Hillsborough, N.C. — The tomatoes were almost ready to start hitting the local farmers' markets when I visited Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough.
Coon Rock dry-farms more than 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes that come in a variety of colors – even bright neon yellow. It's all about taste at this family farm and dry-harvesting is a great way to keep that taste intact, owner Richard Holcomb said.
Dry-farming might produce smaller and fewer tomatoes, but they taste a lot better than your typical grocery store tomato.
Once the tomato plants have been successfully transplanted, they are purposely not irrigated because that can dilute the sugars inside each tomato. The tomatoes are planted deep in the soil that contains tons of organic matter from the farm's pigs and chickens. The organic matter holds the moisture in the soil.
Another thing that sets Coon Rock Farm apart is that they do not use black plastic, which is how most tomatoes, even organic ones, are farmed.
At Coon Rock it is all about sustainability. The chickens, pigs and sheep all contribute to helping prepare the gardens each season.
They use solar houses to keep some crops 20 degrees cooler during these hot summer months and 20 degrees warmer during the winter.
Richard Holcomb and Jamie Dement took over Coon Rock Farm about 10 years ago. They used repurposed wood from downed trees in the neglected farmland to create a barn that still stands.
I got to tour only a portion of the farm's 55 acres along a bend in the Eno River. The farm also houses pasture-raised antibiotic and hormone free chickens, eggs, pigs, lambs and goats.
They used to run Zely & Ritz in Raleigh and now own the popular farm-to-fork restaurant Piedmont in Durham.
Holcomb and Dement's commitment to sustainability led to their next endeavor – Bella Bean Organics, a farm-to-door delivery service focused solely on local, organic, sustainably raised produce, meat and artisan products.
"We aim to be your local grocery store online," Dement said.
Bella Bean has Coon Rock Farm meats and produce, baked goods from the likes of La Farm bread to Big Bundts brownies, and even Big Spoon Peanut Butter. Just go online, create your box and get it delivered to your door.
Deliveries are made once a week, and Bella Bean covers North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.
Dement said what sets this service apart from other CSAs available is that Bella Bean's variety of products and their commitment to local farmers.
"We grow it, so we know where everything comes from," Dement said.