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

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.

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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

Francis Flowers & Herb Farm: A Grandmother’s Legacy

Francis Flowers & Herb Farm: A Grandmother’s Legacy

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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While most of us know by now that cooking food sustainably-grown, organic, and local is just plain better for everyone, we often overlook the fact that we tend to season our food with spices that are not. Furthermore, we know we feel better when we eat this food, but still rely on chemical companies to provide us with medicines, household cleaners, and yes, seasonings too. For instance, most of our seasoning blends contain monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Interestingly enough, Ajinomoto, which is now the world’s largest producer of MSG, is also a drug manufacturer. Thus, while most of us willingly concede that our food should come from naturally grown, local sources, we often miss another part of that picture – that our seasonings and medicines should be produced in a similar manner so that we can maximize our benefits of these as well.

Earcine Evans and her husband Mark are a couple of incredible people who see and understand the bigger picture first hand and are doing all they can to help the rest of us come into focus. After falling ill while owning and operating a beauty salon in California due to the toxic levels of exposure to the chemicals she was working with, Earcine realized something had to drastically change. She realized that the only way to live healthily was to live naturally. Thus, she began to learn and incorporate the healing power of nature into her own life with the help of several herbalists and holistic practitioners. Following this path eventually brought her back the land in Mississippi that had been farmed by her family for over 150 years. Here, generations grew cotton, flowers, and herbs. Her grandmother, and the farm’s namesake, Francis, was also the local midwife, herbalist, and prize winning gardener. Reconnecting to the land reconnected Francis with not only her family but her health.

She and Mark take joy in farming the land in the way of her ancestors: without chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides. Their goal: “heal the land that feeds you and that land will take care of you.” To do this, Earcine and Mark use sustainable, biodynamic practices, working in harmony with nature. While they are not afraid of the hard toil this type of farming entails, they also practice the adage “work smarter, not harder”. Thus, they use innovative techniques and products to help them accomplish their mission. The combination of Earcine’s adept determination and enthusiasm along with Mark’s background as a research scientist with NASA allows for a beautiful synergy of the old with the new. Together, they are brining sustainable farming to the next generation through education, value added products, and global outreach.

Following her grandmother’s wisdom, “that the best way to take care of one’s body is to eat garden fresh food and use herbal medicine- inside and outside the body,” Earcine has created a line of value added products, Cine All Natural Hair and Skin Care, that are appropriate for all types of hair and skin. She uses both wild crafted and cultivated herbs and flowers which are “energy tested to ensure their strength and life-giving sustenance to restore the health of the hair and skin” to accomplish her mission of “empowering people to honor their soul, mind, and body through the use of our healing products.” Furthermore, Earcine incorporates Ecocert Shea butter into her products which she sources from a fair trade, organic, women’s cooperative in Africa, thus making her impact not just local, but global. It is the global crisis that Earcine and Mark are focusing their efforts. They have witnessed first hand the repercussions of our industrialized agriculture and health systems and are doing all they can to help teach and reach the youth of our world that there is a better way. They firmly believe that the health and sustainability of the human race lies in the powerful hands of current and future responsible farmers.

 

While it has taken them decades to understand, learn, and implement the lessons of their ancestors, Mark and Earcine will continue feed and heal us using their role as stewards, teachers, pioneers, and innovators. For her efforts, Earcine was named the 2010 Woman of Business of the Year by Alcorn State and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Her articles have also been published in nationally distributed magazines including Southern Living. One can’t help but feel that her grandmother, Francis would be extremely proud of her granddaughter. With the help Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, Francis’s legacy will continue to bloom.

 

Francis Flowers and Herbs Farm, though not certified Organic, is Certified Naturally Grown and Demeter certified. In addition to a stand on the farm, it is open for “pick your own produce”. Their biodynamically grown fresh herbs, potted herbs, cut flowers, vegetables, Cine Hair and Skin products, and other items can also be found at Rainbow Coop and the Jackson Farmer’s Market.

By Shaundi Wall, MSAN Outreach Coordinator

Photos by Danny Klimetz

Beaverdam Fresh & High Hope Farms: A Taste of Cooperative Enterprise

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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Anyone who has ever gotten in to farming will tell you it’s all about working with a system. Historically speaking, that system is nature, but more recently, that system has become industrialized and heavily reliant on chemicals for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers and meat processing has become a highly mechanized, centralized process. Yet, there growing numbers of farmers who feel that working in symbiosis with the land, crops, livestock, and coming together to help one another produces the best and most satisfying yields. Beaverdam and High Hope Farms are two separate farming operations that prove co-existence, collaboration, and integration is beneficial for all involved.

Johnny and Deb Wray have always had a connection to the land and carved out their own little retreat in the black prairie country of western Clay County near the village of Cedar Bluff, MS in 1980. It wasn’t until 2008 that they decided to move there permanently with a couple of cows, plant a garden, and try to live as sustainably as possible. The generous couple couldn’t keep all their goodness to themselves and shared their self-processed beef with some friends who were immediately interested in purchasing some for themselves. That launched what is now High Hope Farm with a CSA of Limousin, Angus and other beef breeds raised and grazed on naturally-fertilized and regularly rotated pastures of native grasses — without antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids or other chemical products.

But just how do you manage to raise over 30 head of cattle using just local grasses, fresh water and no-stress handling?

You collaborate!

 

Dustin Pinon and his family started as a family green-house tomato farm in 2001 and has now transitioned into a diversified pasture-raised livestock and mixed vegetable farm. In 2013 he and Ali Fratesi expanded their livestock production of pasture-raised chickens and turkey and forest-raised pork onto the land of High Hope. Since Dustin and Ali do not own land, their only chance to realize their immediate farming aspirations was through partner farming. Their hope now high, they have worked hard to develop a successful, symbiotic operation with the Wrays.

Another thing that any farmer will tell you is that the quality of your yield is directly correlated to the quality of your soil. It is this foundational philosophical pillar that unified the High Hope and Beaverdam operations. With grass-fed beef, the Wrays understand that that they aren’t just beef farmers, but they are actually grass and soil farmers. This is where the chickens and turkeys from Beaverdam come in. After the cattle graze on a parcel of land and are rotated to another, the poultry birds are placed on the grazed parcel to eat, scratch, and work their magic on the soil.

 

Their presence eliminates pest, fertilizes the land, and enhances the overall quality of both the beef and poultry operations that allows for intensive, rotational grazing. It is a beautiful, natural win-win for every organism involved and mimics natural patterns. Furthermore, the Beaver Dam pork operation also utilizes this philosophy and allows their pigs to rummage through acres of nutritional hard-wood forest which produces a premium meat and a healthy relationship with the land.

 

Together, these two farms serve as a model for both sustainability and collaboration–teaching us that the best way to help ourselves is by helping each other.

Stewardship has never tasted so good.

 

By Shaundi Wall, MSAN Outreach Coordinator