13018 Ellen Cove
Cabot, AR 72023
Owner: Kelly Carney
Why I Started Farming
In 2008 I decided to stop trout fishing 2 to 3 times weekly and go back to work. After 20+ years working in the travel and information technology (IT) industry and going thru the transition of a small business to a large regional US company then to a national and finally to a global company, I decided that making a difference was more important than making money.
I had always talked the talk of an environmentalist and since one of my favorite gulf fishing areas was a hypoxic area the size of New Jersey I figured sustainable agriculture may provide the solution that could make a difference in a number of areas.
First let me say that while the first few years of our farming life qualified North Pulaski Farms LLC as a non-profit organization, sustainable agriculture has to provide a GOOD living for those who risk it in order to be sustainable. Additionally converting conventional farmers to organic has a far greater chance of happening if it can be demonstrated that it’s financially feasible. So…after MUCH planning and research we found, bought and built our farm.
We have 4 growing systems on 5 acres in northern Pulaski county. To help keep track of them, we have named the systems Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty.
Fred, our main production system, is a 2.1 acre series of high tunnel hoop houses (picture below).
Wilma is a 20x96 heated green house used to start seeds and has a small growing area. Our tunnels extend our season and help us manage water which goes a long way toward a quality crop. Below are heirloom grape tomatoes, or “crackberries” as they are known, because they are so addicting!
Barney is a field we are planting blackberries this spring and our other field, Betty, has a small grove of Arkansas Black apple trees planted this winter. Look carefully below to find the saplings in Betty’s field.
How We Do It
The first line of defense for the pests our great state serves up is a healthy plant. Growing under poly helps with that process. We grow a fairly large variety of leafy greens, strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, okra, cantaloupe and tomatoes. Our crop planning focuses on items listed on various ‘dirty dozen’ lists and how easily items can be processed after harvest.
Growing ‘dirty dozen’ items is our favorite and most challenging task. My first year I must of heard, “You can’t grow that organically” from my conventional colleges weekly; I have not heard that statement in some time.
Leveraging my IT experience, creating an easily found dynamic website was a key element in the original business plan. You can find www.NorthPulaskiFarms.com by searching for “Organic Vegetables Arkansas” in Google and we are usually the first non-sponsored farm on the list. Our site has a link to the farm's Facebook page where we publish pictures of our crops and growing systems.
We publish our crop plan and farm calendar on our website and even have a few working webcams. The idea was to design a site that would be found by the search engines and provide information to our customers to promote transparency in our farming activities. We are currently updating the site with links to recipes for our crops and a new section designed for new farmers. The new farmer section will host our farms business plan, risk assessment and presentations from the conferences I have had the privilege of speaking at this winter.
We provide opportunities for able bodied men and women to work on our farm. We take good care of our workers by paying a living wage, maintain workmen’s compensation insurance, and provide training in all aspects of the farm. Hiring local workers ensures that dollars spent on our crops are recycled in the community. Our workers will either demonstrate they know how to work, quickly learn to work or find another place to spend their time.
Wholesale and Retail Sales
Our original plan was to split our crop distribution 50/50 between wholesale and retail and evaluate after 3 years. Well our evaluation is that splitting it up works fairly well. We have good relationships with The Fresh Market, Argenta Market (the store) and the Little Rock Athletic Club who re-sell our products. A few restaurants (The Root, The Capitol Hotel, Heifer Café and Boulevard Bread) also buy our produce. This steady predictable income they provide has been critical. Additionally the area locallygrown.net sites (LR pick up Saturdays, LR mid-week, Conway & Farm2Work) have been invaluable for us especially since we are still in production when most of the physical markets are closed. In 2011 we doubled our farmers market income with the addition of the Hillcrest Farmers Market to the Argenta Farmers Market we started with.
Challenges of Farmers Markets
The challenges with the area farmers markets is there does not seem to be a comprehensive marketing plan and getting all the farmers to agree on a strategy for one seems impossible. Additionally the markets have no coordinated effort to produce enough items to compete with the local peddler markets. Running out of zucchini squash or summer tomatoes can be mitigated with better coordination and planning. Communicating, building consensus and planning past the current season are areas of potential growth for local farmers. We miss opportunities everyday that could help us increase the LESS than ½ of 1% market share we have.
I love the relationships that the local markets provide and believe we all can do a much better job serving our customers by working closer together.
2012 is starting out great and I thank all those especially Real Food in Little Rock readers for making this happen. Our sales for February alone were better than any month our first year. Adjustments to our systems last year and the years spent building our soil is making a difference with our crops.
For 2013 we are in talks with a few other organic farmers to possibly create a CSA co-op and hope to provide details later this year.
My original business plan was comprehensive but failed to identify a few items I have found to be the most rewarding. The quality of my farming peers is second to none. I know of no other industry where someone will stop doing what they are doing and go help a competitor.
Finally growing healthy food and then having someone say ‘Thank You’ for doing so means I don’t need an alarm clock to wake every day at 4:30am.
How many folks can say they help make a difference in today’s world? Your local farmers can every day.
+++++++Also in this series: Rattle's Garden, Tammy Sue's Critters, Falling Sky Farm, and Willow Springs Market Garden. If you are a farmer and would like to showcase your farm, email Julie: luvmyhub AT gmail DOT com