CHARLOTTE – At the junction of Highway 200 and the new 74 bypass in Monroe sits Dabhar Farm. “DabHar is a Hebrew word that means ‘what God said is already done,’” explains farmer Phyllis Walsh. “I was looking for a word that had to do with His provision, and that kind of covers it.”
More than just a name, “dabhar” is an idea that encompasses the way Walsh lives her life and runs her farm, with sustainability at the heart of everything she does. “The idea is that all the parts of the farm work together to support each other,” says Walsh.
Walsh maintains 60 garden beds spanning five different growing areas on her fifteen-acre farm. “Essentially, we’ve got five different little climates,” says Walsh. “We’ve got outside. We use the fabric covers, which give you about three to four degrees protection plus from frost. Then we’ve got your cat tunnel, your big tunnels, and your heated tunnels. We utilize all those different things to do different kinds of crops.”
The “high tunnels” or “hoop houses” Walsh employs allow her to give added protection to crops that may struggle in the open air: cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, broccolini, scallions and lettuce, to name a few. “Some of these things will grow outside, but they just don’t do really well,” says Walsh. “Inside they just get that extra added protection from harsh winds, really cold temperatures, and things like that.”
Walsh’s hoop houses also enable her to extend the growing season, growing crops you might traditionally only see in the spring or summer year round. In the heated hoop house right now, you’ll see live tomato plants. “The cold and the damp promotes a leaf disease, so a lot of the leaves are brown,” says Walsh, “but I’ll go through trim all those off, and they’ll keep growing once the warm weather comes and make more tomatoes, so we’ll have early tomatoes.”
The hoop houses are large, permanent structures, but Walsh also utilizes a smaller, portable “caterpillar tunnel” for similar purposes. “One of the things I used it for was to keep kale protected this winter. Kale will grow outside, but it doesn’t grow really well. A little bit of protection does it wonders. The other thing that people use them for is starting a warmer weather crop earlier. You can get that going earlier and you’ll have that particular item sooner in the year.”
Life was much different for Walsh when she moved to the farm with her family in 1994. At that time, Walsh had one child and worked full time doing quality control testing for Chelsea Labs, and a commercial farmer was using much of the land she now farms for a traditional rotation of corn, soybeans, and winter wheat. In December of 1997, the lab closed, and in January of 1998, Walsh gave birth to a son.
“It was just one of those things that happen in life to you,” explains Walsh when asked how she got from there to where she is now. “The lab closed. I came home; I started homeschooling my oldest and just started doing a little thing here, a little thing there. In 2010, we got our first cow,” she recalls, “And that’s when I said, ‘Oh, I’m really a farmer now, I have a cow!’ Then, my husband passed away in 2013, so I was like, okay, now what do I do? Do I let everything go, put the kids in school, try to find a job? There was no lab work. There wasn’t anything around here like what I was doing. So you’re left with that or make a go of it, and I said, I’m gonna go for it.”
Looking back now, it’s hard for Walsh to recall all the details of how her 80×80 family garden became the farm she runs today. She remembers putting up a tunnel and expanding down the hill a bit toward what is now the toll road in 2013 before her husband passed. “It was gradual, you know?” she says. “Thinking back to 2013, it’s been seven, eight years of doing one thing after another, step by step. Each year you learn.”
“I always say my university is life,” says Walsh. “The last couple years it’s been more fine tuning, you know, learning which varieties of cabbage grow best here, which kind of watermelons produce the nicest melons. Mainly you’re just learning every year.”
It was in 2013 that Walsh started producing enough to sell. She started at a small farmstand in Indian Trail, and the next year, the manager of the Waxhaw Farmers Market contacted her looking for vendors. At first, Walsh was reluctant. “I don’t want to do that,” she thought, “you know, pick a bunch of stuff, go there. What if it doesn’t sell? I wasn’t really crazy about the idea, but I thought I guess I could try it.”
Her first day at the market, Walsh set up one table and came home with $40. Now, you’ll see her at the Farmers Market weekly with three or more buffet tables spanning an entire tent. “Sometimes we’re putting more things on the table as they sell!” she says. “It’s really grown; it’s been kind of a thrill.”
Walsh also offers a 12-week CSA or “community supported agriculture” program. For a fee paid up front, customers receive 12 weeks of fresh produce throughout the growing season. “The idea is that your customers are investing in you,” says Walsh, “because this time of year is the worst time of year for sales. You’re spending – you’re buying compost, mulch, seeds, plants, but then you’re not selling much to offset that, so it’s a confidence investment in your farmer.”
Dabhar Farm produces a large variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as honey, chicken and duck eggs, but there’s one thing you won’t find on the farm: chemicals or treatments of any kind.
“It’s a way of life,” says Walsh. “Anytime you use a pesticide, you’re going to affect not just your pest but all the other insects, including the 80 to 90% that are good. If you study it at all, you’ll learn that insect populations are being affected worldwide by our activities, and that’s not a good thing.” Walsh doesn’t spray for insects; in fact, she encourages all pollinators – not just honeybees – to make their home on her farm in her “pollinator hotel.”
“What’s interesting is year by year I see less trouble with the pests,” continues Walsh, who uses cabbage worms as an example. “They eat holes, but I started noticing that wasps are predators of those caterpillars, and I started seeing the wasps flying around my cabbages and broccoli. Most people, you say ‘wasp’ and they just say, ‘Spray it, kill it!’ I don’t really like them under my workbench. I have to make sure they’re not in a place where people can get stung. But other than that, I will just leave them alone because they’re good friends to have.”
“It goes back to that first thing, you know, how everything works together,” says Walsh. “I try to let nature take care of things and not to get myself in the middle of that and ruin it.”
Looking back on what has been a difficult year for so many, Walsh hopes that one of the takeaways is a renewed interest in and knowledge of how important fresh food is for health. “If you take care of the body that God made, he made it able to heal itself, but you have to give it good raw materials,” says Walsh. “The reason I do what I do is to provide healthy, fresh, foods for people.”
Learn more about Dabhar Farm online at http://Dabharfarm.com/. Can’t wait for the Waxhaw Farmer’s Market to open to try Dabhar Farm’s produce? Contact Phyllis Walsh at email@example.com or (980) 333-2817.
This is one article in a series that endeavors to introduce our local farms and farmers. Last week, we took a closer look at Carter Family Bees. Tune in next week to learn more about a new local farmer!