Mar 8, 2012

Farm Girl Natural Foods

Katie and Lindsay at CAFM, Argenta
Katie here, from Farm Girl Natural Foods. First off, a big thank you to the Real Food Little Rock blog for giving us this opportunity to get our name out, and for being such tireless advocates for the local farming community.

We are located in Perryville, though the land we farm is spread around a little bit. All in all, it totals 36 acres. Of course, all of our activities can be found in one place on our website. We can also be found on Facebook.

A Little History
Our farm started in 2005 when I began leasing pasture and raising sheep.
Shortly, this blossomed into a small multi-species meat share program that delivered to a customer’s porch in downtown Little Rock.  In 2009, Farm Girls expanded as MC and Betsy came on board and we were able to add a tiny vegetable CSA to our offerings as well as pastured chicken eggs and much larger chicken and turkey crops. It was also an exciting first year at the Certified Arkansas Farmer’s Market (CAFM) in Argenta connecting with the whole local food community. Unfortunately that winter, MC and Betsy were both called to other things, which threw the future of the farm into question. In a bid to find harmony with farming, the marketing aspect, and my growing family, I turned to my friends already doing some kind of farmy stuff. This collaboration has worked out fabulously and today the Farm Girls are Lindsay, Amber, Ashley, Will, and myself and we offer free-range chicken and duck eggs, some organically grown produce and flowers, pastured pork, and 100% grassfed beef. Each of us produces our own products independent of the others, we only work together to market our products at the farmer’s markets and online.

About WHY
My interest in farming began as an interest in a more balanced relationship with our food systems than I could find in industrial scale, so-called “conventional” agriculture. I wanted food that not only tastes good and is nourishing, but is good for all the various elements involved in its production; from the soils, plants, and animals we care for, to the people doing the work, to the consumers, and to the greater community we function in. I want truly wholesome food. I have a lot to learn about this complex, multi-faceted lifestyle and know this is a pretty high goal, but every season we take a few tiny steps closer to the dream.

About How
Though we work independently, all of the Farm Girls agree about how we produce our products. All of our flowers and vegetables are grown organically with as little outside inputs as possible, though we are not certified organic. This means lots of cover cropping, composting, and heavy mulching for weed control and water retention. We don’t spray any chemicals, even organically listed products for pest control. For those problems we use all manner of physical barriers and deterrents plus carefully planned crop rotations and companion planting.

Our animals all live on pasture. Will and Ashley free range their chickens and ducks while giving them access to “tractors” for roosting and laying. The birds are offered a complete layer pellet and free-choice oyster shells, though they spend most of the day foraging for more delectable things. In return for the kind care, our chickens and ducks give us enormous, multi-colored eggs.

Will also breeds pigs for me and his sows and boar live in large wooded paddocks, contained only by a single strand of electric fencing. His herd is a mix of Hampshire, Blue Butt, and Hereford breeds though this year he’ll be adding Berkshire to the lineup. Each pig has its own hut, though they live communally and rotate through the paddocks on a regular basis.

After a good start at Will’s (including delayed weaning), the hogs move to my farm where Lindsay and I grow them out on pasture. It takes about 6 months to reach market weight and in that time we move them at least weekly, feed them a whole lot of whey (produced in Little Rock) and a standard hog grower pellet. This season we’ll be switching to a high quality non-gmo ration to back up the free-choice whey.

We grow an old-fashioned style beef on 100% grass. To do this we use Holstein and Jersey cross nurse cows to raise Jersey and Jersey cross steers that we purchase from a local, grass-based dairy. With the abundance of milk that comes naturally to these dairy mamas, each cow is able to raise 2-4 calves for us each season including her own. These are calves that would otherwise be raised on a bottle and sold on the commodity market but instead find a home in our pastures with an adoptive mother, then give us some of the most tender, evenly marbled beef money can buy. I can’t remember how many “old-timers” have told me that beef from Jersey steers is absolutely the best for flavor and tenderness. I couldn’t agree more. They take a little longer to grow to full size and yield a little less meat per animal but the quality is worth it.

All of our animals are handled with low stress techniques that respect the animals’ natural instincts. We don’t use antibiotics unless it is necessary for a specific health condition (which are rare in pastured animals), and have never found a reason to use growth hormones.

Joys & Challenges
There are many real challenges, which I prefer to think of as opportunities for growth. The hardest things are disasters, often weather related, sometimes human, that spring up overnight. This job can be heart wrenching when things aren’t going well, especially since we care so much about what we do.

Luckily the tough stuff is balanced very well by the joys of farming. I like how connected to nature and my animals I feel simply being outside so much. I like the science-y parts of trying to grow the best forages and the healthiest, most delicious animals. I also like eating the foods I’ve grown. I like connecting with other local foodies; customers, farmers, and chefs alike. Above all, the farmer’s market is a real shot in the arm that keeps me going during the least glamorous, most difficult parts of this life and for that I really love market days.

In the future
This season, we are switching our hogs to a non-gmo ration created especially for us by Hiland Naturals. Their rations contain a lot of exciting things like species-specific probiotics and kelp meal, as well as all kinds of healthful grains. I think this will complement our whey-feeding very well.

As for the slightly further future- we’re currently putting together the infrastructure for a small dairy and hope to be offering cow shares as soon as January. More details will come as we get some of the kinks and bumps worked out (and as the cows gestate their little bundles of joy), but we’re excited to be able to share the benefits of dairy cow ownership that we’ve enjoyed privately for years. Keep an eye on our website and facebook page for future announcements on this project.

Once again, thank you Julie and Lisa for all you do for the local food community and for spreading the word on more healthful food traditions. We look forward to seeing everyone this market season, beginning in April at CAFM Argenta.

Katie Short
Farm Girl Natural Foods

Also in this series: Rattle's GardenTammy Sue's CrittersFalling Sky FarmWillow Springs Market GardenNorth Pulaski Farms, and Oak Meadows.  If you are a farmer and would like to showcase your farm, email Julie: luvmyhub AT gmail DOT com

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  1. So glad to see Katie on here and excited to hear about the dairy plans! Thanks for sharing.

  2. You all are such a hardworking inspiration! Best of luck with the future plans!



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