LL Urban Farms has come to fruition through a series of surprisingly fortuitous events and plenty of hard work. When you pull up to the farm stand on Holly Springs Road, its beautiful, reclaimed wood and organized décor make you want to buy all the local food you can fit in your car—that is after you go meet the chickens around back. Jim Loy and Glen Lang both come from business backgrounds; Loy was a tennis professional in Florida and Glen was the mayor of Cary from 1999-2003. When Loy and his family moved up to North Carolina, his daughter met Lang’s son at Athen’s Drive High School and the rest is history. The emphasis on family has remained and even those members who do not live in the area have helped and influenced the farm and its growth. When I went to visit the farm Lang was out of town, but I got the grand tour and the full story from Loy.
Loy and Lang will have been farming for three years in July on their .99 acre plot in Holly Springs. When they first started out it was all an experiment, they bought the property on a whim and went from there. They grow their crops using a hydroponic system, which was Lang’s idea. Lang’s son studied Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University and worked with them to make the farm more sustainable. They took a two-day seminar with Crop King, a company that specializes in hydroponic growing systems, and jumped in headfirst. According to Loy, when they first started they didn’t know enough to be afraid. A saying that they like to use around the farm when it gets overwhelming is: “Well how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This simple approach to farming seems to have served them well. They now have a fully functioning hydroponic system that recirculates water, measures it for nutrients, and adds the nutrients as they are needed. They have two greenhouses and three different tomato patches, several different crops planted along the fence-line, a chicken coop, a barn, and a beautiful farm stand. They have proven something that many people question when the small-scale agriculture argument comes up: a farm can be financially viable on one acre of land.
LL Urban’s way of farming is innovative and always adapting. They have six different types of heirloom tomatoes including Cherokee Purple, Early Girl, and Mortgage Lifter, all of which have been grafted. Grafting tomatoes is a method where you use the roots of heartier, more disease-resistant plants to grow plants with desirable fruit. This creates a stronger, healthier plant that produces fruit that is both delicious and more traditional. These grafted heirlooms grow in beta boxes with a watering system that runs beneath the pots and the ground is covered in black fabric to protect the plants from the many diseases that live in the soil. Alongside this forest of tomatoes grow zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and peppers. Then come the two greenhouses where the bib lettuce is grown–fully equipped with a hydroponic system where the lettuce plants are sitting in hollow tubes and the water runs through the tube and is recirculated throughout. Along one wall of the greenhouse is a panel, that looks similar to an air filter, made from cardboard and dripping water, which creates cold air. Fans on the other side of the greenhouse pull the cool air across the plants. It is hard to grow lettuce during the summer in the piedmont, even inside, but LL Urban has perfected it.
Loy’s favorite part of farming is figuring out how to fix whatever breaks (because on a farm something is always broken) and constantly learning how to farm better and more efficiently. There are so many facets to this farm that it does not surprise me one bit that he finds this enjoyable, I imagine that he is always looking for more to do or a new system to implement. He takes such pride in every aspect of the farm and has a story behind each building and each project. Another side project they have taken on is growing green beans for stinkbugs. A business called Ag Biome is studying a colony of stinkbugs and buys all of LL Urban’s green beans, along with fresh produce from other farmers, to feed their bugs (the most well fed stinkbugs of all time). Finally, the farm stand is a production all on its own; along with selling their own produce, LL Urban sells many other local products from farms such as milk, honey, cheese, salsa, meat, and other local vegetables and fruit that they don’t grow on their own farm. Loy and Lang knew that they needed the farm stand to provide more than just their produce to make a business, and opted to build relationships and support with those around them doing similarly good work. This is a very old-fashioned approach the the farming tradition, a salute to an agrarian society, it reveals a true understanding that we have to work together to feed our communities and support the other farmers and food artisans around us. It takes away the competition and spreads the wealth so that good food can become more abundant for everyone. LL Urban is proud of what they grow and proud of what their friends grow. You can practically feel the excitement pouring from every surface and through every vegetable–and trust me, you can taste a difference.