All photos taken at Gabe’s farm in Lake Lure, courtesy of Adrian Etheridge Photography
Best in Show
Congratulations to Farm Beginnings graduate Gabriel Noard for winning the 2018 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge for Best Farm Startup! His medicinal herb farm, Pangaea Plants, is located in lush Lake Lure, NC, and is the only farm in WNC to be certified Biodynamic® by the Demeter Association. The American Farm Bureau Federation is awarding $10,000 in startup funds to Gabe for his best-in-show win.
I asked Gabe about his win, his history as a farmer, and his interest in medicinals. His answers are fascinating. Read on to learn about more about Gabe and our region’s very first Biodynamic medicinal farm!
You say on your website that you have “over a thousand years of farming ancestry in [my] blood.” How did you get into farming and could you talk a little about this quote?
Scientists have recently figured out that if your family does something particular that it will, over generations, be in their DNA. I grew up in New Hampshire going to my grandparents farm in the summers in Minnesota. A big grain and cattle farm. The same farm that my great grandparents landed on from Sweden. And in Sweden my family farmed for as long there have been records.
I got my first job at a Christmas tree farm and from there got into landscaping—which was my first connection to medicinal herbs (although people I worked for called them ornamentals). Then I got into organic farming because I wanted to grow plants I could eat.
Why did you choose WNC as the location of your farm?
I used to farm in the Appalachian mountains in NH and wanted a longer growing season, but still in these mountains. It is a beautiful place to live.
Why did you choose to grow medicinal herbs and how does this relate to the loss of tobacco that you mentioned in your submission to the Farm Bureau competition?
I chose to start growing herbs because I saw that it was an expanding market with people I share the same values with and because medicinal herb production fits really well with sustainable agriculture. I saw a lot of benefits of switching to herbs.
To begin with, the plants that herb seeds produce are more wild and less refined than their vegetable friends. So in that, they are actually more predictable. If you put them where they want to be, they are going to thrive, and they are going to handle abuse, attacks, and extreme events better. Having perennial crops really increases soil biota and whole farm biodiversity. There are so many advantages to growing herbs especially if you look at the bigger picture, too.
I mention tobacco because of its influence here as being the first major herb production in the area, so many years ago. I want to point out that relationship and encourage other farmers to switch to medicinal herbs. I also consider the health of my community and environment as a way to measure my own health. I see the pros and cons that growing tobacco had here, and what has happened since the loss of that market. Tobacco gets a lot of attention here. North Carolina has a great environment and soil to grow a lot of different herbs, and a rich history for naturally doing so. I would love to see whole valleys of farms vibrant green with herbs.
You describe Biodynamics as “the next wave of natural foods”—why did you decide to use biodynamics as part of your farming practice?
Biodynamics comes naturally as one seeks to engage more with their environment. It is to create a parcel of land that supplies its own needs. It is considered to be its own entity. It helps to develop its personality. I had heard about it almost 20 years ago, and I started practicing Biodynamics a few years ago. I just got into it more and more. It makes sense to me, not that I understand it all, but it makes sense. It involves all these aspects of farming that most people don’t get a chance to interact with.
It is ” the next wave…” because that is a literal quote from the NY Times. But I agree with it. “Certified Organic” is a watered-down version of what organic agriculture is truly. Biodynamics pre-dates the term organic, and when the term organic was coined, times were different and the term took off. Now people are wanting the highest-quality food they can find, and Biodynamics is back! Seriously, the NOP organic standards are constantly under review because they do not address the impact an organic farm has on the environment, and its soil and produce, and what is actually safe to eat, etc. People are looking for the most sustainably grown organic food and that is what Biodynamics is. I believe biodynamics is a much simpler way to farm.
On your website, you talk about reserving “over 10% of [your] land for the diverse wildlife that helps to create the perfect, sustainable environment for growing [my] superior agricultural products.” Could you talk about why you did this and what benefit it brings to your farm?
It’s more than that actually, but 10% is a requirement of being certified Biodynamic®. To me, a place looks a lot healthier the more biodiverse it is. The crops aren’t the only thing that benefits from biodiversity either. Now studies are coming out that prove that soils that have healthy levels of microbes in them produce healthier food.
We all enjoy the sounds of birds and bees, the rustle of leaves, the wild flowers, and the vast contrast an open meadow has with the mountains behind it. So minimizing one’s impact on a farm and encouraging biodiversity makes for simply a beautiful place to be. You can’t beat mother nature, but it is taking science a long time to figure that out.
It also, of course, helps to regulate water flow and soil erosion. It creates a “beetle bank” and “mycro money”, creates bird habitat, acts as wind and sun shade, sequesters carbon, creates humus. The benefits are endless because, in fact, this is just nature. These are the benefits of doing things naturally.
Why did you choose the name Pangaea Plants?
Pangaea the super-continent is a symbol of the idea that we are all one. One world. One people. I believe people influence large parts of the world with their daily choices, and it is our responsibility to make sure our desire to care for the earth is valued by our suppliers. We are responsible for what is in front of us and far out of sight. My main thought is to impact as little as possible. Then make my impact as beneficial as I can.
What do you plan to do with your winnings from the Farm Bureau contest?
We will continue to produce and process our dried herbs for wholesale and retail, to manufacturers and individuals. We recently launched our new product of pre-packaged medicinal herbs. They are sold in 1- and 2-ounce sizes that look great on the store shelf or the kitchen counter. Also, in my video I mention starting an Herb Farmer Training Program, for serious and experienced people ready to grow herbs.
Learn Herb Farming from Gabe
You can meet Gabe at the 2018 Spring Conference. He’s teaching Large-Scale Medicinal Herb Farming in the track for experienced farmers. He’ll cover necessary equipment and infrastructure, land considerations, processing, labeling, marketing, and governmental regulations. In the meantime, check out Pangaea on Facebook or vote for Pangaea Plants in the Cultivating Change grant contest awarded by popular vote.
Gabe would like to extend a special thank you to the following companies and organizations for their support:
Agatha Hannah holds a degree in Environmental Studies — Sustainable Agriculture from Warren Wilson College. She has more than twenty years of experience working with non-profits focused on farmer education and sustainable and regenerative agriculture at the local and national levels. As a farmer, mother, and community activist with an off-grid homestead in Floyd, Virginia, Agatha has a deep commitment to cultivating a vibrant agriculture system based on thriving family farms.