Just 30 minutes outside of Raleigh in Clayton, North Carolina, families can experience life on the farm by picking their own strawberries and stocking up on fresh, nutritious produce at Pace Family Farms.
Michelle Pace Davis and her family grow 15 acres of produce ranging from strawberries and watermelons to collards, kale and okra but that hasn’t always been the case. In 2016, the family added strawberries to their corn, wheat and soybean farm, and opened it to the public, later adding more fruits and veggies to their fields.
“Our main goal is to welcome people to the farm so they can meet their local farmer,” explained Michelle. “We want to build knowledge and awareness around agriculture, and provide a positive and authentic farm experience.” As a sixth-generation farmer and former high school agriscience teacher, Michelle is passionate about showing and teaching people about where their food comes from.
Michelle was the driving force behind the farm’s agritourism addition and wears many hats in the family business. She greets guests, coordinates customer relations, runs the farm’s marketing, tracks the finances and manages the produce. To keep her fresh fruits and veggies from going to waste, she uses many creative strategies.
Michelle sells a lot of her crop through Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) boxes. Customers pay one price and, for a full season, receive a weekly box brimming with fresh produce, which guarantees product movement and helps her plan for the right production volumes. Whatever is picked but not packed in a CSA box for the day is sold at the Pace Family Farms stand or stored in their cooler.
Jams and Dressings
In the case of imperfect, damaged, or ripe strawberries, the Pace family makes strawberry jam and vinaigrette dressing that is sold at their farm stand as well. “We’re constantly adding new value-added products like that to alleviate strawberry waste,” said Michelle.
Sometimes, all it takes is a good old-fashioned bargain to get produce moving. “Most produce has a peak time when you’re just going to have a bunch of it,” explained Michelle. “This year, when the field was full of strawberries, we knocked the price down and had a 99-cent u-pick day. We’ve also run specials on broccoli and cabbage because we’d rather it be sold for less than wasted.”
What doesn’t get sold, gets donated. “This past year, we gave lettuce away to our customers when we had extra. We also have three food banks nearby and donate the extra produce to them,” she shared.
If humans can’t enjoy it, the animals do. “If we have produce past the point of being used for human consumption, we use it to feed our cows and chickens as a nice little treat,” said Michelle.
The Pace family also uses specific farm practices to conserve resources like water. For example, their drip irrigation system delivers water underground, directly to the plants’ roots, so it doesn’t get lost through overhead evaporation. They’re also very selective about when they water to ensure it’s only used when necessary and applied at cooler times of day like early morning and evening to avoid waste from evaporation.
“When we sat down and discussed strawberries and agritourism, our goal wasn’t to be the biggest city attraction,” explained Michelle. “We didn’t want to be just an attraction. We wanted to provide awareness and break negative stereotypes of farmers. We’re educated, we’re passionate, and we truly want to do this. Our goal from the beginning has always been to provide a simple, fun and positive experience on a family farm.”
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