Last January, I began leasing 16 acres of historical farmland along Highway 64, just outside the town of Staley in Randolph County—“the heart of North Carolina”—a few seconds west of the Chatham County line. When I walk out to get the mail at the top of my driveway, I look left and can just see the tip of the sign that reads “Chatham County,” as I send up a prayer that the cars rushing along the highway won’t nip me.
When I think of my place here, I think of that county line. I spend my days crossing it, moving between both sides. Whenever I need to run to the supply store I turn left into Chatham County and head to Country Farm and Home in Pittsboro, the closest local supplier with a focus on sustainable agriculture. When I rise on Sunday mornings for church, I turn right to stay in Randolph County and head into Asheboro. For supplemental groceries, I turn left toward Chatham Marketplace, the only co-op grocer across both counties. When I head to my farmers markets, I go left into Pittsboro, and for Thursday’s CSA drop-offs I turn right toward Four Saints Brewery back in downtown Asheboro. For supper with dear friends, I can turn either left or right and follow the looping back roads to reach their surrounding farms. After all the buzzing back and forth, I settle down at day’s end at home, nestled close to that invisible boundary. Invisible, but very much there.
Having spent a year now on the county line, I’d like to think I see both sides, literally as well as figuratively. Since 1988 the county line has been a divider along party lines: Chatham has consistently voted Democrat and Randolph, Republican. In terms of per capita income, Chatham ranks 5th highest and Randolph 45th out of 100 counties in the state. Pittsboro, the county seat of Chatham, has a population of just over 4,000, and Asheboro, the county seat of Randolph, has a population over six times that. Both counties are home to robust agricultural communities but also to significant food desert areas, with Randolph reporting higher rates of food insecurity than Chatham.
Regarding agricultural support, Chatham’s Cooperative Extension houses extensive programming for all scales and types of agricultural production, notably an innovative Growing Small Farms program supported by a local food policy council; but the small market outlets lead most farmers to travel outside the county to sell their products. Randolph is home to a robust agribusiness sector supported by Farm Service Agency and Cooperative Extension offices, as well as impressively active civic engagement around economic development and health and wellness initiatives; but it is without a food policy council or small-farm programming.
My own involvement and observations on both sides of the county line culminate at the table. There is a cedar barn on the property where I host suppers with CSA members, friends, and neighbors—oftentimes all one and the same. Using my market tables, I set up for food and stories to be shared by folks from both sides of the county line. At those suppers I smile and my heart swells as friendships form over shared passions like fermenting and pickling, shared concerns like the new overpass addition to Highway 64, common memories of harvesting and curing tobacco, and new plans for continued learning, growing, and communing together. At the most recent supper, one friend said towards the end, “let’s do get this group together again.” I’m smiling now thinking about her words, knowing they will come true.
My vocation to farm and work here is inspired by the notion that food bridges all lines—geographical boundaries, perceived socio-political barriers, and cultural norms—connecting all souls at the table. My place and experience here along the county line has affirmed this belief, and it is what’s keeping me growing along, along this county line.
Eva Moss is a first-generation farmer growing produce, cut flowers, and herbs at Heartstrong Farm in Staley, NC. She currently serves as First Alternate on Randolph County’s FSA County Committee and is a member of the Chatham Community Food Council.