Last Thursday, Georgia Organics played host to farmers and gardeners from across the state for a field day at Lola’s Organic Farm in Wheeler County. Attendees saw the farms’ new additions, including a high tunnel (aka hoop house) and an ongoing SARE research project.
Speakers included Vontice Jackson, the NRCS district conservationist in Georgia, Jerry Larson, recently retired Extension agent from Fort Valley State University, Karen Smith of Southern Native Plantings at Longwood Plantation, and Georgia Organics’ own Farmer Services Coordinator Donn Cooper.
“Getting people out on the farm is great because it’s important to see this kind of thing with your own eyes,” Smith said. That’s what’s so helpful about Field Days—they take talk about organic farming out of the abstract and make it real for people who may not have seen hoop houses or a grafting demonstration before.
“We want people to learn that not only is is possible to farm on small areas of land, they can do it organically,” said Jennifer Taylor, who owns Lola’s Organic Farm alongside Ron Gilmore. “We want them to see it, ask questions, and go home with actions.”
Lola’s Organic Farm is named after Taylor’s grandmother, a sharecropper who eventually bought it and farmed successfully. Taylor’s interest in agriculture was sparked by the joy her grandmother took from farming. “I think she would be happy to see what we’re doing on the farm… she would be tickled,” Taylor said.
Transitioning from conventional farming to organic, or starting from scratch as Taylor and Gilmore did, can be intimidating, but Taylor and Gilmore prove that it is possible. In the four short years since their organic certification, Taylor and Gilmore now sell organic onions, kale and specialty melons. They received a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant, which has funded their practical research on biological and mechanical methods of weed control.
Attendees learned about the resources available to Georgia growers, including applying for organic certification and applying for cost-share programs from the NRCS. Attendees’ farming experience ranged greatly. Some growers were considering organic farming, others were seasoned farmers who wanted some new tricks. But everybody learned something. HABESHA, an urban agriculture training organization in Atlanta, brought students from their organic gardening class.
“It’s really great to see all these people come together” Taylor said. “One of the best things about this is meeting other farmers and hearing other farmers’ stories.”
Other speakers and topics at the field day:
- Vontice Jackson explained how to apply for grants through the National Resource Conservation Service’s EQIP Initiatives.
- Ron Gilmore gave a tour of his newly constructed high tunnel (which is used to extend the growing season).
- Jerry Larson explained their research weed control using the funds from the SARE grant, which they received based on their idea to use a peanut harvester to uproot and dry out bermudagrass. They are currently experimenting with other methods, comparing biological methods (cover crops) and mechanical methods of weed control.
- Karen Smith talked about the importance of pollinator habitats and native plants. “One percent of bugs interact with humans in a negative way,” she said. “The other 99 percent are good.”
- Jerry Larson explained muscadine vine and blackberry bush care. He demonstrated proper pruning to ensure large fruit sizes, and explained proper harvesting.
- Larson also demonstrated grafting a branch onto a fruit tree, and gave out pamphlets with directions for attendees to take home.