It’s 5 am, and while most people are still sleeping, Roger Ball has already started his day. Roger is a local farmer and owner of Ball’s Berries & Produce, located in South Raleigh. He is also one of several featured vendors who will be participating in the WakeMed Farmers Market, which kicks off May 17th.
I was born on a farm, but I did construction work most of my life and came back to farming in my later years.
No Stranger to Hard Work
I throw my car into park and approach Roger Ball’s farm store. As I make my way up the couple of steps, I take in the sight and smell of the sweet strawberries on display, perched in neat rows on the ledge. The store is small but cozy; and inside, an old air conditioner hums along to the rush hour traffic that passes by outside.
I am immediately greeted by Roger, who is standing behind the cashier’s area. He extends a huge, rough hand while speaking in a soft voice. As we start chatting, I look around and soak everything in. Every inch of the store is filled with color.
There are modest yet impressive displays of tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. To the far left, a commercial, glass refrigerator houses cartons of farm fresh eggs of varying kinds – each distinguished with neatly penned handwriting. On the counter is a large wheel of cheese, protected by a glass cover.
At 69 years-old, Roger is no stranger to hard work. He still tends to all of his crops by hand, taking great care to package and sell a wide variety of produce at his store. He has 5 – 6 part-time workers, but routinely, Roger is up before the sun, tending to his chickens, turkey, and crops. When he isn’t out in the fields, you can find him tucked behind the counter at his farm store, conversing with customers, answering the phone, or arranging produce displays. Most days, he doesn’t call it quits until well after 8 pm.
For the last fifteen years, I’ve been doing produce, but I’ve been doing it most of my life. I helped my mom with a great big garden. I always helped her with that. But see- my Momma’ was of the age of those people who came through the Great Depression. It’s altogether a different thought in people’s minds today.
Farming Runs in the Family
The farm that Roger lives and works on has always been owned by his family, and it spans generations. We exit the farm store and walk the property. Just behind the store, Roger points to an older, ranch-style house. Despite its age, it’s in great shape.
This is the home that he grew up in. It’s where his mother would bring in all of the pickings from her garden and prepare meals from scratch. It’s where she used to make all of her jams and jellies and do all of her canning. Times were different back then though, as Roger reflects:
In the produce world, the younger generations are not eating fresh produce. They’re eating too much fast food and buying stuff in the grocery stores that’s already pre-cooked, which makes it hard for what we (farmers) do to survive and do what we’re doing. Nobody cans or freezes stuff anymore. Back then, you got by as cheap as what you could. The younger generations don’t look at it that way; they like the convenience of shopping at a supermarket.
It was Roger’s mother who spent countless hours doing backbreaking labor in her garden to ensure that her family was well fed. Roger now points to the expanse of land just to the left of the house – a large field that is freshly tilled. I find it incredulous that one woman could manage that all on her own without any help. Years later, the soil still produces, and Roger lets patrons come and pick their own fruits and vegetables.
The Importance of Local Farming & Eating Healthier
Roger is an advocate for local farming and for eating healthier – two things which he believes go hand-in-hand, but it isn’t always cheap. To keep costs down, Roger will occasionally purchase items from other farms at a wholesale price. We go on to discuss the various expenses that local farmers incur – from hiring farm labor, to how the weather affects crops, to issues with animals/pests, theft, and utility bills.
I am told that 1/3 of all business done at the farm is now done on credit cards. No one wants to pay cash or write a check, and it winds up costing more to be able to accept credit cards. Even running a separate phone line out to the farm store adds up. Roger makes his money by selling his wares at his farm store and setting up shop at a few, select farmers markets in the area.
You don’t make money in price gauging. You make money in buying. I’d like to see more people come out and buy at the Farmers Market. At WakeMed, they usually have a pretty good turnout, Roger notes.
Despite some of the hardships he’s run into in the past, however, Roger believes in the ethics behind his business, and he believes in educating young people about the important role that local farms play in the community:
Children nowadays need to see the farms. They need to see where stuff comes from. You’d be surprised at how many kids don’t even know where milk comes from. When they’re raised in subdivisions, they’re not around it.
About Ball’s Berries & Produce
Ball’s Berries & Produce offers seasonal produce, fresh eggs (free-range), local honey, strawberries, potatoes, & more. View more information about this Raleigh farm by visiting their Facebook page.
Hours: 9 am – 7pm, Monday – Saturday | 1 pm – 4 pm, Sundays
Address: 5204 Rock Service Station Road | Raleigh, NC 27603
Phone: (919) 868-1611