Native Son Farm – Sustainably Growing Food and Farmers

An Eagle Scout from Mississippi and a farm girl from Vermont meet at college, HumboldtStateUniversity in Arcata, California, and return to Tupelo to start a sustainable farm. While it may sound like the opening to a novel, it’s actually the life of Will and Amanda Reed, owners and operators of Native Son Farms.  Will is a fourth generation homegrown Mississippi Boy who graduated with honors from TupeloHigh school before heading off to California to earn an Anthropology degree. While there, he worked on Deep Seeded Community Farm and lived “off the grid”.  But this native son had to return home and share his passion and love of sustainable agriculture by creating his own farm.

He, his wife Amanda, and their daughter Magnolia now have 25 acres and farm about 8 of them with the help of interns and volunteers.  Starting out in 2010 using just one acre and a walking tractor and filling 15-20 orders each week with a pay as you go system, they now have a thriving CSA of 140 boxes per week and also sell at local farmers markets. Their sustainable, certified naturally grown food is cherished by the exact people Will came home to feed.

Sustainable methods used on the farm include cover cropping, crop rotations, the use of green manures, and reduced and reused customer packaging. They also use their own bees for pollination. While they would love to be able to use totally green power, including horse drawn equipment, they have had to find the balance between a large, functional business and a sustainable farm. Still, Amanda and Will do employ as many sustainable practices as possible on their farm feeling that it’s worth the trade off to be able to treat the Earth in a more sustainable way. They understand the immeasurable value of being and to know and see where the food you eat comes from and that it’s produced in a responsible way for the native sons of today and tomorrow.

 

But the farm’s purpose isn’t just food; the goal of the farm is to educate people that there is indeed a better way and sustainability is it.  The Reeds share their love of knowledge and learning with their  interns who receive not only hands on experience but an incredible, well rounded education as well. Will networks with other sustainable farmers in the area to ensure his interns receive a full spectrum view of every facet of farming.  He also shares his extensive library so that knowledge seeking, future farmers can deepen meaning and understanding of the beauty, challenges, and rewards of sustainable agricultural methods.

One such future farmer is Tyler Roush, who received his degree in Exercise Science and Environmental Biology from Illinois. His studies showed him that the connection between health and sustainably produced food was intrinsic.  He believes agriculture holds the cause and cure for most of the world’s health problems. So, he decided he wanted to be a farmer. When he was seeking a place to nurture his learning of sustainable farming he knew Native Son was the perfect place to intern. “I saw the youth and success of Native Son and felt it was a golden opportunity for learning the lifestyle of what organic farming can be and the reality of it all,” says Roush.

Antoinette Ena Johnson also interns on the farm. She started out studying at Biology and pre-med in her hometown at the University of Rochester , NY, yet soon realized that the education she was looking for wasn’t to be found in the classroom but on the farm.  She also began to realize that farmers have a lot more impact on a community’s health than doctors.

 

After receiving her degree in English and History, she came to Native Son, attracted by the farm’s drive to produce as close to nature as possible with a focus on manpower and not machine power. Since interning, she has acquired not only the knowledge she was seeking to start her own organic farm, but she has also cultivated lifelong friends and mentors in Will and Amanda.  “Will balances education with work so that interns understand and buy into the work.  The connection between classes and field are immediate,” says Johnson.  Her biggest surprise upon arriving in Mississippi was the lack of locally, sustainably produced food – “I was stunned that the fertile South was more of a food dessert than New York”.

 

Will and Amanda are doing their part to change that through utilizing, educating, and producing good local food for the native sons of today and tomorrow.  Their mission isn’t just to grow sustainable food but sustainable farmers from the ground up. Networking with other sustainable farmers through organizations such as MSAN gives them even more tools to achieve their goals. It’s the symbiosis of passion, education, and productions that fuels the crops they are growing to feed the natives of the world for generations to come.

by Shaundi Wall, MSAN Outreach Coordinator 

Photos by Danny Klimetz and Shaundi Wall 

Yokna Bottoms Farm – Nourishing Mind, Body, and Soul

In 2007, Doug Davis, Associate Professor of Leadership and Counselor Education at the University of Mississippi,  purchased 19.8 acres of land outside of Oxford which includes 12+ acres of alluvial soil on the Yocona River floodplain and 7 acres of grass pasture on the slope of the valley. He named it after William Faulkner’s Yoknopatawpha County (pronounced“Yok ´nuh puh TAW ´fuh“), who translated the Chicasaw word as “water flowing slow through the flatland.” Here, Doug found the perfect setting to plant his seed of a dream: “developing it into a working farm, perhaps eventually a CSA venture with a focus on developing community through locally produced organic and sustainable agricultural practices.”   In this fertile setting, fueled by hard work, determination, love, and community, Doug’s dream and farm has flourished.  Today Yokna Bottoms Farm is committed to developing the local food economy by providing Oxford and surrounding areas with fresh, delicious, certified naturally-grown food. The farm also serves as an educational resource to the community by hosting field trips, tours, and partnering with other groups working to promote sustainable agriculture.

 

A trip to Yokna Bottoms Farm, known as Yokna to the multitudes of supporters, volunteers, WOOFERS, CSA members, and community at large, is as beautiful to the eye as it is to the soul. The long dirt road past the Farm House and through pine forest suddenly ends in an oasis of bountiful fields of many native species and heirloom varieties. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs are grown year round here, harvested and managed by loving hands, AKA Sodbusters: gardeners, farmers, lovers, dreamers, planters, ranchers, builders and breeders, sons and daughters of the soil, pickers and plowers, sowers and growers.

Sodbusting, friendly founts of knowledge, Jeff Stone (Production Manager) Benjamin Koltai (Permaculture Gardener), and Betsy Chapman (Marketing/Community Relations) make any trip to the farm both educational and fun.

With a staff of only three, Yokna relies heavily on volunteer workers and WOOFERS. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices.

In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. Yokna is proud to be part of vital, community-based hands on learning experiences. Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to come out and help in the fields Monday through Saturday, and all are encouraged to stop by and visit.

The sodbusters at Yokna understand that you only get good yields from good soil. Their philosophy is that feeding the soil feeds the plants which feed the people. In order to be the best possible stewards of the soil, they adhere to Certified Naturally Grown standards. This means they don’t use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or GMO seeds.

They also understand the value of “attracting beneficial insects as an important practice among both small and large scale organic gardeners. Pretty, fragrant hedgerows of flowering plants such as marigolds, coneflowers, sweet alyssum, zinnias, anise hyssop and gaillardia attract garden helpers like ladybugs that feast on destructive pests like aphids.” The result is pure, delicious, organically grown food available through their CSA, local restaurants, Farmers Markets, and farm sponsored events.

Farm sponsored events, often involving Doug’s other passion, music, are great ways to explore the farm and get to know the Farm Family which includes dogs, cats, and a few chickens. Spring, Summer, and Fall Open houses; concerts and full moon drum circles, educational farm tours, and other outreach ensures that anyone wishing to get a taste of “an evolving exercise in organic living and sustainable agriculture … or vice versa” is able to so. A walk among the rows of this dream of a farm may find you doing exactly what William Faulkner and Doug Davis have done with Yoknapatawpha … called it home.

by Shaundi Wall, MSAN Outreach Coordinator 

Photos by Danny Klimetz, Shaundi Wall, and from Yokna Bottoms Farm

Alabama Farm Tour Sprouts Ideas

by Jim Pathfinder Ewing

Just got back from an incredibly packed two-day tour of farms in Alabama conducted by the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network. The farm tour was videoed in collaboration with the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network. Clips will appear in the future on both MSAN’s and ASAN’s websites. We’ll keep you posted on that.

The tour included seven farms of various types in two days that spanned a couple of hundred miles across Alabama north to south, from Jasper to Montgomery, including: Camp McDowell, Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Petals From the Past, Downtown Farm (EAT South, Montgomery), Hampstead Insitute, Oakview Farms, and Druid City School Farm (Tuscaloosa).

Here’s a photo essay.

Let me say that I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the farmers, handing out info for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). Some of these initiatives are squarely in NCAT’s mission to help people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities and protect natural resources. And, of course, a big part of that is the ATTRA program – The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service!

Camp McDowell (Nauvoo, Ala.) http://campmcdowell.dioala.org/

We started the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network Farm Tour of Alabama Farms at the conference center for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama at Nauvoo, Ala. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

We started out at the conference center for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama at Nauvoo, Ala.

As Jon Nee, director of the McDowell Farm School at Camp McDowell explains, the diocese has big plans to expand its farming operations (to include the field shown behind him). (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Camp McDowell hosts the McDowell Farm School which currently has several farmers growing food for the camp. But the big message at this farm is its expansion plans, which includes the addition of eco sensitive buildings to be constructed that will be using geothermal energy. Pipes will be laid in an adjacent lake which will allow heat transfer units to heat and cool the complex. The farm currently allows local farms to grow on the fields and the camp buys the local food from the farmers. Plans are to make the camp self-sustaining.

Jones Valley Teaching Farm (Birmingham, Ala.) http://jonesvalleyteachingfarm.org/

At Jones Valley Teaching Farm, it’s noteworthy that its farm stand has an honor system for paying for produce! Even in downtown north Birmingham, shoppers pick their produce and pay according to what’s posted. It’s a delightful place to be! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Katherine Davis of Jones Valley Teaching Farm in downtown north Birmingham, Ala., welcomes farm tour visitors to the center. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Jones Valley Teaching Farm in downtown north Birmingham, Ala., was a surprise. Here in an utterly urban area, the 3-acre farm has hoop houses, food plots, chickens, compost, a farm stand, and collects its own rainwater for use in the gardens. It’s a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours.

One of the funnier aspects of it is where it gets its manure for compost: from elephants! Farm director Katie Davis said that the elephant doo is traded by the local zoo for garden consultation work. There seems to be plenty of it!

Prices change according to market conditions at Jones Valley Teaching Farm. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The chore board at Jones Valley Teaching Farm. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Every farm needs a “chore board” in order for everyone to know what everybody’s doing and what’s getting done and needs doing. I love this one at Jones Valley Teaching Farm: get, got, finished!

However, I know via personal experience from our little ShooFly Farm that chores are never finished. Nor can they all get done, certainly not in a day. You just do the ones you can and must and get to the rest when you can.

Rows are freshly tilled for a fall garden at the Jones Valley Teaching Farm in north downtown Birmingham, Ala. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Skyscrapers seem dwarfed in the background as a high tunnel for urban agriculture is erected at the downtown north Birmingham, Ala., Jones Valley Teaching Farm. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

These urban chickens seem content at their shady roost in the downtown north Birmingham, Ala., Jones Valley Teaching Farm. The wires overhead are to deter hawks – though operator Katie Davis says that they only seem to deter the larger hawks, like red tails. Smaller hawks, like Cooper Hawks are more maneuverable and can zip between the wires, she said. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

This bottle tree offers a colorful addition at the Jones Valley Teaching Farm in north Birmingham, Ala. Bottle trees are considered folk art, often found in rural areas of the South. The theory is that having a bottle tree near a home offers good luck. Bad spirits are drawn to the colorful bottles rather than entering a house. Because the necks are narrow, the bad spirits can enter the bottle, but then expand inside and can’t get out! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Good idea! I LOVE this portable wash stand for produce at the north Birmingham, Ala., Jones Valley Teaching Farm. It’s a real chore to haul buckets of produce around to be washed. This allows the picker to wash where he/she is working. The produce can then be bundled in the field and taken to a cooler for greater freshness — and healthful harvesting! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I love this rainwater catcher at the north Birmingham, Ala., Jones Valley Teaching Farm. The roof of the structure is ridged inward, rather than upward. Called at “butterfly roof,” it channels rainwater into this cistern. The funnels keep the water from splashing out. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Here’s another view of the butterfly roof and cistern at the north Birmingham, Ala., Jones Valley Teaching Farm. It’s a nice cistern system. (Try saying that rapidly a few times! :-)(Photo by Jim Ewing)

Petals From The Past (Jemison, Ala.) http://www.petalsfromthepast.com/

Our next stop on the Alabama Farm Tour was Petals From the Past at Jemison, Ala. I thought as we pulled up, “Why are we stopping at a garden center?” The answer was in what owner Jason Howell had to offer! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The answer to my question why we’re stopping at Petals From the Past, a garden center in Jemison, Ala., was quickly answered by the fact that owner/operator Jason Howell is a bonafide plant guru. He’s sustainable through and through. He tests all the plants he grows and sells for hardiness in local conditions and can wax forth for hours on minute details about any plant anyone might want plant! He’s incredible! I could have spent a couple of days asking him questions and still had a lot to learn. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The little ones on the Alabama Farm Tour found a little one to play with at Petals From the Past. The kitty’s name is Ghost. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Jason’s greenhouse is really cool! And a large part of that is the evaporative cooling system. Notice the brown wall in the back. That’s actually corrugated cardboard that looks — and acts — like a radiator. The wet wall, or wet pad or swamp cooler as they are variously called, is located on one wall while fans on the opposite wall pull air through it into the room. If you garden in the South, it’s just about imperative to have some type of cooling system in the summer. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Petals From the Past was a great stop on our farm tour. Owner Jason Howell explained that he chooses to offer plants based on their ability to survive. His garden shop is a demonstration farm of sustainable plant varieties. Many are heirloom varieties more than 150 years old, many from the early 1800s. He grows about 75 percent from stems, 20 percent from seed and 5 percent from grafting, he says. Of that, about 70 percent are heirlooms and the rest are modern.

Eat South Downtown Farm (Montgomery, Ala.) http://www.eatsouth.org

EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty explains why they use cinder raised beds rather than wooden, as EAT South Education and Community Outreach Director Mark Bowen takes a photo in the background. The reason for cinder over wood is that although it has a higher initial cost, it lasts longer. The beds have a wider than needed space between them so that visitors may move freely through them, as well as equipment, and to accommodate those with special needs. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

EAT South encourages healthy lifestyles through education and sustainable food production in urban areas throughout the Southeast. EAT stands for Educate, Act, Transform.

EAT South Downtown Farm Manager Jetson Brown explains his abundant growing techniques to the Alabama Four Tour participants (and Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network Outreach Coordinator Shaundi Wall, center) during the group’s tour of Alabama farms on Aug. 10, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

EAT South has a state of the art greenhouse with its wet wall, lightweight growing tables, and hydroponic features. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

While not a major component of the EAT South Downtown Farm, hydroponics is on display. Here’s a small vertical unit. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

EAT South is largely a teaching tool. About 5,000 school children pass through it annually.

EAT South Hampstead Farm

The EAT South Hampstead Farm outside Montgomery, Ala., is part of a “new urbanist” community as its ag component. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The other campus of EAT South is the Hampstead Farm, located a few miles away at the Hampstead Community, a planned, “new urbanist” community. The campus provides greenspace, acts as a community garden, provides food for the communities restaurants and has a 40-member CSA or “shares” in a community supported agriculture operation.

EAT South Farm Manager Catherine Doe shows off the farm’s healthy produce. The facility has raised beds with various types of produce, plus chickens. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Oakview Farms (Wetumpka, Ala.) http://www.oakviewfarms.com

Next, stop…. Wetumpka!

Druid City Garden Project Director Lindsey Turner explains how a school garden in Tuscaloosa, Ala., provided an oasis of beauty after the horrendous 2011 tornado destroyed much of the city and countryside. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Many people outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., may not remember how an April 27, 2011 tornado left the city in shambles. The E4 tornado flattened houses and leveled the landscape, including the tiny garden of University Place elementary school. A Title I school, where over 90 percent of the student population is minority and 83 percent of the students receive a free or reduced lunch, students replanted their garden in the days after the devastation and it became a place of beauty while the community sought to recover from the storm.

Now part of the EAT South “A Garden at Every School” project, the Druid City Project has 2,500 square feet of growing space that soon will double in size. As we were visiting, a new greenhouse had just been completed, and water was about to be installed in it. The school system had also installed lines for a 1,700-gallon cistern with rainwater catchment from the school gymnasium, and plans are to add more rainwater catchment and a tank so the garden can be self-sufficient for water at 3,000 gallons.

While a few people on the Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network’s Alabama Farm Tour managed to slip away before this photo was taken, it’s a safe bet that everyone went away from it with some useful information on sustainable farming. (Photo by Mike Stanton)

While those who attended the tour may go their separate ways, they had the opportunity to see some top notch farming operations. Special thanks are due to Daniel Doyle, executive director of the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network for designing and orchestrating the tour, and to MSAN Outreach Coordinator Shaundi Wall, Ole Miss Associate Professor Greg Johnson and videographer Mike Stanton for sharing transportation.

For more information, see the MSAN webpage: http://www.mssagnet.net

Or, MSAN Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MississippiSustainableAgricultureNetwork

Alabama Sustainable Ag Network: http://asanonline.org/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook:http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

From Farm To Pitcher

The Great Mississippi Tea Company (Brookhaven, MS)

It’s no secret that Southerners love a cold glass iced tea. Healthy debates about cold-brewing vs. hot and the appropriate level of sweetness will continue for eternity, but when is the last time you thought about the journey of the tea itself from the fields to your glass? Before visiting the Great Mississippi Tea Company (GMTC) in Brookhaven, MS, I had always thought of tea as an exotic product, not something that I normally associate with local, sustainable agriculture. GMTC is out to change that perception, hoping that “farm-to-pitcher” will soon be a reality in Mississippi.

Farmer Jason McDonald’s family has owned this land in Brookhaven for generations. Most recently dominated by timber, the farm was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, wiping out 75% of their trees. Searching to diversify production, Jason became interested in tea while visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation, in South Carolina. Tea is a camellia, a plant grown throughout southern Mississippi for its beautiful flowers, requiring high heat, humidity, and acidic soil. “Sounds like home,” Jason thought to himself. And so the idea for the Great Mississippi Tea Company was born.
Knowing little about tea, Jason enlisted the help of Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension and Nigel Melican, a British tea consultant with 25 years experience growing tea on six continents.

Danny K Photography | www.dannykphotography.com

 

Together, this team is in the process of converting 11 acres of the farm into tea fields. This can be challenging work. Tea production and harvesting in Asia and Africa often relies on low-wage, harsh labor of fieldworkers. This makes possible the cheap tea we see on our grocery store shelves. An excerpt from GMTC’s mission statement reads: “We at The Great Mississippi Tea Company are setting out on a course to develop a working model for commercial tea farming in the First World as a beacon for the world to implement mechanization and innovative thinking to produce and sell an ethically sustainable crop for the masses while not employing the traditional labor standards so widely used in the industy.” We are grateful to and proud to support all of the farmers working towards a food system where everyone has more control over their lives and receives a fair wage.

GMTC started planting its first tea plants in 2013. As the plants establish themselves, it will take about three years until tea production begins on a commercial scale, with the goal of establishing 180 acres over the next ten years. At 4.5 thousand tea plants per acre, Jason’s employees have been hard at work out in the fields getting the first three acres planted. One consolation is that their work will endure—tea plants are perennials, with many living over 100 years. Weed control can also be a problem when first establishing a field with tea, as the plants are small and a lot of light hits the ground. GMTC has recently procured a small flock of weeder geese that will eat some of the weeds, but leave the tea plants.

On a research trip to India and Nepal in April 2015, Jason was able to witness some other techniques that will help sustain the farm. He plans to interplant Chinaberry trees with the tea to provide a dappled shade, since tea leaves can scorch when exposed to prolonged temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He also learned about some plant-based pest control strtegies. Check out this great article about the challenges to growing tea in the U.S to learn more about the kinds of obstacles GMTC has been encountering.

Danny K Photography | www.dannykphotography.com

 

When the plants mature, GMTC will use machines to harvest the tender young leaves from the plants, with yields approaching 2,000 pounds of tea per acre per year. Leaves are harvested in the morning and immediately leave the farm for processing. With only about a three-hour window before the harvested tea leaves start to lose their vitality, Jason and his partner, David Bromwich, are in the process of building a facility right in downtown Brookhaven. GMTC will start with producing black tea, but will branch out into other varieties as the business grows. Black, green, and white tea are all produced by the same plant, while herbal teas, like camomile and mint, are not true teas like the caffeinated camellias. Nigel and Jason estimate that about 80% of a tea’s character comes from processing. Nigel tells the story of a Sri Lankan tea farm where they typically produced black tea that fetched $1.50 per kilo. With Nigel’s help, they were able to process the same leaves into white tea that fetched $200 per kilo. Processing tea leaves involves multiple steps of dehydration, with traditions and regional techniques going back millennia. Maybe we’ll see more backyard tea growers-processors popping up in our neighborhoods. In fall 2015, GMTC will host Beverly Wainwright to create a line of on-farm hand-processed artisan tea. Read more about Beverly’s experience with tea processing in this interview.

See the magic happen by viewing the video below, and visit the GMTC on Facebook and at GreatMSTeaCompany.com to stay up-to-date on their progress.

By Robert Raymond, FoodCorps Service Member

Photos by Danny Klimetz

Team Work Makes the Cream Work

Mauthe’s Progress Milk Barn (Progress, MS)

Closing out a long day of farm tours in southwest Mississippi, we arrived at the Mauthes’ Progress Milk Barn to an array of fresh cheese and crackers, rich cream and strong coffee, and three cheesecakes that disappeared within minutes. This was just the first sign of the incredible hospitality we experienced visiting Kenny and Jamie Mauthe’s family dairy in Progress, MS, mere miles from the Louisiana border.

Standing with their two daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren, Kenny and Jamie began telling the story of their family business. For twenty years, the Mauthes owned 300 acres, grazing nearly 200 cows and selling their milk as a raw commodity product. “When we were shipping a commodity milk, our main concern was pushing for production,” Kenny remembers. Faced with low milk prices, high feed costs, and property destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they needed to change something to be able to stay in business. This moment became an opportunity for them to become more sustainable in both their business and farming practices. They now care for 40 cows on 50 acres, but this downsizing has actually helped them become more stable. One of the few dairies in Mississippi that does on-site processing, the Mauthes have found a market for their delicious and quality dairy products.

 

The day begins early for Kenny, who often starts the morning milking before 4 a.m. The Mauthes don’t use herbicide or pesticides on their grazing land, as well as limiting the antibiotics given to their herd. Unlike factory-farmed cattle that live in such close quarters that they must have antibiotics mixed in with their feed to prevent disease outbreaks, the Mauthes only use antibiotics when a cow falls ill, just as a human might. When they shifted to direct-marketing, they decided to, “Let the cow be the cow,” meaning a grass-fed diet and plenty of room to graze. “We pretty much eliminated our veterinary bill,” Kenny says.

“We’ve got a healthier cow and we’ve also got a healthier product.” As Kenny showed us the farm’s processing facilities, he shared that they Pasteurize their milk at lower temperatures in order to preserve the structures of vitamins and enzymes that are normally lost during higher temperature Pasteurization. All of these choices result in a densely-nutritious milk that is perfect on its own, or for making cheese, butter, buttermilk, yogurt, and their specialty Creole cream cheese.

Jamie Mauthe and her daughters work long days to make all of these products and prepare them for market. They produce a lot of nutritious whey as a bi-product of their cheese and yogurt making, which they use as a natural fertilizer on their pastures. We visited their farm the week before Halloween, and already, the holiday orders were rolling in for their products, particularly their cheesecakes, which have a cult following throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, and beyond.

If it isn’t evident enough already, the Mauthes make this all work with a lot of teamwork. Selling at the Jackson and Crescent City (NOLA) farmers markets, stores throughout southern Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as partnering with Beaverdam Farms in their community buying clubs, Progress Milk Barn has a lot of moving parts. It’s hard work, but it’s a model that will sustain this family and their community for generations.

Hear the story from the family members themselves by watching the video below, and find out what the Mauthes are up to today by following them on Facebook.

By Robert Raymond, FoodCorps Service Member

Photos by Danny Klimetz

Finding Its Niche in North Mississippi

Taking a stroll around Homestead Farms Greenhouse and Nursery in Coldwater, MS, I found myself in a wonderland of plant diversity. I wandered through this maze of densely-arranged pots featuring flowering magnolias, budding butterfly bushes, adolescent pear trees, and many plants I had never heard of before. “I want to provide things that no one else does,” says owner Robert Kubler. He has surely succeeded in that goal, with Homestead providing a polyculture of fruit trees, bushes, ornamentals, vegetable seedlings, and many species native to the South.

 

Danny K Photography | www.dannykphotography.com

The history of Homestead Farms reflects the journey many American farms have taken over the past four decades. After working in plant nurseries for years and aspiring to become self-sufficient, Mr. Kubler established Homestead as a two-acre farm with vegetables, animals, and a greenhouse in 1977. The community business has flourished over the years, though the focus has shifted towards house plants, ornamentals, and providing landscaping services for north Mississippi and Tennessee. In hindsight, Mr. Kubler warned our tour, “Don’t get big. We fell into that ‘getting big’ trap by wanting to fill a need. And pretty soon, you’re a slave to the bank.” Though Homestead has thrived—expanding to 28 acres and 35 greenhouses in Coldwater as well as a half-acre retail nursery in— this has cost Kubler some of the self-sufficiency that he sought when he originally opened the business.  “If we can get out from under the bank, we will be able to do what we want.”

Homestead has begun to transition back to its roots, focusing more on its vegetable fields, orchards, and animals like chickens and beef cattle. Kubler’s commitment to sustainability runs deep, informing his growing practices and designs. When speaking about the outlawed use of DDT as a pesticide in the US, Kubler draws a map in the air with his finger; American chemical companies still produce DDT, ship it overseas where regulations allow farms to use it on their crops, which then get shipped back to American distributors. “You don’t truly know what you’re getting at the grocery store,” he says. Though his greens might have a few holes in the leaves, he points out, “If I’m not poisoning my bugs, I’m not poisoning you.” Though he does still use some commercial fertilizer, he is anxious to move beyond that.

What is his plan, you might ask? It starts with an understanding of the foundational earth cycles and a talent for creating well-designed systems. “Every time you remove a radish, a leaf of kale, a tomato, you are taking something from the system. We have to give something back to the land so that it is better than when we found it.” Whether it involves using straw mulch, cover cropping, or composting animal and plant waste, his goal is not only to conserve, but to enrich the soil. His ideal farming system would employ one-third of his acreage in production, one-third in cover cropping, and one-third resting and rejuvenating. This helps to build up the soil and nurture the animal and microbial life that calls it home. In addition to the permaculture techniques he practices, Kubler also stacks the deck in his favor, using native plants like plums and persimmons that are well-adapted to the climate in north Mississippi. His extensive array of perennials, such butterfly bushes and hibiscus, also helps attract beneficial insects for pest control and pollination.

Homestead plans to remain financially sustainable throughout this transition by evolving and adapting the business as part of a community. “If we’re doing something nobody else is doing, we won’t have to compete,” Kubler says. Homestead currently sells its vegetables and some animal products at the Hernando Farmers Market, though he points out that food safety regulations (particularly regarding food processing) are tailored to favor large producers over small, independent farms. “I can sell whole pea pods, but I need a special license to sell shelled peas? That doesn’t make any sense.” Kubler believes that it will take community support to change these regulations to support more local businesses and farmers. Perhaps most importantly, Kubler is committed to passing on his knowledge and fostering a community that recognizes the human dependence on the earth. “Everybody used to have a garden and chicken coop at home. People don’t have that training from parents and grandparents anymore.” Always committed to biodiversity, he advises us, “You need to grow some weird stuff in school gardens to show kids just how much is out there. Kids don’t know that there are hundreds of different species of plums.”

You can visit Homestead Farms at 255 Hardin Lane in Coldwater, MS, just minutes east of I-55, about 30 minutes drive south of Memphis. Also visit their website and like them on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the beautiful things they have growing!

By Robert Raymond, FoodCorps Service Member

Photos by Danny Klimetz

Country Girl’s Creamery: Let Them Eat Grass!

Country Girl’s Creamery evolved in 2009 when RN Butch Smith joined his long time dairy farmer father Kiahnell to introduce the business to a new way of milking and marketing. Rather than subsist on shipping bulk milk that emphasized quantity over quality and limited the control they had on production methods and price setting, they decided self-processing their milk and selling locally would be the only way to really sustain both families through the dairy. With the help of the Brown Family, who has a similar but smaller operation in Oxford, the Smiths figured out their rough business plan and took a leap of faith.

 

Their switch to a more sustainable business model occurred in the wake of volatile feed prices in 2009 when it jumped from $170 per ton, to over $300 without a corresponding increase in what they were getting for their milk. Kiahnell decided the only way to overcome this cost would be to depend on more grass-feeding while growing more forage material for the cows in order to store up grass and hay when it was plentiful. They found this move didn’t just pay off financially, but their cows were significantly healthier. Cows are not designed to eat corn and other refined grains. They develop stomach problems, carry more harmful bacteria, experience more bloating, and sometimes stop eating altogether because of their discomfort.

The Smiths now raise small-bodied Jersey cows, each of which produces about 5 gallons of milk per day.  With 116 head, they roughly process 580 gallons per day. The milk gets pumped from the milking parlor to the cooling room and then to a unique pasteurization process. CGC chooses to slowly bring their milk to 140 degrees, which differs from typical flash pasteurization at a higher heat which kills off many healthy enzymes and reduces vitamin content. From there, the milk finds its way to farmers markets across South Mississippi, is carried by many locally-owned grocers, and is sold off the farm to neighbors along with a number of other delicious dairy products (cheese, butter, cream and more).

Though the amount of dairy farms in the state has dwindled, Butch and Kiahnell are confident in the small farm movement as they believe people are going back to the time when they knew their farmers. In an effort to educate, encourage demand for quality products, and deepen the farmer-consumer relationship, Country Girl’s Creamery hosts their annual Dairy Festival that brings in more than 1,000 people. Eating local never tasted so good!

By Claire Campbell, MSAN Intern

Photos by Danny Klimetz

Making Blueberry Growing a Spiritual Experience

Each month, MSAN will highlight one of the many hard-working producers here in Mississippi making a difference in their communities by committing to natural, sustainable, and regenerative models of agriculture. It’s not just about good food; it’s about good people.

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“Getting dirty here is a different kind of dirty than interviewing senators and politicians in Washington, D.C.,” owner Amy Phelps says of her blueberry farm. She and her husband left their jobs as journalists in Washington, D.C. and decided to pursue their dream of farming in the South. After searching for the right fit, that dream manifested itself when they assumed ownership over a blueberry farm in Lumberton, MS. With patience, an affinity for learning, and a lot of help from friends and family, this farm has grown into an idyllic place full of love and laughter and delicious blueberries.

 

Plenty of that help comes from Amy’s co-manager Cirilo Villa who brings expertise and good vibes to the blueberries and other crops grown on site. In addition to the berries, each year the garden grows larger and includes a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers for market. Amy and Cirilo have developed a system over the years that keeps the farm organic and stays far away from the harsh chemicals and treatments that Amy specifically set out to avoid. She grew up in the chemical laden Plaquemines Parish of Louisiana and witnessed too many family members get terminally ill as a result of their use.

Deciding to take pest and weed control into their own hands, the two vowed to stay true to their feelings that if they worked hard and gave back to the Earth and all its creatures, they would take care of her farm and her produce in return. When asked about the importance of organics and sustainability, Cirilo says that it’s deeper than just the words. “It’s the love and respect of nature. We do what we can to live and connect with where we live.” In this spirit, they have chickens to fertilize as they control pests and collect eggs daily from the flock. They also grow native plants as cover crops to cut down on the need to fertilize, as well as supplementing with molasses, kelp meal, and fish emulsion to nourish the plants naturally.

On a visit to this farm, you will witness skilled pickers tickling berries from their stem; Linda, an employee from Malawi, serenading the plants, encouraging them to reach up to the sun; and the chickens pecking their way around their moveable mansion. Passion, flexibility, and positivity is key to Pearl River Blues’ success, and it inspires many of their ventures into new products. For example, after the devastation of Katrina, many friends and family members stayed at the farm waiting to see what was left of their houses back home. The cut-flower business developed out of the need to see something beautiful despite the harsh tragedy.

Pearl River Blues is a lesson in diversity, sustainability and working in synch with the Earth rather than trying to manipulate it without regard for long-term effects. They sell to restaurants and farmers markets but their greatest joy comes from the U-Pick berry option in the summer. They look forward to the growth of MSAN because, as Amy says, “the better organized we are, it makes us stronger as growers and eaters.”

By Claire Campbell, MSAN Intern

Photos by Danny Klimetz

Black Creek Farm: Plant It and They Will Come

Each month, MSAN will highlight one of the many hard-working producers here in Mississippi making a difference in their communities by committing to natural, sustainable, and regenerative models of agriculture. It’s not just about good food; it’s about good people.

*   *   *   *

Drive down a winding country road in Columbus, Mississippi, pass a trailer park, and you’ll end up on Scott and Lydia Enlow’s Black Creek Farm. The land was once farmed by Native Americans, then Scott’s dad, and now he and Lydia.

While Scott’s dad was a successful hog farmer, he himself had no intentions of going into farming. So, off to the grocery stores he and Lydia went, but there, they could not find food they were willing to put in their bodies. Thus, they decided to forgo the chemical- laden, GMO-infused, unsustainably produced, imported food found in the rows of the supermarket for rows of homegrown, organically, sustainably, and proudly raised food of their own garden.

 

Starting thirteen years ago with a basic home garden and a small flock of laying chickens, the transition wasn’t easy, as Scott himself confesses he, like so many raised on the idea that post-WWII, industrial agricultural was safer and easier, was reluctant and skeptical of sustainable methods. He quickly realized, however, that growing organically produces, better, healthier, and tastier food. In fact, it was so good, they couldn’t keep it to themselves as neighbors and friends were always wanting to enjoy the harvest, too.

Soon their backyard garden expanded into a farm business where today customers can drive right up to the land during any season and pick up chosen produce or meet the Enlows at the local farmer’s market (get there early and prepare to stand in line as Black Creek Farm’s vegetables, fruits, herbs, and eggs are always in high demand).

Yet, although they employ sustainable and organic methods such as amending the soil with compost, manure, leaf litter, wood ash, eggshells, coffee and tea grounds; using only organic fungicides and insecticides; rotating crops; and keeping bees on the property; they are no longer certified organically grown. This isn’t because they don’t meet the requirements but because the certification is too costly for their 23 acre farm. However, it’s not about certification for the Enlows but about growing food that they feel safe putting in their own bodies. With Lydia’s background in nursing, she is all too familiar with the harmful effects of industrial agriculture—such as the extreme overuse of hormones, chemicals, and antibiotics on plants and livestock and the detrimental effects they have on the human body when consumed. Thus, they raise their produce in rich bottom land soil using organic methods, and offer eggs from their pasture raised, free range flock of chickens which are fed a diet of all natural feed. Since the farm is ever expanding, for a complete list of what is available, it’s best to call them at (662) 329-9147.

With the luck of the Irish (Lydia is Irish, and Scott is a Celtic musician) and a passion for healthy food, Black Creek Farm will continue to happily sustain not only the Enlows, but the land on which they live and all of the people they feed.

By Shaundi Wall, MSAN Outreach Coordinator

Photos by Danny Klimetz

MSAN Farm Tour featured in Picayune Item

Below are two articles about MSAN’s tour of Pearl River Blues Blueberry Farm, featured in the Picayune Item early June, 2014.

The original articles are linked below:

Pearl River Blues brings out the berries, organically

Organic is a feasible option

 

Pearl River Blues brings out the berries, organically

Jeremy Pittari

 

Just outside of Lumberton sits a five-acre farm that grows four varieties of blueberries the organic way.

Amy Phelps, co-owner of the farm, said she and her husband bought the farm about 14 years ago when they wanted to get married and take up farming.

The couple previously worked in the field of journalism at the Washington Post, Phelps said. Their background in journalism is what led them to avoid using pesticides and only use organic fertilizers. Phelps said she fertilizes her blueberry bushes using fish emulsion, kelp and molasses. They avoid spraying pesticides to protect their main pollinators, bees.

Four varieties of blueberries are grown at the farm, Tiff Blues, Premiers, Brightwells and Climax. Phelps said each variety has unique pros and cons, and at times those variances have saved their farm when weather and other conditions wreak havoc with a specific species.

Phelps and her team sell their crops at farmers markets as far away as New Orleans, but they also allow customers to pick their own. Phelps estimates about 25 percent of the blueberries sold are picked by the customer.

The team, which includes co-owner Cirilo Villa, worked for five years to certify the farm as organic. However, the state of Mississippi dissolved the position that provides that certification, making it costly to call in an out-of-state certifier, Phelps said. To this day they still grow everything on the farm organically, but now they can’t call their crops “certified organic”.

Blueberries are the main crop, but many other plants are grown on their land. Phelps said she likes to try her hand at different vegetables and even flowers. This season she is growing oats, squash, tomatoes, corn and watermelon, in addition to flower varieties.

Everything is hand grown and picked. Tools employed at the farm include a variety of hoes, with many unique applications.

“These are all the hoes I’ve known and loved,” Phelps said jovially as she showed the crowd the various gardening tools she employs in her farming, including the diamond head, stirrup and half moon hoes.

But the best tools are the hands, Villa said.

Villa said they also employ the services of a few animals to help with the pest control, such as cats to keep the rodent problem at bay and dogs to prevent wild hogs and raccoons from eating the crops.

As with all small farms, the struggle is producing a crop each year, which is essential in order to have the funds to start a new crop the following year, Villa said.

Another interesting part of their farm is the chicken tractor, which is essentially a movable chicken coop. The coop is moved around their grass field and allows the birds to eat the grass while providing fertilizer. Eggshells are used as fertilizer for some of the crops they grow, such as the tomatoes.

Blueberry harvest season may begin this weekend, but be sure to check their website for updated information.

Villa said the trick to picking the berries is to look for ones that fall off easy. If they are picked prematurely essential nutrients are lost. Harvest season generally runs from May to July, but this season the berries are coming in late, Villa said.

For $10 patrons can pick a gallon of berries. Pearl River Blues asks that pickers bring their own container and to set aside about 45 minutes if they want to pick a full gallon.

Pearl River Blues is located at 24 Curt Rester Rd., near Lumberton. To find out when their season officially begins and for a list of tips to prepare for your visit, go to their website at http://www.pearlriverblues.com/.

 

 

Organic is a feasible option

Jeremy Pittari

Sunday I took a tour of a local blueberry farm just outside of Lumberton.

The interesting thing about this farm, other than the chicken tractor, is that everything grown there is done so without chemicals. Pesticides are not sprayed on the plants and fertilizer comes from natural substances.

I was impressed with the various aspects of the farm. They don’t just grow blueberries, but also a number of vegetables and care for chickens.

And the blueberries were quite tasty. While their harvest season is still about a week away, there were some ripe blueberries clinging to the branches that we were allowed to sample. It was enough of a preview to show how good freshly grown food can taste.

Like most people, I buy food from the grocery store. At times I have bought blueberries, but for some reason the blueberries I get at the store seem smaller and not as sweet as than the ones I sampled at Pearl River Blues Berry Farm.

I can’t say why their berries seem bigger, maybe it was because it had rained all week, or maybe those varieties produce a larger fruit.

What I took away from Sunday’s tour was that, if I had the time and space, I would like to grow my own food one day. Such a task would by no means be easy.

There are several factors involved in growing food that I know I am unaware of. I’m sure there would be a large number of back breaking hours involved, just in getting the seeds in the ground, much less tending to the plants as they sprout and begin to produce fruit and vegetables.

While I know it would be a chore, I feel all of us could benefit from knowing where our food comes from.