Couple moves from Raleigh to Selma to start a farm

ajames@newsobserver.comApril 5, 2013 

  • Farm share program

    For people who want to regularly receive eggs and produce from Let it Grow Farm, customers can pay a certain amount (minimum $200, maximum $400) to the farm before the end of April and redeem the Farm Share credit for a year. It works like a farm debit card. For more information, visit letitgrowfarm.squarespace.com

— In February, 2012, Michael and Caroline Lang left their home in downtown Raleigh for a 17-acre farm near Selma.

“We wanted to raise or grow what we eat,” said Michael Lang, of “Let it Grow” farm.

Now they do that, and more. They will be among the vendors at this year’s Clayton Farm and Community Market, which opened for the season on Saturday.

The couple married in 2009. They both work as school psychologists for Johnston County Schools. While others may have spent their spring break last week taking it easy, or watching television, they worked in the hot sun making soil blocks to plant seeds in. The trays of soil blocks hang neatly by the window in their bedroom.

“We have a germination chamber in our bedroom,” said Michael Lang. The tidy design looks more like something out of a Home & Garden magazine than a makeshift growing area.

When they lived in Raleigh, they had chicks in their guest room. The chicks now live in a coop behind their one-bedroom farmhouse.

The couple’s farming philosophy is different from that of their neighbors in Selma, who farm to live. Their farm supplements their primary income.

“I don’t want to quit my job,” said Caroline Lang, who works full-time with the school system. “I love my job.” Michael works part-time.. The goal is to make enough profit on the farm so that Michael can work on it full-time.

The couple sells fresh eggs to friends, and people who they’ve met at the Clayton market. They also sell fresh produce, including vegetables and greens at the market. They keep in touch with customers through a mailing list.

“I consider what we’re doing less of a business and more of a lifestyle choice,” said Michael Lang.

A farming lifestyle

“Farming is expensive,” said Lang. As with any new business venture, there have been unforeseen costs in their first year, like buying their own tractor and building a well system. They’ve also had to pay for some of their mistakes, like planting 300 tomatoes, and watching 200 of them die due to disease. Now they’ve learned how to prevent that, by drenching the soil before planting.

The Langs did have one ace up their sleeve. They didn’t have to buy land, instead using property that belonged to Caroline’s family.

“The tractor is just kind of another car payment,” said Lang.

Both Michael and Caroline had farming in their blood. Michael grew up on his family’s farm in Pennsylvania.

“I grew up seeing my family grow corn, wheat, and oats and I was exposed to the ins and outs of it at an early age,” said Lang. His parents have now adopted a lifestyle of convenience. Lang said they don’t understand why he would go to all the effort of growing food, when he could buy the food at a local grocery. They hear that a lot.

“I want to live a lifestyle where I’m outside doing work with my hands every day and I want to grow as much of my own food as possible,” said Michael Lang. “We don’t have to go to the gym to get exercise.”

Caroline Lang’s family once farmed too, but she is the only one doing it now. Before they met, the Langs were both interested in gardening, and were followers of the food movement, reading books published in the past decade by Michael Pollan, and Barbara Kingsolver that have made younger generations question where their food comes from.

They were disturbed by the lack of connection with their food, and how far the food had traveled.

When they got the motivation to start their own farm, they signed up for weekend farming classes through the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Michael attended a weekend-long farm school in Georgia, and he also worked an informal internship at a farm in Garner during the summer.

On the weekends, he worked at a farmer’s market in Raleigh, where he learned the business side of farming, and developed a rapport with potential buyers.

“We tried to expose ourselves to farming as much as possible by going out to visit other farmers,” said Lang.

Balancing the farm and their jobs means the workday doesn’t end.

“There are parts of it that make you bone tired,” said Michael Lang.

Last summer, Caroline would pick weeds for an hour before work, then go to her job, and come home and work on the farm until 8:30 or 9 p.m. They plan to implement a “quittin’ time” this summer.

Vacations away from the farm are nearly impossible because there are always “chicken chores” to do, and plants that need to be cared for. After several long, hot days in the sun in a row, Michael said sometimes he just wishes he could go to the mountains and have a break. But they are attached to the land, and it’s a labor of love most of the time.

Away from the city

The couple jokes about life in the country compared to life in the city.

“I can imagine maybe going back to city life if I could have a big garden,” said Michael Lang. “Really?,” his wife responded. “It hasn’t been that long since we’ve been out of Raleigh and I’m already able to notice that there’s so much consumption there, and it feels overwhelming to me,” said Caroline Lang. They still eat at restaurants, and buy some groceries at Harris Teeter.

Life on a farm wasn’t in the cards 10 years ago. “I have my Ph.D in school psychology,” Caroline Lang said, wearing a wide-brimmed hat to block the sun. “I definitely didn’t plan to live on a farm.”

The couple’s plans changed a couple years ago when they were disappointed to find out they couldn’t have children.

“That freed us up to think about other ways we could spend our life,” said Caroline. Her husband said they wanted to create something that would outlive them.

James: 919-553-7234

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