Michele Gillman's winning smile gives a peppy impression, but that's not all there is to the story - she has some serious grit too.
She left her sales and marketing business to get involved in sustainable ag after her husband had a serious cycling incident, and healthy local food played a big part in his recovery. Now she manages the harvests and wrangles volunteers at Moss Hill Farm (CNG) in north Georgia, and organizes events that bring farmers together to learn and build relationships.
What you do? My primary responsibility is managing the weekly harvest for the CSA at Moss Hill Farm, located in Forsyth County in the charming city of Milton GA. We welcome 2-12 volunteers each week during the CSA season as demand requires and production affords. I also do tons of field work and suggest seasonal crops for planting.
Have you had other jobs in the past? Previously, I owned and managed a sales & marketing company, servicing the hospitality, meetings & events community. Prior to GA I lived in Puerto Rico and worked in the Sales Department of a Preferred & Leading Hotel.
What got you interested in food and farming? My husband experienced a cycling incident and one of the primary aids in his recovery was food, specifically, raw, organically-grown food. I started volunteering at Whippoorwill Hollow Organic Farm with Andy & Hilda Byrd to learn how food was grown, what made it so much better - on many levels, why it required a greater investment and I got to meet the farmers growing it! I've now been involved in sustainable ag for 5 years.
Tell us a little about your work with the local farmers’ network. I've been working with CNG as a Network Organizer for 2 years now. About every other month I plan a local event in a different region of my territory - which now includes all of GA! The events typically include a farm tour, may include a farm inspection and guest speaker (e.g., local county extension agent) and always include a delicious potluck dinner. It has been a wonderful way for growers to meet one another, to share their challenges & successes, to participate in bulk seed orders and to literally "organically" build stronger friendships and mutually beneficial relationships. Our Facebook page,
CNG Farmers of Georgia where members post livestock for sale, inquire about seasonal growing problems and proudly share photos of their farms. It is becoming a stronger forum for discussion, and I use it frequently to post relevant articles and promote upcoming educational events. I believe strongly that creating small networks of growers has strengthened the broader community of folks involved in sustainable agriculture.
Why do you feel natural practices are important? Like most people involved in sustainable ag, I am exceptionally familiar with the negative effects of the use of commercial pesticides, conventional fertilizers and antibiotics on our bodies, our minds, our earth and our world. At Moss Hill Farm we have chosen not to use even approved organic pesticides or fertilizers and have elected instead to employ biodynamic preparations to balance our soil - much to our benefit.
What is unique or unusual about the farm where you work? Employing biodynamic farming methods is certainly unique. We have invested less in inputs and produced more in the field each year since migrating over to these farming methods.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered. The rain this year has been really tough to endure, but I believe the soil balance we are continually striving for has benefitted us. The mosquitoes have been maddening too.
What unexpected customer interactions have been especially rewarding? When CSA members take the time during pick up to stop, look you in the eye, and say, "Thank you for all that you are doing. I and my family really appreciate your efforts."
Favorite farm tool: I love the broadfork we use to manually aerate the soil. I call it "soil surfing." It's a great glute/core/bicep&tricep workout. I also like our precision seeder for its accuracy and ease of use.
Favorite season: I really like the summers. My body works well in the heat. I'm an avid cyclist too and really enjoy putting a solid effort in at the farm and then on my bike on the road. The summer affords you a good sweaty workout.
Most useful piece of clothing for working on the farm? My mom just got me these sleeves to protect me from the sun and cool me in the heat. They work great. I always wear a hat to protect my face from the sun and my hair coloring as well. ;) I am in the beginning process of starting another company that will make an item of clothing which will be useful for farmers and outdoorsman alike, creating a more enjoyable work experience. Stay tuned...
Favorite veggie: I LOVE them all as I love to cook. Fennel has been most enjoyable this year. I'm excited to experience our celery for the first time.
Favorite dish: Anything with fresh veggies and herbs.
Any guilty pleasures? Coke - I do live in GA. And, most anything chocolate.
What plans or hopes do you have for your farm community in the future? I hope that more folks will get involved in our CNG events, that members will continue to use Facebook as a virtual networking tool, and that farmers will grow stronger bonds with their colleagues out in the fields.