Pursuing a Farming Passion – NC Farm School Stories

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Heather Haley is passionate about irises and wanted to help preserve her mother’s lifetime collection when Heather moved and downsized. Unfortunately, her Garden was too small to accommodate 350 additional irises. Heather’s husband Chris was supportive, even he contemplated digging up their front lawn to make more space for a new potential business. He said, “You can grow all the irises you want to, if you can make money doing it.”

3 people smiling at camera

“There’s no textbook for what I’m trying to do, [NC Farm School] gave me the confidence to be able to think I could go from a gardener to a farmer, and that I had support.” -Heather Haley (left), pictured with husband and mom.

At that moment, Heather started to imagine ways to turn the flower she loves into a money-making venture. Heather devoted time every week looking for land and figuring out how she would bring her family and all their irises together. At the end of three years, she had not only found the right property, but Heather had also completed a program to help get an iris farm up and running.

“I did not understand anything about farming. I was a gardener,” admitted Heather. Through NC Farm School, Heather was introduced to basic farm vocabulary as well as best-practices for agricultural businesses. “There’s no textbook for what I’m trying to do,” said  Heather, “[NC Farm School] gave me confidence to be able to think I could go from a gardener to a farmer, and that I had support.”

At NC Farm School, Heather was able to meet other farmers and develop strong relationships with her peers. Once Heather and Chris moved onto their farm in Ramseur, one of her classmates provided a housewarming gift that changed their trajectory. He drove an hour and a half with a tractor in tow to clear weeds that had overtaken most of the 7-acre farm.

“You have a whole community that surrounds you, that supports and champions your success. You have these people who have been in your class. I really wanted them to be successful. I had no idea they wanted me to be successful [too]. You tell them your idea and they get excited. You’re chasing the dream and they want to be a part of it, and they want to see you successful. I haven’t had anybody that was like, no, don’t do that. You’re crazy,” Heather enthused.

While attending NC Farm School, Heather decided to try selling potted irises at a local farmer’s market. The market was housing an annual plant sale, and people were excited to discover a new iris vendor! By the end of the day, Heather made $560. When challenged to see if she could do this again, Heather signed up for a second plant sale. She went to a new location and replicated the success of her first market day. For Heather, these sales indicated that she was surrounded by potential markets of iris lovers.

A woman kneeling behind plants growing in a garden.

Heather relies on the guiding mantra “farm for profit instead of production” that she learned from Farm School. Heather confided, “What I learned from Farm School was, you really need to have a plan and to follow that plan, so you make your mistakes, but you make them small that way you can make the business grow.”

It has grown with a lot of support from her family, what once only existed on paper is now the Broley Homestead. The business name came from combining letters from Heather and Chris’ last names: Haley and Broberg. Heather uses winter months to update the business webpage and online market. Throughout the growing season she posts farm updates on their Facebook page and creates an event for upcoming plant sales. Existing customers can request bare-root rhizomes for Fall pickup, but it seems that most people like the flexibility of purchasing their irises in pots.

“Everyone told me it was going to be a lot of work, but it’s made me a healthier and happier person even though I’m working really hard. That’s my happy place. As hard of work as it is, it’s where I’m happiest,” smiled Heather.

NC Farm School is open for applications. Please join us at one of our locations in the spring of 2024.