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US: Pioneering locally grown basil in North Carolina

Growing up on a farm taught Matt Marsh the work ethic to pair with his "dreamer" personality. The result of this pairing? Matt was uniquely equipped to solve a problem rampant not only in his home state of North Carolina, but across the country.



In an area with dozens of local farms, he saw an industry with great potential that just wasn't being achieved. Not only is the average age of the modern day farmer increasing, but the occupation is notoriously tough on it's members. "You'd see a farmer that was 60 with a body like they were 80," said Matt.
 
Matt knew that to breathe new life into the industry, new farmers would have to find a better way to make a profit.
 
"Our desire to start a farm was financially motivated once we realized the rising age of farmers in America. We knew someone would have to take on the craft. Also, seeing our rural town become more and more populated with subdivision was something I wanted to avoid see happen to our family farm."
 
This challenge - hard for traditional small farmers - was going to take creative thinking and hard work. He also knew that he was up to the challenge. After all, the industry is undergoing a massive shift that is changing things for small farmers. For consumers, the value of food is more and more defined by transparency, ethical resources management, and sustainable practices. Small farmers are a perfect fit to meet those desires.

"Our goal is to help regenerate an appreciation for locally supplied goods and services that are produced with healthy practices and without questionable fertilizers or pesticides. We are finding that the quality speaks for itself and that more people are satisfied that there is a healthy, local option."
 
On the other hand, many young farmers that are entering the industry either aren't prepared, or they don't leverage the new tools that this century offers, and cannot make a profit. Matt didn't want to be the farmer's version of a "starving artist" - a lifestyle steeped in sacrifice with minimal returns.
 
North Carolina's motto is "Esse quam videri" or "To be, rather than to seem." It's about honesty, transparency, and acceptance of the way things are. Rather than trying to change the system or wish that things were different, Matt got smart. He observed the markets, studied his growing techniques, and weighed various options (including starting a "truffle orchard"). In the end he saw the best opportunity was growing herbs in ZipGrow Towers. He built out a growing system in an environmentally controlled greenhouse, and named the farm American Heartland Acres.

True to North Carolina's state motto, Matt took action and worked within the existing system.
 
Now, Matt lives out the motto in a different way: by offering transparently grown, high quality produce to his immediate community. By representing the farm in its entirety, Matt has built a brand with a common trait among small farms: Matt is American Heartland Acres, and American Heartland Acres is Matt. When you buy basil from the farm, you buy a relationship with its owner. You buy access to information. You buy transparency and passion.
 
In local restaurants, Matt has found that chefs are deeply appreciative of the homegrown herbs that flavor their dishes. Matt has established American Heartland Acres as the farm for growing basil.

Read more at the Bright Agrotech blog (Amy Storey)

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