Candice Eller grew up in Raleigh. She didn’t grow up on a farm or even near one. She went to Meredith College and majored in elementary education, and then earned a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University.
In 2009, she married Jacob Morgan. He didn’t grow up on a farm either, but he did have an interest in agriculture. He earned an agronomy degree from North Carolina State University, a master’s in extension education and began working with the Jones County Cooperative Extension Service.
“One day, after we’d been married for three years, Jacob talked to me about wanting to start farming,” Candice says. “It’s not anything I had ever thought I would do or anything that I knew about.”
But with some faith, ingenuity and good fortune, they took steps to establish a swine operation. What started with one hog in their backyard grew slowly and steadily to 70 hogs and a natural farrow-to-finish operation in Trenton.
Recently, the Morgans purchased land to expand their operation. They are building a home, clearing the land, drilling wells and building fences. In addition to hogs, they will also have cows on their new farm, with plans to add goats, sheep and eventually a cut-flower operation. The goal is eventually to be able to farm full time.
“Most farmers get started through a family operation,” Candice says. “We’ve taken an unconventional path, and our intent has been to do it debt free. That means slow growth but peace of mind.”
While they make that transition, the Morgans balance many commitments. Together they raise their animals, take them to a processing facility and sell their meat to local grocery stores and at farmers markets. Jacob continues to work as the Jones County Extension director and Candice does the bookkeeping for Morgan Meats while caring for daughter, Ella Paityn, 3, and son, Judah, 1. They’re also involved with the North Carolina Farm Bureau.
“That has been a saving grace for us,” Candice says. “We have a built-in network of people willing to share their expertise, and we’ve been able to find other young farmers, men and women, who have many of the challenges we do.”
A New Generation
Caroline Hines Barefoot faces some of the same challenges as Candice. She and her husband, Jared, work with Caroline’s dad, Jamie, to tend the Hines family’s 3,000 acres of tobacco, grain and sweet potatoes in Selma. Like Candice, Caroline went to Meredith College. She was considering nursing, but decided to transfer to North Carolina State and study business agriculture management “because I love the outdoors, the land and the work,” the 30-year-old says. “My dad never pressured me, but he always kept the door open for me. When I made the decision to join him at the farm in 2011, he taught me how to build relationships that resulted in contracts. It was pretty unheard of for someone my age to get their own contracts, but it gave me the confidence that I could really make a contribution.”
Caroline says her dad also appreciated her interest in tackling the operation’s paperwork and her familiarity with technology.
“There’s bookkeeping, of course. Plus, we follow the Extension’s Good Agricultural Practices program, so there is audit work to do as well. And there is also the H2A visa documentation that must be completed for our seasonal workers. While it’s a lot of work, it’s essential to our business. We would not be able to farm without seasonal labor.”
Another challenge is the volatility of commodity prices. And then there’s the weather. Plus, local, national or global economic news can prove challenging as well. The concerns are the same whether you’re a young farmer or a veteran. In other words, there’s always something to worry about. And that’s before you add a one-year-old daughter into the mix.
“Since Elliott was born, one of the biggest challenges has been time management,” Caroline says. “But I love that she’s growing up on a farm like I did, and maybe she’ll be the fifth generation to work the Hines family farm.”