On the east side of Pittsboro, a short drive into what appears to be countryside, you’ll encounter a curious set of signs. A street sign reads “The Lorax Lane” with a sign next to it that reads “Transfers Welcome”. Then a big welcome to the factory sign with about twenty local brands below it.
As you travel further down the road, seemingly deeper into rural Chatham County, a small parking lot gives way to a collection of buildings that look like some magical, permanent farm picnic.
“People go down Lorax Lane, and I’m always like, ‘How did I not know this was here? said Tammy Schwerin, owner of the plan, who calls herself an experience creator. “Of course we want people to know about us, but with the number of trees, it’s very magical.”
The plant is a little difficult to explain. It’s an independent economic district full of local businesses, including a brewery, distillery, clothing store, art gallery, food trucks and more. There’s playground equipment, art, native plants and people out to enjoy it all – giving it a permanent festival atmosphere. But there’s also a shared ethos that adds to Plant’s unique feel by supporting local business and encouraging entrepreneurs.
“I tell people it’s a mix of Willy Wonka and Dr. Seuss, with local business and sustainability,” says Schwerin.
The property, now The Plant, was originally used as a flower farm, famous for providing flowers for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. When the flower farm closed, the property served as a Cold War aluminum smelting plant for parts for fighter jets. Schwerin and her partners bought the property in 2011. Their first goal was to produce biodiesel, she says.
“At the time, my husband was starting a biodiesel cooperative, so we took over half the buildings to make biodiesel,” Schwerin recalled. “The other two filled us with other sustainable businesses. Then a farmer came and fenced around his farm, and we started planting indigenous plants.
That distinction proved beneficial to the factory. After a short period of popularity in biofuels, the industry shifted to electric vehicles. And the plant evolved into food and beverage and eventually into what it is today: a collection of like-minded businesses.
One Saturday in early spring, the plant was bustling with new energy. Gloria Rodriguez of Lily’s Den Meats was setting up a new deli location in one of the buildings.
“We’re going to have a soft and smooth opening,” she said. “[We] They are going to sell meat, yogurt, eggs, some pottery and other local products.
Outside, Mackenzie Withington was preparing her farm’s food truck for the lunch rush.
“We have a small family farm in Goldston,” she explains. “And we recently opened a food truck to help sell our product in a different way. it’s great. We absolutely love being here at The Plant. It’s a big community.”
Just off to the side of the main building, Michelle Thomas was cutting the ribbon for the grand opening of her candle business, Essence 4 U. With a few friends and family around her, she cut the ribbon, arms raised. The weather and “We’re open!” Before wiping away her tears and ushering in her first round of clients.
Schwerin says energy at The Plant is very common, especially on weekends and Thursdays when the Pittsboro Farmers Market is open.
“Everyone here is a mom-and-pop business, and they’re going to sacrifice themselves to make it work,” she said. I wish people understood how difficult it is to run small businesses like this, including the entire estate.
Nurturing local businesses like this may be part of the secret to the factory’s success.
“We’ve been here so long and we have so many deep connections with people because we’ve built businesses together, done projects or helped people’s families,” Schwerin said. “We’re very fortunate to be able to call a lot of people or have them call us. I think it gives us a leg up.”
The plant is located at 220 Lorax Lane in Pittsboro. It is open seven days a week, although individual business hours vary.
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