Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Return of the native, Part 1


I'd first met Will back at Deep Seeded Community Farm on my way through California last December. As we harvested kale and washed carrots, I learned that he had spent some years working on organic farms in Humbolt County, and now, at 24, the anthropology-student-turned-farmer was ready to start his own place. But rather than add another farm to the somewhat saturated organic produce market in coastal northern California, Will decided to move home to Mississippi, where comparatively little exists in terms of sustainably grown food. Modeled closely on the Arcata farm where he'd been interning, the goal was to provide fresh, clean food and build a sense of a food community. What I discovered during my days working with Will last week in Tupelo was that over the past five months he's managed to cultivate not only healthy plants but a healthy fan club. Organics taking root in Mississippi? Y'all better believe it.

He's something of a local celebrity, with a recent article in the local paper leading to dozens of calls from folks interested in buying fresh produce, seeking gardening advice, or sometimes letting the young farmer know he was welcome to come by to harvest their extra mulberries. People would stop him on the street, in a cafe, at the market, to compliment the work he has been doing. He seems to take it all in stride.

Cultivating a piece of land on his parents' property for vegetable farming, and with plans for a flower and animal operation on his own land soon, Will has already built up a strong group of supporters for his operation. (No, really, at the Saturday farmers' market the sole organic stand generally sells out by around 10am.) He welcomes volunteers and neighbors to come by Native Son Farm and chats easily about the different varietals, from the sweetness of the heirloom corn to the history of the "mortgage lifter" tomatoes. Folks coming to pick up their CSA-inspired produce box from the front porch on Fridays sometimes wander about the crop rows or seek advice on preparing unusual items. There's a woman in town with a penchant for kohlrabi who was the inspiration behind Will's planting of the delicious, alien-looking root vegetable. I suspect others will be stopping by with requests in coming months. People are talking; Will's listening.

It's a family affair, with dad assisting with equipment, mom reaching out to community members and sending out the weekly CSA notices, sister Lauren and girlfriend Amanda working alongside Will on the farm and at the Saturday farmers' market.

In addition to the CSA and farmers' market stand, there are plans for a series of farm dinners -- to celebrate local food and help supplement the farm's income -- featuring the talent of Will's friend David, a local chef. (More on David's amazing work in a future post.) The first farm dinner, with ingredients culled from a 30-mile radius (including fresh rabbit and goat cheese), happened to take place last Thursday, so Aaron ("the photographer from San Francisco" deemed, well, the official photographer) and I ("the woman biking around the country for over a year to visit farms" and happily designated as the evening's wine stewardess) had a chance to help out. The food was divine. In spite of a series of rain showers, the event was an overwhelming success, with gleeful, full-bellied patrons advising on dates for the next dinner as they departed. And there will be more: the farmer and chef team are looking to hold 6 or so each year under the stunning giant oak tree alongside the farm.

All in all, I was impressed by Will's insight and his success thus far. Soon hopefully other farmers will begin to provide fresh, clean food in Mississippi. Wouldn't you know that I met a second organic farming friend in town over the weekend. Check back soon for more on Horton's organic farm down the road....

[In case you're wondering about the higher quality of this photo, it was snapped by "the photographer from San Francisco" while Will and I washed veggies for the farm dinner. Yes, a real camera... and a real photographer, for once. ;)]

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. Great post - it reminded me of EarthShare Gardens first Harvest Moon Dinner fundraiser, where local vegetables were served and we had
    rabbit and goat cheese also.
    Julie L.


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