IVANHOE — In the early morning hours, Stefan Hartmann walked through one of the high tunnel greenhouse on his farm. This is where a lot of organic magic starts and it’s something he takes pride in.
Hartmann began Black River Organic Farm many years ago. The farm is spread across 15 acres of land in southern Sampson County.
“How many farms do you know that’s 15 acres, making a living? That’s where we come from and where we’re completely different,” he said.
For Hartmann and farming, “small is beautiful” and “bigger is not necessarily better.”
“We try to farm smarter, not bigger,” he said referring to the farm’s philosophy.
Hartmann grows organic products to sell at a variety of farmers markets and to Wilmington area restaurants.
“When you look at the freshness of the product, how many restaurants can say they get stuff that was picked the same day?”
In addition to providing same-day services, Hartmann also takes requests from chefs to grow special crops. More than 50 types of crops are grown at Black River. Some of them include different types of squash, cucumbers, okra, cabbages and strawberries. Another includes Salanova, a lettuce used in salad mixes.
“If you’re into what I do, you’re always looking for that new product,” he said. “You’re always looking for something to give you a bit of an advantage.”
Baechu, a cabbage used in Chinese cuisine, is also grown organically.
“I got restaurants that buy this once a week like clockwork,” he said.
As an organic grower, Hartmann works to find niches.
“That’s how we can make it on a small farm,” he said. “You got to always think where’s a product no one else is doing and what is a product that doesn’t ship 1,000 miles away from California.”
One example is not growing iceberg lettuce.
“That thing ships like a charm,” he said. “You wrap it in plastic, put it in boxes, you can ship it …”
After crops begin the greenhouse, they are later planted by hand outside. Others come about outside through physical work and a push seeder. For Hartmann, it’s not an easy task and comes with several challenges. One of them was flooding from Hurricane Matthew, which not only damaged crops, but gas heaters in the greenhouses.
“That’s how high the water got,” he said. “We lost everything. The thing is, you can cry and whine, but you have to keep plugging away.”
After starting in 1984, the farm became certified as an organic grower in 1989, under the United States Department of Agriculture. One regret was not having his grandfather see how he revived the land. The farm has been in assistance for more than 100 years and was owned by his grandparents on his mother’s (Marion Fisler Hartmann) side of the family. His mother married Walter Hartmann of Germany.
“It skipped a generation,” he said. “None of my uncles and aunts wanted to be farmers.”
The German native continued his grandparent’s legacy and he became the next person to toil the land.
“It just seemed like the right thing and I really fell in love with farming,” Hartmann said about passion. “I always wanted to do organics and nothing else. I know nothing about chemical farming.”
Hartmann has no plans so slow down in the future. Black River Organic Farms is a member of ECO (Eastern Carolina Organics), an up-and-coming organization. He also wants to educate others about organic forming.
“You can do this too,” he said.