Tom and Sokchea Lim Are Building Their Dream Vegetable and Mushroom Farm

Tom Lim raised chickens for 20 years before the company he contracted with terminated him without warning in 2018. Since then, he and his wife, Sokchea, have been working multiple jobs to try to pay off the debt they are left with from raising chickens.

Tom is a Khmer immigrant from Cambodia who grew up in a farming family. When he was a young boy, the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal regime led him to flee Cambodia. He lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 10 years before coming to the United States. Upon his arrival, he lived in a California resettlement camp where he worked during the day and attended Christian religious meetings in the evening. Eventually an extended-family member sponsored his move to North Carolina, where he bought his farm with his siblings in 1999.

Exiting chicken farming was difficult for the Lims, and it has forced them to reevaluate their farming operation. As part of Transfarmation, they are reconnecting with what brought them to farming in the first place. Tom and Sokchea initially became farmers to care for the land and provide food for others.

While active in chicken farming, at the instruction of the company he contracted with, Tom had 108,000 chickens per flock at his farm. In a typical year, he raised 540,000 chickens according to his integrator’s specifications.

The money side of things was good, but not the rest. I lived in constant fear that they would let us go and we couldn’t pay the bills. That’s what ended up happening.

Farming and living in the country is the kind of lifestyle I always wanted,” Tom explained. “I felt a pull to grow things, to live in and care for nature. I wanted to make a living from growing food for people. It’s like a physical feeling in my chest, a longing to live in the country and farm. It’s difficult to explain.”

Tom and Sokchea have always cultivated a small vegetable plot on their farm, with numerous crops that are staples of their Southeast Asian diet, including Ping Tung long eggplants, jujube fruits, Chinese long beans, lemongrass, waxy corn, persimmons, Thai basil, mint, watercress, lotus, specialty mini eggplants, and kaffir limes. Now, Tom and Sokchea are working with Transfarmation to expand their crop production and cultivate specialty mushrooms. They’ve named their new endeavor Barn Farm Plant Haven.

“I am really excited about this opportunity for using poultry houses for another purpose,” Tom shared. “I feel terrible that the poultry barn is currently just sitting there and doing nothing. I want to take it and put it to better use.”

Tom and Sokchea want to create a farm that is not only productive but peaceful. Their love of the land and of farm life is clear. Tom explained: “In the morning before the work starts, we enjoy watching the sunrise. Then, at the end of the day when the work is done, we like to sit together and watch the sunset. That is our favorite part of being on the farm.”