Arkansas Natural Produce: Small-Scale Family Farming
In the whimsical words of Jessie, our 11-year-old community partner who recently visited Arkansas Natural Produce….
At Pulaski Heights Elementary we hired Nathaniel Wills to teach gardening. In reality he does much more than just instruct us how to dig, weed, and plant. He educates us on many subjects, such as how to create a garden from scratch, how to purchase seeds, and how to keep records on the garden and map it out. We also learn about pests and compost. But most importantly, he encourages eating healthy and tasty vegetables. This year we are including an outdoor kitchen where we will prepare food and wash vegetables to sell.
Arkansas Natural Produce (ANP) felt like a bigger version of my school garden. Last week my mom and I took a tour of ANP. When we pulled up I thought for a moment that they grew and sold covered wagons instead of vegetables. Of course the “covered wagons” were really greenhouses. Soon, a couple walked out of the small white house that was close to the road and introduced themselves as Jay and Deanna Fulbright. As we walked down to the garden, Jay informed us that they have lived on this property since 1999. When we entered the first greenhouse he said that there are about twenty greenhouses on their property.
As I walked into the greenhouse, I noticed a line of timed sprinklers hanging from the top of the greenhouse. We were told that they run the sprinklers five minutes once a day in the winter and six to seven minutes, two to three times a day in the summer. As I looked around at the sea of green and red, I could tell that they try to use every little space inside the greenhouse. They grow and sell arugula, bok choy, broccoli, dandelions, edible flowers, fennel, green onions, greens (mustards, tatsoi, mizunas, spinach, and kale), micro greens, lettuces (red oakleaf, red leaf, romaine, red romaine), sugar snap peas, sorrel, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, watercress, chervil, cilantro, dill, chives, garlic chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, spearmint and thyme. Whew!
As I looked at all the produce instead of paying attention, I stubbed my toe on a little brown mouse trap (luckily it wasn’t set!). “Mice are our biggest pests besides fire ants. Fire ants never leave. They make their homes in the lettuce beds and dig up the seeds to eat. The most you can do to them is discourage them. It is much easier to control bugs in the green houses than in vegetable beds outside.” Jay said.
We were told that ANP does not use pesticides unless it is all natural (plant based or bacterial). They use no herbicides, and they only hand weed. They have large fans in the green houses to keep the air circulating. I spied a large gray thing sitting off to one side. Jay said that it is an Aqua Fogger. It creates fog of natural pesticides. They set it out at night instead of spraying all of the plants by hand so the gardeners don’t come in contact with pesticides.
As we entered another greenhouse, Jay told us how he got interested in farming. When he was a child his great grandfather was a farmer and his grandfather was a general store owner. Being a general store owner, he worked with farmers, sold their vegetables and financed their farms by letting them buy groceries and farm supplies on credit. The farmers would pay him back after the harvest. In addition to the general store he had his own garden. That is where Jay got his experience, but he decided what his purpose in life would be during his college years.
During Jay’s college years one of his professors told him to write a paper about the future of farming. Jay wrote about how important small family-owned farms were and that there would be more in the future. His professor disagreed and said that farms would be large, corporate farms. Frustrated, Jay decided to prove his professor wrong and started farming.
Jay and Deanna have been farmers since 1989. They grow and sell produce to local grocery stores, restaurants and to local on-line co-ops. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky! Some people are much more… oh, ever so much more…. oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!” Of course that would be… because they do not order from ANP.