STANLY MAGAZINE: Juneberry Ridge
Published 11:10 am Sunday, June 13, 2021
It sprawls out across 525 scenic acres in the southern end of Stanly and feels like a different world of its own.
But Juneberry Ridge has grown from beyond being a productive farm into an event venue and vacation destination.
Located less than three miles from Norwood in under a 20-minute drive from Albemarle, the farm’s roots have continued to spread into the community.
Formerly two companies (Lucky Clay Farms and Lucky Clay Fresh), the new moniker came when the two entities formed under one umbrella. Both companies, according to CEO Suzanne Durkee, were looking for sustainable practices.
“There’s no profitability with sustainability, and there’s no sustainability with profitability,” Durkee said. “The question was, ‘How do we demonstrate to the world if you use regenerative practices, you can make a living?’”
Looking for a symbol to fit that, the staff came up with a tree with juneberries on it. The berry reflects the four seasons, emerging as a flower in the spring with pollen for the bees. Later, the white flower turns into green leaves, the red juneberries appear, a great food and source for Vitamin C and antioxidants. The leaves turn a golden copper color in the fall, then drop to the ground in winter, completing the season cycle.
The farm’s vision of finding a better way to grow food and serve the community along with the world came from owner Judy Carpenter.
A state champion competitive shooter in 1977, Carpenter retired from National Welders Supply and bought the land in Norwood on the recommendation of someone working on her house in Charlotte who was an Aquadale native.
“There was no great vision. I just wanted to buy a trap (shooting) field,” Carpenter said. “Then it got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Initially, the greenhouse on the property was to raise food to fix for the farm’s employees sustainably.
“I didn’t trust what I got at the grocery store all the time. I wanted something I knew was clean.”
Juneberry has 35 employees, most of whom are from Stanly. As the staff grew in employees, the idea of becoming an event center was born, Carpenter said.
Hiring locally and advancing locally, business development manager Rob Boisvert said, was a focus for the farm.
“That’s something Judy has often talked about, is the desire not just to create a space here, but a space in which she can hire local people and give them hope to stay in the rural area,” Boisvert said.
Durkee added: “It’s not like we’re hiring employees that have no background in what we’re doing. These folks live locally, but also come with college degrees, skills, interests and aptitudes for this work.”
“You have some of the most creative people here in Stanly County,” Carpenter added.
The farm grew to include a 4,800-square-foot two-story conference center, five one-bedroom cabins and the Longleaf three-bedroom cabin. Near the cabins is the Saskatoon Lounge, a type of clubhouse where a cabin renter can exercise, play pool and just hang out.
Sustainability is the focus of the farm, finding a use for everything on the property. For example, the podium in the conference center was built on-site from trees cut down on the farm.
“Something we have often heard from Judy is that she wants to leave the planet in better shape than she found it,” Boisvert said.
Quoting information from the Allan Savory Institute, Carpenter said “if you can get people to grow 10 percent of the food they eat in their yards, you could save the planet.”
Juneberry uses regenerative farming techniques to nourish the topsoil, which Durkee said has become depleted in places like the Midwest.
“We’re not in the scolding business…we have absolutely no interest in pointing out all the things people are doing wrong, ourselves included. It’s more about if we do one thing different, could we actually improve the planet?” Durkee said.
The vision of Juneberry, she added, is to change the way the world grows food.
“Our mission is to nourish, educate and build a better future,” Durkee said.
Ashton Thompson, the senior operations manager for Juneberry, handles the farm’s day-to-day operations. Thompson, who went to North Stanly High School, got a two-year degree from Sandhills Community College and later graduated from North Carolina State University with an agricultural degree. Thompson was planning to get a master’s degree at Cornell before the job opportunity came with Juneberry.
Having grown up on a 300-acre farm in New London, Thompson said no week working on the farm is exactly the same with all that goes on.
“We do have a lot of irons in the fire and we have a lot of what I would call regional experts,” Thompson said. “We value our pioneering spirit and we get to create new things. It’s incredible to have the resources and the support from Miss Judy to explore things which may be prohibitive to others.”
The way Juneberry delivers the message, said Durkee, “is to create experiences and opportunities for the world…that means we need to get them on the farm. We are a regenerative farm first and foremost…we want to educate. We know a part of that is to nourish (visitors’) souls and their bodies, nourish their minds.“
Creating a place different from Charlotte and other places in the world, Durkee said, helps show the farm’s vision.
“We create events to get your attention…we’re not in the preaching business. The only way (people) will be able to understand what we’re doing here is to come see it,” Durkee said.
This summer, JuneBerry Ridge hosted an outdoor concert series inviting residents to bring their blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy live performances. Different live events, shooting competitions and such will allow Juneberry to bring more people onto the farm to see what they are doing.
Keeping things local matters to Juneberry Ridge. According to Boisvert, the farm is committed to purchasing at least 51 percent of the goods and services it needs locally, which he added is not easy nor inexpensive.
Those goods and services range from auditing and legal services to T-shirt printing, office supplies and more.
For the future, Juneberry Ridge will continue to host concerts and events, but it is looking to build even more on the land.
Plans for the 525-acre facility potentially include a hotel which will have a restaurant and bar. The farm is continuing to look into having parts of the property annexed into the town of Norwood. This would allow the hotel restaurant to apply for a liquor license.
“As we’ve said from the beginning of this process, we want the residents and elected leaders to be excited about the construction of an upscale inn at Juneberry Ridge,” Boisvert said.
Events will continue at Juneberry Ridge this fall. The concert series will continue, while the farm will host a free community meal and concert on Founders’ Day Oct. 9 to celebrate the founding of the facility.
With the focus of buying and hiring local while continuing to grow, Juneberry Ridge looks to take its sustainability message to the world in the future.