Riding a golf cart past rows of squash, zucchini and okra, Ray Furr of Concord reminisced about the days he spent working the farm.
He recalled the corn shuckings where neighbors gathered to help remove corn husks and the late summer weeks when schools let students out to pick cotton on family farms.
"This was all farmland," said the 74-year-old, waving his hand over land now wooded and dotted with homes.
Across the county, farmland has given way to housing developments, but as farmers' market season comes into bloom, more people are seeking out locally grown food.
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The Piedmont Farmers Market, which operates five markets across the county, will have 70 vendors this year. On a busy Saturday morning, the Winecoff Market on Winecoff School Road in Concord draws up to 3,000 people, said David Goforth, a Cabarrus County Extension agent.
Land once plowed for cotton has been bulldozed for development as the area experiences continuing growth, creating a problematic juxtaposition between the growing demand for local food and vanishing farmland.
Tommy Barbee, owner of Barbee Farms, can see four housing developments from his family farm off Poplar Tent in Concord. They've been popping up like the rows of lettuce in his fields.
Despite all the development around them, the Barbees are still hard at work.
"I guess we're hard-headed," Barbee said. "We've gone from one of many to one of a very few."
The average age of a Cabarrus County farmer is 59, signaling the graying of the farming community. Farming is hard work, and farmers' children often choose a different way of life, said Debbie Bost, director of the Cabarrus Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
"If there isn't that succession, there's the likelihood that the land will be sold to development," Bost said.
Near Furr's nearly 2-acre garden lies the grave of Paul Furr, the son of Heinrich Furrier, a German soldier who came to the United States to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War. Furrier, who later changed his name to Henry Furr, settled in southeast Cabarrus County, and the family has lived on the land ever since.
When Ray Furr was young, his family planted about 75 acres with cotton, corn, wheat and oats and raised hogs, cows and chickens.
But as family members passed away, the 300 acres once owned by his father have been split up and some of it sold.
"Nobody wanted to farm it," said Furr, who owns about 16 acres of the family land.
Last year, the county launched the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm Park in Concord to give would-be farmers a taste of farm life. For a $100 annual fee, beginner farmers can use a half-acre and farming equipment while receiving training to see if they're cut out for careers as farmers.
"If you weren't born to the farm, it's difficult to find your way into farming," Bost said.
As of last week, 78 people were on a waiting list to get their hands on a plot of land at the park, where 16 people are now farming. The incubator farm is attracting attention from across the state.
"Cabarrus County is shaking things up in the way we approach local food," Bost said.
Cabarrus County land is expensive, and farmers must not only be able to afford the land but also the necessary equipment, Bost said. That's why the Extension Service's goal is to connect fledgling farmers from the incubator farm with retiring farmers who might allow them to use their land or even purchase it.
Recent E. coli and salmonella scares have boosted business for local farmers because people are concerned about where their food is coming from, say growers.
Furr, who retired after more than 30 years as a parts manager for a trucking company, has always kept a large garden. This year, he's planted several vegetables, including tomatoes, squash and okra, and his specialty: blueberries. He spends hours every day tending to his small crop.
"Once a farmer, always a farmer," said his wife, Brenda Furr.
Farming is a full-time job for Barbee, his 61-year-old brother, Charlie Barbee, and his 23-year-old son, Brent Barbee, who manages the farm.
Brent Barbee said his farm's produce is sometimes more expensive than produce available in grocery stores or even from other farmers. His family is more concerned about quality, he said.
Until about three years ago, Barbee Farms, which is more than 100 years old, produced only field crops such as soybeans and barley. In the past three years, the number of plants the farm has produced has doubled each year. Now the farm sends produce to local markets six days a week.
"You've got to get so big to make a living at it," said Brent Barbee, the family's sixth generation to farm the land. "We're making a comfortable living for us. It's what we love."