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Meet Zack Wyatt of Cornelius, NC

How did you end up in the Carolinas?

After graduating from Coastal Carolina, I knew I wanted to live in the Carolinas. We moved here from Virginia in 2003.

Career wise, you moved from the mortgage industry to the software industry, while starting a Carolina farming initiative. What have you learned?

After a friend experienced success as an independent contractor, I signed a contract to attend Oracle University. I always wanted to do my own thing for as long as I can remember, so this opportunity spoke to me. As a partner of Oracle, we sold classes and delivered Oracle’s curriculum to businesses. After several years, the business ended up breaking apart- my partner sold out. I experienced the realization that nothing is fair, that it was a lucky life experience in my mid 20’s. I am still in the IT world while I work on my farming initiative. Through all of this, I have learned you have to be passionate about what you do.

What inspired you to get involved with the farming community here in the Carolinas?

After watching TED talks about food and doing a lot of research, I got angry. The next thing I knew, I was involved and started Carolina Farm Trust.

Tell us about Carolina Farm Trust:

Carolina Farm Trust was established with the pure intention to help Carolina farmers succeed. 100% of profits go directly to farmers. Farmers need our support to sustain and grow. While their income continues to decline, they face huge financial challenges such as not being able to afford equipment and additional land for growth. There is a lot of focus in this country on advocacy, but not as much on education and conservation. We need less talk and more action.

What’s the mission of Carolina Farm Trust?

Our mission is to protect farmland and foster an ecosystem of sustainable farming. We are losing farm land at a rapid rate. Each year, 100,000 acres of land are lost to urban and suburban development in North Carolina alone.

What is the biggest hurdle in starting a farm or expanding a farm?

Land! We want to compete with developers for land, buy it, and lease it back to the farming community, just to cover the taxes. This will allow a new wave of farmers to have access to land in order to start farming. Existing farms will also be able to thrive by building on their successes while expanding. Our goal is to work with community banks to back farm loans or provide funding directly.

How will Carolina Farm Trust work to be sustainable?

Each tract of land we buy will have a focus on being sustainable from an energy and water standpoint. While being energy and water neutral, they will one day work to give back to the energy grid. We will grant access to all of our tracts to academia, so they can work with farmers on research, best practices, and new ways of farming. We also want to work with existing nonprofits and help existing farmers: whether it’s helping to build a barn, getting a tractor fixed, or helping with land infrastructure, we want to be there to help. As an organization, we want to stay lean and small to make sure the money we raise gets into the dirt and gives people the opportunity to improve their farming.

Why did you start something from the ground up instead of working with existing organizations?

I really wanted to help small agriculture directly, to see direct impact. Larger organizations often require too many formalities and processes. I don’t want Carolina Farm Trust to take grants from big companies and then lose control on where the money can best be put to work.

What is Carolina Jubilee?

Carolina Jubilee is a music festival and two day fundraising event for Carolina Farm Trust. Over the course of two days we will have over 20 bands, local farm-to-table restaurants, food trucks supporting sustainable farming, microbreweries, and other local vendors such as farmers and farming related groups. The event is September 30th and October 1st at Van Hoy Farms, Harmony NC (exit 65 off 77). Tickets are available for one or both days ($35 a day) and attendees are invited to camp overnight (tent or RV) on the property or stay at a local hotel. Families are welcome too- kids 12 and under are free.

Each year, it’s our hope that we raise enough money from the event to sustain our operating budget without involving any big corporations, while sponsoring a farm. Last year was our first event, with about 200 people in attendance. In the years ahead, we hope to grow the event to four days with 150,000 people in attendance.

This year the proceeds from ticket sales will go towards providing Mary L. Farm, an organic dairy farm owned by Richard Parker, with a pasteurization system. Why is this exciting and so important? A local farm will be able to process their own milk onsite. Typically, farms can't afford the equipment and their milk is processed offsite.

Any other goals for Carolina Farm Trust?

Yes, I want to move forward with The Sustainability Podcast once I have more time and perhaps a little more help. And I ultimately want to buy land and never sell it no matter the value. I would lease this land to farmers to help them expand. I want to know every farm in the Carolinas and help them succeed. Yes, while these goals are challenging and stressful at times, they ignite passion and vision. It’s so rewarding to see farmers get giddy about farming opportunities. Agriculture brings people together and creates a sense of community.

What alarms you about our food supply?

A lot. Our food system is so fragile. Food has become a class issue. We are living on a three day food supply. Carolina agriculture doesn’t stay in the Carolinas. Big agriculture is taking what we grow in our soil and turning it into products that are less than.

Our goal is for all Carolinians to have access and have trust in their food system. Every dollar we spend determines what these companies will continue to produce. Additionally, we are so out of touch with our food supply. We want people to have access to local farms and learn about the agricultural process.

What’s one of your life’s convictions?

I don’t want my wife or kids or anyone else to define my life. I want to control my own destiny. I want to create something. I don’t need material things. I want to create impact.

What’s your family like?

My wife and I have five kids: four girls and a boy ages 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. The two year old is a boy and is so different than all of the girls. He keeps me running. My wife runs the Davidson Farmer's Market. Farming has been in my life since the beginning- I grew up on a dairy farm in Virginia.

Any last notes?

Yes, come to Carolina Jubilee in September for amazing food, bands and more! If you come because you want to support our cause, that’s even better. Our farmers need all the support they can get and we don't want to let them down. You can listen to my Podcast with CharlotteFive (photo below) to learn more and stay up-to-date on events through our Facebook page.

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