Chris Rumbley, 34, is the farm entrepreneur behind Farmers’ Collective. In his role as farmer liaison, Chris visits area farms to sample and scout product and consult with growers about their successes and challenges. He also compiles a list of available produce for local restaurants, who place orders that he aggregates and delivers from his HQ at Raleigh City Farm. Here’s a look at the path that brought him here today.
Chris has spent the better part of a decade installing perennial and edible landscapes throughout the Triangle, both for local companies and for his own venture. His work at first focused on residential projects and childcare centers, which led to the design/installation of a few farmscapes. Ultimately and most recently, Chris led the design and development of Raleigh City Farm’s 1-acre site in downtown Raleigh. At the beginning of 2016, he spun Farmers’ Collective off to reinforce the pattern of growing and clustering new farm enterprises inculturated at Raleigh City Farm.
Chris operates with a permaculture approach to site design, development, and management. In laymen’s terms, permaculture is a set of principles derived from indigenous and sustainable civilizations that can be applied to modern culture, from gardening to community planning. The goal is to achieve resiliency and resource efficiency in a system: to do that, permaculture practitioners prioritize multiple yields and overlapping benefits, diversity, and overall integration. Think of it as a triple bottom line approach where people, the planet, and the economy all receive their fair share. Ideally, well-planned sites and communities culminate in a permanent culture – hence “permaculture” – that works well for the specific bioregion in which you live.
More specifically, Chris advocates for details like building carbon in the soil, storing and holding water on-site to re-use in multiple ways, and proactively planting polycultures and pollinator/beneficial habitats.
WHAT PLANTED THE SEED
“From one standpoint, I go back to running around in the woods, creeks, and pastures of the Caraway Mountains,” says the Randolph County native. “That helped form an attachment to nature.”
His aha moment came years later, when working in New Orleans post-Katrina. The intense environment is where he first saw a need for permaculture thinking to be exemplified. “I had met a leading permaculture educator/practitioner who talked about ‘greening the desert.’ He implemented a permaculture project in a post-refugee settlement in Jordan, and was sharing his perspective on a similarly post-disaster New Orleans. The ability to create vibrant cultures in a desert gave me a lot of hope for how we can apply those same principles domestically.”
FRUITS OF LABOR
Chris’ penchant is for fruit trees, especially paw paws. “In our region, I’m also a big fan of blueberries and figs and blackberries.”
Chris is both principled and practical. “Part of why I do this is to regain and develop a lifestyle that both allows me to remain connected to nature and helps move our broader community toward a greater appreciation and stewardship of natural resources. I get a lot of fulfillment out of seeing a landscape evolve, starting from a grass lawn and becoming a food forest in a matter of a year or two.”
It’s his historic duty. “When I got back from New Orleans, I spent time at a permaculture farm in California. I began to research the history of farming in our region, the Piedmont. Farming is a huge and crucial part. Then I realized how many new farmers are trying to get into this and how hard it is. One of the biggest barriers to success is effectively getting product to market: the feedback loop and the economic elements necessary to make farming sustainable. Farmers’ Collective tries to fulfill that niche of helping new farmers get their product to market, rooted in the belief that sustainable food systems rely on growing these new farmers.”