The folks at Heart Song Farm work hard to spread happiness in Silk Hope while continuing to dream even bigger
By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Emily Fuller stands over a row of blooming annuals at Heart Song Farm in Silk Hope, tucks her hands into the pockets of her overalls and squints in the morning sun. The scent of cloves rises with the heat. “Do you smell that?” she asks with a proud smile. “You’re growing sunshine and happiness. It’s pretty cool. She and her husband, Jeff Fuller, bought nearly 13 acres of land off Bowers Store Road in 2018. Emily initially planned to grow mainly vegetables to help feed her family and the community. But every year since, flowers fill more rows. Two acres yield vegetables, including 92 pepper varieties and 34 different kinds of tomatoes, yet over 60% of what Emily harvests is assembled into floral bouquets. She sells them alongside produce at the Pittsboro Farmers Market on Thursday afternoons at The Plant.
“I had said I’d never be a flower farmer because flowers don’t feed my community,” Emily explains. “And all of a sudden, it was really clear that they do feed my community, but it’s through floral wellness. You’re feeding them through their hearts. When you give somebody flowers, you’re giving them a gift they probably wouldn’t buy for themselves, which is the best gift you can give somebody.”
About five years ago, Emily and Jeff traded their 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom suburban home in Chapel Hill for 18 months of cramped living in Chatham County. Their two young daughters, Hazel Fuller, 10, and Gracey Fuller, 8, plus two dogs and a cat, squeezed into a 600-square-foot cottage until their current 2,500-square-foot home was fully built on the property. The girls occupied the only bedroom while Jeff slept on an uncomfortable pullout sofa bed, and Emily eventually settled on an inflatable mattress. They all shared a bathroom – and a dream to build a new way of life.
“Hard work is contagious,” Jeff says about his wife’s endless passion for farming. “I think Emily surprised herself with how hard she could work toward the goal. And, it’s contagious because I’ll do the same.”
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Emily moved to Charlotte, North Carolina at age 10. She returned to Nashville for college, earning a bachelor’s in graphic design at Lipscomb University. Emily discovered her true calling only after having children – Hazel, who has celiac disease, and Gracey, who was born with dairy and soy protein intolerances. Growing their own fruits and vegetables reduces the family’s exposure to processed foods, so the backyard gardener became a full-time farmer.
“My first year, I grew a few flowers just for fun,” Emily says, adding that her friend, Angelina Koulizakis-Battiste of Angelina’s Kitchen in Pittsboro, encouraged her to do more. Emily continues, “I realized that the flowers brought crazy amounts of joy.”
Emily credits her additional classes at Central Carolina Community College with helping her develop a formal business plan for sustainable farming and agritourism. In the next five years, she hopes to finish a curated rose garden, build a floral workshop, expand growing zones and establish a stand-alone, commercial-grade kitchen with a community gathering hall.
“I’m definitely a big dreamer,” Emily says. “I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt this big though. To me, this is pretty wild and crazy. And, that everything keeps coming back together is nuts.”
So this year, Emily, along with her full-time farm assistant, Emma Stapleton, will add two new sections for annuals and perennials. “Just knowing that long term, one day, it’s gonna be hard for me to plant or harvest annuals, but I’ll have these gorgeous big perennials that I can cut on, do work and be an old woman,” Emily says, laughing. “You’re taught in school that as much as you have an entrance plan, you [need] an exit plan.”
That long-range planning includes Jeff, who works remotely as vice president of analytics solutions at New York-based CipherHealth. He spends his after-work hours helping build or repair what’s needed, like a gazebo in the center of the rose garden.
Emily strives to use resources as efficiently as possible on the farm. To save water, she employs methods like intercropping plants to hold soil in place and prevent erosion during heavy rain storms. She builds berms to direct the flow of water toward the catchment pond. “It’s easier said than done,” she says. “I know some people will roll their eyes at global warming or climate change … but we’re seeing repercussions now. We see a lot of things like no rain, and then a huge downpour wipes [out] all your crops.”
Emily donates surplus and “ugly” vegetables to Robin Hood’s Kitchen. She also serves on the board of the nonprofit organization that cooks and provides meals to help curb food insecurity. Additionally, Emily donates vegetables and flowers to CORA, another local nonprofit that offers groceries and meals for those in need. These organizations require all food for meals to be prepared in a commercial-grade kitchen, so Emily wants to build such a place on her farm.
WORK. LIFE. PURPOSE.
There are some professions that are so tough that, “You’ve got to really, really love what you do. … Farming is for sure one because it’s just so damn hard,” Emily says. “You’ve got to be knowledgeable on engines and plants and the weather and irrigation. There’s too many things that you have to be proactive. So you’ve got to want to be here.”
Farming is at the core of who she is and how she sees herself in the world. “It’s really hard,” Emily says. “My daughters would tell you that they don’t always love me being a farmer. And, definitely in the first couple years, they said, ‘We liked it much better when you were not a farmer because we got to hang out with you more.’ [That] was hard [to hear] because you want to be the coolest, bestest mommy ever and do all the things and be all the things for your kids. At the same time, I’m a really awesome person, and I’m allowed to do things that make me happy. I can be a great mom and be a great farmer. And be an OK friend. And a pretty good wife.”
Emily gleefully describes a favorite date night with Jeff. “In the summer, we go out at night with Solo Cups and look for the hornworms on the tomatoes,” she says. “You get a black light because [the worms] glow, and I look forward to it every year. We wait forever because the sun won’t go down. And, we … look for tomato hornworms, and then you drown them in the end. That’s not very romantic, but you get your kicks however you can, right? It’s just fun, walking in the dark on the farm with Jeff, going down the rows, looking. It’s weirdly fun.”
For Jeff, he knows the lifestyle of raising their family on a small farm in Chatham is different and special. “It’s safe to say when the kids were born, life took on a whole new meaning,” he says. “It was all about them. And then, it kind of transformed into all about family. … It just felt like this is what we gotta do. There’s no question about it.”
As perennials spread across the farm, Emily hopes visitors will stop to smell the flowers and learn about modern sustainable farming. She is eager to share her knowledge with anyone who will listen. “It’s ultimately about education,” she says, “and getting a chance to hug every community member that we possibly can. Everybody needs hugs. I would totally give everybody hugs.”
THE GIFT OF GIVING
Emily is a seed geek and collects their origin stories. She learned that one of her local tomato customers knows the genesis of the pumpkin variety growing in her fields. The customer is a direct descendant of local, early settlers who exchanged goods with Native American tribes. One of those goods was a pumpkin.
“In the spirit the pumpkin was given [by the American Indians], I felt like the pumpkin should never be sold, only ever gifted,” Emily says. “Of course, my first thought was, ‘What am I going to do with all these pumpkins I was planning on selling at the farmers market?’”
Instead, Emily harvested her crop and baked a lot of pumpkin pies. She also gave away pumpkins to friends and family. Emily says the largest pumpkin that year went into a soup distributed by CORA.
“I pass out seeds to whoever is interested in growing this delicious pumpkin. It’s such a gift to share,” she says. “I wish I knew the tribe that gifted the seeds, I think it should be named after them. I call it the ‘Chatham County pumpkin’ since I know it’s been growing here for [more than] 100 years. It sure does love our red clay soil and is more at home here than any of us will ever be.”
Below is a pumpkin pie recipe Emily developed to honor the offering from local Native Americans. Emily says an alternate way to prepare this recipe is to use cupcake tins lined with a gingersnap cookie as the crust because “hand-held desserts are fun for all ages.”
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
2 cups roasted pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 to 1 tsp. ground ginger (I like to go for 1 tsp.!)
1⁄2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1⁄2 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 Mi-Del gluten-free graham cracker crusts
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or a counter mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until blended. Then, add the rest of the ingredients, except the eggs, and blend until fully mixed. Add the eggs one at a time. Don’t over mix the eggs, or it will make the pie too fluffy. Pour mixture into two pie shells and bake for 40 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when you can stick a knife in the pie and it comes out clean.