“I never would have dreamed that I would come back to South Georgia to farm,” said Relinda Walker, owner and manager of the 125 acres that comprise the third-generation Walker Organic Farm. “Even though I grew up on a farm, I never really had a connection to it. ”
At the time she decided to return to her roots, Walker was an executive at a technology company in New York. She was a perfectly happy burgeoning foodie in the small town of Piermont, directly on the Hudson River and less than an hour’s drive from midtown Manhattan. Then she read This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, written by one of her Piermont neighbors, Joan Gussow.
Gussow later signed a copy for Walker, writing, “Follow me on the green path.”
Throughout Walker’s life, she’d been loosely connected in one way or another to the good food movement—whether it was through her father’s land or a passion for sustainability.
After reading Gussow’s book, Walker connected the dots.
In 2001, following the tragic events of 9/11, she quit her job, sent Gussow an email thanking her for the inspiration, and packed her bags for Georgia. Gussow, for one, was surprised. She reckons Walker might be the only person she’s fully converted to farming—at least, the only one with written and visual correspondence to prove it.
“I was thrilled,” said Gussow. “She was raving about what my book meant to her and that she was going to take up her father’s farm. We’ve become really good friends since then.”
Such good friends that Gussow stayed with Walker when she spoke at the 2003 Georgia Organics Conference in Statesboro. It was her first look at Walker Organic Farm. At the time, Walker was planting on less than 20 acres, growing beets, carrots, greens, potatoes, beans, peas, squash, melons, sweet onions, and sweet corn. She inherited an irrigation system from her Dad that needed some improvements.
Ultimately, Walker needed resources and a support system to really get the farm going. Walker then took a job with Georgia Organics, coordinating grant-funded projects in South Georgia. With help from the NRCS, University of Georgia Agricultural Extension agents and farmers in South Georgia, Walker created a network to share information about grants, advice, and working groups to help solve problems.
On the way, Walker became a founding member and past president of Coastal Organic Growers. With that association, she helped start the Forsyth Farmers’ Market and the Mainstreet Statesboro Farmers’ Market. She has used her management skills to bring farming to a new level.
Fast forward to 2015, the farm has 67 acres certified for organic production, grows an acre of signature rainbow carrots, among many other crops, installed a new irrigation system that conserves more water, and created more defined beds. Walker also sells Vidalia onion seedlings and organic cover crop seed, and this year celebrated a decade of organic certification.
Walker’s achievements on and off the farm have earned her the admiration of many in the state. Hands down one of the most respected producers in low country Georgia, Walker was recognized with the 2011 Georgia Organics Land Steward of Year for her dogged determination to promote organic farming, and her willingness to share her knowledge with the farming community.
The next step will take Walker and her farm even further down the green path. She recently partnered with Darby Weaver, an expert in biodynamic farming who will present at The Spirit of Agriculture Conference at Harvard University this spring, with the goal of becoming Certified Biodynamic.
Biodynamic farms take “organic” to a new level. Biodynamic agriculture views the farm as an ecosystem, to which every habitat feature plays a role in the farm’s overall wellness. Pests and disease are dealt with by incorporating ecological niches and networks developed through a holistic balance of nutrients, predator and prey insects, and a mix of annual and perennial crops. The farm is managed by the rhythm of the cosmic bodies and is only deemed successful when fertility can be maintained on farm with limited outside inputs.
“Under Darby’s leadership, we’ll be able to make the land healthy and create a real base for understanding and community to learn about it,” said Walker.
Not bad for someone who has already built a career in technology. And with all these advancements, Gussow is certain to be surprised once again when she returns to the South for the 19th Annual Georgia Organics Conference in February.