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KENLY — Although much has occurred at Sonlight Farms since the local husband-wife farming team of Josh and April Phillips created the Christian-based, family-operated agricultural park near Kenly four years ago, the couple said they have even bigger and better plans for the facility beginning later this year.
“When we started Sonlight Farms, our goal was to use it as a ministry to reach the people of our community and offer families a place to come and enjoy the outdoors.” said April Phillips. “We named it Sonlight Farms by playing off the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and we used the Bible verse John 8:12 when Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world.’”
At the heart of Sonlight Farms has been an annual fall event called Good Ole Daze that has included demonstrations by groups from several areas of agriculture.
During Good Ole Daze visitors can experience all things old, including shelling corn the old-fashioned way, making butter and observing demonstrations of quilting, blacksmithing and stringing tobacco, said Phillips.
The park, located at 293 Bunn Road outside Kenly between Bay Valley Road and N.C. 222, also features hayrides, an eight-acre corn maze, giant 80-foot slide, playground equipment, John Deere pedal carts, a corn crib and an education area.
April Phillips said two years ago, an animal barn exhibit was added to Sonlight Farms thanks to an AgVentures grant through N.C. State University and the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
“Animals have played a major role for the park,” said Phillips. “We now have an array of farm animals including goats, a pot-bellied pig, chickens and cows. The kids really enjoy the animals.”
“We are passionate about teaching people about agriculture, but also about doing it for the community,” said April Phillips. “Our goal has been to grow some each year and add new things. We hosted 46 school groups last fall including preschool, elementary, high school, church groups and Girl Scouts.”
April Phillips said she and her husband first got the idea of Sonlight Farms several years ago when they were on the way home from the beach and wondered about how nice it would be to have a pumpkin farm.
Currently, the park is only open in the fall, but the Phillipses hint that they may look at expanding their schedule.
They plan to be open from Sept. 28 through Oct. 26 this year and their goal is to have a special event every weekend.
April Phillips said it has taken a little while to get things organized, but they have some new projects and improvements planned for next season, including more field trips.
They have their first wedding booked at Sonlight Farms on July 7.
“We have learned a lot and changed some things to improve the visitors’ experience,” said Phillips.
The story of Sonlight Farms goes back to when Josh and April Phillips were high-school sweethearts at North Johnston High, where they both graduated in 2005.
At the time, Josh Phillips had no farming background whatsoever, although he recalls he always did enjoy being outside.
April, on the other hand, came from a farming family. She is the daughter of Joey and Janie Holland of Kenly-based Holland Farms.
After the couple was married, Josh Phillips began working at Holland Farms in 2006 when he was still in college.
In addition to being part owner of Sonlight Farms, Josh Phillips is now manager at Holland Farms and oversees 2,800 acres that includes crops of tobacco, sweet potatoes, cotton, corn and soybeans.
The couple are parents to daughters Riley, 6, and Kamryn, 4.
“The girls love living on the farm,” said Josh Phillips. “I want them to learn about farming and they want to help.”
As for the farming connection, Phillips said he enjoys working with his hands and there is a satisfaction when he sees a crop go from start to finish with God’s blessing and sees the end product and knowing he had a hand in it.
Josh Phillips recently received the Innovative Young Farmer of the Year Award sponsored by Farm Credit Associations of North Carolina as part of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum’s annual Breakfast with the Commissioner fundraiser.
According to the inscription on the award, Phillips was chosen based on “his dedication to the progression of technology and accuracy in agriculture and educational outreach and for sharing the story of agriculture to young people at Sonlight Farms.”