Food deserts and food insecurity are part of society, not only here in North Carolina but across the nation. These challenges often require complex solutions. Taylor and Fran Montgomery, of Montgomery Sky Farm, have a story of struggle and resilience as they sought to build a business through a global shutdown. 

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Several years ago, Fran and Taylor purchased a historic property with the goal to farm sustainably for themselves, but by 2018 their operation had evolved into Montgomery Sky Farm. Two years later, the pandemic hit, creating trying times for most businesses and requiring the Montgomerys to adapt further. In 2024, they now grow sustainably for local restaurants and markets, collaborate with different businesses, and assemble produce boxes. 

The Montgomerys said that one of the most significant changes they have seen in agriculture since the pandemic has been the increased costs of doing business. 

“I think for me, on my side of it, it’s gotten more expensive, along with everything else,” said Taylor. “But I find it’s more expensive to purchase at grocery stores, to cook those things at home, as well as in the commercial side of it, in kitchens.”

“Anything as far as growing is concerned, whether it’s fertilizers for our hay fields, lime, or grass seed, has doubled, if not more,” added Fran.

Farming was much more affordable before the pandemic, say the Montgomerys, but it’s become incredibly expensive for farmers to continue operating under such conditions. They told Carolina Journal about some of the biggest challenges they’ve tackled in farming after the pandemic shutdowns. 

“As people became unemployed, or as people were home and less willing to spend money, we certainly saw a decrease in sales across the board, decreasing people visiting, kind of a decrease in interest in events, people just really preserving more,” said Fran. “The flip side of that is COVID allowed people to become more interested in [local agriculture], also. I think being at home, people became more curious about where their food comes from. I think there was an increase in interest for agriculture but a decrease in spending across the board.”

Taylor is also an executive chef at a local restaurant in the Asheville area, giving him an expanded perspective on the inputs and investments required for the farm, all the way to the table. 

Taylor Montgomery harvesting produce on his farm, courtesy of Montgomery Sky Farm.

 “I think that the increased costs in fertilizers and things like that translates to the consumer and the grocery stores, and that’s why we’ve seen such an uptick in the cost of vegetables,” said Taylor. “So you know, in my line of work, I used to get chicken thighs for 84 cents a pound, and now I’m paying well over $2, and the same goes with chicken breasts and beef. Chefs are trying to get creative. Again, you see the increase in costs causing that to be passed on to consumers or patrons that visit the restaurant, that visit the farm, that go to the grocery stores.”

Through his work in the restaurant business, Taylor experienced the struggles with supply-chain interruptions first hand, seeing how that impacted the economy. It also necessitated solutions that reinforced the value of their sustainable farming business.

“It was very inconsistent,” said Taylor. “The purveyor stopped carrying the variety of produce that should be carried, you know, common things like Swiss chard and certain types of greens we weren’t able to get. And fortunately, I grew that stuff and was able to supplement with the farm’s harvest. “

The Montgomerys defined a food desert as an area where people can’t attain fresh produce. Taylor explained that even if it’s not a total lack of access, those below the poverty rate can’t afford the prices of fresh produce. Often, he says, in rural communities, the first grocery available is something like a dollar store, where fresh produce isn’t carried. 

“The fact that our convenience foods are cheaper than fresh produce is… that’s a big flaw,” said Taylor. “Why can’t we make our fresh produce more convenient rather than this fried food?”

Taylor emphasized that increased costs are still one of the biggest challenges in agriculture, even in a post-pandemic world. He explained that the pandemic shook people to the point that they became more interested in getting educated on how to grow their food. He thinks food insecurity could improve if such trends continue. 

Montgomery Sky Farm, photo courtesy of Montgomery Sky Farm.

“If there was anything good that came out of COVID, it was people understood that they may have to take care of themselves,” said Taylor. “[To] not be able to go out in the general public, not be able to go to the grocery store, learning how to put seeds in the soil and grow their own produce. And we’ve seen a big, big move in that direction. So hopefully that continues.”