STANFIELD, NC – Located about 15 miles outside of Mint Hill in Stanfield, NC, is the bucolic seven and a half acres that is home to Double Up Farm.
Two decades ago, owners Kate and Dave Seidel were living in San Francisco, where Kate worked for Bank of America. Relocated when Bank of America merged with Nations Bank in 2004, the Seidels first set down roots in Tega Cay, but there was just one problem: where to keep Kate’s beloved Norwegian Fjord horse Jostein.
In 2008, they moved to a log cabin in Stanfield with the horses. “Jo Is the one I credit with the whole farm experience,” says Kate, “because when we lived in Tega Cay, I was boarding Jo, and we just wanted to have a place where he could be with us all the time. We walked on to this property, and it’s like a bell went off,” she continues. “Like, oh, this is what you’re supposed to be doing.”
From there, things happened quickly. “I knew I would have an issue with flies,” says Kate, “and so I got chickens to keep the flies down.” Today, Kate has 24 chickens that produce so many eggs that she regularly donates them to a local food bank by the dozen.
Chickens aren’t the only birds on the farm these days. “The neighbors are hunters, and they were testing out a turkey caller a few years back, and a couple of turkeys came waddling out the woods,” says Kate. “They moved in, and now they breed here and they’re raising generation after generation of these wild turkeys.”
When I ask Kate what she does with the turkeys, she laughs. “Admire them?” she says. “I have more pictures of my turkeys than I ever had of my kids! They do serve a purpose,” she continues. “I have no ticks or fleas, and since we got turkeys, I haven’t lost any chickens to hawks. The turkeys are so big the hawks won’t even come down!”
The turkeys are like so many things on Double Up Farm: they might not be exactly what Kate had planned, but they work. Take elderberries, for example. Kate had heard the hype about elderberry syrup and its powerful healing properties. She didn’t quite buy it, but she decided to see for herself.
“These were my first elderberry bushes,” she says, gesturing to a small crop bordering a fence near the horse pasture. “I planted the first three, and the rest were spread by the birds,” she continues, “We started taking elderberry syrup, and we didn’t get sick anymore. I decided to start making it for friends and family, and then it just kind of took off.”
Kate began intentionally planting elderberries, adding 15-20 bushes a year. Eventually, she plans to grow elderberries on her entire far pasture. One of Kate’s biggest sellers is dried elderberry that customers can use to craft their own syrup.
“What I find is that most people are buying dried elderberries online, which come from Bulgaria,” says Kate. When asked if local elderberries are somehow “better” than those purchased from overseas, Kate explains that it depends on how particular you are about your elderberries. “I have no way of knowing how they’re raising them, what they’re treating them with,” she says. “When you’re buying locally – especially where you can come and see it – what you see is what you get. You know these aren’t being treated with anything.”
Kate also makes and sells elderberry syrup and jam. What sets her syrup apart, she feels, is its purity and simplicity. “One of the things I found is that everybody else puts a lot of stuff in their syrup, a lot of sugar and spice” she says. “I’m sure it’s delicious, but I don’t like it that way! I like it tart and tangy.”
It may seem odd for Kate to encourage her customers to make their own syrup, a product she also makes and sells. “I always say I’m the worst worst businessman ever because what I want is for people to be able to do this themselves,” she says. “Elderberries are basically a weed. If you’ve got a sunny spot, then you can be growing your own,” she continues. In fact, she’ll even give you a start to plant your own bush in spring. “Mostly what I found is that people aren’t willing to go through the work. They’re teeny tiny berries, and they’re almost impossible to strip when they’re fresh. You can’t eat them raw; you have to process them, dry them or cook them, and most people just don’t want to go to all that trouble.”
It’s the same with soap. “My husband loved Irish Spring,” she recalls, “So I looked at what’s in Irish spring, and it’s chemicals and preservatives, and so I thought, well, I’m not doing that anymore. We’re going to make our own. And you know, who knew that oil with a little bit of lye turns into soap? It’s like magic.” The Seidels now sell handcrafted, small-batch vegan soap in scents like lemongrass, lavender and rosemary mint.
“It’s big business for some people, and it doesn’t have to be,” says Kate of the products she sells. “One of the reasons I sell dried elderberries is I want people to be able to do this themselves. There’s nothing I do that everybody couldn’t do. There’s no reason you can’t make your own soap. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not hard.”
Before the elderberries, before the soap, there were sheep. “I’m a hand spinner,” says Kate. “I spin yarn into wool. After buying fleeces for a long time, I thought I might as well just get my own sheep.” The Seidels added sheep to the farm in 2011. Originally, she sold the excess yarn she spun; now one of her biggest sellers is wool dryer balls.
Like elderberry syrup, at first Kate thought the dryer balls were a gimmick. But lo and behold, she found that they really do work. “The moisture in your clothes is absorbed by the wool, so your clothes dry faster,” she explains. “You’re going to take about fifteen minutes off a load of laundry, and you don’t need fabric softener because they soften your clothes. What turned out to be the best thing for me is that they also knock all the animal hair off your clothes!” Kate also uses the yarn she spins to make handwoven scarves.
Kate’s dryer balls sell for $20 for a set of three. She admits you can get them cheaper at Wal-Mart, but again, it comes back to quality and control. “Those come from big commercial branches in New Zealand or China,” says Kate. She, on the other hand, can tell you which sheep produced every yarn stored in her basement by name. “It depends on if you really care where it’s coming from.”
If hand-spun wool, homemade soap and elderberry products weren’t diverse enough, Kate is also a certified herbalist who uses her homegrown herbs to make loose and bagged herbal teas. She also offers farm tours for adults and children. “I used to just mostly do 4-H and small family groups, but with COVID, we’ve done a lot of homeschool tours. Because we do so much on the farm, we can tour it for whatever lesson they’re doing.”
When Kate was laid off from banking two years ago, she decided to give full-time farming a shot. It may not be where the former San Francisco girl saw herself ending up, but it’s where she’s happy doing what she loves. “I’m really quite happy with where we’re at,” Kate says when asked about the future. “Over time, I am shifting more to the growing than the animals. The intent is not to be a big mega-business. The idea is to make just enough money to make it worthwhile. I’m really loving the elderberry, so those will probably be my future.”
You can find Kate – or more likely, her husband Dave, who handles the booth these days – year-round at the Matthews Farmers Market, where she’s been selling her products for about four years. She also sells in a few small stores, including Mane Street Horse and Feed in Waxhaw. You can purchase products or schedule a farm tour on Double Up’s website at doubleupfarm.com and keep up with the farm on Facebook @doubleupfarm.