I met Stefan Hartman six years ago at an agricultural conference. I knew of him through another mentor, Tony Kleese. One thing that never ceases to amaze me about people in the farming business is how generous they are with their time and expertise. Stefan is no exception. In fact, he quickly became one of our mentors when we first started transitioning to organic produce farming. Stefan is the real deal, and, he is the standard by which small produce farmers in the Wilmington area judge themselves. Black River Organic Farm is located here in Ivanhoe, N.C. Most people in the area know of Black River Organic Farm from the local farmers markets. Currently, Stefan sells organic produce at the Farmers Market at Poplar Grove, the Downtown Wilmington’s Riverfront Farmers Market, and the new producer-only Wilmington Farmers Market at Tidal Creek.
It’s worth noting that Stefan is one of the progenitors of the organic movement in North Carolina, along with folks like Tony Kleese and Alex Hitt. In fact, Stefan moved to the family farm in Ivanhoe in 1984 from Germany. He received a five-year agricultural degree in Germany with heavy studies in microbiology, organics, and even biodynamics. He told me that, even back then, organics were accepted in the ag schools since the Germans took a more holistic approach to farming, specifically concentrating on soil improvement and bio-diversity. When Stefan first started out, there was no organic certification or certifiers. He was originally certified by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and then the Organic Crop Improvement Association. While the latter is no longer around, the CFSA is the prime mover in small farm and organic advocacy throughout the Carolinas today. Stefan is a bit of a legend at their annual conference. Anyone interested in sustainable agriculture should attend one of their events, especially the big conference in November.
I must admit that writing about a friend is a little strange, especially the interview part, but I did call him to pick his brain for this article. I did not realize that the farm in Ivanhoe was from his mother’s side of the family. This may explain why, to me at least, Stefan has no accent – although he said when he visits his friends up North, they tell him he sounds like a redneck to them. Once we got past the family history stuff, all I could think to ask him was “what are your favorite crops?” To his credit, he didn’t mock me for asking something so banal. The answer is as obvious as the question, “the same things I like to eat, tomatoes, peppers, and greens.” Stefan is well-known for his tomatoes and has been part of N.C. State trials regarding tomato grafting. He showed me his grafting chamber a few years ago and I was duly impressed. For those that don’t know, grafting is where you take a young tomato shoot (scion) and graft it to a rootstock that is hardier than the original. In tomatoes, this is done primarily for soil disease resistance. I guess I’ll have to talk to Stefan about the peppers sometime soon, since they can be a challenge for us to grow, and, everyone knows that Black River’s greens are superior. I particularly like their arugula.
For anybody interested in seeing “the real deal” when it comes to organic produce farming, stop by the Black River Organic Farm’s booth at any of their markets listed above.
In between the time this article was originally written and when it was published, Black River Organic Farm suffered another devastating flood as a result of hurricane Florence. My understanding is that Stefan will return in the Spring of 2019. We look forward to his return and intend to support Black River any way we can – as he has done for us and many others. — Steve