Laurie and John came to natural farming after years of different jobs and experiences - John served 21 years in the Navy, while Laurie was a teacher. Though John still works his full-time job, they're happiest when taking care of their horses and farm.
Tell us a little bit about the farm. John and Laurie Ritchie own JandL Farm and Stables in Hephzibah, GA. It is 14 and half acres of a previous horse farm including 3 acres on which the house, stable, and pole barn sit. We have started our farming on the front pasture while the back pasture is used mainly for our horses.
Who farms with you, if anyone? It is just the two of us working the farm right now and I (John) work a 40+ hour week at nearby Fort Gordon. Laurie is a former internal auditor and high school teacher. I served 21 years active duty in the United States Navy and have spent the past 22 years as a facilities engineer.
What do you produce? Do you have a specialty? We are still learning about our farm’s soil, and our growing seasons, but we have had success with kale, eggplant, green beans, squash, cucumbers, radishes, and beets. We inherited 2 groves of Rabbit Eye and Powder Blue blueberry bushes. We have given new life to 3 existing apple trees.
How/when did you get into farming? We bought our farm in December 2007 with the intent of growing a small garden for ourselves, buying a few pleasure horses, and retiring. As we started researching how to grow the best food for ourselves, it became clear that many people without a farm wanted to eat the same chemical-free vegetables and fruit we wanted. We began selling our produce in 2013 through Augusta Locally Grown, The Veggie Truck of the Harrisburg community, and the inaugural year of the Evans Town Farmers Market, Evans, GA. Their interest in our growing practices and their appreciation for our hard work means a lot. Especially when they bring children to meet the farmers!
What do you love about them? We both like the fact horses have varying personalities. For example, they choose their own "trail buddy"--the one or ones they want to be near on a trail ride.
What in your current and past professional experiences have contributed to your success in farming so far? Are there skills or knowledge that has helped? Thanks to my naval and facilities engineer experiences, I have been able to understand and implement needs on the farm such as drip irrigation, and the science behind effectively and safely composting manure. Laurie would tell you her previous jobs have made her extremely aware of cost effectiveness on the farm as well as being methodical when preparing and planting raised beds and the gardens.
Why do you feel natural practices are important? Listening to the news, reading publications, and so forth make the importance of growing food naturally, obvious. How many times do we have to hear of a food recall or an outbreak of salmonella poisoning before we realize that the methods used by the farm “industry”conglomerates are harming us?
Why did you get involved with CNG? We chose to join CNG because we wanted to be governed by other farmers, not government.
What is unique about your farm? Laurie and I are what is unique about our farm! We bought our farm when we were 55 and 57 years old, respectively. Six years later we sold our first Naturally Grown produce and earned our CNG certification. Many days our bodies make us wish we had found this passion 40 years ago, but our hearts want to keep learning more and more about “clean” farming, and to grow more and more healthy produce.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a farmer. The biggest challenge I (John) have faced so far is that I am not able to farm full time yet. I am anxious to get up in the morning and start chores, instead of rushing through chores after work and on the weekends.
What advice would you give to a farmer just starting out? Be prepared for a lot of hard work, some disappointments and learning curves, but great rewards in your successes! Learn not only from books, but from other farmers and their experiences
What are your dreams for agriculture on a national level? On a personal level? It seems it would take magic for ALL farmers including beef, pork, and poultry producers, to stop using pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs today- but that’s what we would like to see happen.
For the long term, we hope to increase the number and variety of fruit trees and bushes, which is something that our entire region can work on.