about the organic farmer
Duplin County, North Carolina is home to more than just muscadine wine and the world’s largest frying pan. A few miles past the giant frying pan and around the bend, organic farmer Owen Rouse operates over 800 acres of certified organic fruit and vegetable production with his brother, Vernon Rouse. The brothers’ dad and uncles started farming the family land in the 1950s. When the Owen and Vernon took over, they decided to go through the USDA’s organic certification process. In 2012-2013, they received organic certification for 50 acres of land. In 10 years, they have added over 750 more acres of certified organic fruit and vegetable production. That’s a 1,500% increase!
"The organic market is tougher than the conventional market as far as what it needs to look like."
Why did you choose to go through the USDA’s organic certification process?
Well, we do like to do good things for the farms and not use a lot of harmful stuff out there. But if you want my honest answer, it was very hard to make a living growing conventional greens. I am not going to blow smoke. We just couldn’t make a living.
Why is that?
Cheap. All the inputs were still going up and the prices were still down. We were getting $8, $9.50 tops for a box of greens. We couldn’t do it. You could ship 5 tractor trailer loads a day, and you still couldn’t do it. If you’re not making money, you’re not making money. You’re just wearing your equipment out. It’s all we were doing. We were wearing ourselves out and our equipment out. So, we had to find something different to do and this has really helped us a lot.
Seeing that agriculture is the number one industry in North Carolina, the state really values the farming community. Though that being said, what is one way in which the state could better support organic farmers?
I think we need more help with organic sprays for the worms. Because I tell you, it’s going to run out and it’s (the current organic spray) getting very weak right now. And when it does run out, we’re going to have a problem.
The organic market is tougher than the conventional market as far as what it needs to look like. Your quality for organic is a lot higher than what it is for conventional.
"we work together a lot. it helps. we don't fight it."
What are a few challenges you face this year, if any?
The biggest challenge I’m having right now is deer. We’ve really had the problem over the last 10-15 years. But, they really have gotten a flavor for this stuff. They really love cabbage. But these young kale plants? I have one 4 acre field that I set out and within 6 days it was gone. They just went down the field and bit them off.
Do you and other organic farmers in the area help each other out?
I learned a lot from Herbie Cottle because he was doing organic stuff before I was. Justin, another organic farmer, found a replacement for DiPel for him and for me. We work together a lot. It helps. We don’t fight each other.
You can learn a lot. You can learn a lot from each other. I don’t share my information with any one else, though. Not all of it anyway.
What is it like living in a small town?
You know everybody, obviously. There isn’t much to do right here, but you can go to Wilmington or the beach. You have a lot of good friends around to hang out with. It’s really all I know, so I don’t know any different.
Ok, this is a very important question: Duke or Carolina?
Carolina. Absolutely. I had some family members who went to Carolina. I’m an NC State fan because I’m a farmer.
what they grow (organic)
Baby Bok Choy
If you’re a buyer and want to learn more about our North Carolina, organic produce availability, reach out! We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re curious about Happy Dirt, take a few minutes to watch the Happy Dirt brand story.