Love Cultivates More Than ProduceSep 14, 2020 01:03PM ● By Alexis Mason
Tucked away beautifully in the hills of northern Iredell County, sits a garden oasis in the peace and quiet. Well manicured rows of vines sweep alongside the garden far as the eye can see. Blueberries, scuppernongs, and muscadines grapes can be found in the foliage. Three acres etched out of Rocky Ridge Farm, owned by Penny and her husband, Reid, Grietje's Garden of Rocky Ridge Farm - Olin, NC is a delightful place, however the heart of the woman who cares for it is even more precious.
Penny Ledbetter grew up in the eastern portion of North Carolina in Castle Hayne and later the Raleigh area. From a young age, Ledbetter had been exposed to agriculture as both her grandparents were experienced farmers, growing things such as flowers and tobacco. Her father, who also loved to grow vegetables, inspired her to begin working with blueberries and grapes.
Upon graduation from Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh, she made her way to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, grades 4-9. Through hard work, determination, and support from her mother and stepfather, Penny was able to maintain the North Carolina State Prospective Teachers Scholarship Loan for all four years of college. Later she received her Masters degree in Middle School Communication Skills (Reading/Writing/Language Arts) from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She also held National Board Certification in Early Adolescent/Language Arts.
“Even as a little girl I liked to play school. I was fascinated with teaching others and I loved playing teacher," Ledbetter shared. “It has always been in my nature to teach and I liked working with children. I liked the idea of becoming a teacher.”
Planting More than the Seeds of Knowledge
Ledbetter’s first teaching assignment was at Vance Elementary School in Wake County. After Reid and Penny married, Reid received a teaching position in Iredell County leading to a move. Penny continued her teaching career at Oakwood Junior High (Statesville Middle School) and later North Iredell Middle School - Olin, NC. Even after officially retiring in 2006, she continued to work at Elkin Middle School, North Davie Middle School, Statesville Middle and Troutman Middle School - Troutman, NC. Currently, she substitute teaches at Union Grove Elementary School - Union Grove, NC and is a hired tutor at various points of the school year.
Teaching is not the only thing Ledbetter and her husband have in common. They both come from a background in agriculture. Mr. Ledbetter grew up in Shelby, North Carolina where his family raised cotton. He went on to study agriculture at N.C. State University before becoming a teacher of agriculture himself. The pair met through the minister of Ledbetter’s local church in Raleigh, North Carolina who was Mr. Ledbetter’s brother.
Together they purchased land in North Iredell and created Rocky Ridge Farm where they have raised beef cattle, sheep, and Jersey cows. Mr. Ledbetter has even gotten into beekeeping on the property, and he sells the honey his bees produce. In 2006, Ledbetter took over three acres of their farmland to work on a project of her own.
That project turned into a muscadine and scuppernong grape and blueberry vineyard called Grietje's Garden of Rocky Ridge Farm - Olin, NC. The garden itself is so well manicured that it truly looks like a picture from a magazine. When you visit the garden you can purchase muscadine juice, muscadine alcohol free wines, muscadine cider, scuppernong juice, scuppernong alcohol free wines, muscadine vinaigrette, muscadine jelly, blackberry jelly, blueberry jam, muscadine kickin' jelly, and fresh honey.
“The garden gave my father and I something to talk about. We called one another frequently, and I was able to connect with my father over the things that I grew in my garden. It was quite special," Ledbetter included.
On the piece of the farm that Grietje’s Garden resides on also lays an event center where Ledbetter hosts a craft fair every holiday season. The event building includes a front porch with rocking chairs, an approved kitchen through the NC Department of Agriculture with a service bar, a sunroom, and a grand room. From the windows, the beautiful vineyard sits creating a serene atmosphere for all to enjoy. The event center also hosts small weddings and receptions.
Honoring Her Roots
The name of Ledbetter’s garden originated from her great grandmother. Her great grandmother Grietje moved to the United States from the Netherlands in 1912 with eight children, with another being born in the United States. Once they settled, they began dairy farming and producing flowers. Ledbetter explained that the pronunciation of her great grandmother’s name is similar to the expression, “I’ll greet ya at the door."
Not only is Penny Ledbetter a woman in agriculture, she is also a published author. Ledbetter has published a book, Woulda Been, a heartfelt and inspiring story about a young man who learns how to overcome his “woulda been” mentality through community, remembrance, and giving back after the passing of his grandfather. Ledbetter has also published the interactive book series; The Forest Friends Series with Mushroom’s Day Away, Frog’s Lily Pad, and Turtle’s Troubled Day. All of her published works are geared towards young readers, and the interactive texts aim to grow the reader’s reading comprehension skills.
Through it all, Penny Ledbetter has always cared the most about her family. When we asked her what kind of legacy she hopes to leave she said, “We would like for our children to see you can make a living growing and providing for families. We want our grandchildren to know this is something good to do, and that being connected to the Earth is a positive thing.”
Ledbetter’s books can be found at https://www.pennyswartledbetterauthor.com/ for purchase.