The Farms

We had a question last week from a spring CSA customer, asking how our farmers deal with squash bugs while growing organically. Tara Stainton from Rattle’s Garden was kind enough to supply us with her answer:
“I have not found a great organic biological control for squash bugs so we rely completely on timing and understanding that I can’t grow squash through the entire summer like a conventional grower. We plant our summer crop as early as possible, giving them a good jump in our greenhouse. We plant a LOT of them to make up for what we are going to start losing already in the first few weeks.
And the key for me has been making the decision to pull all cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, etc.) from the field on July 1, at which time we are overrun by squash bugs. We go for the next 45 days without having any of these plants in any field on the farm. We replant squash and cucumbers on August 15 (seedlings). We have both again by mid-September until frost with no bugs.
The alternative that I’ve seen other growers do is plant late, after the first round of squash bugs has moved on. While this seems as effective, for us it’s more important to try and be the first ones at market with anything we are growing. Good luck growing!”

Most of our farmers will talk to you about the importance of family, but one family stands out above the rest: the Dettelbach Family. Their farm is powered by three generations, working in unison to create not only a sustainable farming system, but a closer family unit.

Steve and Ashley Dettelbach’s farm is in Wynne, Arkansas. Not only do they grow produce for New South cooperative, but they also raise animals for the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative. Their farm is a lively mix of row gardens and animal pens. The soft sounds of chicks are caught in the fierce Delta winds and blown across to where the sheep are grazing. The pigs run out to greet Ashley, from where they are pastured in an area that used to grow carrots and kale. They happily root up the tubers, enjoying a snack and turning over the soil. The new row house is shining in the background, protecting the growing plants inside.
When I asked Steve recently what draws him to a life of farming, his answer was simple and powerful.
“Family, community, being engaged with nature, preserving the soil, feeding our neighbors healthy food, and raising livestock in a healthy, clean, fresh environment to let them act how God intended.
“It has made our family closer than ever. My wife and I spend everyday together, working. Through this we learn so much more about each other even after ten years of marriage. Our teenage children have started helping more or less part time and they are learning about work ethic and everyday life while interacting with us in a work atmosphere.
“My dad moved in a few years ago after retirement to help on the farm and hang with his grandkids. None of his moving was from need, only want in the sense of family. Also my older brother has moved to Wynne, with us owning the farm together (myself, Ashley, and Jeff). My mother was born and raised here so my wife and I followed her, and once the farm was going everyone followed.”
With such a dynamic farm, things are also always changing.
 
“This year our first hoop house is up and full of peppers and tomatoes. We converted an Allis Chambers G to electric for cultivating. We brought on a 30 acre hog farm and 188 acre cattle farm.”
Community support for our Arkansas cooperatives makes it possible for farmers like Steve and Ashley to not only farm and work in ways that benefit their land and family, but the rest of us can benefit from the wonderful things produced by their hard work.

Josh Hardin always seems to be smiling. Maybe that is why he calls his farm Laughing Stock Farm. He is one of those people who you meet, and you just know they have found their calling. They are certain in who they are and what they are meant to do. John certainly knows.

His long-time customers at the Central Arkansas farmer’s markets look for his familiar face. It is this love of service that calls Josh to farm:

“I have been driven to farm by many people and beliefs. The most prominent moment has really been my connection to customers in the direct market atmosphere. From the first time I sold produce at market with my brother at the age of 14, I have been a market farmer. Since that summer, I have only missed one season of selling our family’s fruits and vegetables directly to the people that enjoy them. I am also driven by the family’s that take time to eat better tasting, better grown food. It is the demand for what we do that makes the job exciting so the more new customers and smiling faces the more excited I get about the tougher parts of the job.”

Farming may be a family tradition fro him, but even experienced farmers can be overwhelmed at times. And what are those tough parts of the job for Josh?

“The biggest challenge is taking on all of the roles at once and not really having the income to pay for the professional services you need like accountants, lawyers, mechanics, and therapists. Farming is all about finding creative ways to meet those same problems without all of the resources available and still find measured success. It is also a huge challenge to juggle family life and work, and the two are so co-mingled there is no line between the two worlds. In a family business, we expect each other to do a lot more than normal boss/employee relationships demand and that can make for lots of conflict.”

Josh is now working two farms, his Certified Organic farm in Sheridan, and a Certified Naturally Grown plot at the family farm in Grady. But change seems to be an ever-present factor in Josh’s farming career.

“Our farms are constantly evolving before our eyes every minute. Laughing Stock has more crop than we have ever had with about 5000 row feet of certified organic beds in production. It has taken me 9 years to clear forest, plant cover crops and build good soil, so this year is a real pinnacle for us. The farm is heavily focused on spring and early summer crops like onions, leeks, spring mix, kale, chard, fingerling potatoes, cauliflower, and head lettuces.

“Hardin Family Farm has also taken a great turn this year. We have a new high tunnel about to go into grafted heirloom tomatoes as well as an acre of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, squash, watermelon, and cucumbers all planted and growing nicely. We are planting green beans and pinto beans tomorrow so lots of organic and CNG food from both farms if we can keep the bugs and disease at bay!”

So next time you see Josh and that great smile, you will understand more about why farming is important to him. He is truly a farmer with heart and a farmer at heart.

Joe Carr wasn’t always an organic veggie farmer. While he has a long history of farming and working hard, he began his career as a cattle man in Northwest Arkansas. Eventually growing produce caught his eye, and he hasn’t slowed down since.

When I asked Joe recently what drives him to farm, he replied with his tongue-in-cheek style.

“What drives me to farm? Usually it is my forty horse Kubota tractor! But seriously farming is part of my heritage something I inherited from my grandparents.I love growing crops and building the soil. I like the independent lifestyle, and I’ve always enjoyed working hard and being able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. There is much more to be realized than just the monetary benefits.”

Joe’s farm, Joe’s Farm Fresh Produce, is one of the founding members of the New South Produce Cooperative. His commitment to sustainable agriculture is evident by the long hours and dedication needed for his certification.

“Although I’m certified naturally grown, I’m transitioning to organic by developing an organic conservation plan that helps establish buffer zones, shelter belts, windbreaks. It also covers the use of cover crops and establishing beneficial insect habitats. It also addresses drainage, erosion control and water usage. My farming methods have changed a lot in  the last couple of years since becoming acquainted with the cooperative. I have learned a lot of basics such as bed preparation, use of high tunnels as season extenders, insect and weed control. I have had some improvements on record keeping
as well.  I have learned how to improve the quality  and the shelf life of the produce that I grow. I have learned more about how a produce coop works.”

All of this education has certainly paid off, as Joe continues to be a vital contributor to the cooperative. With his wife Vilma, Joe is now passing on this farming heritage to his two sons. His grandparents would surely be proud.

On any given morning, you can find Brandon Gordon in his fields. He is a full-time farmer at 5 Acre Farm in Bradford, with two small boys and a love for what he does. I recently asked Brandon what attracted him to a life of farming.

“When I first started farming, I would have said something about sustainability and a slower, simpler lifestyle than the typical 9-5 job offers.  While that’s still true today, I would say the challenge of farming is what drives me.  No matter how much I learn, I’ll never master farming. I can’t foresee ever getting bored with it.”
That love of the challenge is what pushes him to try new things on the farm, like new varieties of vegetables, growing sprouts for the first time this year, putting up new hoop houses, and tilling into new earth.
Brandon’s love of farming is also infectious. He has two part-time workers on his farm, and each of them are now looking to purchase their own land soon. By not only teaching his techniques but sharing his enthusiasm with a new generation of farmers, he is helping to ensure that our farming heritage will be preserved.
I asked Brandon how farming has impacted his own family.
“Luckily we were able to go through the time consuming early phases of building the farm before we had children.  Now that we have the boys, we can set our hours to still have time to devote to them.  That’s not to say we aren’t working weekends and some late nights.  Having our own farm allows us to bring them to the farm when we have extra work.”
His love of the challenge of farming keeps him growing, too. “The biggest change to the farm this year is the addition of the pack shed. It makes washing and packing [produce] much more efficient as well as enjoyable.”

Spring in the Ozarks is beautiful and exciting. All of the newness and possibilities. The farm at Ozark Alternatives is no exception. Paul Chapracki took time out of his morning chores to show us around. His farm is one of our associate farms for New South Produce Cooperative. He relocated his farm just over a year ago, and he has made amazing progress.

He has one large row house, filled with forests of kale that Dr. Seuss would adore, summer seedlings sprouting through the ground, and of course, Hazel Clementine the cat. Paul is currently supplying spinach, kale, and lettuce to the cooperative. His farm is Certified Naturally Grown. He has a row of test strawberries ripening in the sun, and he was excited about future expansion. The wholesale sales and CSA membership are giving Paul and his family a secured market for his produce and allows him to spend more quality time focused on farming.