be eating because they have much less acid. There is a tiny bit of consistency difference because most people are used to the acid in chicken eggs. It’s not a taste difference, but you can detect the acid difference. Duck eggs are more nutrient rich than chicken, so it’s a smoother egg. And one duck egg can replace two chicken eggs in recipes.
NHL: What do like most about being a part of Midtown Farmers Market?
JC: I really like the variety of people. One of the bigger challenges for farmers is to make products available in the way their customers want them and are used to getting them. Joel Salatin is a big name in pasteurized farming. He says customers are only willing to take one step out of their comfort zone when shopping. If you are asking customers to buy things they have never seen or cooked with, it becomes a harder sell.
A farmers’ market is already one step out of their shopping comfort zone, but Midtown Farmers Market does a great job of making it super comfortable for customers. It’s easier for me to get the customers to take another step out of their comfort zone and try a product they may not be used to. They also do a great job of promoting the market, which takes some pressure off of me, as I know they will have advertised and provided all the basic information before we even set up.
NHL: I understand a waiting list gets started each year for your Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys. Can customers reserve theirs at the market?
JC: Yes, it does! Customers can sign up at the market, or email me or get in touch with me via the newsletter we put out. You can sign up for or read our newsletter on our website. And we always encourage people to visit our Facebook page, which I update with any new information.
NHL: What would you say keeps your customers coming back each weekend?
JC: Definitely trust. They know they can trust what we’re giving them is what I say it is. I also send out weekly newsletters that let them know what is going on with the farm, so they are more invested in the products. They also know if I’m not willing to eat it, then I certainly won’t be trying to sell it.
NHL: Where can people find you and your delicious eggs, pork, duck, and poultry when you’re not at Midtown Farmers Market?
JC: I’m at the Carrboro Market on Wednesdays and I am at the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturdays.
NHL: Can people come out to tour the farm? And if so, do you have any tips on how to make the most of the trip?
JC: Yes, people are welcome to come see the farm. The best way to schedule it is to get in touch with me directly, because I have five kids and my farm keeps me busy. I want to make sure they get a great experience and can see the authenticity of the farm. We typically have people come two to three times a month. And of course we can’t do tours when I have market days.
NHL: Any big upcoming developments or news for Homestead Harvest Farm? Or last thoughts on your experiences at Midtown Farmers Market you’d like to share?
JC: Yes! We have just started offering beef! Providing beef takes two years because they need to mature and develop enough meat. We’re excited to offer beef now at the market, and our newsletter has been showing how this process has been for us. Everything from bottle feeding calves to taking the cows to the processing centers.
Midtown didn’t have a beef vendor until we started, as their only other beef vendor isn’t there anymore. It’s nice to be filling that gap at the market. The more well-rounded a market is and the more we can meet the various demands, the more customers will come and the better the market is for customers. It gets customers excited to see the variety they can choose from when visiting.
Jan and her booth for Homestead Harvest Farms can be found each Saturday at Midtown Farmers Market offering her delicious non-GMO eggs, pork, turkey, chicken, and now, beef! Be sure to stop by when you get the chance so you can learn more about her process and taste her delicious products. And be sure to sign up for your Thanksgiving turkey!