Interview with Catherine Classen, Owner of Finally Farm

| By Rosanna Keyes |

Catherine has a youthful and vibrant energy about her that was especially apparent on a recent winter afternoon as we sat in her living room, chatting about her experiences as a farmer and small business owner. Catherine is the owner and founder of Finally Farm, located on Reems Cove Road in Marshall, and she has been a long-time attendee at the annual Asheville Herb Festival (this will be her 7th year), as well as a staple presence at four weekly farmer’s markets in the Asheville area.

Catherine Classen

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background; how did you first get into farming?

I moved to Annapolis, Maryland in my early 20s and started out with house gardens that just kept expanding a little bit each year. In 1990 I bought a 5-acre farm and built a greenhouse that, like the garden space, also kept expanding. I started to sell at local farmer’s markets and natural food stores, and the business began to thrive. At that time, organic certification was just starting to become a factor and I became the 2nd farm in the state of Maryland to become organically certified. When I first started out it was always just something that I loved doing; I didn’t think too far beyond the fact that I loved the feel of my hands in the dirt, loved watching the transformation from seed to plant. And I still love it! It never gets old.

What were some of the challenges as a farmer first starting out?

The biggest challenge starting out was being a single woman and running my own business. I was not eligible for a bank loan because I was a single woman with no male co-signer. It didn’t matter that I had already been successfully running my own business for a number of years. I was judged by my marital and gender status, not on the merit of my professional accomplishments. As frustrating as that was, it taught me that anything is possible with enough work and dedication.

Do you feel that things have changed for the better for women and minorities who run their own businesses?

Yes, there have been a lot of positive changes, though they are slow to come, and things are still not equal. There are now a lot of organizations that help small business owners get started, and there’s less gender bias now than there was back then for women farmers.

What brought you to the Marshall area, and how did you end up at Finally Farm?

After getting divorced and having a bout with breast cancer, I decided I needed a big change so I sold the farm and moved to this area. I was really drawn to the progressive community and the focus on farming and the healing arts. While in Maryland I had gone to school to get my massage certification, so after moving here I started my own massage business in Asheville, in the space that is now Unity Healing Arts. I kept seeing this “land for sale” sign on Reems Cove Road, but it always seemed too expensive. When I finally came to look at it I knew as soon as I set foot on the property that I had to buy it. This land has a very special, healing energy about it, and it also already had a greenhouse and garden space. I initially rented out the greenhouse and continued my massage business, until deciding that I wanted to commit full-time to farming again.

What kinds of things do you grow and sell?

I grow a wide assortment of vegetable starts, annual and perennial herbs, annual and perennial flowers, succulents, and also sell some vegetables and berries when they are in season.

What are the positive aspects of running your own business? What keeps you motivated?

I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love! The magic of putting a little seed in some dirt and watching it become a plant that heals and nourishes never gets old. I love the way plants can cross pollinate and become something entirely new. I’m always learning something new about plants and life in general, and although the work is hard, it’s also immensely satisfying. I have also met so many wonderful people over the years at markets and at the herb show. It is my hope in the next several years to be able to pass the business on to someone who loves this work as much as I do, someone who will help it to continue to thrive and grow.

In addition to the Asheville Herb Festival, Catherine can be found each week selling her beautiful plants at the following farmer’s markets.

River Arts District – Wednesdays from 2:00-6:00
Biltmore Park, Long Shoals Road – Wednesdays from 12:00-4:00
East Asheville, Tunnel Road – Fridays from 3:00-6:00
Asheville City Market – Saturdays from 8:00-12:00

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker