The top 4 percent of farms account for 69 percent of U.S. farm sales, while the bottom 76 percent of farms make up a mere 3 percent of sales.
Paula and Dale Boles Transitioned Their Poultry Farm into Greenhouses for Microgreens, Hemp, Flowers, and Specialty Vegetables
Paula and Dale Boles felt like failures as poultry farmers. Working within the contract system, they were isolated from other farmers and had no say over how their chickens were raised or what they were fed. In 2015, they decided it was time for a change. Equipped with Dale’s expertise in construction, the pair set out to convert their poultry houses into greenhouses where they could grow a variety of plants.
With little money for the conversion, Paula and Dale got creative with what they had. They reused as much material from the chicken houses as possible, including the cool cells, chicken feeders, and watering system. They even repurposed the expensive computer system their integrator required, using it to control lights and fans in their greenhouses.
Paula and Dale wanted to maintain the family land, which was gifted to them by Dale’s father, Jim Boles. They named their farm JB Farm after him and today grow microgreens, flowers, specialty vegetables and herbs, and hemp in the former chicken houses. They sell flowers under the name Grace Chapel Greenhouses. They said, “Having the greenhouses, the vegetables, and the flowers is just a better way of doing the land for us.”
Paula was a featured Farm Aid hero in May 2016. She wears many hats on the farm, in addition to working a day job. She often meets with potential buyers directly after work, still in her work clothes. “I tell them, ‘I’m a local farmer,’” she said. “And although they give me funny looks at first, I’m there to answer any questions they may have on the spot.”
She credits the success of her transition to financial assistance through grants from groups like Farm Aid, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
Paula and Dale’s story illustrates the challenges that many contract growers face and the need for creativity and perseverance to build something new. They currently sell their products locally in western North Carolina.
Forty-five percent of U.S. farmers have a negative net income. The median net poultry farm income was $13,140 in 2018, meaning half the poultry farmers in the country earned less than this amount.
Four percent of U.S. farms control 58 percent of farmland, while 13 percent of U.S. farms control 0.14 percent of farmland.
Fifty-five percent of poultry farms have debt, while 67.7 percent of dairy farms have debt.
Family farm Chapter 12 bankruptcies grew by almost 20 percent from 2018 to 2019. Ninety-five percent of dairy farms are family farms. There were 3,281 fewer dairy milk operations in 2019 than in 2018.