Martha Mobley just cannot stay away from the farm. She grew up on a 1,000 acre livestock operation in Franklin County started by her grandfather in the early 1900s. Some of her earliest memories are of joining her father to deliver sows in a building still standing behind their house.
Even when she went away to college at North Carolina State University, she traveled back home every weekend to tend to the livestock. Since her husband passed away in 2013, she has been managing the Meadow Lane Farm operation by herself. Mobley is grateful for an upbringing full of hands-on training, but — thanks to the precedent her mother set as a farmer, teacher, and pilot — she knows that it is not enough to focus on just her own farm’s success. She is on the board for the Durham Farmers' Market and is Franklin County's livestock and beekeeping extension agent. Each year, she also hosts Dinner in the Meadow, a farm-to-table gala on her family's farm to fundraise for small farmers.
Carrying on her mother's dedication to women's education, Mobley also teaches and brings together women farmers across the state. The most recent outgrowth of the Women in Agriculture program is a forest stewardship called ForestHer. There is a sense of urgency to Mobley's inexhaustible enterprising. While she draws hope from the local food movement, Mobley feels that small farmers are always on the brink and that political and economic changes can quickly lead to abandoned farms. Host Frank Stasio talks with Mobley about women's role in shaping a promising future for North Carolina agriculture.
On the history of her family farm:
Where I work now, as an extension office, was the grazing land for the dairy. That dairy furnished milk for Louisburg College and the town of Louisburg with the milk in a cart and a milkman that made those deliveries back in those days … Then [my family] farmed seed corn and also tobacco … They really got into livestock when they got out of the tobacco … They actually stopped all of the tobacco in 1977 when I went to college ... I was one of their main labor forces. And I would run the machinery and kept the looper. We did tobacco the old way with the stick barns … I remember trucking, not with tractors, but with mules that were voice trained that did not need a truck driver. We would just tell them to come up and then to stop. Then the men would put the tobacco in the wagons.
On women in agriculture:
In 2015, I started a group ... It was a three-month series on women in the woods. A lot of these older women such as myself, even younger women, they are widows. And they were being taken advantage of when they came to sell their timber. And timber is normally a one-time sale, you know, in your lifetime is a one-generation sale. So they had a huge investment there … [I] wanted to make sure they had the proper training, not just with marketing timber, but knowing about diseases and how to plan … And then when the three months was over, they didn't want to stop ... So I said: Okay, we'll do a very informal meeting once a month … We bring in guest speakers of whatever topics they want to know about. But we have also taken travel trips, you know, to a cut-flower symposium in Virginia, or wherever they want to go to learn a new part of agriculture and adding value. We are in an ideal situation in Franklin County, only 30 minutes from Raleigh. So we have a lot of opportunity to market.
On the threat of rural real estate development:
A lot of my farmers are being pressured now, especially with the proposed four-lane road, which is a blessing, and then it can be a negative to some of the agricultural land. But the land is being developed. I was able to find one little sliver of land this past year that was owned by two absentee landowners … but I had to pay residential real estate prices … So that's what a lot of farmers are facing … The farmers are getting older … Some of them do not want to keep the land… [The] quick money is development.
On helping struggling farmers:
On migrant farmworkers:
[Mario] is the manager on my farm. He works with my other H2A workers. He knows everything about my farm. So I can be an extension agent. I can work night meetings, whatever weekends, I can be an extension agent. [If Mario had to leave] my farm would have to shut down and a lot of other farmers would have to shut down. Who is going to go out there when it's 100 degrees ... And go out there and harvest these vegetables? … We cannot do without them … I think that they should be allowed, personally, to have an easier route to be documented.