James Hembree is a visionary. He is also a Georgia Organics member, the grounds superintendent at the University of West Georgia, and the owner of Hembree Lane Farm in Carrollton.
Why did you become a member of Georgia Organics?
You know, Rachael Carson, (author of “Silent Spring”), we thought she was ahead of her time. But everything that she asserted, it came to light. And yet still, our economy has not changed. We farm on an industrial level, exhaust our soil with monoculture, and apply increasingly strong pesticides to increase annual yield.
I grew up in Villa Rica, Georgia. My grandfather was a sharecropper and raised his 10 children without any income other than working the farm. He grew cotton to pay the rent and standard open-pollinated crops like corn and peas to feed his family and earn extra income.
Although the idea of sustainable agriculture was not part of the discussion back then, to a degree he was practicing sustainable agriculture. He saved his seeds from year to year and carried his corn to the local grist mill just down the dirt road to be made into meal for cornbread. Payment was made to the mill through a toll system where an agreed upon percentage of the cornmeal was given.
The peas were dried and consumed during the winter months with the leftover seeds used for planting the following season. Sorghum cane was grown and harvested in the fall and carried to another local syrup mill. The same toll system was used with the syrup. The waste or fodder from the mill was used as feed for the various farm animals, mules for plowing and cows for milk, butter, and buttermilk.
Fresh vegetables, butter, milk, eggs, syrup, and cornmeal were loaded up and delivered to the east Atlanta area of Bolton on a regular basis to regular customers. That’s a long drive, and back then, there was no refrigeration. It really was a different time.
I have heard stories of making deliveries when no one would be at home. The back door would be unlocked and money would be lying on the table with an order for the next delivery. He’d just walk in to the kitchen and leave the produce on the table and take his payment.
Although that seems a long time ago, it wasn’t really long in the grand scheme of things. But the way we farm and buy food and eat today hardly resembles the world my grandfather described.
I think it’s important that we change our long-standing problematic farming methods to be more sustainable and nourishing for us and for the earth. Even though most of us are small farmers and individual consumers, if we all say we are too small to make a difference, then there will never be change.
You’ve been a member of Georgia Organics for a long time now. What keeps you coming back?
I’ve been a member of Georgia Organics for five years. Even though I’m not farming much now – my job at the university and my involvement in Boy Scouts takes much of my time – I believe that it’s important to support the causes you believe in, and I believe that Georgia Organics is creating real change.
One of the Georgia Organics’ programs that I think is incredibly important is the farm-to-school program. I work at a university and I see it every day – our children and their children, they are our future. It’s important to teach them about farms, crops, food, and healthy eating while they are young. They will be the ones calling the shots one day about our food and our world.
Georgia Organics is good for all of the farmers in Georgia. Programs like the farmer-to-farmer mentoring programs make it easier to succeed in growing a good crop, and outreach programs like farm to school and My Market Club are creating a local food economy, like the one that existed in my grandfather’s day.
Also, Georgia Organics’ conferences are wonderful – I really enjoyed the one at Jekyll Island. I learned a lot and it’s wonderful to be connected with other farmers and consumers and learn about new topics.
The session on ginger as a specialty crop was very informative. Even though I am a part of one of the longest running markets in the state, the Cotton Mill Farmer’s Market in Carrollton, I wanted to attend the session on starting up a new market. The presenters were well-prepared and brought different and valuable ideas and strategies to the discussion. The Georgia Department of Agriculture also presented a great session on ‘Georgia Grown’ and the GATE program and how both of these programs can benefit even the smallest of farms.
What is your hope for the future?
We’ve come a long way from when my grandfather was farming, and the world is very different. I don’t know where we’ll be fifty years from today, but I do believe that this place would be a worse one if it weren’t for organizations like Georgia Organics.