Organic Semantics: Farmers and foodies explore organic offerings in Morgan County
Story and Photos by Ramsey Nix
Several Morgan County farmers participated in the Georgia Organics Reclaiming Agriculture annual conference last weekend, the largest statewide event focusing on local and sustainable food and farms. Headquartered in Athens’ Classic Center, over 1,000 people attended and 500 visitors loaded 10 buses to tour area farms on Friday. The “Animal Power” farm tour traveled to Morgan County, where they visited Greendale Farm and Terry Scoggin.
When the bus rolled down the gravel drive to Greendale Farm, Russ and Christel Green were waiting. Formerly unaffiliated with Georgia Organics, the Greens had agreed to host a tour when approached by the organization. “They were looking for local farmers in the area who raise grass-fed, non-medicated animals using sustainable farming methods. We are one of the few in Morgan County who does,” Christel explained.
After their first full year of producing naturally grown chicken, eggs, beef, lamb, and now pork, the Greens felt this was an opportune way to kick off a marketing campaign while heightening awareness of naturally grown food.
When about 35 visitors filed out of the bus, Russ welcomed the group from a makeshift podium overlooking the pasture. In his rich South African accent, he explained why he and his family had chosen this farming lifestyle since they immigrated to the U.S. 10 years ago. “We’ve always had a dream,” he said to an audience who shook their heads in understanding.
Like so many, the Greens became attracted to the slow food movement when they realized the health benefits of eating naturally grown rather than commercially grown food. “We wanted this kind of food for our own family and liked the idea of providing that for other families,” said Christel.
The Greens guided their visitors on a walking tour of the farm. They introduced their four breeds of pasture-raised hens that lay eggs inside a hoop house on skids, which is easily moved once a week for fresh grazing. Christel said, “You can put down as much feed as you like, but [the down as much feed as you like, but [the animals] will always go for the green grass shoots first.”
Their pigs keep the farmers especially busy, and visitors laughed when they first saw the pigsty they had created out of recently pristine pasture. One tourist asked the Greens to explain their rotation. “We are in partnership with the dairy right next door,” said Russ. “That’s where all the beef cattle and the dairy herd are. We rotate between their farm and our farm.” The Greens follow the principles of Polyface Farm, the farm made famous by Michael Pollan’s groundbreaking book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
Farm tour participants ranged from retired schoolteachers who had just purchased farmland to chefs. Judith Smith from Atlanta described herself as a “wannabe urban farmer,” while Gerald Schmidt, Reynolds’ executive chef, said he was shopping around for good local vendors. “I’m dying to try the hogs that have been finished off on pecans,” said Schmidt, referring to a drove of pigs that had been feasting under pecan trees for weeks.
The Greens ended the tour inside their brand new creamery, where they plan to begin producing gouda and camembert cheeses using milk from their neighbor’s dairy in a matter of weeks. They call the creamery “the Vatican,” because of the large Dutch vat that holds 200 gallons of raw milk. Like the lamb they were accustomed to eating regularly in South Africa, the Greens decided to cultivate Dutch style cheeses because of their heritage.
At the farm tour’s next stop, Terry Scoggin demonstrated farming techniques using a mule and a walking plow that control weeds without pesticides and promote crop growth during drought without irrigation. Scoggin used a Georgia Plow drawn by his mule, Julie, to plow a fallow field. The turning plow rolled big piles of red dirt onto the right-hand side of deep trenches. “I’ve never had to irrigate the land using this method, even during droughts,” Scoggin said.
Visitors watched the farmer guide his draft animal with gentle speech from one side of the field to the other, stopping to change tools for different demonstrations. “All the land in this region was once plowed like this,” said Scoggin. “It’s sad we’ve lost all practical applications of our history.”
Scoggin hopes to reclaim what’s been lost to modern farm mechanization and to teach others that farming the old fashioned way is more than a novelty. “In this economy, I just want to show people how to raise enough food to feed their families,” he said.
Back at the Classic Center, tourists walked from booth to booth, learning about new environmental and farming technologies, signing up for farmers’ markets, and sampling food from organic vendors. Russell Johnston from Johnston Dairy Farm in Morgan County offered visitors a taste of his milks, yogurts, and cheeses. The dairy farmer said he was happy to be off the farm for this event, sharing the fruits of his labor with a statewide audience.