The Farmers: Nicole Connelly and Mike Austin
Nicole grew up in Rochester, NY where her mom sustainably and matter-of-factly grew nearly all of their vegetables in a 1/6th of an acre backyard garden. Nicole thought this was normal. Thus, starting a farm is the culmination of a long plan Nicole has been covertly progressing since she was 9 years old (and she has proof - though at 9, it was more a ploy to get a horse or a goat). She ended up in Durham for grad school (microbiology) in the 90s and returned for good in 2010 - and in all that time she had no dirt of her own and did not farm. When she came back to Durham, she started growing what she could anywhere she could in her shady yard. She read Wendell Berry and a lot of Gene Logsdon and her perception of value changed and solidified and she became involved in the Durham Farm and Food Network, and joined the Durham Farmland Preservation Board.
And she met Mike - who first caught her eye because he talked about a garden he grew.......When she and Mike married and had a kid, Nicole couldn't stand not farming anymore, and the hunt was on! Finding and starting Toad Hill Farm with Mike has been the most humbling and gracious of experiences - and six frantic months later she's still stunned it's happening!
Nicole wanted to start a farm because she wants to grow things, but also because she believes what many good thinkers have already said: we as a community need to be able to grow more and eat more of our own food - we 'outsource' far too much of an essential human need - it puts our community, our health and our environment at great risk and it continues to encourage a destabilized, non-value grounded economy. She hopes Toad Hill can be a drop in the bucket in putting and keeping small farmers back on farms, and local food on Durham's tables..
The Unexpected Farmer
Mike grew up in Chapel Hill but has lived in Durham for over 20 years now.
It started out innocently enough with a few farm books on Nicole's nightstand one night. Over the subsequent months the stack of books continued to grow at an alarming rate. Being a supportive husband, and also seeing an easy opportunity for birthday and Christmas presents, Mike added to the stack of farming books without giving it a second thought. Silly rabbit. Flash forward a couple of years and you can see Mike standing at the farmer's market most Saturdays standing behind a table full of kale, beets, and salad greens with a puzzled expression on his face and asking himself, "What just happened?"
It has been an interesting, exhilarating, fun, frustrating, sweaty, back-breaking experience so far and he wouldn't have it any other way. Did I mention fun? Good, I did.
In the end the important thing is to have fun with the garden, grow healthy fruits and vegetables, be mindful stewards of the land, and create a great space for our family.