Meet PCG Member – Kate Brun: The Accidental Farmer

Kate Brun of Lucky Leaf Gardens

Photo Courtesy of Lukas Johnson, Independent Tribune

It all stemmed from an argument over a sunroom.

2010 found Kate and Marc Brun’s real-estate and construction careers hammered during the financial downturn. Looking for ways to save, Marc suggested removing what he saw as an underused and wasteful room at the back of the house. Wanting to keep her sunlit space, Kate suggested she could use it as a greenhouse.

“Prove it,” came the response. “Grow something, make a profit with our sunroom and I won’t tear it off.”

With her limited background as a backyard gardening enthusiast, Kate sought a cash crop needing little space. The obvious answer: microgreens. “I found out there was a huge need for it in Charlotte,” she says. With some trial and error, she soon produced her first batch of small sprouts and went knocking on doors. “I went to one customer and they bought it on the spot, so I grew another batch and went to another restaurant.”

Within a year, the miniature farm required a true greenhouse in the Bruns’ suburban backyard, but it soon outgrew that space as well. Today, five years on, Lucky Leaf Gardens has moved to a full-sized greenhouse on a five-acre plot, and the business employs several part-time workers, as well as Kate’s father.

From three varieties of little leaves, her catalog has grown to over 40. “It’s been a very chef-driven system,” she says. “Every other week or so I get a call from a chef asking if I can grow [something new].”

Currently, Lucky Leaf sells to about 30 local restaurants, as well as distributors like US Foods and Foster Caviness. Though this sends her microgreens from Virginia to South Carolina, Brun still prioritizes her local clients.

“Chefs are my bread and butter. I’m custom growing for [them]. Whatever is left over, I sell wholesale.”

The accidental farmer has other plans to expand Lucky Leaf’s role in its community.

On Saturday, May 16, the farm welcomes the public for the groundbreaking on an eco-friendly learning space on its new Harrisburg site. (Click here to register for this free event.)

Following principles of permaculture, a design team has helped Brun plan a “food forest” with walking trails, a berry patch, mushroom gully, and even a brewing garden featuring hops, barley and wheat.

The farm will also continue working with Cabarrus County schools on a children’s garden to share the message of healthy local food. “They take that message home to their parents, and everyone has salad for dinner instead of McDonald’s,” says Brun, herself a mother of two young children.

It seems natural that Lucky Leaf should also join the community created by the Piedmont Culinary Guild. “We are honored to be part of this group because I do feel like it’s the cream of the crop, the elite producers, chefs and food artisans,” says Brun, noting some of the tangible benefits of membership. “Instantly I had credibility, recognition, and awareness. Right off the bat I picked up two new customers just starting out.”

There are other advantages as well, such as reconnecting with old friends, and getting to meet other growers.“It’s a great way for us to get connected,” she says. “I feel like it’s a social event anytime we’re all together, everyone’s so friendly.”

A simple spat turned into a successful business – with caring community outreach. Kate Brun has proved that small sprouts can have a big impact.

 

Profile written by Alison Leininger