Our little farm is in a quiet holler between Appalachian foothills of cedar and hardwoods. We are located in Vandergriff Hollow, off Dry Creek in Dowelltown, Tennessee. A winding creek meanders through the farm, fed by a wet weather spring and the water trickling down the hills. Our big red tobacco barn is the largest in Dekalb County, according to an extension agent, and we love living in a second story apartment inside it. We feel close to the original homesteaders who would have lived in the barn before they built the beautiful farmhouse across the street; we also feel very close to the chickens whom sometimes also make their roost in the second story of the barn. All being said, they’re not bad neighbors. The roosters are always kind enough to make sure we get up in time to feed everyone.
This land has a long history of farming. We have a picture of these hillsides treeless and under cultivation. Now the hillsides are forested again, a testament to the resiliency of this land. Before us, this farm had already produced corn, tobacco, and cattle. The land bears the scars of overuse and erosion, but we are honored to be in the position to bring this place back to productivity. We are not and will never be certified organic by the USDA. Sustainability is the foundation of all of our management practices and our standards far exceed those of any certification process. We consider our customers to be the ultimate inspectors, and we promise complete transparency. Our customers are welcome to the farm any time and may participate in or observe any operation they’re curious about.
While we take vegetables to the market, one of our main jobs at Purple Maize Farm is to nurture the universe of microbes, mycorrihzae, and little critters that nourish our soils. The soil supports our plants, which support us. The mycorrihzae, the intricate network of mushroom “roots,” colonize and protect the delicate roots our plants use to pull nutrients and minerals from the soil. The microbes transform the nutrients and minerals into forms the plants can utilize. Through nurturing and encouraging the invisible symbiosis between soil microorganisms and the plants as they reach towards the sun, we are able to bring our customers exquisite, nutritious produce. All of our management decisions, from pest control to crop rotations, mulching, cover crops, and composting are geared towards the constant improvement of the soils and the encouragement of biodiversity here on our farm. This means we never use synthetic chemicals but instead rely heavily on a tightly managed crop rotation and compost application schedule to control pests and continuously build soil fertility. Instead of viewing ourselves as being in battle with the insects we share this planet with, we maintain the view that they are pointing out the weak points in our management practices. Strong and healthy plants almost invariably resist insect vanquish; our soils give our plants strength and resilience. We also plant lots of flowers and herbs and keep some wild vegetation around so our six legged neighbors have plenty of food to choose from, other than our vegetables. We have birdhouses and a bird garden, bat nests, and native bee nests scattered around the farm to encourage our flying friends to stop in and grab a few mouthfuls of mosquitoes, horseflies, and whiteflies.
I grew up in rural north Alabama near Huntsville and went to high school and college in Florida. After getting my degree in 2006, I worked at a state park and then as an aerial photograph interpreter for the state. I met many amazing people at my office job, but each day I hated what I was doing more and more. I went to graduate school for a semester but hated it more than work, so I went back to the job. After watching King Corn, then The Future of Food, I started hurtling down the path that led me here. I owe a great deal to many of the fantastic small farmers in the area around Tallahassee. I started attending the markets, workshops, and visiting farms. I joined a new CSA with some friends and started my Iron Chef initiation into seasonal eating and cooking. I saved money for the farm, and when my contract ended in June 2010, I moved to Tennessee. I spent the summer working at Henley Hollow Farm. I love eating and I love plants. Nothing is more exciting to me than sharing delicious food made with homegrown vegetables—except maybe foraging in forests and suburbs alike. I can think of nothing else on this earth I would rather do than work hard to grow good food for people who like good food.
I like good food too! I can think of no greater pleasure other than consuming good food grown by good hardworking people who hold sustainability, nutrient density, taste and quality above all else. During that awkward stage of life called puberty, I learned how to trade capital and skills (at the expense of my leisure time and sweat droplets) for a medium of exchange. The juvenile enterprise was a lawn service and I realized that sustainable growth can only come from solid production and free trade. My work experience background is as diverse as our garden, varying from hotel concierge to a pharmacy drug runner to asphalt paver to construction worker to farmer. And I'm chomping at the bit to produce...well, produce, but to produce it in a way that leaves our environment better than we found it.