Humble Umbel Farm, located outside of Hillsborough, may only have two acres of land in production – but the team makes the most of it, to say the least.

“We grow pretty intensively,” says the farm’s co-owner Anna Alexandre.

As their website explains, they are “going for maximum nutrition on minimum acreage.” They flip beds often to grow more than 50 different types of vegetables, with an emphasis on the year-round production of greens, lettuces, and salad root vegetables. They also grow herbs and flowers using the same organic and sustainable practices.

They never use synthetic fertilizers, sprays, pesticides, or herbicides.

“That’s what we prefer to eat, and that’s how we want to live on the land,” says Anna. “Giving back to the soils, making sure we are growing the healthiest plants possible, but we are also treating the environment in a healthy way – those things are interconnected.”

The team manages the farm as an ecosystem, providing food and habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators, and wildlife; protecting and planting native species; using cover crops; managing nutrients and soil to minimize runoff and erosion; and using minimal-till market gardening techniques that enhance soil health.

The farm’s name comes from “umbel,” the botanical term for a carrot flower. They are big carrot growers, but the umbel family also includes dill and cilantro.

Established in 2018, Humble Umbel employs four full-time staffers, plus two part-time workers who help with farmers’ markets. (You can find Humble Umbel at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market as well as the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market.)

The farm became living wage certified at the beginning of 2024. Anna says it’s an achievement that she and her partner in business and in life, Brian Conner, are very proud of because it’s something they had to work toward.

“I have to give credit to the customers,” she says. “People are willing to pay what we charge in order to get ourselves to that living wage. … Customers really care about small businesses and local food. And they are willing to put their money where their mouth is.”

Anna and Brian met while working on a small farm just outside Asheville. While Brian grew up on the shores of the Great Lakes, Anna is a native of the Triangle – she fell in love with farming as a teenager thanks to a young farmer training program through the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Farm. The establishment of Humble Umbel doubled as a homecoming for her.

Humble Umbel’s land is rented from the Orange County Cooperative Extension. The acreage is owned by N.C. State University. Anna and Brian are hoping to purchase land in the next few years.

They hired their first employee in 2020. Each year since, they have added a full-time person. Historically, they have offered more seasonal jobs; this year, they are finally in a financial place where they can support year-round positions for everybody.

Those employees make work a lot more fun for Anna and Brian.

“We have always hired folks who really want to work hard and are really passionate about growing food and growing it in the best way possible,” Anna says. “We all have a lot of fun doing it. … It’s fun to work hard, play hard. The nice thing about farming is you can kind of multitask in a way where you are doing a project together, but you can have fun and chat and really get to know someone. Getting that hang time. You are doing something really hard together, which is very team building. We have to harvest in the heat and sometimes in the rain. It really builds connection.”

The living wage designation marks a milestone, but Anna has an eye toward her next goals for the farm.

“If you’re looking at things from a food justice standpoint, I want to be able to pay my employees and myself enough that we can buy the food we are selling. … We need to reach higher than the living wage,” she says. “There are things we want to be able to offer – like 401ks and health care benefits – as a longer-term goal.”

Tammy LeMoine, Martellis Deetjen, Chelsey Onuoha, and Heidi Grant.

Tammy LeMoine was very involved with the PTA as her children attended Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. As she contemplated the components of the area’s excellent school system, with computers provided as well as social services for those in need of access, she wondered: For students with limited resources, what happens when all of that goes away after graduation?

“If you don’t have a plan of what is coming next, it kind of is a tough road,” Tammy says, adding that she watched some of her kids’ friends struggle as they transitioned to the next chapter.

Baking started as a hobby for Tammy. But, wanting to make a difference by helping one person at a time, she founded Starfish Bakery in 2021 in order to hire young adults, provide a living wage, and share some guidance about how to get ahead after high school.

She is now an empty nester and bakes regularly with Heidi Grant, a friend and fellow empty nester who has been on the Starfish team since the beginning. The pair is joined in the kitchen at Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough by two young team members. They were referred to Tammy by the Blue Ribbon Mentor program and Second Family Foundation, which is dedicated to providing youth who experience risks, including going through foster care, with as much of a middle class child’s experience as possible.

“We are in the kitchen for six to eight hours at a time,” says Tammy. “There’s an element of boredom. After a while, it gets a little quiet, which leaves room for talking about your inner thoughts and lives, and you start to get more details. We bake, talk about life’s problems, share our experiences, and try to help each other make good choices.”

Tammy, a former financial planner, often gives advice related to budgeting and banking.

“We’re doing budgeting and talking about rent,” she says. “We look at the cost of college classes. I have met the kids outside of work to sit down at the library and take a piece of paper and do a budget. Once you start seeing the budget, it is apparent why we need to do this. They cannot survive without it.”

For this reason, Tammy prioritizes paying a living wage for her employees. (The 2024 living wage is $17.65, or $16.15 with employer-provided health insurance.) “We aren’t selling things for hundreds of dollars. But we have to keep up,” she says. “Rent is costly. Going to college is costly. I am watching the numbers on the other side – the cost of gas, food. It is so helpful that [Orange County Living Wage] gives me a guide. I don’t have to do it based on experience. They are doing the legwork and the research for me.”

Starfish Bakery makes lemon bars, cupcakes, whoopie pies, cookies, pies, breads, and fruit pies. Their offerings can be found at Steve’s Garden Market in Hillsborough, Hillsborough Farm and Garden Stand, and the RambleRill Farm Saturday Slowdown. They also bake the cookie component of Elaka Treats’ ice cream sandwich.

Starfish also accept orders from private individuals, UNC Hospital, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, local realtors, and more. They deliver every Friday around Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Durham. On occasion, they have been commissioned to bake birthday cakes and wedding cakes.

“It’s busy, and it’s working out really well,” Tammy says. “We are getting better all the time and making our way into different venues.”

Learn more about Starfish Bakery and their offerings at starfishbakery.org.

Our thanks to 97.9 FM WCHL for spreading the word about our recently certified living wage employers. Have a listen the short clips below to learn more about these businesses and organizations – and please support them as you can!

Elysian Fields Farm

Law Offices of Amos Tyndall

Ballet School of Chapel Hill 

Transplanting Traditions Community Farm

Orange Congregations in Mission

Temporary Wall Systems 

Jury X 

Skylark Music School

Endswell Water Cremation

SKJAJA Fund

Me-Gi’s Dog Bakery

Lubbers & Sons Tree Care

Chapel Hill Day Care Center

The Cheese Shop

Emerge Pediatric Therapy 

Carolina Jewelry Appraisers

Franklin Street Yoga Center 

Walk & Wag

Carolina Advocates for Climate, Health, and Equity

The Treeist

Earth Yoga

Voices Together

Adkin CPA PLLC

Fiferum Construction 

Equiti Foods

Alliance for Historic Hillsborough

Humble Umbel Farm

Launch Labs

FRANK

Wild Flora Flowers

Neal’s Deli

Latino Community Credit Union

State Employees’ Credit Union

EarthCo Landscaping

Orange County’s newly updated 2023 living wage for hourly workers is $16.60 an hour, or $15.10 for employers who pay at least half of employees’ health insurance costs. Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) adjusts the living wage annually to keep pace with rising rents.

OCLW determines its living wage by using the widely accepted Universal Living Wage Formula based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard that no more than 30% of a person’s gross income should be devoted to housing. To calculate the wage, OCLW uses the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in a four-county area including Alamance, Chatham, Durham, and Orange counties.

Since Orange County Living Wage’s voluntary employer certification program began in 2015, nearly 340 employers have certified as paying all full- and part-time employees the living wage. The 266 employers on OCLW’s current roster employ about 9,000 employees in Orange County. In this past year of record inflation, 48 new employers were recognized for their commitment to paying a living wage.

“Someone earning $7.25 per hour will gross $15,080, if they work 40 hours a week all year. In this time of rising costs, it is completely insufficient,” says OCLW Director Susan Romaine. “A $16.60 hourly wage reflects the minimum wage necessary for workers to live close enough to our county to provide essential services like staffing our hospitals, schools, police and fire departments, grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, nonprofits, and more. We commend our 266 certified living wage employers for their leadership in the local economy and for prioritizing their workers.”

When a business or organization certifies as a living wage employer, OCLW calculates the total amount they raised wages to meet the living wage threshold. Since 2015, that total is $2.8 million, with over $950,000 stemming from 2022 wage increases alone – money that is often spent in Orange County.

Learn more about Orange County Living Wage, view postings on the living wage jobs board, or fill out the free application to become a certified living wage employer at orangecountylivingwage.org.

In 2022, we welcomed 48 Orange County employers to our roster of living wage employers. Compare that to 2021, when we added 34 employers! Are you the leader of an Orange County business or organization that wishes to join the ranks in 2023? Here are some tips to help you achieve this goal as we enter this new year!

  1. Run the numbers, and determine when you might be able to hit this milestone. Measure the wage gap – meaning, compare current wages with the benchmark to understand what lies ahead. Our 2023 living wage is $16.60 an hour, or $15.10 for employers who pay at least half of employees’ health insurance costs. The certification will be in effect for the next two years, and then there’s a more streamlined process to be recertified based on the living wage that is in place at the time of your recertification. Prospective living wage employers: OCLW can connect you with a certified employer, in a similar industry, who can share some tricks of the trade. A mentor of sorts. Reach out to us.
  2. Assess whether your overall model might be due for a second look. Nicholas Stroud of Belltree Cocktail in Carrboro wanted to raise his wage to more than $15 per hour but didn’t think that should mean he should hold back any tips – so now his workers earn a living wage plus gratuity. “You should have seen the smiles on [my team’s] faces,” he told The Local Reporter. “They were happy to come to work and proud to work here.”

    The staff at Belltree.

    Glasshalfull eliminated the tip obligation when they reopened following Covid. Their website states: “You will notice that our menu prices have increased. In order to eliminate the tip obligation, we raised prices by the average percentage tip previously paid at Glasshalfull. This makes it possible to provide fair and equitable pay for our employees and an excellent experience for you at approximately the same price you used to pay. Glasshalfull has been involved with Orange County Living Wage since 2016 when we were certified as a Living Wage Employer. Our lowest starting hourly wage at Glasshalfull is $16 an hour, topping out at $30. We care about all of our employees, and we pay our service employees a real living wage. If you feel your service team goes above and beyond, may we suggest an optional gratuity of 3%, 4%, 5%, or a custom amount in lieu of the current obligatory 18%, 20%, or 22%.”

    The team at Ten Mothers Farm.

  3. Document your “why.” Put pen to paper to express why this is important for your business/organization and what it would mean to you personally, to your patrons, to your team, and to the larger community as a whole. Getting clear on your motivation will help you reach your goal. “We decided to pay a living wage because it aligns with one of our core values – ‘belonging,’” says Jacklyn Goggins, executive director of B3 Coffee. “To us, belonging means respecting the worth and dignity of all people in the workplace and beyond. To us, a living wage means equitable access to purposeful and community-oriented work. A living wage benefits our employees, business and the broader community because it means we are doing our part to shift power to marginalized communities.”
    Mark Overbay of Big Spoon Roasters recently told us: “As a small, family-owned business, we prioritize taking care of our people and their families because healthy and inspired people are empowered to create nutritious and delicious food. When we had the vision for Big Spoon Roasters back in 2010, we had a clear goal of creating a different kind of food business – the type of place we’d like to work – that makes the kinds of no-compromise foods we love to eat, and helps people develop a healthier relationship with our planet. Every business decision is made with this mission in mind.”
    Vera Fabien of Ten Mothers Farm shared: “Paying a living wage means our farmers have stable, year-round jobs and can stick around longer than one season, which makes our business more resilient. Skilled long-term farmers make for better vegetables and better service for our CSA customers. It’s taken us a number of years to get to this point, but it feels really good to finally be here, and we believe it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”
  4. Be transparent with your employees – and other key stakeholders – about your plans. St. Thomas More Catholic Parish of Chapel Hill’s leaders took a strategic approach to ensure that they could support their living wage goal in the long term. But they informed parishioners – about 2,800 families representing about 8,000 individuals – that this was something they were working toward. “Even before we started the offertory appeal, we let folks know that this is a goal we have. We shared that we weren’t there yet and explained why,” says the Rev. Scott E. McCue.

    McCue with parishioners at a recent international fair.

    In October 2021, living wages were announced as a key component of the parish’s annual increased offertory appeal; parishioners are annually asked to think strategically about their financial gifts to the parish. In short, leaders made the case that as the cost of living increases, so, too, must wages. The parish became certified in the spring of 2022.

    5. Share information about Orange County Living Wage with your employees – so that they can understand how the current living wage is calculated, how the application process works, what our current roster looks like, and how we work to connect living wage employers to job seekers. Our website – orangecountylivingwage.org  – is chock full of information about our history, our living wage employers and employees, and more! You can also view our past newsletters.

    6. If there is a business or organization on our roster that you are familiar with, reach out to its leaders and ask them to have a conversation about what they have learned along the way. Maggie Funkhouser, the manager of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, learned about the Orange County Living Wage certification program through living wage employers in the community – market vendors, restaurants, and others, including the Town of Carrboro. “We have a really wonderful relationship [with the Town of Carrboro], and there’s a lot of mutual support,” she says. “Certainly, them being living wage certified is a hugely impactful thing, and it affected me.” The market became living wage certified in 2022.

    7. Reach out to Orange County Living Wage so that you can be notified of upcoming networking opportunities. In the new year, OCLW aspires to host events in certified living wage employers’ spaces so that prospective living wage employers and current living wage employers can exchange tips, swap strategies, put their heads together about creating and maintaining a successful living wage workplace.

 

Orange County Living Wage is pleased to announce that Golden Fig Books has been certified as a living wage employer.

Independently owned by David Bradley, the book shop opened this fall in Carrboro’s Carr Mill Mall.

Seven days a week, the team offers a mix of new, used, and children’s books. Patrons can bring in their used books to possibly receive cash or store credit.

Learn more at goldenfigbooks.com. 

David is pictured at center with Olivia LaMarca and Sarah Yarborough. Read on for David’s thoughts on the importance of paying a living wage.

Why have you decided to pay a living wage? 

Golden Fig Books pays a living wage because we believe it’s fundamental that any workplace be able to provide for its employees. I’ve always wanted Golden Fig to have a positive effect on our community and, to me, that starts with our staff. As we continue to grow, I’m hopeful that we can make bookselling a viable long-term career option and, in order to do that, we have to start by guaranteeing a liveable wage for everybody involved.

What does the living wage mean to you? 

I view a living wage as an excellent starting point for a sustainable business. The federal minimum wage has lagged so far behind inflation, worker productivity, and the cost of living that it is basically meaningless to today’s economic environment. By starting our employees at a living wage, we hope this allows them to lead full lives and take pride in their work without the constant stress that comes with being chronically underpaid.

How do living wages benefit your employees, your business, and the broader community?

This is one of the occasions where the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” truly does apply. Living wages have the direct benefit of putting more money in the hands of our employees and demonstrating that we value the incredible work they do at the store. But, from a broader perspective, it also has the benefit of uplifting and improving our local community. If everyone were guaranteed a living wage, there would simply be more money spread throughout the community, leading to innumerable benefits such as increased tax revenue for local government projects, more worker freedom (both in terms of time and opportunities), and more disposable income that can be put back into the community’s locally owned businesses in a virtuous cycle. Every organization that commits to paying living wages brings us one small step closer to that vision.

 

Dear Living Wage Supporter,

During this time of labor shortages and soaring inflation, we’re very proud that Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) is adding new employers to our roster at a record pace. Over 250 certified living wage employers appear on our roster, up from 220 in 2021. They represent 8,800 workers – roughly 10% of all workers in Orange County.

As our living wage community grows, wages climb. Our 2022 living wage is $15.85 per hour, or $14.35 per hour if the employer pays at least half the cost of health insurance. Since OCLW’s launch in 2015, our certified employers have raised wages by a combined $2.8 million to meet our annually adjusted living wage threshold. That extra money makes it possible for lower-wage workers to pay for rent, food, and transportation, with the dollars often spent right here in Orange County.

Will you help OCLW grow our living wage movement by making an end-of-year donation?
▪ For $1,000, sponsor two networking events for our 250 certified living wage employers, creating opportunities for cost-saving collaborations and synergies.
▪ For $250, help us maintain our Job Board, connecting employers to skilled workers and workers to good-paying jobs.
▪ For $150, help us fund publicity for our living wage employers through social media, a bimonthly newsletter, our blog, opportunities to engage with the media, and printed pieces such as brochures.
▪ For $100, supply framed certificates and breakroom posters for 10 certified living wage employers.
▪ For $50, purchase OCLW storefront decals for 10 employers.
▪ For $7.25, remind yourself and others of the unacceptable 13-year-old minimum wage for workers in Orange County.

Make your tax-deductible gift today. Mail a check payable to OCLW at P.O. Box 1502, Carrboro, NC 27510. Or visit our website at orangecountylivingwage.org/donate/. You can also head to our website to view our growing roster of living wage employers – all would appreciate your support this holiday season.

Thank you for doing your part to sustain living wages and create a more equitable economy for everyone in Orange County!

BY ANDREA CASH

When St. Thomas More Catholic Parish of Chapel Hill became certified by Orange County Living Wage in July, there was much rejoicing, as a long-term goal had been reached. Behind the scenes, the process had been underway for more than five years.

The effort began with advocacy from the outreach committee of about 16 people, which is centered around the idea of treating others fairly. The committee works on initiatives like blood drives, weekly food drives, collecting and donating clothing and household items for community members in need, and the CROP Hunger Walk.

Susan Romaine, a founder at OCLW, is also a parishioner at St. Thomas More. She presented to the committee about OCLW’s mission years ago. Outreach committee member Carol Prokop was particularly moved. “It didn’t occur to me that some people at the church may not be getting paid living wages,” she says. “It’s an issue that is very important to me. And now and then, I would check back with the parish leaders to see how things were going – and then report back to the committee.”

Carlos Lima

“It’s just the way the work of the church happens and the way we function,” says Carlos Lima, St. Thomas More’s director of operations and finance. “People bring in concerns and initiatives, and we respond in the best way we can.”

Walking the Walk

Prokop says becoming living wage certified sets an example as followers of Christ.

“As a church, we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” she says. “If we are telling people that we need to be compassionate and empathetic and support fairness and justice  … we must support people’s basic rights. People need a fair wage for their work in order to get those basic rights met.”

Lima says the parish could have been certified a couple of years ago, except the wages of some part-time workers weren’t where they needed to be. OCLW’S living wage for 2022 is $15.85 per hour, or $14.35 per hour if the employer pays at least half the cost of health insurance. The church’s leaders took a strategic approach to ensure that they could support this goal in the long term. But they informed parishioners – about 2,800 families representing about 8,000 individuals – that this was something they were working toward.

“Even before we started the offertory appeal, we let folks know that this is a goal we have. We shared that we weren’t there yet and explained why,” says the Rev. Scott E. McCue.

In October 2021, living wages were announced as a key component of the parish’s annual increased offertory appeal; parishioners are annually asked to think strategically about their financial gifts to the parish. In short, leaders made the case that as the cost of living increases, so, too, must wages. Would parishioners help fund the wage increase?

McCue with parishioners at a recent international fair.

McCue recalls that parishioners immediately understood that “the reason we are able to be successful in our mission – to Pray, Serve, and Spread the Gospel with Joy – is because we have the employees we have who do the work that they do.”

Parishioners met the moment by increasing their financial gifts between the fall of 2021 and July 1, 2022, making it possible for wages to be lifted and the living wage goal to be met. The parish has 28 employees. On average, wages were increased by $2 per hour – signifying an annual wage increase of $126,760. The parish’s work force falls into four main categories: pastoral staff (including two priests, a deacon, and a lay minister)); faith development staff focusing on the education of adults, children and youth; administrative staff, including an office manager and support staff; and the maintenance department. On average, staffers have been with the parish for eight years.

“I think the staff was very much appreciative that we were looking at this in a very intentional way to make sure that we were keeping up with the cost of living and being mindful of the needs that they have and the responsibilities they have,” McCue says. “The fact that we took on the initiative to be certified I think says something given our presence in and impact on the community. … For us as faith leaders, we speak often about that need to look out for those who are most in need in our midst. … Part of this has to be to make sure we are looking out for those who are entrusted in our care.”

St. Thomas More team members at work (clockwise from top left): Julie, James, Willie, Claudina, and Jennifer.

Lima says the certification is an example of putting “your resources where your message is, where your heart is.”

“It’s important that people know that this is faith-based initiative,” says Pastoral Associate Mary Ellen McGuire. “This all stems from Jesus Christ, who was a model of justice for us – and fairness and compassion. That’s what drove this.”

‘The Right Thing to Do’

McGuire adds that she is hopeful that parishioners who either own businesses or have the ability to influence their workplace will spread the word about OCLW, leading to more wage increases in the county.

“People feel it’s important and feel gratified that the money they put in the coffers is going toward this,” she says. “People work hard, and the staff is extremely grateful. There is rejoicing, and the sentiment is that it’s the right thing to do.”

All photography – with the exception of the collage of staff photos at the end of the article – by Tom Simon. 

 

To commemorate Labor Day, WCHL’s Aaron Keck hosted a panel discussion featuring local workers whose employers are certified with us. Tammy Price from Chapel Hill Transit, Alaina Plauche from Meantime Coffee, and Ben Sellers from Ten Mothers Farm reflected on what it means to be paid a living wage. OCLW’s Susan Romaine and Andrea Cash spoke about our organization’s history and mission. Listen to the audio clips via WCHL’s website. 

And don’t forget to take part in our social media campaign this Labor Day weekend.  In a separate segment, Aaron and his husband Brad talked about their date night plans that will include stops at living wage employers like Belltree, Lantern, Epilogue, and more.