This is a business owner who has reached out to Slow Money NC.
Business Owner: Olivia Watkins
Business Name: Oliver’s Agroforest
Location: 521 The Greens Cr Apt, Raleigh, NC
How did you hear about Slow Money NC?: Carol Hewitt and the Slow Money NC website
Tell us your story. What is your business idea? Tell us your plan.
Oliver’s Agroforest is the rebirth of Olivia Watkins’ family farm in North Carolina. This project resides on land that has been stewarded by the Watkins-Wallace-Nash-Battle family lineage for 130 years and was originally stewarded by the Catawba and Tuscarora peoples prior to land displacement by European settlers. In the 1890s, Olivia’s family came into stewardship of this land as they sought to escape racial violence. Due to the Great Migration, incited by perilous living conditions for Black people in the South, Olivia’s family moved to the northeast in search of safety and economic opportunity. Since then it has since been vacant and managed as a timber farm until April 2019 when Olivia, representing the fifth generation of her family, returned to the land to continue her ancestral legacy as a farmer and forest steward.
The mission of Oliver’s Agroforest is to conserve the ancestral history and natural gifts of the land through profitable agroforestry and climate resilience farming. The land we steward is a 40-acre forest. We currently are growing shiitake mushrooms on 130 sweetgum logs and manage the woods for timber. We sell these mushrooms dry or fresh through direct-to-customer deliveries or social media.
We have no road access into the property, infrastructure, or electricity. The mushroom yard is about 150 ft from the road down a slope with a steep 13ft elevation drop. What this means is that anytime work is being done on the farm, Olivia needs to wheelbarrow generators, tools, etc. back and forth from her car parked on the side of the road to the mushroom yard site.
In the next 5 years, I would like to have a 1,000 shiitake mushroom log operation, a 0.5-acre plot of perennials and annuals, and a 5 hive apiary within the forest. We will be selling 75% of the produce direct-to-consumer and 25% of the produce to restaurants. Direct-to-consumer will be a combination of consumer deliveries and CSA collaborations with larger vegetable growers. Perennials include elderberry, persimmon, currants, pecan, hazelnut. A portion of the cleared plot will be rented to young farmers who are interested in growing but do not have access to land or infrastructure. Additionally, we will have our email list grow from 56 subscribers to 200 subscribers that will include farm updates (written and video) and information on how to purchase products. Not many people know about the benefits of agroforestry and I am happy to share my experience and practical knowledge on how to implement these types of systems.
Please briefly describe your commitment to sustainable food systems in North Carolina.: At Oliver’s Agroforest, we value and center, Food Sovereignty, Climate Resilience Farming, Organically Grown Produce, Forest Conservation, and Community Connection. At Oliver’s Agroforest, we prioritize maintaining and managing a mixed hardwood forest and growing our food within the forest rather than clearing the forest to grow products suited for an open field environment. We currently have a Forest Management Plan through Forest Service and are transforming this plan into a Forest Stewardship Plan. Being that we exist in an area of N.C. with rapid deforestation and development, it is imperative to the survival of our local wildlife to have undisturbed forests like Oliver’s Agroforest. Additionally, agroforestry helps to slow down the affects of climate change by maintaining and encouraging our planets largest carbon sequesters – trees – to keep the planet cool and the air fresh.
Have you borrowed money before? How much did you borrow? From where? How long was the term? Is there a balance still due on that loan?: In 2019, I borrowed $5,000 from my late grandmother to startup the beginning phases of the mushroom log operation. From this $5,000, I was able to generate $8,000 in a combination of grants/donations/sales in 2020. The term was 3 years and there is no balance still due on the loan.
Do you have people who would vouch for your credit worthiness? Who are they?:
I have a consumer line of credit with Chase Bank that can vouch for my creditworthiness. I have a personal 7-year credit history with a credit score of 753. I also had student loans with Nelnet that were fully paid off in 2017.
Tell us about your business background. Have you been in business before?: In 2016 and 2017, I co-created 2 retreats for black women in Hawai’i called Four Women Radicals. The focus of the retreats was on sustainable agriculture, self-care, and self-resiliency. The business model was to develop a 3-day retreat curriculum with an all-inclusive stay at a retreat center on O’ahu, HI, and charge a sliding scale (subsidized with individual donations) to increase accessibility to the education we were providing.
Since 2018, I have had my own consulting business where I provide advisory services/teach workshops for people and organizations interested in my knowledge and insight around sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, and food justice. Most recently I held workshops with Savanna Institute and Cornell University Small Farms Program. I have also been a facilitator with Soul Fire Farm Institute.
Are there other lenders involved in your project or business?: There are no other lenders involved in my business.
What is your timeline for this project? Would you like it to start in a month? 6 months? A year?: We would like to start as soon as possible. We are currently in the process of getting bids to have the survey done for the land clearing.