The Warehouse Brings A Community Hangout to Mount Olive NC

When people think about Mount Olive, NC, they think of a charming small town with an annual Pickle Festival celebrating its biggest business–the Mount Olive Pickle Company. Mount Olive is also the home of a private four-year university, The University of Mount Olive (UMO). The University attracts an incredibly diverse and international population, but many of the students do not have access to transportation. Any activity they partake in becomes limited to on-campus or within a walking distance to it unless they have a car. Apart from the student population, local residents of the Mount Olive area have had few places to turn for local entertainment. Many grew up parking in the Rose’s parking lot to hang out on nights and weekends. One of Mount Olive’s newest businesses, The Warehouse, hopes to change all that.

At 506 North Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive, NC, The Warehouse is an alcohol free family environment with paintball, ping pong, checkers, pool, coffee, dairy-free ice cream, Internet, and comfortable places to sit and meet with friends. “We want to be a place where people can come and hangout and just be,” says Owner Lester Rector.

Lester Rector and his wife Holly moved to Mount Olive in June 2019 to become the Campus Pastor for UMO as well as the Directors of UMO’s renowned acapella choir, Carolina Sound. The Rectors had their own successful career in indie music as Lester and Holly prior to coming to Mount Olive. They had the opportunity to work with artists like the Katinas, manage Voices of Lee, work with Disney, and travel through large and small locations. “It doesn’t cost nearly as much to produce nowadays as it used to. You can cut the overhead and make hits in your own room. Music is all about connections if you are ever going to grow beyond your community. If there is any downfall to being an indie artist, it is the lack of professionalism. There are a lot of hacks mixed into the sea of artists creating now,” Lester says.

“My wife and I felt like part of the reason we had to come here from Orlando was to invest in the university where we work but also in the community,” Lester said. They revamped all of campus ministry then began to recruit and develop Carolina Sound. Later, driving around the area, Lester saw the location that would become their community outreach. The building had been a gas and service station in the 50s and 60s then it turned into Charles Swinson’s cabinet shop. For almost a decade, the building sat vacant, fell into disrepair, and was overrun by rats. Then owner, Gerald Bell, began making repairs and renovating it to rent it, and the Rectors stepped in. For a year, they rented it and continued to transform it with a vision for what it could be. In March 2022, the Rectors bought the building completely and opened to the public that August.

The Warehouse is actually part of a three-phase plan led by the Rectors’ non-profit, Face to Face Worship, Inc. The vision for this part of the plan was inspired by Pins Mechanical in Nashville–a bar that offers similar games but is not family friendly past a certain time of night. “The simplest things can be fun in the right environment,” Lester said.

Phase Two of the plan was to launch five need-based programs: Counseling for children and families, Health and wellness nutrition, Spiritual counseling, Financial counseling, and Strategic planning for businesses. “The goal is to bring in people who are experts in their field and offer a night where anyone can come and hear the expert share their particular thing. Then if anyone wants counseling, we would be a facilitator for connecting them to the right people to help them,” Lester said.

Phase Three of the plan will be to launch a place of worship where people can enjoy the community and discipleship elements already established and have a place of worship as well. “Our route for ministry is different. We feel that there are already enough Sunday morning gatherings. My goal is just to engage with people, man,” Lester said. “506 is our address but it is also our mission. It comes out of the place in John where Jesus asked the man at the pool in Bethesda if he wanted to be well. We want people to feel like they can release everything negative they are dealing with right now and just come in here and find a place of refuge and encouragement…There has always been negativity in the world but accessibility of one over the other has changed over time. It seems now that all you ever hear–what sells more–is bad news. Good news seems harder to find. There is nothing new under the sun, it’s just more downloadable.”

The Warehouse is already a popular place for meetings, studying, and games. The paintball course is also steadily booked. “Our paintball park is a pay and play all day fast course that is wide open with all inflatable bunkers. You can never memorize the course because we move them every week. We are always trying to keep it as fresh as possible,” Lester said.

People can support the vision of The Warehouse by either making a tax free donation to the non-profit, or by purchasing from any of the for profit entities in The Warehouse: Real McCoy paintball and Cafe 506 coffee with AMR non-dairy ice cream. To see upcoming events and videos inside The Warehouse, check out their posts on Facebook and Instagram.


Life Lessons From A Generational Farmer

To sit a while with Garrett Strickland of Strickland Farming Partnership is to sit with a man so deeply entrenched in North Carolina that he can regurgitate 150 years of its history from a life that lived much of it. “To know about the whole county, you have to be involved in politics and the agriculture community–which of course I was,” Mr. Strickland said in his signature guttural Southern drawl.
Garrett Strickland is a former Sampson County Commissioner and a Board Chairman of his family’s farming operation now. According to their website, Strickland Farming Partnership is a “progressive 7th generation diversified crop and livestock family farm operation. Garrett and his son Reggie still farm much of the land their ancestors farmed as far back as 1861…in Wayne, Sampson, and Duplin counties farming corn, soybeans, wheat, tobacco, pickle cucumbers, and sweet potatoes and finishing over 22,000 swine each year for Prestage Farms and grow out over 120,000 turkeys for Butterball.”

Farming has changed a lot over the years because of the white rabbit of consumerism that farmers are always chasing. “The population of the United States hit 100 million during my early lifetime. It’s 360 million now. The population of the world has gone from 5 billion to 7.5 billion. Land is being taken up for highways, housing developments, and shopping centers. We are feeding more and more people on less land. The only way we can continue to do that is to increase the productivity of the basic crops we are growing. So much of the basic food of the world is based on two crops: corn and soybeans,” Garrett Strickland said.

Having more people to feed on less land is not the only problem farmers face today. The other threat is a global market with unequal standards. “It used to be that we consumed all we made here. You could look around where you live and know all the crops there. Now other parts of the world determine what we grow more than we do. South America, Australia, and now Africa are large agricultural countries. Farms here average 1,000 acres while farms there average 10,000 and do not have to comply with regulations and government oversight as much as we do,” Garrett Strickland explained. “Compliance makes us have a disadvantage in the world market because we can’t do it as cheaply as them. Where we can get ahead in the global market is with specialty crops like sweet potatoes and tobacco that only grow in limited locations. Another way is through partnerships with companies that need our products. The world’s largest producer of hogs, for example, is right here in Sampson and Duplin counties.”

Reggie and Garrett

Reggie Strickland is following his father’s example in terms of staying involved in all aspects of farming life. His passion is to keep the farm moving forward, but he does that first by valuing his family. He will be the first to tell you that his father is his “best friend”, his wife is his “secret weapon”, and his children are “his whole world”. Still farming keeps him on the road more times than not. Reggie stays busy traveling the country on the boards of various committees advocating for the quality of US products as well as learning what is new and upcoming in grain crops and other agricultural products. He not only knows cutting edge facts when they matter, but he finds time to promote education in all its forms from agriculture students in college to media tours of the farm or answering phone calls from other farmers needing advice.

One of the biggest things that the public can do to support agriculture today, according to both Reggie and Garrett Strickland, is to understand that farmers are good stewards of the land and the environment. “We have a lot more interest invested in the land than other organizations outside of it,” they said.

The vision to diversify and expand the business really came from Reggie. He knew from an early age that he wanted to go into the family business, and he was excited to work hard and put in the time to make it grow. It was under his vision that the farm diversified into animal production as well as crops. “You want to diversify but not past what you know you can control,” Garrett said. “When things are good, it is easy to over expand and outgrow your management abilities. Learn to use all the tools available to you such as insurance, leasing vs. purchasing, technology, etc. Make decisions after you have made a list of the pros and cons of doing so.”

Farming is full of life lessons, and Garrett shared some of his. “Every generation is going to have hard times, but we get through it by mentoring and learning from each other. It is the bad times that show you what is important as well as who and what you can lean on…Everything that happens in life, good and bad, is a direct relation to your decisions and relationships with others. If you have a disagreement with someone, you are responsible for going to them and correcting it. In life, it is important to learn how to take care of things and then shed them (don’t hold on to grievances).”

The Stricklands find it very important to stay informed about scientific and market research such as the altering of plants to be able to grow in different climates and produce higher yields. “I am always learning. It is important to me to be a lifelong learner. If we ever quit learning, we quit living,” Garrett says. “Farming today is about studying the market and projecting growth for both the crops and the needs of the consumers. It isn’t just putting a seed in the ground and waiting. Most of the time, it is a well calculated risk and an educated guess mixed with a lot of faith.” The Strickland Farming Partnership also leverages technology to help them make the most of their farm. GPS precision planting and equipment that creates field records available via satellite are just part of the tools they use.

Farming is increasingly made difficult by politics and competition, but it is still the vital heart of our society. Ask any farmer today and they will tell you they do not own the land; they are simply caretakers of it. More than any other profession, farmers are keenly aware of the cycle of life. For farms to exist through generations in one family, however, there has to be a love of the land and a desire to continue in that way of life. It is the one concern that can bring both Strickland father and son to tears. “I hope that someone in our family will see fit to carry forward caring for the land after me or at least put it in a land trust to keep it agricultural,” they said.

To All My Followers: A Message About All The Silence

With this post, I want to take a moment to thank the many subscribers I have that watch for regular announcements of my work. Your support has been amazing and helped me grow my writing business. I couldn’t do what I do without you, and I hope you will continue to follow this journey.

That said, I went quiet without explanation about August 2022. I want to apologize to all my fans for that abrupt pause, and I want to explain what happened here now.

What Happened

When I started blogging, it was a side thing to help my students. In 2021, however, I left teaching to pursue other opportunities including building a full time writing business. I loved being able to travel freely and write all over the place. It was liberating to finally have control of my own time. But to be successful, I had to cut expenses, think outside the box, market myself like crazy, take on jobs outside my passion, and hope it all worked out. I was scared a lot but also building faith in God to be my provider.

I struggled financially a couple of times and by July, I cried out to God to help me because I didn’t see a way forward anymore. I was stressed and tired of trying to talk people into the value of my work. I’ve never liked sales, so the marketing side of my work was sucking the fun out of my writing passion. I was also growing anxious and living in a lot of fear. It wasn’t healthy for me.

Family suggested that I get back into teaching. I did not want to teach at all, but I went looking to appease them. I found a couple open positions in a nearby school and started applying. I got halfway through the process and talked myself out of it.

Then one day one of my writing commissions asked me to take a bus ride with the district’s superintendent. Not only was he a nice guy, but everywhere we went seemed happy to see him. That impressed me. One of the schools we visited happened to also be the one where I left a partial application.

I went into that school and met the teachers and administrators as a reporter. The next day, they called me in for an interview and offered me the job. Thereafter, I found out that the job wasn’t supposed to be listed and my application wasn’t supposed to be in a pool to interview because it was incomplete. The job came to me when it wasn’t supposed to be mine at all. I took that as God moving and orchestrating things in my life.

My New Chapter

I accepted the teaching job with great joy. I had a lot of support from my colleagues and comfort in the subjects I had to teach because I was already familiar with the material.

What I was not prepared for was the students. Teaching teens really is a lot different than adults. For one, they are not there by choice, so you are fighting uphill against apathy for their attention. The other thing is they are driven by their emotions. Teenagers love, hate, and fight before they even think twice about consequences. In my first semester of teaching them, I had more lockdowns than in all eight years of teaching adults.

Where I am now has been scary, but it is rewarding when even one kid feels safe enough to come to me with his problems and talk them out. Making a difference in their life will be a legacy of change I can be proud of. Teaching teens has started a new chapter in my life.

What Now

I’ve decided to stay the course with teaching, and that means I also have to become a student again to get my teaching license. Every age group has qualifications required to teach it, and I never pursued qualifications to teach kids before. Now I will have to in order to keep my job.

I haven’t stopped the writing business, but it has slowed down to give me room to focus on this new chapter.

The Good News

Expect to see new content on here starting on Mondays at noon this month!

As much as possible, I am building new content for you now. I didn’t have time amidst my other writing jobs and teaching, but I am working on all that now.

I hope you enjoy the new stories. Thank you again for reading.

Phinite Drying Systems: Innovation from Australia Brings Revenue and Problem Solution to Pork Farmers

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

On Wednesday, June 29th, an Australian inventor from Crocodile Dundee country visited Duplin County to show pork farmers a way to turn the sludge in their lagoons into additional revenue. 

Inventor and founder of Phinite, Jordan Phey, was a water engineer working to bring “simple and robust safe water treatments” for aboriginal people in northern Australia. He discovered two technologies to make money from water, and he began the process of developing them. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a contest called the Nutrient Recycling Challenge. Phey entered his invention in the challenge and won an award at the White House for being one of the 10 best ideas in the world. Smithfield Foods was a judge in the competition, and they were so impressed with Phey’s work that they invited him to North Carolina. 

First, Phinite partnered with the NC Department of Soil and Water Conservation to conserve water in a wetland in Bladen County in 2019. In 2021, The Department of Soil and Water Conservation secured a Project Impact Grant to help make the technology accessible for farmers. “We have spent 16 million dollars in projects so far,” Executive Director Amanda Sand said. “We consider ourselves a conservation incubator.”

Phinite learned a lot from the wetland project and began to see the changes necessary to make their product commercially helpful for farmers. “Lack of access to cost effective drying systems is why farmers have such a big problem with waste today,” Jordan Phey said. “I felt this was a problem worth solving.” 

Jordan explains his drying systems process to farmers.

Phinite is a drying system that mines solids from hog lagoons and dries them in onsite drying stations using natural air flow and remotely operated equipment. Within 4-6 weeks, a batch of manure–approximately 100 tons–is dried. Then it is crushed and put through screen filters to prepare it for market. “We are in the business of mining solids,” Jordan Phey explained. “Solids are where the good minerals are, and 30% of them are within a foot of the liner in lagoons.” Phinite uses long-reach back hoes and other custom designed equipment to mine lagoons. They are able to harvest two years of manure for every one year of waste production. Set up in a research and test site on Dexter Edwards’ farm, they plan to have all the kinks worked out of the product and able to use them on farms as early as this October.     

Phinite handles the whole process from mining to market sales and returns a percentage of the sales to the farmer as a return of investment on their asset. Initial costs to install the equipment as well as some small maintenance is the responsibility of the farmer, but the difficult technical operations and everything else are managed by Phinite. 

Dexter Edwards, Don Butler, and Jordan Phey talk to pork farmers about Phinite Drying Systems.

Long term pork farmer, Phinite investor, and Phinite North American Representative Don Butler said, “in order to be successful, we have to address one of the biggest issues in North Carolina and that is our accumulating sludge. Phinite takes a problem and turns it into an asset. We think we have a valuable product that is perfectly timed for what is happening in the market (with fertilizer availability and cost). We view this as an ongoing mining operation with a revolving service.” 

Dexter Edwards, an executive with Smithfield Foods and one of the largest pork farmers in the state, said, “we’ve had a lot of people come to us claiming they had a solution. (We are well known for and made rich by our pork, turkey, and chicken products.) We are overproducing our product but today we have a solution that turns the waste burden into a product itself. I invested in bringing this to my property as long as Phinite was committed to making the changes to make it work. We are only time away from having this become a money maker for Duplin County. What we are going to be able to have is something that helps everyone. We will remove the argument that we are over producing (and we will have) a product to return to the farmland.” 

Dexter Edwards is known for being a frugal investor, but the Phinite operations on his farm are considerably large. He is not the only investor that sees Phinite as a working solution. HogSlat, Prestige Farms, and several other large family farms have invested in the company.
Farmers interested in having a Phinite Drying System are encouraged to contact the company through their website, via email to:, or by calling 910-337-5662.