Meet Some of Our Farmers
Iwalani and Mike Farfour, often accompanied by their adorable three year old son Ikaika, put their heart and souls into producing beautiful certified naturally grown produce on their small family farm in Winterville, Ga.
They often work with schools in the Athens area to provide fresh produce for taste tests or mobile school food pantries. Iwa has also visited schools in the Clarke County School District, with fresh veggies in tow, to talk with kids about what it’s like to be a farmer.
Started in 2012, West Broad Market Garden has transformed the old playground of the West Broad School Building on West Broad Street in Athens. The certified naturally grown 1/2 acre produces vegetables, mushrooms, honey from the farm’s bees, and eggs from its chickens.
West Broad Market Garden is a site for educational farm experiences, with many Clarke County School District students using it as a field trip destination to learn about plant growth and farm production. West Broad also serves as a site for the Athens Land Trust’s Young Urban Farmer (YUF) program, which prepares and empowers young adults for life outside of school.
Rebecca Ennis, West Broad Market Garden Manager, loves working with YUF members and community volunteers. Rebecca and the West Broad Market team have generously partnered with Northeast Georgia Farm to School to bring fresh local and certified naturally grown produce to children in the Northeast Georgia region.
West Broad Market Garden hosts a farmers market on site every Saturday from 9am-1pm.
1573 West Broad Street
Athens, Georgia 30606
Ed and Kitty Land of Chattooga Belle Farm were Farmers of the Month for October 2013 at Wilbanks Middle School. They feel that it is a great opportunity to be a farm to school farmer, provide healthy food to children and educate them about the benefits of locally grown food. “This year we’ll be supplying apples and muscadines for Wilbanks Middle School students to enjoy. In the future, I think it would be great to incorporate some of the more exotic fruits like the Fuyu persimmons or Asian pears to educate students on different foods that they may not see on a regular basis,” exclaims Kitty.
Chattooga Belle farm sits on 138 rolling acres in Long Creek, South Carolina only thirty minutes from the school. Thirty-five farm acres is for cattle production, 10 acres for fruit production, and the rest is for hay. The variety of fruit grown by the Lands is almost unimaginable: table grapes, wine grapes, peaches, nectarines, apricots, apples, muscadines, scuppernongs, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, goji berries, jujube, pawpaws, persimmons, Asian pears, plum and figs. They have just planted mayhaws, mulberries, almonds, English walnuts and pecans. Ed has always had a dream and passion for agriculture. “We need food to sustain ourselves and our community and being able to provide that is an honor” says Kitty.
There is no “typical” day on the farm. One thing is for sure the Chattooga Belle farmers are always busy. In addition to the farming tasks of planting, pruning, thinning, picking fruit, weed control, cutting hay, caring for the cattle and manicuring the lawn to create an aesthetically pleasing view, they grow in other areas. Their farm store, which is open seven days a week, houses an event venue, a canning and commercial kitchen, and lunch is served there daily. “We often rent our venue for events like weddings, so there is the time and labor involved with that, which is a lot of fun” Kitty says with a smile. Chattooga Belle also produces their own line of wine. Presently they offer six types of wine with two more being developed for future sales. Ed explains “I also love to build, so I am always creating something new or building something functional like a cattle coral, equipment barn, playground, deck, etc. There is always something on my to do list.”
Chattooga Belle is a u-pick farm where people come and pick the fruit they want. To avoid waste, the farmers pick and use the extra, which they sell in the farm store. The farm also participates in two Internet-based farmers markets and one local community farmers market on Saturday mornings.
Kitty and Ed invite everyone to visit the farm. “We are open seven days a week for the people to enjoy the fruit and the beautiful views. Even when the store is closed, we have a gate for foot traffic, as the farm is a favorite place for enjoying the sunset or night stargazing. Chattooga Belle Farm is located just “up the road” at 454 Damascus Church Road, Long Creek, SC 29658.
The locally owned business started in 1910 by Bob Holland and has been handed down through four generations. Currently managed by Bob’s great grandson Anthony Holland and his wife Anita. Over the years the company has grown and diversified their products and clients. “We are currently providing fresh fruits and vegetables with 9 school districts” says Anita. “We are always looking for opportunities to buy produce from local farmers. They are our neighbors, brothers, sisters and friends. When we purchase from our local farmers we support the economic growth of our community. The products are fresher, more nutritious and obtaining local food limits transportation costs and “food miles” affiliated with the products sold to clients. “
“The Farm to School program is new to all of us so we are learning how to assist the nutrition directors with their USDA requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables and finding farmers who can meet price points that benefit the farm and is affordable for the schools” reflects Anthony.
Providing the community with fresh produce is the greatest reward of the locally owned business. Holland’s wholesale service works with restaurants, schools, hospitals and country stores while their retail store located in Clarkesville is open to the general public Monday thru Saturday.
The Echols family at Jaemor Farms has been harvesting crops from their land for 102 years. Positioned at the foot of the beautiful North Georgia Mountains, the family farms 350-acres of fruits and vegetables. Jimmy and Valvoreth Echols, owners and namesake for the farm, have been the leaders of their family’s operation since the 1960s. (JAEMOR is family initials.‘JAE’ represents Jimmy Allen Echols and ‘Mor’ are the first three letters of Mrs. Valvoreth’s maiden name).
Jaemor Farms was established on family values and hard work that has been passed down for five generations. “We recognize the growing importance of local and fresh produce, therefore that’s what we strive to produce sustainably for families in North Georgia,” said Drew Echols, farm manager and grandson of the namesakes.
As the September Farm to School spotlight farm for Habersham County, Jaemor will be serving peaches to the students of Wilbanks Middle School. “Peaches are our number one crop,” said Echols. “We’re honored to have the opportunity to provide a taste test for students and encourage them to add locally grown fruits to their diet.
The Farm Market at Jaemor Farms has been opened in Highway 365 in Alto, Ga., for 33 years. During this time period, the Echols family has expanded their operation to meet the demand of their customer base. Drew has been back on the farm for 13 years and has worked to help his family diversify the farm to also grow strawberries, blackberries, watermelon, tomatoes and concord grapes, just to name a few. “We’ve always been locally grown,” said Echols. “Now, more than ever, we’re working to provide homegrown produce at our market and educational experiences on the farm for students and for families.”
The oldest members of the sixth generation of Echols still work in the markets and around the farm during the summer time. “We want to expose the next generation to what we’ve already accomplished so that our family’s business will continue to serve consumers of North Georgia for years to come,” said Echols.
You can purchase produce year round from Jaemor Farms by visiting their farm and market in Alto, Ga., on Highway 365, or at their market in Commerce, Ga., on Highway 441.
Farmer Terri Jagger Blincoe loves working outdoors and has always been good at growing things and teaching others. Now she is sharing her expertise and passion with the Northeast Georgia Farm to School program. “This work feels important and my decision to farm is as much a political statement as anything. Farming touches every major issue in our country from the environment to our health to economic.”
Ladybug Farms, best described as a small scale, intensive, and highly productive farm incorporates two ¼ acre fields and one 1/8-field producing between 8000-10000 pounds of food each season. “I do not buy the argument that small farms can’t feed the world. I grow 40+ heirloom varieties of beans, squash, beets, carrots, lettuce, kale, potatoes, tomatoes and more,” explains Farmer Terri.
One of Terri’s favorite quotes and inspirations is “The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living off a small piece of land”… Abraham Lincoln
Days on Ladybug Farms change as the season progresses. Terri starts the first seedlings in her greenhouse in February then begin preparing and planting the fields in March, April and May. The months of June and July her days are spent harvesting and weeding followed by August where she starts fall crops and begin to prepare fields for winter cover cropping. “September the strawberries go in, October the garlic – all the while I am selling produce, plants, teaching classes, fixing equipment, keeping up with the finances and everyday chores on the farm” says Terri.
Stepping up and committing time to the Farm to School program aligns directly with Terri’s mission to connected people to where their food comes from. “My parents generation is the last generation that grew up eating farm food and we are only now beginning to see the consequences of that change in our society. Obesity, diabetes and cancer are rampant and I firmly believe our diet and eating habits is one of the main reasons. Establishing healthy eating habits at an early age can counteract many of these problems” explains Terri.
This year Ladybug Farm is growing sweet potatoes and Kale for the Rabun County students. “Kale is a super food – is fantastic for making kale chips and in smoothies. Sweet potatoes are also super nutritious, fun and easy to grow and make great sweet potatoes fries,” exclaims Terri. Farmer Terri’s hope is to inspire a new generation of healthy eaters that are committed to respecting and nurturing the land that provides all this abundance.
The local community can purchase Ladybug Farms wonderful produce through the farms CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Individuals purchase a share in the farm for the season and in return Ladybug Farms agree to deliver 8-10 different items each week – whatever is in season that week. Ladybug Farms CSA members can receive their weekly shares either Friday mornings in downtown Clayton or stop by Saturday morning at the Main Street Farmers Market.
You can also purchase Terri’s produce at the Main Street Farmers Market in downtown Clayton or enjoy them on the menu of local restaurants Fortify, Fromage and the Lake Rabun Hotel. To learn more about Ladybug Farms contact Terri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leah Lake Farm is in production twelve months of the year, as half of the farm is under hoop houses. Brooks grows 27 varieties of lettuce, arugula, Asian greens, spinach, kale, chard, carrots, beets, radishes, and onions. He grows lots of flowers as well, Dahlias being his signature flower. Brooks sees himself less as a farmer and more as a “dirt doctor”. His beds are constantly being enriched with compost. They are never mechanically disturbed, and are never tilled after they are formed. “This practice creates an almost entirely weed-free, disease-free growing environment and creates healthy and thriving crops,” explains Brooks.
For additional information about Leah Lake Farm or to purchase produce go to the farm’s website http://www.leahlakefarm.com or contact Brooks Franklin at email@example.com. The community can also visit Leah Lake Farm to buy produce that is pre-picked, or they are welcome to pick their own. School groups, church groups, and members of the community frequently visit for a farm day experience. “The children are always surprised that not only does Leah Lake Farm lettuce and other produce have distinct flavors (unlike store-bought produce), but also that each type of lettuce has a very distinct flavor. They have remarked that Leah Lake’s orange carrots taste like candy and the red carrots taste like the earth,” Brooks says with a gentle smile.
Originally, the Kennedys bought the land to build a home on and then discovered that they had beautiful, rich soil. “We put in the first 2,000 square foot garden and thought that would be enough for a family harvest. Once Harold got a tractor life changed,” says Joni. “I came home one day and Harold was plowing up a field with a big smile on his face and our farming life began.“ Recent additions to the farm include a 2,100 square foot hoop house, new well, holding tank, and drip irrigation system.
“There really are not characteristic days on the farm. We grow such a wide variety of things there’s always something new ripening as something else goes out of season” explains Harold. “We try to get an early start before it heats up, pick whatever is in season, clean and put it in the cooler.” Joni describes how there is a surprising amount of paperwork and record keeping that goes along with farming and the importance of maintaining it daily. “I do the book keeping inside during the hottest part of the day. When it cools off in the evening I deal with replanting, fertilizing and pest control”.
“We are excited to be growing cantaloupe, rhubarb, sweet potatoes and watermelon for the Farm To School program this year” says Joni. “Feeding the local community organically year round is our goal and being able to introduce kids to new fruits and vegetables they may not otherwise be exposed to is one of the joys of farming. The Farm to School program has the potential to form healthy habits that the students will carry with them into adulthood. As a mother and a former teacher, providing students with organic, local food makes me proud to be a farmer.”
Melon Head farmers know that the high nutrient value of their melons, sweet potatoes and rhubarb will meet the USDA requirements for school lunches as well as prove to be very kid friendly foods. “Rhubarb may be new to the students, but they will enjoy the taste. Some of the melons they will be getting are heirloom varieties they will never see at a local grocery store. It’s great to show them the wide variety of food that are possible when you buy local, like small green cantaloupe and orange or purple tomatoes” explains Joni.
You can purchase produce year round from Melon Head Farm by shopping online at the Northeast Georgia Locally Grown www.northeastgeorgia.locallygrown.net, or visit them “during the season” at the Clarkesville Farmer’s Market. For more information about the farm go to: www.melonheadfarm.com.
Mill Gap Farm is in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Rabun County. Farm stewards Amy and Chuck Mashburn are dedicated to producing healthy food for others and themselves. As Farmers of the Month for May at Wilbanks Middle School in Habersham County, they fulfill that dedication.
This month will be the Mill Gap Farmer’s second time that they participate in a taste test at Wilbanks Middle School. There they will meet with the students, serve their delicious sweet Hakurie turnips and share their agriculture experiences. Taste tests encourage students to use all of their senses to explore fruits, vegetables, and other farm related foods
Chuck and Amy were one of the first farms to step forward to support the Habersham Farm to School program. “The implementation of the Farm to School program at Wilbanks Middle School is one of the most exciting and important developments in the local food scene. What a great opportunity for students to learn about and enjoy fresh local food!” exclaims Chuck. Mill Gap Farm is very pleased to have the opportunity participate in this program. “The vision and hard work by the school nutritional director, cafeteria staff, and all involved has been a step beyond the call of duty and is truly inspirational for us” says Chuck.
At Mill Gap Farm, the Mashburns also focus on restoring the soil and waters of the farm as near to their original healthy biological state as possible. Mill Gap Farm has been totally chemical free since 1999. “We apply Allan Streiff’s Authentic Soil Regeneration program and work with the USDA NRCS programs for soil and water health,” explains Chuck.
Soil regeneration is about building or making topsoil. For example, where one inch of topsoil is now on your farm, the aim is to have twice as much in fewer than three to five years. To create new topsoil, two main goals must be achieved simultaneously: increase soil fertility and the granular structure of the soil.
The scholarly Mill Gap farmers are constantly seeking information. They attend soil biology classes and workshops offered by Georgia Organics and the North Carolina Organic Growers School along with networking with other farmers. “Education is important – both receiving it and extending it to others,” emphasizes Chuck.
Presently the farmers utilize about an acre of land to grow a diverse selection of vegetables and fruit. These include old standbys such as potatoes, corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, herbs, alliums, and greens along with the local weeds lambs quarters and amaranth. They also grow Asian specialties such as Hakurie turnips, Buthi gourd, and the under appreciated bitter melon. An additional acre of chemical free hay provides feed for their goats and material for mulch and compost.
Every day on the farm begins with tending to the goats, dog, and chickens. The chicken tractors, movable chicken coops lacking floors, are moved morning and afternoon to provide adequate fresh pasture for grazing. “Harvesting, prepping, and marketing produce takes the lion’s share of time on the farm, and there never seems to be enough time left for the nostalgic old favorite farm chores of planting, cultivating, and especially weeding,” reflects Chuck.
Mill Gap Farm products are available at the Simply Homegrown farmers market at the City Hall complex in Clayton on Saturday mornings. Their products can also be purchased through two online farmers markets, AthensLocallyGrown.net and NortheastGeorgia.Locallygrown.net. “Often our produce is on the menu along with that of other area farms at the Lake Rabun Hotel and Restaurant where it reaches its pinnacle of culinary perfection in the hands of Chef Allred and his staff,” says Amy.
Nicole Trunk, Habersham County School’s Farm to School Coordinator, says, “The research shows that repeated opportunities to taste and eat new and familiar foods is required to increase acceptance and intake. Some say cafeteria taste testing creates positive peer pressure. If your friend is willing to try the turnip, why wouldn’t you? Cafeteria taste tests encourage students to eat fresh local foods in a supportive environment.”
“Taste tests are an integral part of the Farm to School model being established in Habersham County, and with the support and guidance of Northeast Georgia Food Bank and Georgia Organics, we hope to establish best practices for the state of Georgia,” explains Paige.
This month, Linda Johnson, miller of Sylvan Falls Mill, is Farmer of the Month for Habersham County. The historic Sylvan Falls Mill is located in the scenic mountains of Rabun Gap in Rabun County. The mill is unique among other gristmills in that it is located below a 100-foot cascading waterfall, and the mill is powered by a 27-foot water wheel, which is one of the largest in the United States.
Wilbanks Middle School Farm to School student ambassadors had the opportunity to visit the mill last spring and watch Linda slowly grind fresh flour and grits from the historic water-powered mill. The students also enjoyed a tasting of the mill’s cornbread. Linda is working with Wilbanks’ cafeteria staff on recipes using her cornmeal and whole-wheat products that the school is purchasing. “Our flours are ground from regionally grown organic grains. Great for all baking needs” says Linda.
“We became millers when the bed and breakfast we purchased came with a mill” reflects Linda. Mike and Linda Johnson have operated the Sylvan Falls Mill Bed & Breakfast since 2001 and have enjoyed sharing the natural beauty of the property with guests from all over the world. Delightful breakfasts are served on the screen porch overlooking the falls and feature organic, local and seasonal fare. “When the mill is operating it always draws a crowd. Local farmers call in advance to schedule a day to drop off their grain, we then grind it as they specify (grits, cracked, meal, flour) and bag it for them and then call them for pick up. If it is a small amount they often wait, and we shoot the breeze,” explains Linda.
Linda and Mike both grew up in rural areas and knew where their food came from. Linda is excited about her part in the Farm to School program. She says, “With all the changes that have occurred in our world, it is important to us to pay forward the knowledge of how food comes to our table to the next generation.”
The local community can purchase Sylvan Falls Mill products from several locations: at the mill or from the Sylvan Falls Mill website; from Roomful of Nuts in Franklin, NC; at Osage Farm market in Rabun Gap, GA; from Holland Produce in Clarkesville; and at the Main Street Farmers Market on Friday afternoons in downtown Clayton. “Our mill is open to the public, but we do suggest you call in advance to make sure we are not in town running errands or hosting a special event. Also please call if you are a group of over six people so we can better accommodate you” says Linda.
The Habersham County School’s Farm to School project will be a model for the rest of the state on how to incorporate food and nutrition education into the classroom, integrate gardens in the school environment, and bring local food into the cafeteria while working in partnership with the community and local farms.
Sylvan Falls Mill is located at 156 Taylors Chapel Road in Rabun Gap. To learn more about the mill visit www.sylvanfallsmill.com. The Habersham Farm to school program is sponsored by Georgia Organics and Northeast Georgia Food Bank.
Shook’s Family Farm is family owned and operated by Michael and Thelma Shook and their daughter and husband, Steve Rushing and Angel Rushing. All of the planting, weeding, and harvesting is done by hand. “We try not to use pesticides at all, but when it is required we use the mildest and least amount possible. After all, we are feeding our own families. All of our produce is guaranteed fresh which means it is picked the day before market day. Our personal guarantee is “from our fields to your family in 24 hours or less” says Angel.
Michael Shook has been gardening most of his life and started selling at farmers markets in 2002. In 2005, Angel decided to try setting-up an online farmers market so that customers could pre-order their produce and pick it up at the farm at their convenience. “If you’ve ever been to a farmers market you know that the early bird gets the worm and unless you’re there first thing in the morning chances are that the item you want will be picked over or sold out by the time you get there,” says Angel. By ordering online you can get the “cream of the crop”, the items you want, and still sleep-in for a few hours. Along with delicious vegetables, Michael Shook cares for 28 beehives producing wildflower and sourwood honey to sell. Visit Shook’s online farmers market at www.shooksfamilyfarm.com and follow the farm on Facebook.
There are 2 main reasons why Shook’s has an interest in the Farm To School program in Habersham County and will be growing eggplant, squash and peppers for Wilbanks Middle School this year. “First, as soon as school starts back our farmers market profits really drop. Customer turnout is lower due to after school activities and sporting events, so we end up with surplus amounts of produce for this time of year. Selling to the school gives us another market for our produce. Secondly, from our past experience with working multiple farmers markets, we find time after time that kids have no idea where produce comes from, and even more importantly they take a genuine interest in learning about it,” explains Angel. “They love to come each week to see something they’ve never seen before and try something new. They are usually first in line when we bring in a dish to sample, and they have great questions.”
Georgia is ranked second in the nation in childhood obesity while at the same time ranks fourth in national fruit and vegetable production. Farm to school programs improve children’s health and support local economies. The Shook farm is one of 10 farms within a 45 mile radius of Wilbanks Middle School that will be growing produce for the students this year as part of a Georgia Farm to School pilot program. Thanks to the funding from Northeast Georgia Food Bank and Georgia Organics, Habersham County’s Farm to School project will be a model for the rest of the state on how to incorporate food and nutrition education into the classroom, integrate gardens in the school environment, and bring local food into the cafeteria while working in partnership with our community and local farmers.