Kristina Wilhelmson started her Incubator plot at the IFFS Teaching Farm on Tryon Rd in November – now that Spring has finally sprung, she is relishing the weather, excited to see her hard work come to fruition and her cultivated rows now likewise spring to life!
Why the Incubator Farm Program?
Kristina has a background in social work and has previously worked with homeless and disabled populations. That work can be stressful, so now she’s taking time off from the field to focus on her other passion - growing things. While she had always gardened, Kristina had never tried farming to actually taking things to market.
In the future, she hopes to combine farming and social work.
“It would be nice to turn this into a profitable venture and hire on some folks with such challenges.”
When Kristina decided to try something different, she took classes at the Plant @ Breeze in topics such as pest control as well as an entrepreneurship class at Wake Tech.
Besides growing up with a family farm, Kristina has long gardened at home, but the only space she had to garden was on a hill, which makes things quite challenging! Now she says,
"I’m thankful for the nice flat resourceful fields that Interfaith offers. I've also found it quite useful to have an indoor growing system to get things going early in a controlled environment.”
When it came to starting her farm, she didn’t want to drive back and forth all the way to the Plant @ Breeze’s Incubator program and was very excited to learn that there was one in Raleigh!
Now there are over 15 Incubator Farmers at Tryon Rd, and as Kristina says, “We all look out for each other and help each other,” watering each other’s plants in the greenhouse and watching over each other’s row when they’re on vacation or have emergencies come up.
The Incubator Farm Program has been beneficial for her in a multitude of ways.
"Everyday I learn something new…Kay, the Farm Manager, has been a real force empowering women to have the skills, know-how, and confidence to grab a power tool and get any job done.”
Instead of renting a plot of land, Incubator Farmers work at least 3 hrs a week on the IFFS Teaching Farm, and they learn during that time as well.
“The work requirement really gives you a well-rounded experience of what it takes to be a farmer.My first day on the farm I was astonished at the number of hands it takes to run the operation every day. The large volunteer groups and the steady stream of individual regulars are so essential. I love being able to meet new folks every day."
The work of the incubator farmers greatly benefits the IFFS Farm as well - Kristina’s favorite memory has been helping to put a new roof on the farm office, and she organized a seed library of over 3000 varieties of plant seeds!
What’s growing on “Red’s Farmstead”?
Kristina just harvested one crop of radishes and has another crop that will be ready soon. She grows both traditional radishes and a variety called “watermelon radishes,” which are white on the outside and red on the inside!
She’s also growing kale and swiss chard, which she started from seedlings herself, garlic, and rutabagas, which Kristina says are “an acquired taste down south it seems. My parents are from Up-State New York (Port Henry) and we grew up on the stuff. I start the seedlings here, they pick them up on their snowbird trek from FL to NY.” Kristin has lived in the Raleigh area since 1997 after attending NC State University for Social Work, and is trying to convince her folks to mover here so they can all grow year-round!
She’s trying to grow some produce people haven’t seen before and hoping that will translate into sales, although she recognizes she may have to do some consumer education as well.
“I think every gardener/farmer can relate to the excitement and wonder of the seed catalogs and picking out some new and interesting things. In some ways I want to grow one of everything, but farming takes focus and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle helps you think about the end game, the market."
Kristina says she’s been inspired by and is enjoying learning from the other Incubator Farmers and folks on the farm about medicinal plants and edible flowers. She’ll also be growing some traditional summer crops including cherry and roma tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and herbs (basil, parsley, sage, etc).
“I'm also excited to grow Roselle Thai Red, which is a Hibiscus used for making cranberry-flavored bright red beverages, jellies, pies, and tea. The flowers are edible and citrus flavored. I hear it lowers blood pressure as well.”
Look for her produce, from “Red’s Farmstead” at the IFFS Farm Stand when it opens later this spring!
“We are so lucky to have a site so close. I'm hoping to sell at the farm stand, but also figure out how to sell to local restaurants and handle insurance costs, etc. This is a business and you have to consider every angle such as a farm name, GAP practices, insurance, licenses, etc.”
If she were to sell on her own instead of through IFFS, start-up costs for insurance would cost her up to a thousand dollars. Eventually, though she does hope to also sell directly to restaurants. In the time she doesn’t spend on the farm, Kristina also currently works as a back-waiter at Mandolin, a farm-to-table focused restaurant in Raleigh for her primary income.
While she’s excited about the possibilities farming offers, she’s also has a realistic outlook on what it takes to farm full-time financially, but ideally she would combine it part-time with other work in the future.
Kristina is looking for 1-3 acres of her own to farm, but knows that finding land in Wake County may be tough, as well as expensive. That’s why she’s also excited about NC Farm Link, a new collaborative project between North Carolina A & T State University, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle ,Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and WNC FarmLink to supportfarm transition in North Carolina by connecting farm owners, farm seekers, farm service providers, and other supporters of NC agriculture.
Follow her on Twitter @RedsFarmstead