The Addersons’ farm sits off a narrow road in the tiny community of Keysville, Georgia. A long driveway, straight as an arrow, runs alongside the fields. Some are tilled and planted, some are covered in tall grasses and riotous yellow wildflowers. A small white house sits at the end of the driveway. Loretta sits under a canopy in the shade of a sprawling tree, sifting through binders of papers and writing out her apprenticeship plan. Loretta is seventy-five with curly grayish hair and a striped sunhat, and while she isn’t quite as mobile as she used to be, she’s sharp as a tack with a wit to match.
Loretta’s parents owned the ninety-something acre farm and raised a variety of vegetables and animals there. She and her six brothers grew up in the small white house, doing the difficult and backbreaking work of helping to run the farm.
“When I was young I used to come in the house every day at eleven—I’d have to kill and fry five chickens, and then I’d have to make ninety biscuits for my brothers.”
Despite how hard she had to work as a girl and the hours and hours she spent laboring in the hot kitchen and in the blazing sun, Loretta feels an emotional connection to the farm and to her family’s work on the land. There’s a deep reverence in her voice when she speaks about her father.
“People say a farmer can’t put his children through college, but my father did—all of his children that wanted to go went. He had to take out a lot of loans, but he did it.”
Her husband and steadfast supporter of many years, Sam Adderson, drives his tractor across the fields. Keysville hasn’t seen rain in over a month, and the plow kicks up enormous clouds of dust. A dozen or so snowy white egrets follow the tractor, snapping up the grasshoppers disturbed by the plow.
Sam slowly turns the tractor and drives towards the canopy to take a break. Sam clearly enjoys playing the grumpy farmer, complaining about the dust and the dry spell and the never-ending work. He’s awful at playing the part–he can’t stay in character, and often breaks out into chuckles as he complains about wasting the morning chatting.
Sam and Loretta pretend to argue, Loretta telling him he forgot to turn on the drip irrigation for their lettuce, Sam telling her to take it easy and to not be so stubborn. They laugh as Sam reaches into a cooler and pulls out ice water for them to drink.
“As a kid, I used to pick tobacco on my grandfather’s farm,” says Sam taking a sip. “This is hard work, but it sure beats picking tobacco.” Sam grew up in a tiny community in the South Carolina Lowcountry, “ten miles from Myrtle Beach as the crow flies, but twenty miles by boat through the rivers.” He met Loretta in college and they’ve been together ever since.
Sam and Loretta returned to her family’s land in 2009 after they retired. Loretta spent her career working in nutrition, and she firmly believes in the power of food to heal. She wanted to be able to provide her family and her community with healthy, fresh, and organic produce.
“When we began the farm, it wasn’t even a question of whether to be organic or not—there simply wasn’t another way for me,” she explains.
Sam and Loretta have poured love, respect, and nurturing care into their land. Their long rows of watermelon radishes and Spanish black radishes bloom purple and white and are teeming with moths and butterflies. Sweet potatoes, newly planted, peek their slender greens out of the sandy, rich soil. A field of mustard greens, pale gold and dried in the sun, stand ready for Loretta to pick and save their seeds for next year. The farm is alive, and the Addersons gladly share the bounty with the insects and birds.
“If I see a cabbage or a collard green without any holes in it, the first thing I think is ‘what did they spray this with?’” says Loretta. The Addersons, although certified organic, go far beyond the stipulations of the USDA and don’t spray at all. The tiny holes in their produce prove that they allowed it to grow completely naturally.
The Addersons pour the same love and nurturing care into their community that they do into their land—they get up early, both weekends and weekdays, to pack their produce into their truck and bring it to one of the roughly ten farmers markets they participate in. They sell their produce to communities without grocery stores, to people coming for treatment at a cancer center, to veterans at the VA hospital. They’ve taken dozens of growers under their wing, teaching them how to lay drip irrigation, how to dig potatoes, and how to care for the soil. They sell their produce to the Burke County schools so the students can taste a watermelon grown down the road instead of across the country. The Addersons give selflessly, out of a philosophy of caring for their community through food and farming.
“One woman came to buy from us every week at the market. Her husband was undergoing cancer treatment, and because of his weakened immune system, he couldn’t handle any pesticides or herbicides on his food. He was so sick he could barely get out of bed. A few months later, she brought him to the market to visit us—he swears to this day that it was our produce that healed him,” explains Loretta.
The Addersons are getting older, but they aren’t slowing down. They recently organized a co-op of thirty-one Black growers in East Georgia to pool resources and access wholesale markets. They signed on to the initial cohort of Georgia Organics’ Farm to Restaurant campaign to sell more to Atlanta restaurants. They took on an apprentice with help from a stipend from Georgia Organics. They are present at every workshop, event, and conference. They advocate tirelessly for access to better food and for grower education, for a sustainable way for them to pass on their extensive knowledge to other farmers.
“Sam and Loretta Adderson are the spiritual and intellectual epicenter of the fastest growing organic hub in the state. They have taught me so much about working hard, surviving, and struggling and doing all that with an inner grace that transcends the literal blood, sweat, and tears they have endured,” explains Michael Wall, who has worked with the Addersons throughout much of his tenure as Georgia Organics’ Farmer Services Director.
“I can’t and won’t quit because I know Mr. Sam and Mrs. Loretta can’t and won’t quit, and I know there are dozens of farmers and advocates in this movement who feel the same way.”
Scroll down for more photos of the Addersons’ farm.