Interview with Hilltop Farms Owner Fred Miller

 After completing my 10-hour workshare at Hilltop Farms, I had the pleasure of sitting down with owner and full-time farmer, Fred Miller, about the history of his farm and his personal philosophy behind food and farming. Fred is very much aware that over two-thirds of our country is either overweight and obese, and he is on a mission to help the Triangle region improve their eating habits. He referred to the book, “What the World Eats,” a book that shows in shocking detail just how much processed food the United States consumes on a weekly basis compared to the rest of the world. Fred believes that Dietitians can collaborate with local farmers in order to lean towards eating a healthy, plant-based diet.

 

Tell me a little history behind your farm. How did you get involved in the farming industry?

This is Fred’s 13th year working in the farming industry. He was worked 3 years part-time and 10 years full-time at Hilltop farm, and he has been living on this farmland for 21 years. Fred’s career as a farmer began when he became burnt out from his office sales job of 19 years, and he needed a change from the corporate world. He was reading an article about farming and CSA produce and was inspired to start a farm of his own. Fred grew up in Northern Virginia, where the closest thing to a farm as a child was a baseball field! He is a self-taught farmer, and has learned all of his current skills from neighboring farmers, books, conferences, and seminars. He states that although he has learned a lot, he still has a long way to go.

What makes your farm unique?

Hilltop Farms is the only certified organic farm in all of Wake County. There are about 100 CSA farms located in North Carolina, and about 30 located within the Triangle region. Hilltop Farms takes pride in their certified organic farming procedures. They also offer a choice of produce to eat each week in each CSA box. All of the seasonal foods are laid out on a table at the site pick-up, and members get to select their choice of fruits and vegetables, depending on what is available.

How many people belong to your CSA program?

131 and counting!

Hilltop Farms has recently partnered with the Raleigh Wine Shop on Glenwood South, where they will be running a CSA drop-site through their store. This past Saturday the Raleigh Wine Shop hosted an open house, and they already picked up 1 new membership. (I just checked out this shop last weekend after the grand opening, and it looks great!)

What do you think is the best way to get involved in local food, farming, and creating a sense of community around food? How can we get people to stop spending money at the drive-through and invest in a CSA instead?

1. Join the Hilltop Farms CSA- this is a wonderful way to spend your food shopping money on guaranteed fresh and organic produce!

2. Visit any local farmer’s market- this is a great opportunity to support your local community and choose from a plethora of local food. Just be careful of visiting the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh- although this is the most popular, they are allowed to buy and re-sell produce from different locations, so up to 30% of your produce may not be local if purchased there. It is best to visit a “grow-only” market.

3. Complete a farm workshare- it is a smart idea to know where your food is coming from, and also reduces the cost of your CSA membership. It is best to complete your workshare hours in the spring, when it is still cool outside.

What are the biggest benefits and struggles to owning a farm?

Benefits: Fred enjoys the life of a farmer, and loves seeing the benefit that he provides the community and our country. It is rewarding to grow healthy foods for people!

Struggles: Uncertainty is a farmer’s main concern during the CSA growing season. You cannot control output due to weather, deer, or other unpredictable factors. It is obvious that a farmer has a lot less control than a manufacturing plant. The only thing you can do is hope for the best!

What is your favorite fruit/vegetable to grow?

It is not surprising to hear that Fred’s favorite fruit and vegetable to grow are the most work of all of his crops, making it the most rewarding work possible. His favorite fruit to grow is strawberries, which are difficult to grow, but delicious to eat! In addition, his favorite vegetable to grow are tomatoes. Although tomatoes are very tedious to grow due to risk of diseases, it is the largest cash crop on the farm.

FYI- if you are looking for a simple vegetable to grow in your own garden, lettuce is a remarkably easy and delicious crop to grow!

Do you see any benefit/role in dietitians helping the farming community (ex: providing recipes, cookbooks, blogs, promoting CSAs, etc)? If so, how can we be more beneficial to you?

Fred absolutely thinks that RD’s can play a strong role in promoting CSAs and pushing our community to join a CSA. It is an obvious way to get our community to eat healthy and fresh foods, and forces our communities to communicate with farmers. Fred states that he is asked everyday how to cook and prepare his fruits and vegetables, but he is only an expert in growing the crops itself. He states that knowing how to cook and prepare the food safely is excellent information for CSA members to have access too. In addition, he is interested in having cooking demos and recipe cards at his open house every year, incorporating fresh produce found in CSAs boxes into unique meals. I am looking forward to helping him out with some of these requests!

For more information, please visit: http://www.hilltopfarms.org/

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1 Comment »

  1. Danielle said

    Cool stuff Ashley!

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