Perpetual Growth: Incubator Farmer Tom Saile

Tom Saile first picked up gardening from his Grandfather. While he has gardened on his own for a long time, now he is scaling up and starting a farm business through the Incubator Farm Program at the IFFS Teaching Farm on Tryon Rd, just putting his first crops in the ground for his new venture: “Perpetual Grow” farm. After working in sales and as a marketing manager for five years, Tom was laid off at the end of last year, which he calls a “blessing in disguise.” The change allowed him to find a new career path that he’s more genuinely passionate about – farming. He initially explored a number of different options for his next step, including going back to school, but found the IFFS Teaching Farm to be an environment he can learn from on a daily basis. Tom discovered the farm while driving by one day in October last year, and has been volunteering ever since.

While he now hopes to run his own farm business one day, building a clientele among chefs in area, he knows farming is “definitely not going to be the easy route.” It wasn’t an easy decision for Tom to pursue this dream, but with his marketing and leadership skills, as well as his handy hobbies of camping, carpentry, and woodworking, he feels like he has a skill set that will allow him to succeed. The three keys to success in starting a farm business as Tom sees it are: marketing, relationship building, and hard work! Tom says he’s “not afraid of hard work, especially when I can see the results.”

Tom is starting a blog (link to come soon!) to help market his new business as well as to network with other farmers. He’s excited for this season of CRAFT United Piedmont farm tours. He says he’s found the farming community to be really friendly and helpful.

“It has to do with community, with getting to know your neighbor.”

The blog may also serve as an educational tool as well – part of what makes Tom so passionate about farming and why he knows it will be fulfilling as a career, is the potential it has to create change. Tom believes education about food and how to grow it will be important for the future and laments the disconnect between people and where their food comes from that’s occurred over the past 50 years or so, when previously connection to agriculture was such “a huge part of our species’ culture.” He loves the small-scale, regional, grassroots farming and food movements, and he’s excited about encouraging others to grow their own, too, as he launches his own new farming career.

Why the Incubator Farm Program?

Tom lives in a neighborhood with a Homeowners Association that has strict rules about gardens and the appearance of lawns, which had previously limited the gardening he was able to do. Thankfully, he’s now found in the Incubator Farm Program a new place to grow that allows him more freedom and space to grow, while providing a place to learn the ropes of farming at the same time.

Tom appreciates the Incubator Farm program not just for the increased space and flexibility it provides for him to grow, but also for the education it provides.

“They’re not just saying that they’re facilitating new farmers – they’re actually doing it. They [IFFS Staff Sun, Kay, and Joshua] really do take the time to teach us, even when they’re super busy. They’ll stop and answer a question or show us how to use a tool. They really want to see us get off the ground.”

Tom is planning out his business with care, using a tool called “Ag Squared” to help him keep records of what he’s planting, cost of materials, sales, etc.

What’s he growing?Tom's peppers Incubator Farm

Tom is planting three types of tomatoes, three types of peppers, squash, edamame, okra, many types of basil, as well as other culinary herbs.

He is excited about different ways to preserve and create other products from what he grows, particularly basil. It can be sold fresh, dried, made into pesto, tea, even ice cream! He knows herbs are one thing he grows that definitely won’t go to waste.

He plans to incorporate permaculture growing techniques into his farm, such as inter-planting crops and companion planting. For example, he’ll be mixing basil in with his tomatoes and peppers to add extra flavor AND to deter pests. Companion planting is one way to grow without the use of pesticides and herbicides. He’ll also be inter-planting beans and squash, which can grow in the same space, since the beans will grow upwards while the squash spreads across the ground.

Look for produce from “Perpetual Grow” at the IFFS Farm Stand when it opens later this month!