Let’s get one thing clear: being a farmer was not Dani Rowland’s dream. She grew up a South Charlotte suburban girl with parents hailing from New York City.
“I had a couple of squash plants that I hid in some bushes in an apartment one time,” she recalls. “They didn’t give me any squash, so I stopped watering them.”
Flash forward to March 2016, as the slight, energetic Rowland leaves her last remaining hourly job to devote herself full-time to the success of Rowland’s Row Farm in Cabarrus County. Like the name, the farm’s existence comes from husband Joe, who long dreamed of returning to the heritage glimpsed on his grandparents’ farm in Indiana.
It turns out in spite of her self-deprecation, Dani Rowland is just as passionate about bringing healthy, sustainable food to Charlotte and beyond.
Rowland’s Row came into its own nearly four years ago, hatched at Elma C. Lomax Incubartor Farm, but Dani’s focus on food started years earlier.
Originally interested in nutrition, she met her future husband when both were employed by Earthfare. Shortly thereafter, with Joe starting at Lomax, Dani shifted focus, starting her culinary degree at Central Piedmont Community College, which she completed in the spring of 2012. Within a month, she and Joe were engaged and began migrating the fledgling farm to their own land, 18 acres of mostly wooded property.
There were a few other experiments in there, including an online farmers market delivery service, but in the end farming won out.
“It helped Joe realize what he really wanted to do was grow vegetables; that’s what he’s passionate about,” Dani says. She still leaves most farm management decisions to him, referring to herself as a farmhand and deflecting detailed questions about numbers of varieties or crop rotation with “That’s a Joe question.”
But get into the details of raising chickens and she can hold her own.
The couple house 4,000 layers and broilers, many of them on additional acreage leased from a neighbor, and Dani spends many hours each week feeding, watering, gathering, processing and delivering. For much of the year, they bring their chicken to market unfrozen. She points to that and to their organic certification as two ways Rowland’s Row has carved a niche for itself.
Besides selling produce, chickens, and eggs at farmers’ markets in Davidson and Winston-Salem, Dani makes regular deliveries to a half-dozen restaurants in the Charlotte area, most of them manned by other PCG members.
Among those are Clark Barlowe, chef and proprietor of Heirloom Restaurant in the Coulwood neighborhood of Charlotte. “From black peanuts to every part of a chicken, Dani and her husband Joe are committed to producing some of the most interesting and flavorful ingredients I’ve encountered,” he says. “I feel lucky to count them as not only purveyors but friends.”
That kind of community support has boosted the Rowlands since their early days at the incubator farm, and membership in Piedmont Culinary Guild extends that community. “It’s really cool to see that we have chefs that are so supportive of us,” Dani says, going on to describe the grass-roots nature of the Guild.
“It’s very much being powered by the members and the individuals. It doesn’t matter if they’re chefs or farmers – we can take all those titles away, but they are people that believe in this area and our community and support it.”
Buoyed by the strength of that network, Dani seems confident about the future of Rowland’s Row. Her recent step away from outside employment leaves her more enthusiastic than ever about bolstering the farm’s production – whether that means pursuing a distant dream of raising sheep, or simply broadening Joe’s selection of vegetable crops.
Among which, one can assume, will be some well-watered squash.
Profile written by Alison Leininger