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Warren, Cumberland County Farmers Finalists for N.C. Small Farmer of the Year

By Karen Green

A fourth-generation family farm in Warren County in operation since 1865 and a small farm in Cumberland County run by a former Army officer turned beekeeper are finalists for the 38th annual Small Farmer of the Year Award, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Cooperative Extension announced today.

“Our two finalists are perfect examples of how farmers can be innovative, respectful of their land, and earn profits in new markets that are developing quickly,” said Fletcher Barber, Ed.D., Extension small farms recruiter and chair of Small Farms Week 2024. “We think both of these farmers showcase the determination, creativity and community involvement that it takes to succeed as a small farmer today.”

On Brown Family Farms in Warren County, a century farm is venturing into a new cash crop.

Patrick Brown is a fourth-generation farmer whose land in the hamlet of Hecks Grove in southeast Warren County was first acquired by his great-grandfather in 1865. Over the years, the Browns have cultivated vegetables and tobacco and raised livestock, but the farm’s most recent endeavor is industrial hemp.

Brown holds a degree in business administration from Fayetteville State University and spent years traveling the world as a federal contractor, including working alongside U.S. Department of Agriculture officials as an agricultural advisor in Afghanistan – all while helping his father manage the family farm. He came home, applied his business acumen to farming and delved into hemp production a few years later.  In 2019, he created his own line of hemp extracted products, now known as Hempfinity.

Jim and Christi Hartman’s honeybees collect pollen from fruit trees, nut trees, wildflowers and clover patches that dot the land on their small farm in Linden. Hartman, a former Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer, started his honeybee farm with three hives as a therapeutic stress reliever and soon found it was a way to earn money and help local farmers pollinate their crops. Today, Secret Garden Bees includes more than 30 hives, and the Hartmans sell the raw honey to retailers, wholesalers and people who simply enjoy the taste of all-natural raw honey. 

Retail shoppers can buy Secret Garden Bees honey at The Fresh Market grocery stores in 12 states, at festivals, from the farm’s website and onsite.

The Small Farmer of the Year Award is presented each year as part of Small Farms Week, N.C. Cooperative Extension’s annual tribute to small-scale agriculture featuring educational programs, demonstrations and the announcement of a new Small Farmer of the Year. This year’s Small Farms Week, with the theme “New Paths to Profits,” takes place March 25-29. The Small Farmer of the Year will be crowned at a luncheon ceremony Wednesday, March 27.

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