by Jamie Nunnelly
Farmers and backyard gardeners from Chatham County love shopping at Country Farm & Home in Pittsboro. The store, located on 101 South Small Street, has evolved along with the community through the years.
A Trusted Institution for Seventy Years
In the 1950’s, the store was built and was called the Central Carolina Farmer’s Exchange. The Exchange was started in Durham because the tobacco farmers needed to diversify their crops so they would have some economic stability. Some of the things the Central Carolina Farmer’s Exchange had included a hatchery, a cold storage, and a dairy. The Pittsboro store was one of the satellite stores of the exchange and it was originally located across from where the ABC Store is now. Store owner Melinda Fitzgerald explained, “They would bring crops back to Durham for processing, they would bring feed and other supplies from Durham out to Pittsboro. One of the main things was there was a feed mill here at the store, so farmers would bring their grains and there were rail cars right behind this building and doors that opened from the rail cars into or out of the building.”
Growing a Family Enterprise
In the 1970’s, Farmer’s Exchange bought the store and then somewhere along the line, Southern States bought the store. In 1993, Melinda’s father, Dallas, bought the store. Dallas and his family had lived in Tampa, Florida and moved to Pittsboro. Dallas had horses and was a customer of Southern States. He came to buy his horse feed and hay from the store and he noticed the inventory was starting to dwindle. He started asking questions and realized that Southern States was starting to sell off some of its corporate stores. He came home and crunched the numbers and had a discussion with his family. Ever since he bought the store, and when Melinda joined the store in 2008, it has grown and made money. With Melinda joining the store, Country Farm & Home began transitioning to more organic farm and garden supplies.
A Leader in Organics
The store offers many items in addition to organic plants. They still sell chicks, and last year, the store started carrying items for beekeeping. Chatham County has one of the biggest beekeeping clubs in the state. The staff does seasonal ordering for organic crops in bulk to lower the cost for farmers in the region. People from the Virginia line to South Carolina and from Winston-Salem to Wilmington and even further come to the store in Pittsboro to buy supplies and crops. “Our four staple crops include the organic strawberries in September, organic seed potatoes in February, organic garlic in October and sweet potatoes in late May/early June,” explained Melinda, “We start taking orders well in advance and knowing we have a lot of orders allows us to secure these for our customers.” People can find out about the plants they are ordering by getting the electronic newsletter. The store also has bird seed, feed for all kinds of animals, fencing supplies, watering systems, boots, gloves, bulbs, cover crops and more.
Outstanding Teachers in the Field
Melinda used to be a science teacher, but when the trend in teaching was to just teach to the test, she wanted to do something else. It was about that time that her father wanted to retire and was going to sell the store. Melinda told him she thought she’d like to try running it.
One of the great features of Country Farm & Home is the very experienced and friendly staff. “Hillary Heckler is also an educator. She came from Central Carolina Community College and also taught courses over there. So, you have two educators really running this place,” Melinda said. They are always giving people advice and trying to educate them on the plants and the products they sell, like when is the best time to plant a particular tree, what conditions does this tree need? “Kyle has beekeeping and poultry and meat processing experience. Antonio, Ruben and Victor have a wealth of fencing experience. Ruben used to be a plumber, so he also helps us with that.” Everyone on staff is happy to help customers with any questions they may have.
Among Many Friends of Agriculture
“Our community has a vibrant agriculture system, not just the farmers, but the people who are interested in protecting agriculture. There are several nonprofit organizations in Pittsboro dedicated to agriculture as well, including the Carolina Farmer Stewardship Association (CFSA), the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), the Livestock Conservancy, and the Chatham County Extension Agents that offer so many great classes. When they have meetings, seminars, events, conferences, etc. people come into our store after one of these events,” she noted, “The beauty of this community is that it takes all of us thriving to have one of us thrive.”
Country Farm & Home is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m.to 3 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. You can also call the store at (919) 542-3353.