CNG member Chris Arnold penned an recent article in Grit Magazine about her experience with Certified Naturally Grown. Here we learn more about the farm she and her husband Ron own and operate on the Cumberland Plateau in east Tennessee - Herb and Plow Farm.
Briefly describe your farm. Herb and Plow is a fruit and vegetable farm that we operate for about 10 months out of the year. High and low tunnels help us to extend our seasons. This is a family operated farm. Our crew consists of my husband, myself and our two youngest children, Ashley (18), Seth (16). My husband and I have been farming for over 30 years.
What do you grow? Herb and Plow is known for specialty lettuces, carrots, celery, melons, sweet corn, and strawberries. We also grow all the other traditional seasonal foods and herbs and shitake mushrooms.
What are your markets? Our markets are in Knoxville, Crossville, & Oakridge, and this year we will go to Nashville on Sundays and possibly Chattanooga.
Why did you get involved with CNG? We became involved with CNG because we embraced the CNG standard of farming without traditional chemical sprays, fertilizers, herbicides or GMO seeds and appreciated their common sense approach to minimal paperwork and the peer conducted farm inspections. We could tell that there were some real live farmers in this organization! We follow sustainable practices of enriching and improving our soil with crop rotation, cover crops, kelp, compost, fish emulsion and composted manure.
How did you get into farming? We first got into farming in northwestern Arkansas in the late 70’s. My husband and I met on a 200 acre organic farm that was owned by a medical doctor and her Kentucky horse farmer/husband. They had turned this farm into a learning center & health sanitarium, where people could come to learn natural healing arts and/or get well using them. The Kentucky gentleman taught Ron how to farm with horses, and he bought his first pair of Belgian draft horses in Arkansas. We were amazed at the size of the produce and the delicious taste from using simple methods of crop rotation, cover crop and manure and compost.
Have you ever wished you hadn’t become a farmer? There are definitely days that you wonder if you aren’t as crazy as some people think for trying to farm for a living, but it is short-lived. Farming is not for the faint of heart, you have to love it and believe in what you are doing.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a farmer? Marketing is probably the biggest challenge we have in farming. Some areas have a healthy population of “foodies” who love and appreciate locally grown produce and some areas don’t. It takes time to educate people to the nutritional and “taste” benefits of beautiful fresh produce or you need to move on to a more diverse area of people.
What is unique about your farm? The intense way that we grow things. We only have about 4 acres under production. Once a crop is finished, we pull it, compost it, re fertilize it with compost, kelp, and composted manure and replant. We replant (mindful of crop rotation) each row about 4 times a season. This allows us to have several staggered plantings of squash, cukes, carrots, beans, lettuces, radishes, etc.
How do you further your farm learning? Farming is a continual learning experience. We learn a lot from fellow farmers at the markets, books, especially by Elliot Coleman, and Walking into Spring by Paul Wiediger.
Favorite tool: I think the stirrup hoe is our favorite tool. If you tackle your weeds while tiny, using the stirrup hoe to weed is as simple as sweeping a floor. Ron removes the handle and installs a handle about 12 inches longer than the original. The principal being that you don’t have to bend over while you hoe so if you are a very tall person you may want an even longer handle for your comfort.
How do you include customers in your operation? We also do gardening classes during the winter. It has been great to see several couples build high tunnels and take great pride in their beautiful year-long produce. They are also excited to see great improvement in the flavor and size of their produce. You feel humbled when they thank you for teaching them how to grow food.
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