Food and Tourism Entrepreneurs in North Carolina
A Program of the Center for Sustainable Tourism and the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, East Carolina University
Entrepreneur Profile: Mary Betty Kearney
Entrepreneur Organization: Nooherooka Natural Farm and The Benjamin W. Best Inn
Mary Betty Kearney and her husband Ossie have transitioned a former family tobacco farm into an all-natural beef farm. Their son Andrew, who has an animal science degree from N.C. State, also came back home to work on the farm. Mary Betty believes that they are in the right business, as she feels that people are becoming more educated about the food they eat. She and her husband have also renovated and moved a historic home to their farm and opened a bed and breakfast in it in 2004. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Mary Betty is also helping to publish a book on Greene County architectural history.
Mary Betty’s Entrepreneurial Traits
Mary Betty has a history of working on the family farm. She previously worked on their tobacco farm by keeping the books. She has also worked at Lenoir Community College teaching job training and was a business major. She served on the state commerce board and was a former county commissioner, all of which have helped her in her current entrepreneurial role. She feels as though consistency is an important characteristic of being an entrepreneur.
Some of the challenges that Nooherooka faced in the first stages of growing their business, stemmed from starting with all new cows. However this was important because it enables them to say that they have birthed the cows, fed the cows, and that the cows only gets what they feed them, all of which comes from their farm. The Kearneys have high standards and it took a good amount of time to get to that point. Mary Betty states it is difficult to have enough cows that are ready for sale and production when the demand is there. Some of the challenges that are out of her control involve the state of the economy and fuel prices, which affect her meat deliveries. Marketing and advertising have been a challenge, especially in terms of the bed and breakfast. Greene County does not have a tourism authority, which has made it difficult for her to market and advertise her businesses.
What Inspires Mary Betty
Mary Betty is inspired by architectural preservation. She learned of a historic home in her county that was going to be destroyed. After viewing it, she and Ossie bought it, and had it moved to their property, which involved removing and then replacing electrical poles along the streets. The chimneys could not be moved with the house so she had them rebuilt. She has replaced all of the windows with handmade windows and worked to get the house recognized on the National Registry of Historic Places. The house has been a bed and breakfast since 2004. On the Nooherooka Naturals side of things, Mary Betty is inspired by interacting with customers and community partners, growing healthy beef, and getting to work with her family.
Positive Aspects of the Entrepreneurial Climate
Mary Betty states that her family has always raised their own beef and eaten what they have raised. She used to have friends who would buy sides of beef, and as a result there has been more encouragement from the community for her to start and expand the business. She believes they are in a wonderful location, calling it the “hub of eastern North Carolina.”
Mary Betty gives farm tours, so that if visitors have questions about the beef she can explain it to them. They charge $5.00 per tour, and although they usually break even from the tours, they do create avid customer base through the interactions and by providing each visitor with a pound of Nooherooka beef. Then those people tell their friends and the word spreads. They are also listed on the Agritourism Networking Association website, and they have their own website and Facebook page. In terms of the bed and breakfast, many of her guests are repeat customers or the relatives of local families. She has found that the clients that tend to appreciate bed and breakfasts also like natural and organic products. The Kearneys also host weddings, receptions, and special dinners at the farm, creating public exposure and increased interest in their farm.
Sustainability Factors of Nooherooka Natural
Nooherooka Natural offers a product with no hormones, steroids, or antibiotics. They use or sell every part of the cow, selling dog bones and utilizing bone marrow for other food products so that nothing goes to waste. They have also made the farming operation sustainable by utilizing a no-till farming method and abstaining from commercial fertilizers. Mary Betty uses recycled boxes for her products, benefiting the environment and their business. In the case of the bed and breakfast, while they were working on the preservation of the building, they have hired local specialists, workers and products as much as possible. They have installed a tankless hot water system, and most of the breakfast food provided at the Inn is local and organic.
Nooherooka Natural has an extensive list of buyers, including the Chef and the Farmer Restaurant in Kinston, which was their first customer; over the years, she and Vivian Howard have exchanged many ideas and advice. She has also provided product for Starlight in Greenville, the Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro, Saxapahaw General Store and the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, Bella Monica’s and NOFO at the Pig in Raleigh, the Mandolin[CK1] in Raleigh, Living Well in Kinston, Henry and Shorty’s and Persimmons in New Bern, and Petals and Produce in Washington. The farm’s beef and pork have also been featured at a farmer’s dinner at NOFO. Mary Betty also connects with Locavore Market who does CSA deliveries for the farm. She is friends with the former executive chef at ECU (Dan) and his wife (Kay Sokolovic) with both of whom Mary Betty discusses marketing strategy. She also works with the marketing division at NCDA. She has had assistance from the Saxapahaw General Store-S-owner, Jeff Barney, as he is a butcher by trade. He has helped with general knowledge, cutting, and pricing. Mary Betty has helped to form a Slow Foods chapter in their area and has attended workshops on tourism at ECU. They have also partnered with North Carolina Preservation to assist with the bed and breakfast and preservation of their home.
Focuses for the Future
In two years Mary Betty hopes that their beef production will have doubled from what it is today. She is also considering holding a feature dinner four times a year in order to showcase their beef product and their beautiful bed and breakfast.