Garden grows into Honey Tree Farm

HICKORY, N.C. (AP) — Tori and Casey Ostwinch’s farm started as a garden.

Over the years, their garden grew until the pair decided to try farming full time.

For a year, the Ostwinches worked on a farm in South Carolina to see if they could do it themselves. In 2018, they decided to try.

The couple bought 5 acres in the St. Stephens area. They moved into the small brick house and built their farm, Honey Tree Farm, around it.

Now, rows of crops fill every foot around the house. Tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, radishes, lettuce and beets bloom from the soil. The crops take up about 1.5 acres, Casey said.

Casey took on management of the farm from the start, while Tori continued working a corporate job. Casey’s background in horticulture and work as an arborist helps guide his work, he said. Tori helped out when she wasn’t working her day job.

“It started as a garden farm and it just got bigger over the years,” Tori said.

Eventually, the farm grew so large Tori quit her day job to help run the farm full time. It was early 2020 when she started working full-time on the farm.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and a new well on the farm ran dry. It seemed things might go downhill, Casey said. Instead, the farm grew in popularity.

“It ended up being really good to be growing stuff ourselves,” Tori said. “People were starting to see flaws in the food system. A lot of people were trying to eat local food.”

With supply issues and people rushing to buy food causing shortages, people turned to local sources like Honey Tree Farm, Tori said. The farm offered pickup options and online ordering, and sales at farmers markets grew.

The support has continued. Tori and Casey, who head to farmers markets in Hickory and Charlotte regularly, know their customers and enjoy relationships with them.

“The local support is just amazing,” Tori said.

Despite challenges like extreme weather or insects disrupting plants — there are no pesticides used on the farm — the community support keeps Tori and Casey going.

The couple starts their day at 5 a.m. to avoid the summer heat, working in the dirt and under plastic canopies to trim and harvest crops. Some crops are dried, such as garlic. Others are washed then packaged and taken to the market or a local restaurant.

“Our customers keep us going,” Tori said. “I think a lot of people are passionate about local farms. That’s really fun.”

Tori and Casey teach customers about the source of their food and offer recipes to make with seasonal vegetables. The couple is passionate about produce and would like to see more people eating local.

“Any little bit of local support helps,” Tori said. “A lot of vegetables or just one bag of lettuce — it makes a difference.”

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