Rising Medow Farm

“And over there” …. Successful Farmers are Entrepreneurs

Cheryl Ferguson Plum Granny Farm

Since I have been documenting organic farmers and farming, I have been searching for and cataloguing common denominators that characterize this special breed of growers.

I had the opportunity this week to visit with Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel, owners of Plum Granny Farm. In only a moment of a conversation, Cheryl exclaimed “And over there ….     ” Who but an entrepreneur would be excited about “over there” and how it would fulfill a vision for what will happen later in the season. Farmers find strange things to bring personal joy.

I became immediately excited too about what Cheryl was excited about!

Thank you, Cheryl!

I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?

Deconstructing a childhood stamp collection … An emotional journey to the past

When my mom and dad passed away in 2012 and 2013 respectfully, the task of “cleaning out” and “settling up” HOME in Waynesville, NC became forefront in my and my sister’s lives.’ My tangible personal connections to HOME changed when I moved out of the house in 1978 as a young adult to become a permanent resident of Winston-Salem, NC.

While I took on the task of settling my parents’ estates, my sister took on the challenge of “mucking out” as she referred to it, everything else since she continued to live in the HOME until she could design and build her own.

Reuter, San Martin, Paderewski, Garabaldi (the 4c and 8c versions), Bolivar, and Mahatma Gandhi

In one of our “check in calls” she asked me, “what do you want me to do with your stamp collection?”

Uh, oh …. I had completely forgotten that one. So, on a visit back to Waynesville, I loaded the boxes, brought them to Winston-Salem, and stored them away until a time that I could go through them. They couldn’t be worth much, I thought, even though the collection was all mint (uncancelled) stamps. They sat again in the corner of our living room.

This winter, someone wrote the Ask SAM column in the Winston-Salem Journal asking about stamp collection values and appraisals recommendations. His answer was succinct:

“It is not an investment possibility, as it was once considered to be,” he said. “Very few stamps have increased in value over the years. And what increase there was, was wiped out a few years ago, when the market went into decline at the same time the antique market and stock prices went south.”

Boy Scouts, NATO, Project Mercury, Kansas Statehood, and Range Conservation

This was just the permission that I needed to cannibalize the collection for the postage value only. Feeling rich, I without guilt started removing the mints stamps from their protective glassine envelopes. Then something happened. The emotional flood gates opened. I nearly drowned. There is Reuter, San Martin, Paderewski, Garabaldi (the 4c and 8c versions), Bolivar, and Mahatma Gandhi. And then there is Boy Scouts, NATO, Project Mercury, Kansas Statehood, and Range Conservation. And my favorite stamp ever of all time, John James Audubon (I bought an entire sheet).

I knew that I couldn’t pay my Duke Energy bill with these. What would they care?

My intimacy with American history and with these commemorative three and four cent stamps issued between 1963 and 1980 matured. Grandmother Houck (my mother’s mother) started me at the age of 13 collecting, bought me my first album, and helped me mount them precisely so they could be “preserved”.

The old Waynesville post office

My backed-up emotions rolled over me like a California mudslide. It felt as if it were only yesterday buying those stamps, and with my own money. There was a ritual in the process, too. I bicycled to the old post office downtown (now repurposed as the Waynesville City Hall) to find Mr. J.T. Russell looming large in the stamp window, my laying out my hard-earned cash on the cold marble counter window, and exchanging for a “block of four with serial number”. He was my stamp guardian; I was sure he had a special recess in his stamp drawer just for me. The relationship was that special. And another bonus, he saved all the new issue announcements which showcased the image of newly issued stamps, documented their history, and cited their date of issue. These were always thumb tacked to the lobby bulletin board right next to the wanted posters.

My favorite stamp of all time, John James Audubon

So …. Duke Energy will not get my stamps.

Instead, I will be using them as postage for our Christmas cards that we send to our friends this year along with the link to this story informing and reminding them where all these old beautiful quaint stamps came from.

“Merry Christmas,” already.  Maybe you will be the lucky one to get my favorite stamp of all time.

The Elusive Artist Statement

For the convenience of those readers who struggle with the metaphorical language of other artists when they write statements requiring a close-read i.e word-for-word’, then pause, then again, read word-for-word; I have tried to make it easy. Simply, this is “Who I Am”.


Here is another great example, one for Mary Presson Roberts, an emerging fine art photographer, educator, and published author.

The Organics: Heart and Hands – “MicroPRESS – Volume I”

The new hand sewn  “MicroPRESS – Volume I” of The Organics: Heart and Hands has just been published! Printed with archival inks on archival paper, this signed, and numbered, limited edition of 50  photo books is now available.

The Organics is a long-term project designed to capture the living spirit of sustainable agriculture growers’ hearts and of their connected hands which serve as instruments of cultivation and harvest.

“MicroPRESS Volume I” is a smaller representation of a much larger body of work being presented as a photography exhibition.

Featured farmers and farms in this volume are Kyle Montgomery, Ashley Pully, Jeff Seibel, Isaac Oliver, Brandon McGinnity, Kevin Oliver, Cynthia Glasscoe, Kate Schumacher, Jennifer Matler, Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel.  Farms represented are Harmony Ridge Farms, Plum Granny Farm, and The Billy Place Farm.

The book is available for purchase.



Would You Believe that this was a Bicycle Event?


Superchef Chris Smith (front center) leads his success team for this event

Cycling and food have always had a connection. Food is what cyclists devour after a long ride.

Now in a unique arrangement,  a new reason to ride is to dine at a one-of-a-kind of bicycle event created by a one-of-a-kind cyclist and chef, Keith Gardiner.  Keith is an instructor / chef in the Culinary Arts Program at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, NC.  “I have always wanted to do this – where cyclists sit down and ARE SERVED a prepared meal by some of North Carolina’s greatest chefs.

The inaugural event raised over $4, 000 to:

-help educate children and families in understanding proper nutrition (Chef and Child – a program of the American Culinary Foundation)

– stock a food pantry, a flagship beneficiary of the Popular Ridge Friends Meeting, to support a backpack program that enables them to send a backpack filled with food home for children over the weekend.
Tour de Chef

-utilize the creativity and culinary expertise of chefs to help schools to ensure that America’s youngest generation grows up healthy (Chefs Move to Schools – a special initiative of the American Culinary Foundation)

-to support culinary scholarships for students in the Culinary Arts Program at Guildford Technician Community College

David Mercadante, senior pastor of the Popular Ridge Friends Meeting, whose church was the host for the the venue, had this to say:  “This is one of the best events we have ever participated in.”

The Tour de Chef is always the 4th Saturday in September.

Tour de Chefbcta6657

This moment changed our lives forever

Commissaire Lisa Colvin and para-athlete, Matt Broughton

Commissaire Lisa Colvin and para-athlete, Matt Broughton

A long day of marshalling for the USA Cycling National Championships with nearly 1,000 individual riders competing in the championship time trials had come to an end.  We had escorted  the last two para-cyclists and they had crossed the finish line; NC DOT had removed all the lane cones and were in the process of dismantling all the barricades; our motorcycle colleagues had long since departed for the comfort of their hotels in Winston-Salem; the shadows were long and we were tired.

As we were packing our bikes, Lisa Colvin, an apprentice commissair for the race pulled up next to us in her COMM car.  With her voice full of emotion.  “I hope I have done the right thing.” Then after a long pause, she continued “I know I have done the right thing.” She then shared with us in a quivering voice,  “there is still one more para-athlete on the course.”

We were in a state of disbelief as we had personally escorted the last riders.  We soon learned there was still one rider who had been mistakenly overlooked because of very slow progress in an earlier race.

“I found a law enforcement officer to escort him, one of our race officials to marshall for him, and his wife is following him in her personal car.”

With less than five miles to go, the cyclist athlete’s wife rolled up next to us where we were standing and anxiously asked from behind her steering wheel, “How much further?”

Lisa answered, “Ma’am, you have nothing to worry about.  I just spoke with the race director and she is  keeping the race open until your husband crosses the finish line.”

The para-cyclist athelete is Matt Broughton (Sherrills Ford, N.C./Team Roger C. Peace),  a stroke victim paralyzed on his left side.  He had not been allowed to finish his race the day before.

We checked the results today.  He DID cross the finish line. His finish time was twice what the finish time was for every para-athlete that raced that day.

We will never complain about anything ever again.

Red Maple Helicopters

After a life time of being fascinated by these seed pods of our native red maples, I have never been sure whether I liked them or hated them.  The seeds always foiled the broom whisks which were never able to herd them 100%; or the leaf blower which added more chaos to any effort of spring tidiness.

I have decided now that “I love ’em” as they have a unique ability (unknown to me until now) that they capture and hold water at the base of their copter wings —  even without the rain participating in loading this indiscreet reservoir of light!

Premier Southern Juried Exhibition Announced for September

Since 2003, fine art photographers and photography lovers from across the United States gather in Pike County, Georgia for SlowExposures. It’s the annual juried exhibition that celebrates the rural American South—in the rural South.

Call for entries is now open.

The Organics: Heart and Hands Cheryl and Ray

This profile is a seminal component of a major work portfolio head lighting organic farmers whose hands are as expressive as their faces, and whose hearts have lead them to a proactive life of caring for the earth and others.


Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel – Plum Granny Farm

“Growing up on the farm, I really never saw myself coming back and making a life here – I needed to get away and create my own story,” Cheryl Ferguson of Plum Granny Farm in Piedmont North Carolina explains.  “But once I entered my 40s, I started thinking about the potential of returning to my family farm and creating a special place here with Ray for us to share with others.”


Cheryl Teague as teenage farmer

Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel met when Cheryl moved to Richmond, VA (and away from NC) in 1979 and they were married in 1984 in Washington, DC.  Busy professional lives in public health and IT, and a move to New Mexico, left little time for farm fantasies.  As Cheryl’s parents aged and health declined, the farm conversation came up but was never resolved.  Finally, after her father passed away in 2007, the discussions became more focused.  “We knew that the farm was a special place and we wanted to make sure it was preserved as a working farm,” said Ray.

Although they have no formal training in farming, they bring skills from their former lives.  Cheryl notes, “I’m a cause person – perfect training for a farmer.”  And Ray’s background in corporate IT management brings a business orientation to the task.  In their constant refinement of  their formula for sustainability, Ray knew from the very beginning a necessary ingredient.  “Farming is a business!”


They have always been drawn to the open spaces; it is only natural that they have ended up back home to celebrate a culturally rich community and a way of life.


The Organics: Heart and Hands Isaac Oliver




We had a family garden when I was growing up in Alabama, and my dad gave me the responsibility of taking care of the beans. I really enjoyed that experience – a real sense of pride that has stayed with me.

What impacted me the most was one day when I was working construction (on the west coast) and I looked into the field next to our building project, and the field crew were harvesting and packing up the produce on their organic farm.  I had a feeling of being “left out”.  I had never thought before of doing something like that for a living, but I could see myself doing it now!

Harmony Ridge Farms Kyle Montgomery Ashley Pully Jeff Seibel Isaac Oliver Brandon McGinnity Kevin Oliver

Harmony Ridge Farms Crew: Kyle Montgomery, Ashley Pully, Jeff Seibel, Isaac Oliver, Brandon McGinnity, and Kevin Oliver

Holly (my girl friend – later to be my wife) grew up as a vegetarian and had been cooking for herself since her teens.  She had much more environmental awareness than I did, and we both soon eased into a new lifestyle – one of sustainability, a heightened awareness of environmental issues, and one of community building comfort as we began to associate with others like us who had similar values.

Being laid off and the recession forced Holly and me back closer to home in North Carolina.  My dad and I began to compare notes and talk about a new dream.  That dream became a reality when we bought the land here (presently Harmony Ridge Farm) and set to do what we are doing now –  being organic farmers.

We have never looked back.