Husband and wife Bryan Hager and Wendy Crager run Crager Hager Farm in Carroll County, Georgia. You can find their grub at the Cotton Mill Farmers Market, the Peachtree City Farmers Market, Little Hawaiian, Sunset Hills Country Club, or get it delivered weekly by Farmers Fresh CSA.
What do you do on the farm? I’m a harvester, transplanter, weeder, marketer, market vendor, and do all the business back-end. You wouldn’t believe how much paperwork is involved. I am in charge of the garlic crop, and I also feed everybody lunch every day.
How’d you get into farming? Bryan and I were part of an organization in Carroll County that was working to preserve farmland and control suburban sprawl. As part of that, we helped start the Cotton Mill Farmers Market. Around here, you look around and you see 400 foot long chicken houses, cattle farms, hay fields, and pine trees – those kind of farmers don’t come to farmers markets. My biggest fear was that we would hold a farmers market and no farmers would show up. I figured if we’re going to start a farmers market, we better start farming. So at the very first market I showed up with lettuce and sold every head. I was hooked. I bought this homestead by myself back in 1984, and when I met my husband, I dragged him out here from Atlanta. In 2002, we got the market running and started selling at it. In 2005, my husband quit his day job as the executive director of the Georgia Sierra Club and we started farming full time.
A lot of people say they can’t farm because they don’t have any land. We found that once you’re established in an area and start getting to know your neighbors, it gets easier. Most of our land is not farmable because it’s on a hill, so we farm a few acres on some of our neighbors’ land. We’ve had a dozen different neighbors and friends offer up their land for no cash rent because they love the idea of someone being a good steward of their land and farming it.
Why organic? Bryan and I come at it from the perspective of being environmental activists – we’ve worked on enough issues to know we don’t want to mess with chemicals. The entire hazardous materials production process – whether you’re talking about manufacturing or waste – is problematic. In my mind, why go through the labor of growing your own stuff if you’re not going to do it organically?
Bryan and I have always felt like the best way to be an advocate is to practice it. If we’re going to fight the production of chemicals, then we shouldn’t be a buyer of them. We want to set an example to others that this is feasible. That’s why we have the high tunnels, a solar energy system, an apprenticeship, farm tours for the Chamber of Commerce, and why we’re working on permaculture practices. Everybody that comes to the farm and sees the bounty of what we’re doing is impressed.
The best feedback to hear is when our market customers come back the next week and say “I can’t believe kale could taste so sweet and amazing,” or “Those strawberries remind of when I was at grandma’s house eating her strawberries.” They come back with a twinkle in their eye – it brings back those memories of what things should taste like.
Why are you members of Georgia Organics? It’s a great umbrella organization to help connect farmers with customers. Georgia Organics does great outreach in all directions, whether it’s for new rules and legislation, getting customers excited about real food, or for farmers with the conference and all the on-farm workshops. It’s the go-to organization that brings us all together.
One time I remember I came back from a Georgia Organics workshop on growing shiitake mushrooms, and I’m like “we gotta do that!” Bryan first just kinda rolled his eyes, and now 5 years later, we’ve got 300 shiitake logs. There’s always something inspirational that we bring back to the farm from a Georgia Organics event and utilize. It may not be a brand new crop, but it’s something on weed control or some new variety of crop that doesn’t bolt so quickly or some tool that makes planting twice as fast.