Chuck and Amy Mashburn, of Mill Gap Farm in Tiger, GA, have been adding their own flavor to the local food movement in Northeast Georgia since the mid-1990’s. Chuck Mashburn is a Rabun County local who grew up farming in the summers with his grandparents and uncle. In the 1990’s he decided to come back to Rabun County and start his own farm on the land his family has lived on since 1958 — a 13 acre parcel, 2 1/2 acres of which are farmed. When he returned to Rabun County, Chuck wanted to practice organic farming; however, there were very few people who knew about organic farming at the time. In order to learn about organic practices, Chuck read articles and books. Eventually he started meeting people who were interested in organic production as well. They began taking classes together and sharing knowledge. Since its beginning, Mill Gap Farm has become a successfully producing farm of many types of vegetables like field peas, different varieties of beans, garlic, turnips, rhubarb, Asian greens, and Jerusalem artichokes. You can find their produce at Simply Homegrown Market in Clayton, GA, at some local restaurants, and on several online markets including Northeast Georgia Locally Grown.
Not only are Chuck and Amy supplying wholesome food to local households and restaurants, students in Rabun County and Habersham County public schools are also getting to experience Mill Gap Farm’s unique crops. Mill Gap Farm was one of the first farms to support the Farm to School program when it began in Northeast Georgia two years ago. Their primary involvement has been participating in taste tests in both school districts. The purpose is to expose students to locally grown foods; help educate students about how food is grown; where it comes from and introduce students to a variety of fresh, nutritious foods.
Students at North Habersham Middle School, South Habersham Middle School, and Rabun County Middle school will all have the opportunity to sample Jerusalem artichoke, also known as Sunchoke, from Mill Gap Farm this winter.
The Jerusalem artichoke is not a commonly grown vegetable in this region; however, it is a great crop and a nutritious vegetable. The stalks can grow up to 12 feet tall and flower in autumn. The “artichokes” grow on the roots of the stalk, which spread throughout the soil. Chuck and Amy love this vegetable because it is so versatile; you can eat it raw or cooked and the flavor differs depending on how you eat it. When it is raw it has a sweetness to it, and when roasted it has more of an artichoke flavor.
The students’ reaction to Jerusalem artichokes during the January Habersham County taste test was positive overall, with one student saying it tasted like a cross between an apple and a potato.
Chuck and Amy particularly enjoy being involved with the Farm to School program for the kids. They love seeing the students’ reactions to trying new foods. They are also excited to see schools in Northeast Georgia supporting local agriculture. Chuck recalls that when he was going to school in Rabun County, Bob Massee, of Tiger Mountain Orchards, would bring apples to the elementary school. Chuck Mashburn is glad to see that support for local farmers coming back, particularly since farming is one of the top industries in Rabun County.