Sustainable Producer Spotlight Series ~ Past Submissions:
Farmer Jones Eco-Friendly Produce
|View Past Sustainable Producer Spotlight Submissions|
Farmer Jones Eco-Friendly Produce is a small farm in a small town in a big state.
Perhaps you are not familiar with the term micro eco farm? In general terms, it involves utilizing limited spaces, such as urban lots, backyards or small farm acreage, to produce an abundant variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers. It is, essentially, a mini farm.
Rita Foust and Mel Jones established Farmer Jones Produce in Poetry, Texas, in 2009. While they occasionally employ a few temporary laborers to help on the 3-acre farm, Mel and Rita perform the majority of the farm's operations. There is about one acre of garden space and about a half an acre is devoted to orchard trees. In this small space they grow a multitude of herbs, vegetables, fruit trees and flowers grown to attract pollinators. The property was the site of a poultry farm in the 1940's and the yards adjoining the house and outbuildings have 9 mature pecan trees.
Rita tends to seed starting, seedling care in the greenhouse, planning, some record keeping, monitoring of pests, and maintaining the farm's social media and other advertising. Mel focuses on land management, Integrated Pest Management, weed control, irrigation, equipment procurement and maintenance and repair of same. They both work on planting and continually improving the soil. "The soil lacked organic matter and nitrogen when we started," Mel explains. Mel and Rita have worked to improve the soil by adding compost, local lawn clippings and leaves, and green cover crops including southern peas, clovers and winter peas to add nitrogen. A heavy clay sub soil is also present on the farm, which attributes to poor drainage of the land.
In addition to soil challenges, the farm's lack of proximity to heavily travelled roads makes it a challenge to vend directly from the farm. "We sell mainly at farmers markets, direct to the consumer and on occasion have sold to restaurants and third parties through farmer friends," Mel says. "We use Facebook and EatGreenDFW to promote our products online." Social media helps get the word out to people who are close to them and can come by the farm or markets they attend. They plan to pursue more marketing options when they know they can be a little more consistent with crops.
Between Terrell and Poetry there are several thousand acres of pasture land that is mainly used for grazing by ranchers. It has become a breeding ground for grasshoppers due to a lack of cultivation and drought since 2011. The land adjacent to their farm is owned by their neighbor and is also used for grazing. Controlling grasshoppers on the neighbor's property has become their main concern.
"This has been our biggest problem since we need to organically treat the 20 acres behind us to control the grasshoppers. Even though we aren't certified organic, we follow NOP standards," Mel explains. "If we can't get them under control we won't have much of a crop. Our free-range chickens and guineas help but just couldn't keep up and we constantly have to worry about predation."
They hope to do some mid-winter cultivation that will expose the grasshopper eggs to freezing temperatures and moisture. Mel is also planning to build a "hopperdozer" which he read about in a 1915 edition of The Farmer's Bulletin.
Despite the challenges, Mel is enthusiastic about some new changes.
"This year the Texas legislature approved to expand cottage food laws, so we will have value-added products later this year like jellies, jams, pickles, relish, dried veggies and herbs, breads, cakes and cookies, he says."
Common crops on the farm include asparagus, artichoke, blackberries, peaches, plums, pears, salad greens, brassicas, squash, melons, cow peas, sweet corn, pecans, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes "and whatever else strikes our fancy," Mel says.
"We prefer to grow heirloom varieties and save seed as often as we have time. We also like to grow a few specialty items to attract interest from local chefs," he continues.
Mel grew up in rural Texas and both sides of his family farmed until after WWII. He says he believes that, in order to be sustainable, a farm needs to be able to operate solely from the profit of the produce.
"A nice concept that has been illusive so far," he quips. "We wanted to have a retirement from the home and farm. We also believe that practicing organic agriculture is better for the health of the environment, our customers, and us."
Rita shares a similar background. While her parents had not much more than a backyard garden, her mother's family is Italian and her grandmother, aunts and uncle always grew. Her Uncle had a large farm in upstate New York. "He had so much going on!" says Rita, "There was a pond used for fish and for harvesting frog legs and rabbits and lamb for meat. He grew all kinds of veggies and had a blueberry plot as well. My grandmother and aunt grew tomatoes, peppers, and many ornamentals in their yard. I think my love of growing started there, I remember coming home with plants wrapped in moist paper towels tucked in my suitcase. My dad told me that his grandfather farmed 100 acres and grew cabbage and that his dad worked on that farm part time until he opened an appliance store. Sustainable agriculture for me, means being good stewards of our land, animals and resources; working with nature to create better conditions than we found, reusing and recycling as much as possible; and growing clean, fresh, food to share with others.
Rita had a frightening wakeup call: in 2001, she was diagnosed with a slow growing brain tumor.
"I decided to get all chemicals out of my life. I already ate a lot of healthy foods, but it started by eliminating all packaged mixes from the grocery store. From there we started growing organically and continue work to eliminate all unnatural substances and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from our lives. My advice for people looking to get into sustainable agriculture would be to get all the education you can up front."
Rita and Mel have donated to the ATTRA program and purchased a yearly subscription, which allowed them unlimited access to all of ATTRA's sustainable agriculture publications. They have also received specific information from an agriculture specialist by calling ATTRA's free sustainable agriculture helpline.
Mel explains, "I asked a question about using creosote coated rail road ties. I was helped out by getting my questions answered and numerous follow up e-mails were sent to help us out."
Mel sums up his feeling about the free service. "ATTRA is more than helpful to us and we hope to have time to utilize more of the numerous resources soon.
Learn more about Farmer Jones Eco-Friendly Produce at www.facebook.com/pages/Farmer-Jones-Eco-Friendly-Produce/169212166457737
The Sustainable Producer Spotlight is offered as a celebration of those who practice sustainable and organic agriculture and is not intended as an endorsement of the featured operations or products.
This page was last updated on: December 15, 2014