Feb 12, 2012

Rattle's Garden: A Local Organic Farm

Guest post by Tara Stainton
Our farm's name is Rattle's Garden, located near Vilonia, Arkansas.  On paper it's run by myself, my husband and our 18-month old son.  Sustaining it however, requires the help of a lot of extended family, friends and college interns.  One of the aspects I love the most about a small farm is that it becomes a sort of community.

This is our fifth year selling vegetables and flowers but only our third year of it being my primary form of work.  My husband works in Little Rock for a small company that specializes in wetland mitigation which is cool because both of us have a passion for environmental issues.

I grew up in the middle of corn and soybean fields in Iowa.  My parents didn't farm but my extended family did and almost all of our friends and neighbors had ties to agriculture.  Despite being so close to it, I really had very little knowledge of commercial agriculture growing up.  Terms like "Round-Up Ready" and talk of commodities among the adults in my life as I was growing up went in one ear and out the other for me.  I was twenty-eight years old when I read Jane Goodall's "Harvest for Hope", merely by chance.  In it, she spoke of seeds being genetically modified to withstand Round Up being sprayed on them.  Round Up Ready.  Wait, corn and soybeans we are using as food being sprayed with Round Up?  Something clicked and my eyes were opened.  With my husband working out of town for about two months I spent endless hours on the internet researching industrial agriculture and our current food system.  I became determined to grow our own food.

My first garden was small.  A small garden still has appeal to my type A personality.  I could control almost everything in it.  I could raise the rows easily to allow my plants to stay above standing water in early spring.  Bad bugs could be hand-picked in a small garden.  Plants could be easily covered in the fall to provide frost protection.

All of that got a little more difficult as our garden grew to this.

And we've grown more this year.  I think we'll continue to do so as long as we can continue to maintain the standards we started with.  I am a firm believer in growing organically.

With that in mind, until last summer, I've never considered certifying organic.  My main reason for this was that I had standards set beyond certified organic standards.  Until last summer we never even used an organically approved compound on our garden.  When bugs or disease got bad we burned bugs and plants and replanted.  This was costly but really important to me.  The way I see it is we are not that much higher on the evolutionary scale than bugs and plants.  A neurotoxin is a neurotoxin whether it is naturally sourced or synthetically produced.

Enter blister beetles.  Last summer blister beetles threatened to wipe out our entire vegetable crop.

We had to make a decision.  We either needed to cut the garden back to a more manageable scale and only produce our own food or find alternative means to combat blister beetles.  As difficult as this was for me, we chose to use an organic compound called Pyganic to fight the blister beetles the rest of the summer.

The only thing that made me feel better about this decision was knowing that Robert and I would be in control of where the Pyganic was being used.  Most of the time we were able to knock the bugs off of the plant and then spray them on the ground as they ran for cover.  The few times we did have to spray directly on a plant, I marked the plant with twine and we didn't pick from it again.  That is how much it scares me to use a chemical of any kind.

This story is awfully long to tell over and over at the farmers market.  So the only way I see to honestly label our food is to certify organic.  I hope this is the right decision.

In the meantime, our spring is ramping up with our tiny greenhouse overflowing with early vegetables and flower seedlings.

I'm excited about the summer and can't wait to be back at the Argenta and Hillcrest farmers markets.  We hope to have a bigger presence at the ASN online market this year as well.   I started a blog a few months ago where I'm attempting to document most of what is happening here on the farm.  I don't know any way to be more transparent about how we are growing things.  If you want to follow us you can find it at www.rattlesgarden.com, otherwise come meet us at the market.  We love to make new friends!

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