SANFORD, NC (AFP) – While some can only dream of switching their weekly grocery trip to grow their own food, Alexandria and David Ray made it a reality about two years ago when they bought an abandoned horse farm in Sanford.
They bought the eight-acre property in pursuit of better quality food for themselves and their five children. Alexandria Ray said self-proclaimed “homeowners in training” raise poultry and goats, gardens, raise beehives, bake sourdough, and teach others how to do the same.
Rye hails from Indiana, and her husband is from California. Both were on food stamps occasionally in their childhood, and the couple used WIC when their youngest sons, 2-year-old twins Reagan and Lincoln, were born. Rye was baffled because the program only allocated $5 for fruits and vegetables per child per month.
She also struggled with a slew of health issues of her own after the birth of the twins, and with her doctor’s direction, she drastically changed her diet, eliminating gluten, dairy, and refined sugars.
“The outcome of my twins was life-threatening,” she said.
Rye’s health issues combined with her children’s intolerances to foods such as refined sugars, soy, gluten and dairy made feeding her family fresh, whole foods from the grocery store difficult on a budget. She realized that in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, her family had to make a big change.
“I said, let’s just grow it ourselves,” Ray said.
The family of seven were living with their three dogs in a 1,200-square-foot home in a section of Cameron when they began looking for a place to stay.
While they had never lived on a farm before, Alexandria Ray worked on a southern Indiana potato farm in her teens. Her days in the potato fields began at four in the morning
“I’d get a bologna sandwich, a mountain dew, and some cantaloupe, and they’d send me home with a batch of food, which my mom loved,” she said.
The time she spent with the farmer and his family made such an impression on the rye that she even dedicated her own farm to their memory.
Her husband is a resident of Fresno, California. The Army brought him to Fort Bragg, and after 12 years of service, he said he was ready to move to the countryside.
The pair visited the former horse farm in early 2020, just 45 minutes after it was put up for sale. As soon as they set their eyes on the Sanford property, they said, they knew it was their place, looking beyond 22 tons of horse dung, and enchanted by the quiet countryside and nearby Bubble Creek.
“We put every penny we have and every penny they allow us to borrow from,” she said.
Now, about two and a half years into the move, Ray’s family farm is bustling with activity.
The gardens include everything from berries and pumpkins to peanuts, potatoes, and eggplant, as well as a beehive. Young greens, which they used to grow on their roofs, grow among the mushrooms.
The Ryes received a grant from Mount Olive University to grow Blue Oyster and Lion’s Mane mushrooms. Ray said the goal of the AgPrime grant program is to assess how former tobacco farmers can use their land for large-scale mushroom production.
The barn contains 25 goats, 11 turkeys, five quails, and 43 free-range hens, which lay their eggs throughout the farm.
“Every day is like an Easter egg hunt,” Alex said.
Designed according to their taste
It serves most everything to feed the family according to their needs: goat’s milk, cheese and butter contain less lactose than cow’s milk products; Sourdough baked goods contain less gluten than their traditional counterparts; Honey from hives is an alternative to refined sugar.
Besides feeding their families, the Ryes sell their wares at farmers markets and offer subscription boxes for their merchandise at $150 for three months.
The monthly box includes a dozen eggs, a loaf of organic sourdough, well-baked dough like chocolate chip cookies, dried bread or pasta, a natural cleaning product, a fine flour powder, and a brochure that gives a full description of everything and how to use it—she.
Ray said some customers donate subscriptions to families in need.
“We just delivered one yesterday and the lady was crying,” she said.
It also helps the other couple learn how to grow their own food.
“We are going to go help people prepare their little greens, teach them how to make sourdough, and help them build their garden,” Ray said.
The Ryes also helps students learn about the value of vegetables by hosting school field trips on the farm and giving presentations in the classroom. She said field trips can be messy, but the effect is worth it. Once, an emotionally struggling student said he found the visit inspiring and that it was the most enjoyable he had in a long time.
“You don’t realize the effect,” Ray said.
The family settles firmly into farm life, thrives in their new environment and eats mostly farm-fresh food. However, they are not above reaching for the occasional drive.
“We are not perfect,” she said. “I’ll take the kids to Taco Bell.”
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