Commentary

Gaspo: The farm store you can’t forget

Raleigh News & ObserverJuly 8, 2014 

TOM GASPAROLI

The intersection of Erwin Road and Mt. Moriah Road is known for being tedious and sometimes dangerous. In the anxiety that arises when drivers approach Erwin from Mt. Moriah, they may not fully notice a slew of colorful signs along the roadway pointing to something special alongside.

No joke: it’s Funny Girl Farm. More on the light-hearted name in a moment.

It’s worth the trouble to pull over and on to the gravel in front of the Funny Girl farm store, and see if the proprietor has any fresh free-range eggs left. Eggs, and a lineup of vegetables your body will thank you for in the morning.

Along with the oh-so-tasty veggies you’d expect, patrons can get carefully nurtured seasonal shitake mushrooms (and carefully inoculated logs to grow them yourself – for $30), okra, eggplant, herbs, seedlings, watermelon, cantaloupe, stunning sunflowers, simple but beautiful flower bunches, and firewood. Yep, firewood. Funny how Funny Girl thought of everything.

Most of the homegrown treasure is cultivated a quarter mile down the curving road behind the friendly store without a door, on the 105-acre farm with long rows of produce and well over a hundred chickens. A dozen or so roosters, too.

Also down the way, two grand Great Pyrenees, the furry white, well bred dogs that guard against danger from animal predators. Seeing the Pyrenees on alert is practically worth the trip to Funny Girl.

Funny Girl also invites a limited number of outside vendors to sell, with products such as plain challah bread (one loaf, and I can’t stop thinking about it), from Durham’s Sacred Table, and applesauce (equally unforgettable) from Heirloom Goodness, also of Durham.

This serene spot is a slice of Durham heaven two miles from Wal-Mart.

About the name

To the question you’re asking, the one that got me to stop by Funny Girl in the first place. Why the unusual name?

Maybe it’s not surprising to wind up with something different when one considers the farm was formed by owners Roz Abram, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who teaches at Duke Medical School, and Adam Abram, a banking and insurance entrepreneur - along with general manager Ethan Loewenthal, who went to Brown and studied structural engineering.

What do these folks know from farming? If salivary glands are a guide, they now know a lot, with Loewenthal leading the way. He works 12-plus hours a day, with some help from Melissa the vegetable manager and three interns, one an ex-Marine.

“The only thing I do when I’m not here is sleep,” Loewenthal said.

Adam Abram provided the backstory.

“I was driving with my young son Josh years ago,” he said. “I said something I thought was funny.”

Abram replayed the rest.

Josh: “Dad, that wasn’t funny.”

Dad: “It was very funny, son. I’m the funniest one in the family.”

Josh: “Dad, you’re not funny at all.”

Silence.

Josh: “If you’re the funniest guy in the family, then I’m the funniest girl.”

The pair got home. They told Roz about the debate. Mom, in all seriousness, said:

“Neither of you is funny. I’m definitely the funniest girl in the family.”

Boy and dad had to agree. And Roz Abram became “the funniest girl.”

Shorten it to “Funny Girl,” and 20 years later, the chickens came home to roost.

“The name means something wonderful to our family,” Adam Abram said, “and people like it.”

The Abrams bought the property a few years ago. They plan to build a home behind the trees and retire there some day.

Roz and I want to keep the land useful,” Abram said, “be good stewards, and continue growing healthy food that people want.”

Loewenthal thinks he’s the lucky one. “I love running Funny Girl,” he said. “It’s a dream for me.”

The 36-year old is a carpenter, too. He built much of the store, the cool chicken coop and more. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “But we’re gonna make this work.”

Funny Girl is like any other small business not named Funny Girl – it’s tough to turn a profit. When the corner of Erwin and Mt. Moriah is transformed into a roundabout (already underway), Funny Girl’s owners and GM believe business is going to bust out.

“We already plan on doubling egg production,” Loewenthal said. “Right now, they sell out in the first hour.”

And the dog patrol? Feebe and Filbert are the gorgeous Great Pyrenees that protect the exceptional egg producers. The pair is on duty 24/7 to scare off the coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and hawks that frequently strive to have Funny Girl’s chickens for dinner.

“Without Feebe and Filbert,” Loewenthal said, “we’d have zero chickens.”

The farm store is open 3-6 p.m. M-F, and 10-3 p.m. Saturdays. Funny Girl also has a greenhouse and two partly solar-powered high tunnels, which help the store stay stocked with goods through the winter. The farm’s on Facebook, and you can follow @funnygirlfarm to learn what’s fresh on the stand.

Funny Girl Farm is a downright original where you’d least expect it. You really can’t miss the signs.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.

 

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