Tom Savage is living his lifelong dream of being a small farmer.
At 70, his enthusiasm and joy for this dream realized is readily apparent as he talks about new agritourism ideas and opportunities and plans for the future.
Savage and his wife Linda operate Allied Organic Farms on 45 acres in Hurdle Mills, growing a variety of ethnic vegetables, greens and other produce. They sell their traditional produce at farmers markets in Roxboro and Burlington. The ethnic vegetables are sold to an Asian market that takes all he can produce.
The Savages are one of many small farm families that Jacob Crandall and other members of the department’s Small Farms Program are proud to work with on a daily basis. In addition to helping the farm add a high tunnel through a cost-share program, the Small Farms Program has been able to assist with signage and marketing materials.
The dream of “owning 5 acres and a small farm” is one Savage has held onto for most of his adult life – including 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, nine years with Hewlett-Packard in Spokane, Washington and 25 years working at IBM/Lenovo in the Research Triangle Park.
The Bertie County native grew up on a farm where his uncle and dad farmed 600 acres. It was there he caught the farming bug, but left to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. He met his wife there and married shortly after graduation.
When he and his family moved to Durham with his job at IBM, the Savages began looking for the right property to one day accommodate Tom’s dream.
He believes his family being on their farm involved Divine intervention.
Savage and his wife looked at over 100 different properties before finding it listed in a For Sale By Owner magazine. They decided to ride out and look at the property with one of their sons in tow. Savage sensed some initial disappointment or surprise when they arrived and met the owner, but that changed.
After touring the property, a thunderstorm came up and the property owners felt it was better for the Savages not to travel in the storm and invited them into the house to ride out the bad weather.
“It turned into a wonderful evening. I believe it was an act of God because of the way it happened,” Savage said. “(The owner) played the piano and we were singing and ended the evening like we were the best of friends.”
There were several buyers interested in the property, but the owners called the Savages and offered it to them first. They have owned the property for nearly 20 years now.
Savage’s preference to grow organically adds to his workload, but he is willing to put in the effort. “I believe good things come from the work you put into it,” he said.
The ethnic vegetables, including pumpkin leaves, water leaves, scent leaves, jute leaves, and specific type of eggplant, require patience and a watchful eye. “They are finicky to grow, and they go dead after the frost,” he said.
Savage grows as part of a local cooperative and a goal is to try to use the high tunnel to protect the plants to extend the season and maybe even grow some plants for seed.
In addition to growing crops, the Savages host agritourism events at the farm including farm-to-table dinners, weddings and a synchronized Christmas lights show.
In 2011 and 2012, they were among the first farms in the area doing dinners at the farm. Those have been very successful, despite the couple’s initial skepticism. The five-course meals included all locally grown foods, farmer talks with guests about their farms and products and there was even a tour around the Savage’s property that featured a stop by the beehives and a beaver dam at their pond.
They have also hosted an African wedding in July which included a special request for a large ring of lights to encircle the wedding party. The Savages were able to make that happen, adding to the magical feel of the evening wedding that included a children’s singing group. “In Africa, circles are a sign of strength,” he explained.
The Christmas light show is the Savages’ gift to the community. They initially charged admission, but eventually decided they just preferred to make it available to anyone who came out to see it. A neighbor built a donation box and set it out for them, which helps offset some of the costs.
He continues to work to diversify his operation after reading articles suggesting that farms needed several income sources to be successful. One article mentioned seven sources and that has become his goal. By his assessment, he has four good sources. “I’m not there yet, but I am working towards that.”
Savage prides himself on giving good value to his customer and treating them fairly, principles he upholds in all areas of his farm operations. “I just believe it comes back to you.