Colvin Family Farm is comprised of just over one hundred acres of mountainous East TN farm land. The farm really is a family venture - it's operated by Stephen and Val Colvin, and the nine youngest their 13 children. One of their sons Adam found time to answer some of our questions about their farm.
What do you produce? Do you have a specialty? A full line of vegetables, some fruits, and herbs. Our top five items (in no particular order) would probably be: Head Lettuce, Strawberries, Broccoli, Potatoes, and Summer Squashes. Our goal is to focus more on the staple items that you often don’t see regularly at farmers markets, and make our booth a special place that always has those. Examples would be Slicing Onions and Carrots.
What is unique or unusual about your farm? We are blessed to farm as a family. My Dad and Mom bought a farm with us boys in mind back in 1999. All the way through high school us boys worked on the family operation, and as we graduated, we’ve worked to make it into a full time job for ourselves. I am the oldest of the children at home.
How long have you been farming? I’ve worked with the farm since I was thirteen (ten years now), but Dad, and his Dad, grew up farming in the area.
What are your markets? Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Farmers’ Markets, and independent groceries/restaurants in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Oak Ridge, Maryville, Farragut, Crossville & Dayton. This season we want to add the Nashville and Franklin TN markets to that list.
Why did you get involved with CNG? We were marketing our produce locally as “naturally grown,” and a) had to explain our growing practices to everybody, b) had no separate entity backing up our claims. When we found CNG online in 2006 we knew it would be a great fit for our farm.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a farmer. Irrigation would probably be one of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered. To raise a successful crop in the mountains of EastTN, it is key to have a great irrigation system set up. As we grew our operation there was a season and a half we sweated through without adequate irrigation. Purchasing more acreage with better water sources, and huge pumps, then the labor of running lines, and using trial and error to know when to water were all big challenges.
How do you further your farm learning? During the season we love visiting with other farmers at the farmers’ markets. Exchanging tips and ideas (or in our case finding someone with more experience than us and making nuisances of ourselves) at markets is lots of fun. We also love any meeting with lots of farmers…local Ag extensions meetings, big farming conferences (SSAWG, TOGA), and farmers’ market vendor meetings are awesome!
Most unusual farm tool Some of the most unusual tools we use are our homemade “dibble boards.” We’ve made all kinds of variations of these things, but the basic idea is to have a board with dibbles (sharpened stakes) fixed in specific spacings. We have used these to mark where to transplant or seed produce in beds. One of the weirdest would be when we made a “rolling dibble” out of a kids bike wheel. We took the rubber off of the tire, measured out the closest we could get to our target spacing,then drilled holes and ran bolts through for dibbles. We’ve used this for marking single rows (cucumbers beans etc...) Recently we finally made the piles of various dibbles obsolete by purchasing a waterwheel transplanter.
Who is your mentor or hero in the farming world? We really respect Hank and Cindy Delvin, Certified Organic farmers near Nashville, TN. They have many years of experience, and are awesome folk!
What unexpected customer interactions have been especially rewarding? We love getting to visit (interact) with our customers! Whether it’s at a farmers’ market, grocery store delivery, or in the field at one of our two annual Farm Days (open farm house days)! The most unexpectedly enjoyable method of interaction we’ve come across would be social media. With smartphones, we’re able to share pictures and updates from the field—our customers love it, and we love the added interaction.
What plans or hopes do you have for your farm in the future? I would love to branch out into grains so that we can supply ourselves with our own seed free mulches, as well as raise our family’s (and customers’s) grains, and also livestock feed. We’d like to branch out into meat and egg chickens, rabbits, cattle, hogs, and some dairy. Nuts, fruits, and mushrooms are also future goals. One the most exciting ideas we have is to build a commercial kitchen on farm so that we can save our waste products, and turn them into value added items for off-season marketing!
Favorite vegetable I love watching little specks called “seed” miraculously grow into a plant, then with care produce a vegetable. Probably my favorite would be head lettuce. I love seeding them, watching beautiful flats of miniature heads grow, handling each one as we transplant them into beds, then watching those beds grow into hedges of sweet salad…that’s just fun :)