MINT HILL, NC – An average suburban neighborhood located a stone’s throw from Independence High School isn’t where you’d expect to buy locally grown produce, but that’s exactly where you’ll find local favorite Hillbilly Jay’s.
Run by Brooke and Jason DiFucci, HillBilly Jay’s was, as Brooke puts it, a complete accident. “Two years ago we decided to do a small little raised bed garden,” says Jason. “It went crazy, and we had so much leftover that we didn’t know what to do with it!”
Noticing that people often asked where you could buy homegrown tomatoes on local Facebook groups, the DiFuccis decided to offer up their extras for $2 a pound. “People were lining up; we couldn’t keep anything in stock,” says Jason. “If I said, ‘Hey, I have 20 lbs of tomatoes, are there a few people who want them?’ literally the first person would be like, ‘I’ll take all 20 lbs!’ and then realistically, three days later they’re calling back saying, ‘Do you have more?’”
Hillbilly Jay’s wildly popular pickles were an equally happy accident. When pickling cucumbers started taking over the DiFucci’s small raised garden beds, Jason had the idea to try to make pickles. “I looked up a recipe, tweaked it a little bit, and made a batch of four jars,” says Jason. “I put them in the refrigerator and let them sit for two weeks, and that’s how Hillbilly Jay’s pickles started.”
Hillbilly Jay’s began selling their pickles and produce weekly at the Mint Hill Farmer’s market, and they also started planning for a bigger garden. Last year, they grew a 1000-plant garden on their half-acre lot; this year they’re planning to push their fence back and double it to 2000 plants. In addition to pickles and tomatoes, they grow and sell an assortment of pickled and fresh produce: pickled eggs and beets, apple butter, pico de gallo, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, corn, apples, potatoes, and onions.
Hillbilly Jay’s grows all of their produce in their backyard in organic soil without any pesticides. “A lot of people ask us, are you organic?” says Brooke. “We use organic soil, and we don’t use pesticides, so by definition, yes.” The process of becoming certified organic, however, is a costly and time-consuming one (it requires, among other things, that growers use the same soil for three years and then have it tested) that the DiFuccis aren’t certain they want to pursue. “We could go get it tested,” continues Brooke, “but that would mean I’d have to raise my prices, and I don’t want to do that to our customer. Customers who have followed us for the past three years, know what our products are, so we just don’t feel like it’s necessarily that important to get that organic seal.”
In addition to expanding their garden last year, Hillbilly Jay’s also piloted a wildly successful “produce box” featuring an assortment of fresh-picked produce from that week. Like most of their ideas, they encountered overwhelming for the boxes immediately. The day they launched the program, they made 13 boxes, splitting up to deliver them to opposite sides of Mint Hill when they returned home from their day jobs.
What a lot of people might not know is that Hillbilly Jay’s is not the DiFuccis full-time job. “We work full-time jobs!” says Brooke, who works in accounting. “I work for Publix,” adds Jason. “I’m an assistant bakery manager for one of their locations. I work 45 to 50 hours a week, and then when I get home at 5:30, I change, put my muck boots on and go straight out to the garden.”
After two years at the Farmer’s Market, Hillbilly Jay’s is excited to open their own produce stand this spring next to Perry’s Market. Tentatively set to open May 22, the stand will be open Monday through Saturday. “It’s only us growing, so we don’t have enough to supply 10-hour days, seven days a week,” says Brooke. “So we’ll open up more in the afternoon, around 2:00 or 3:00, when kids get out of school or adults are on their way home from work.”
The produce stand will give Hillbilly Jay’s the opportunity to partner with other local growers like Carter Family Bees and Mullis Family Farms. They plan to sell Carter Family Bees’ honey and Mullis Family Farms’ meats at the stand and are tossing around the idea of constructing a produce box that includes their items as well. “Without the support of our customers, we wouldn’t be where we are, so we want to do the same,” says Brooke. “If there are other local Mint Hill businesses that can be sold at our stand, we want to help those businesses. If we have space, why not bring their stuff in to help them sell?”
Hillbilly Jay’s main focus will be on the produce stand this spring, but they’ll continue offering the same personalized service that has made them a local favorite. They plan to offer produce boxes again. You’ll still be able to order and pay online, and they’ll still offer local delivery one or two nights a week. “Of course, if customers really need something, we’re always there for them!” adds Brooke.
“We have really good customers,” continues Brooke. “We’ve been able to grow because of Mint Hill. We tell our customers all the time through posts and stuff like that that they really have no idea how much they mean to us, and we couldn’t do it without them. It’s awesome to see how happy all of our customers are with our products. As a business owner, that’s what you want to see.”
With the support of their customers, Hillbilly Jay’s looks forward to continued growth in the coming years. Eventually, they’d like to move to a bigger property where they can have a 2-acre garden and raise cattle and meat birds. “We’d eventually like to get to where this could be what we do full time,” says Brooke, “but just like any other small business, it’s baby steps.”
In the meantime, they’ll continue making the most of their half-acre. “This is what you’re supporting,” says Brooke, gesturing around the downstairs of her Mint Hill home. Seed packets are lined up on the dining room table next to a spiral notebook titled, “Hillbilly Jay’s Produce.” Their five-year-old daughter drops off a gift of a playdough ice cream cone. “When you buy from us, you’re not supporting a huge corporation,” adds Jason. “You’re supporting a family: a mom, a dad, and a little girl who put time and hard work into this and want to make it bigger and better.”
You can learn more about Hillbilly Jay’s and order produce on their website at https://www.hillbillyjays.com/. For the latest news and offerings, follow them on Facebook @Hillbillyjays.
This is the first article in a series that will endeavor to introduce our local farms and farmers. Tune in next week to learn more about Carter Family Bees!