When Don Carringer (above), WCU’s longtime Health Services physician who retired Jan. 1, and wife Belinda bought 6 acres and an old farmhouse in Franklin 10 years ago, one of their first projects was to plant a vegetable garden. Both grew up with homegrown foods on the table and learned at an early age how to work the land. They planned to sell any extra produce at their local farmer’s market as a weekend hobby.
At the time, the “buy local” movement was getting more popular. As the demand grew for the fresh produce available at farmer’s markets, so did Carringer Farms. Soon, the couple was raising chickens and selling eggs, building hives for bees and selling honey, planting berry bushes and fruit trees, and sowing seeds for more varieties of vegetables. Belinda Carringer was baking breads and making jams, jellies and relishes. They built two greenhouses to grow cabbage, kale, spinach and lettuce in the winter. Mountain resorts were buying their products to serve in their restaurants.
Within a few years, almost all the acreage at Carringer Farms was taken up with some type of agricultural enterprise. “It had started out as a hobby,” said Don Carringer. “Then it became an out-of-control hobby.” Close friend Mike Ingram ’82, retired Robbinsville High School computer applications teacher who maintains the farm’s website, wanted to help. He offered the use of a fertile plot of land next to his home in Robbinsville, 50 miles away, as an expansion.
The satellite farm proved successful, producing a bumper crop of white and red sweet potatoes and butternut squash for the past two seasons. Ingram, who had been looking for an outdoors physical activity for his retirement, helps tend the crops. Paralyzed from the waist down from injuries received in a car accident as a child, he uses a motorized cart to navigate the crop rows. “I’ve always liked growing things and have had small gardens in the past, so naturally I have enjoyed joining in this venture,” he said. Plans call for doubling the size of the potato crop on Ingram’s property in 2019 and adding space for beans, peppers, candy roaster squash and possibly tomatoes.