Daniel Dayton, 31, is the farm entrepreneur at Old Milburnie Farm. On just under a dozen acres in northeast Raleigh, he’s growing carrots, greens, tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, herbs, and flowers — and also cultivating mushrooms and raising hogs and chickens. Here, he tells us more about his passion-driven and detail-oriented approach.
A Raleigh native, Daniel got his “first taste of farming” in high school and the rest is history. “Immediately, I loved the combination of physical labor, problem-solving, and food production,” he says. “Since then I have navigated a path that was never far from sustainable agriculture.” For the record, that path includes a degree in sustainable ag, a stint working on sustainable ag projects with the Peace Corps in Mali, and getting his hands dirty on organic farms abroad. When he got the chance to dig into a bit of an 140-acre plot first owned by his great great grandfather, “I jumped at the opportunity.” He now has around ten acres dedicated to the farm: currently 1.5 to vegetables and 6 managed for animals.
Old Milburnie uses entirely organic techniques to grow vegetables: soil blocking; cover cropping; crop rotation; compost application; and fertilization from feather meal, rock phosphate, greensand, chicken manure, and fish emulsion. Daniel really focuses on soil health and believes "compost application is crucial to the health of our plants." Having animals and a lake on-property reduces the need for any outside inputs. Poultry integration helps ensure plant health and water comes from the lake. Plants also enjoy one-on-one farmer time: "We hand weed all of our fields," Daniel says. Using mulch, landscape cloth, and cover crops minimizes the need for weeding, but such attention to detail means few pest issues.
Food for thought and mouth and more
Besides the obvious physical satisfaction of farming, Daniel's found a way to feed his other senses, too (including quite literally). Lettuce and bitter greens are favorites from a biological and aesthetic standpoint. "There is so much diversity and so many colors," he says. Some seeds are worth the challenge. "Snap peas," for instance, are admittedly "a pain. But so good!" And on that front, Daniel loves that in his line of work, "I eat really well even though I don't make the big bucks."
Daniel is seriously a farm entrepreneur, driven by the overlap of timeless agrarian and modern-day culture. "I love working for myself. I love producing a product that I believe in. I feel like the resurgence of local food systems is in many ways a revitalization of our cultural heritage."