Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Ashley Parker Conway, of Parker Farm & Vineyard, is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!
For a century now, Parker Farm and Vineyard in Orange County has been in operation. While they may not have always grown grapes, the Parker family has always provided for their community in some capacity.
Ashley Parker Conway remembers growing up on the farm, just like her father and his father before. “I was raised on our family’s farm, just like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” she says, “I have fond memories doing homework in the truck bed after school while dad planted grain, or taking naps in the back of the truck as a toddler while my dad and grandparents planted tobacco.” As she got older, Ashley spent her summers helping put tobacco in the barn and picking green beans from the garden. Although she grew up on the farm, she never thought she would become a full-time farmer like her father and grandfather.
After getting married, Ashley and her husband moved back to the family farm, where they started a small garden. That small garden grew, providing Ashley’s family with the produce they now sell each week at farmers markets. While Ashley and her husband focus more so on produce and cut flowers, the Parker family may be best known for their muscadine grapes.
Ashley’s father began growing muscadine grapes in 2001 for Duplin Winery. Since then, the Parker family has scaled down their operation, focusing mainly on pick-your-own muscadines for farm visitors and selling them at farmers markets. During harvest season, Ashley finds herself spending hours each day picking muscadines for the farmers markets and Weaver Street Market. That does not bother her, though, since her favorite way to eat muscadines is right off the vine. “I really only eat them when I pick them, which is about every day, sometimes three hours a day. I definitely like them room temperature.” Ashley enjoys the muscadines due to their unique character.
As natives of North Carolina, the grapes do not face the same pressure of disease that many crops do. Muscadines can also be sold in large amounts at a time since they can last in the fridge, unlike some fruits. “They market themselves,” Ashley said, “they’re a fruit that you can have at a time of year when we don’t have a lot of fruit around here.”
In the future, Ashley hopes to continue farming, while also hoping her children will one day share that same passion for agriculture with her. The Parker family can be found every Saturday at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market and also The South Durham Farmer’s Market. During muscadine season, their grapes can also be found at Weaver Street Market, and on the family farm.