Alex wields a scythe
Alex takes a break
from scything

How We Farm

Many of our customers wish to learn more about how our goodies are grown. Although we are not "certified organic," we are ardent supporters of organic methods. In fact, we hold to the approach espoused by Eliot Coleman and others, in which even organic pesticides are only to be used as a last resort. We try to approach pest and nutrient problems by making the soil, and thus the plants, as healthy as possible. Experience (and much research) has shown that often this is enough – healthy plants tend to bolster themselves against pests.

Most of our work lies in building the soil: spreading composted manures, laying sheets of (plain) cardboard, forking straw over beds, adding rock lime dust, and the like. Of course there's still weeding to be done – eventually the things will even come up from under mulch. But adding organic matter through mulching or cover crops greatly improves soil health and biotic activity. We also avoid compacting the soil with heavy machinery. We don't even own a tractor.  Luckily, Alex enjoys scything large swaths of land (something he learned from his father). Occassionally we ask a neighbor to plow up a patch, but our key pieces of machinery are the lawn mower and the tiller. 

Sometimes none of this is enough for pests or blight, though, and that's when we occassionally try some of the many products approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).  Of course, we realize that "without chemicals, life itself would be impossible," as the old ad used to say, and we recognize that plants can make chemicals that are toxic (hemlock, anyone?).  Nonetheless, we feel that besides being more toxic, synthetic chemicals, engineered for a purely one-dimensional effect, do not become reincorporated into the ecological system as readily as less pure, plant-derived compounds. We choose to use only pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers that are certified for "organic" by the OMRI. We believe this translates into healthier plants and soil, not to mention healthier meals.

Occassionally even organically-approved pesticides or fungicides won't do the trick, and we've learned to simply write off that crop and move on, hoping to avoid the pest in future seasons through crop rotation or planting at a different time to avoid a specific pest's life cycle.

We both grew up with farming in our families. Lori's grandmother lived next door on the outskirts of Savannah, Tennessee, and three generations from both homes worked a huge shared garden through most of the summer. Alex's childhood home was a Nebraskan farm settled by his great-grandfather, a blacksmith, in the 1880s. His grandmother, who had been a vaudeville actress before returning home, led him through two acres of garden every summer, teaching him German as they worked. His father taught him how to work a scythe.

So, we feel we're carrying on some very worthy life ways when we farm. And we see similar stories unfolding on our neighbor's farms today. Our neighbors' backgrounds range from Mennonite to 'hippy', but one thing we share with all the Olive Hill Community Growers is a commitment to organic principles and the notion that truly sustainable land use means farming on a human scale.

The lady young Alex called Grammy.

Alex's Grammy Blanche