- A Sanford family bought an abandoned horse farm and transformed it into a homestead.
- The family of seven now grows microgreens and mushrooms, raises goats and and bakes sourdough goods.
- Teaching students and helping others grow their own food is part of the family’s mission.
SANFORD — While some can only dream of swapping their weekly grocery trip for growing their own food, Alexandria and David Rye made it their reality about two years ago when they purchased an abandoned horse farm in Sanford.
They bought the eight-acre property in pursuit of better-quality food for themselves and their five children. The self-proclaimed “homesteaders in training” raise poultry and goats, grow gardens, keep beehives, bake sourdough and teach others how to do the same, Alexandria Rye said.
Rye hails from Indiana, and her husband is from California. Both were on food stamps at times in their childhood, and the pair used WIC when their youngest children, 2-year-old twins Reagan and Linkoln were born. Rye was baffled that the program allotted just $5 for fruits and vegetables per baby per month.
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She also experienced a slew of her own health concerns after giving birth to the twins, and with her doctor’s guidance, changed her diet drastically, cutting out gluten, dairy and refined sugars.
“The toll the twins took on me was life-threatening,” she said.
Rye’s health issues combined with her children’s intolerances to foods like refined sugars, soy, gluten and dairy made feeding her family fresh, whole foods from grocery stores difficult on a budget. She realized that to sustain a healthy lifestyle, her family would have to make a huge change.
“I said, ‘Screw it, let’s just grow it ourselves,’” Rye said.
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Starting from scratch
The family of seven was living with their three dogs in a 1,200-square-foot home in a Cameron subdivision when they began looking for a place to homestead.
While they’d never lived on a farm before, Alexandria Rye worked on a Southern Indiana potato farm in her adolescence. She started her days in the potato fields at 4 a.m.
“I would get a bologna sandwich, Mountain Dew and some cantaloupe, and they would send me home with a bunch of food, which my mom loved,” she said.
Her time with the farmer and his family left such an impression on Rye that she dedicated her own farm to their memory.
Her husband is a Fresno, California, native. The Army brought him to Fort Bragg, and after 12 years of service, he said was ready to move to the countryside.
The couple visited the former horse farm in early 2020, just 45 minutes after it was listed for sale. They said as soon as they set eyes on the Sanford property, they knew it was the right place for them, looking past the 22 tons of horse manure, and charmed by the quiet countryside and nearby bubbling creek.
“We put every penny we had and every penny they let us borrow into it,” she said.
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Now, about two and a half years after moving in, the Rye family farm is bustling with activity.
The gardens boast everything from berries and butternut squash, to peanuts, potatoes and eggplant, plus a beehive. Microgreens, which they used to grow on their countertops, now grow among mushrooms.
The Ryes received a grant from the University of Mount Olive to grow Blue Oyster and Lion’s Mane mushrooms. The objective of the AgPrime grant program is intended to evaluate how former tobacco farmers can use their land to produce mushrooms on a large scale, Rye said.
The barn holds 25 goats, 11 turkeys, five quail and 43 free-range chickens, which lay their eggs all around the farm.
“Every day is like an Easter egg hunt,” Alex said.
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Tailored to their taste
Most everything serves to feed the family according to their needs: goat milk, cheese and butter have less lactose than cow’s milk products; sourdough baked goods have less gluten than their traditional counterparts; and honey from the beehives is an alternative to refined sugar.
Besides feeding their own family, the Ryes sell their goods at farmers markets and offer subscription boxes of their goods at $150 for three months.
A monthly box includes a dozen eggs, a loaf of organic sourdough bread, a sourdough baked good like chocolate chip cookies, bagels or dried pasta, a natural cleaning product, powdered microgreens and a pamphlet that gives a full description of everything and how to use it.
Rye said that some customers donate subscriptions to families in need.
“We just delivered one yesterday and the lady was in tears,” she said.
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Spreading the word
The couple also helps others learn about growing their own food.
“We’ll go help people get their microgreens set up, teach them how to make sourdough, and help them build their garden,” Rye said.
The Ryes also help students learn about the value of vegetables by hosting school field trips at the farm and giving presentations in classrooms. She said the field trips can be chaotic, but the impact is worth it. Once, a student struggling emotionally said he found the visit inspiring and that it was the most fun he had in a long time.
“You don’t realize the impact,” Rye said.
The family is firmly settled into farm life, thriving in their new environment and eating mostly farm-fresh food. Still, they’re not above hitting the drive-thru occasionally.
“We’re not perfect,” she said. “I’ll take the kids to Taco Bell.”
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Food, dining and business reporter Taylor Shook can be reached at [email protected].