Written by Charlotte Gallagher
Whenever I venture off to write a new article, I usually choose something or someone I admire and want to learn more about. I try to imagine myself in those person’s shoes or I will actually go through the experience in order to get a deeper feeling of what it would be like to live that specific lifestyle every day. I ask myself, “Could I do what this person is doing? Could I live this way?” This current adventure I chose was farming because it’s something I didn’t grow up doing but admire from afar.
After volunteering at MercyMed Farm a few times over the past year, I know now I love the idea of it, but it’s not a life I could lead every day. (Never say never though!) But kudos to those who do because, in my opinion, farming is one of the most labor-intensive jobs out there, which also makes it the most rewarding. To truly “know” the soil, the weather, and to organize the rows and rows of crops, plants, herbs, flowers, and to do it all in an environmentally friendly way takes a certain kind of person with a lot of love for the earth, for others, and the willingness to show up every day for the grind. Not to also mention it also takes a strong spine and open hips to be squatting and leaning down repeatedly. Unless we grow our own food, farmers keep us alive. And in order to keep ourselves alive, we need to support the farmers – or become one ourselves. Maybe learning about or visiting these farms will inspire you to do so….
I found it interesting after COVID hit in 2020, some of us suddenly realized the essential need for the service industry – an industry whose salaries do not match the amount of hard labor and work that goes into dealing with the public face to face. Some of us woke up to the importance of farmers, grocery store workers, delivery folk, and restaurant servers for continuing to show up for the world so that we could satisfy one of our basic, but important survival needs. Some of us did start our own backyard farm in case of a food shortage. For those of us who like idea of farming but won’t actually go through with it, or live in an apartment, or just want to eat healthier, a viable option is to support the local farms. Now, is it easier to buy from a local grocery store? Of course. But will our minds and bodies appreciate locally sourced foods in the long run? Absolutely. Plus, we can have a mini adventure by going to a local farm to pick up our food just like in the old days. And then the food tastes that much better because of that little extra effort to obtain it.
As Chris Jackson says from Jenny Jack Farm, “When you shop local, you’re saying yes to keeping rural farms alive.” And Sarah Smith from Elijah’s Farm reminds us that the proceeds go right back into maintaining the farm, plus you know where your food is coming from. For some of us this may be a no-brainer, but for others (such as myself) it takes a bit of education and practice to change a habit. Hence, my research of these local farms in and around the Columbus area that are worth the drive, worth the taste, and worth it for our health.
We’ll start with MercyMed Farm right here in Columbus for those of you who don’t feel like driving too far. Located at 3702 2nd Avenue next to the MercyMed clinic this farm has gained a lot of traction since it opened in 2018 because of its visibility from the road and the support they are providing to the local community.
The lead farmer Keith Sims did his apprenticeship with Jenny Jack Farm a few years ago. Prior to his farming career he was going to PA school when he became more drawn to the medicinal properties in food. “I realized that I could practice medicine the way I want to which is preventing diseases,” says Sims.
Keith’s passion for helping others, implementation of methods from Jenny Jack Farm, and leadership has contributed to the growth of the farm. Their mission is to keep food affordable and accessible. Since 2018, it’s grown from 1 field to 6 or 7. “We realized that we needed more than one field to make a difference. We needed more land in order to rotate the vegetables in case of failure due to weather or other uncontrollable factors.”
Check out their Friday market from 9-11am until the end of July. Beginning in August, crops will be available for purchase daily at The Food Mill Food Farmacy to make it more accessible for customers. The Food Mill currently uses MercyMed vegetables in their lunch items, plus delivers meals to Fox Elementary where the school has started their own small garden for the students. The restaurant also has partnerships with Jenny Jack Farm, Turntime Farm, Elijah’s Farm, and Dew Point Farm so customers can pick up their orders right here in Columbus. They also offer a healthy mixture of breakfast and lunch items along with a section of wellness products, coffee, and pastries. Visit their website to view their menu and to learn more.
If you’d like to volunteer at the MercyMed Farm or learn more about how you can contribute, please email Keith Sims at email@example.com or visit the farm’s website to learn more.
Established in 2016 as part of UGROW, Inc., Elijah’s Farm was the first of its kind in Columbus. Founder Sharayah Davis noticed that there weren’t any urban farms in Columbus and wanted to contribute to helping the food system. She named the farm after her son Elijah and ran it until 2019. In August 2021 Sarah Smith moved here from Italy and brought it back into production. Sarah is originally from New York and received her degree in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences. Since her arrival, she has established herself as the Urban Agriculture and Farm to School Coordinator for Elijah’s Farm and the Food Mill.
In the Farm to School Program, Sarah teaches gardening skills to the children at Fox Elementary and Truth Springs Academy. They are in the process of expanding the program to two more schools. Sarah says, “Due to the current supply chain issues and corruption of the food system at large, one of our visions is to inspire the next generation of farmers so that the community knows their farmers and where their food is coming from.” She would love to eventually host interns at the farm to further educate the next generation.
Food from Elijah’s Farm is also provided in free veggie boxes to participants of the Cooking Matters Program at the Food Mill. The program is a cooking and nutrition class for adults to teach them how to cook healthy meals on a budget.
Elijah’s Farm is currently full of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, and other delicious vegetables that you can purchase at the Food Mill on 2nd Avenue and proceeds go towards the maintenance of the farm. They also sell their produce to different restaurants such as the Animal Farm and Fortune Foods.
Volunteers are always welcome, and Sarah says she would love to host more school field trips. To learn more of how to support, please visit their website.
Jenny Jack Farm
Pine Mountain, GA
Jenny Jack Farm has been in business since 2007. When you first walk onto the farm you see the barn, trees, open land, farming tools and supplies scattered about indicating hard work is happening. Tunnels are visible for keeping the crops warm without moisture. Overall, at first sight of the farm I always feel at ease.
The owners Chris and Jenny Jackson met at UGA where Jenny graduated with a degree in horticulture and Chris graduated as an education major. They both weren’t too fond of their jobs after college so they decided to try out WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to see if farming was their next step. After working on a farm in Hawaii for 6 months, an Atlanta farm, and doing their own reading and research, they decided to open Jenny Jack Farm on the land where Jenny grew up. Why is it called Jenny Jack? Well, it stands for two things: “Jackson”, which is their last name, and “jenny” is another word for a female mule and “jack” is a male mule. How perfect is that?
Through Jenny’s horticulture education, their WWOOF experience, and trial and error, Chris and Jenny have sustained a profitable business with an 85% customer retention rate. “We have been diverse from the beginning, and I believe that has contributed to our success,” says Chris. “When failure happens to a crop, we have others to fall back on. Farmers are in a partnership with the natural world. We can do everything right, but out in nature, our control factor is loose, and you have to learn to go with it.”
Why should locals buy from Jenny Jack? Chris answered, “The money stays in western Georgia as opposed to buying at Publix, and you’re saying yes to keeping local farms alive. Land is so expensive now that it’s tough for people to purchase it. Our crops are picked usually the day of or the day before you receive it which means the taste and quality is worth it.”
Check out their market every Wednesday from 9-12 or to pick up your CSA. Or you can pick up your order from the Food Mill on Thursdays and Fridays. Visit their website to place an order.
I got the pleasure of receiving a tour of TurnTime farms in a golf cart from manager Matt Ward. He told someone jokingly a few years ago that he had always wanted to wake up and take care of animals. With no prior farming experience, he has been at TurnTime since 2018.
Owners Joey and Ramona Loudermilk opened TurnTime in 2014 and named it after a nearby creek. Matt mentioned that the previous manager did an internship with a man named Joel Salatin, the godfather of sustainable agriculture, and the farm has been following Salatin’s methods ever since. Ward explained that their system of keeping the animals and land healthy is to move them to different lots every day. The cows are their “centerpiece” so they get the best grass followed by the goats, and lastly the pigs. The movement and rotation of the animals helps prevent parasites and feeding in their own feces, plus increases the regrowth of grass without overeating.
When it comes to keeping the soil and planet healthy when raising animals, Matt replied, “It’s all about a balance of carbon and manure. That’s why the smell is so strong when you drive past large agricultural feed lots - all of the animals are crammed together and never move.” At TurnTime, they keep the animals happy until they are processed by giving them exercise, putting them in a low stress environment, and spending time with them every day. Matt added, “The animals get the mother’s milk and grass only. They are not given vaccinations, hormones, or grain. A lot of our customers are cancer survivors and diabetics who want to eat clean.” I was gifted some chicken and beef before leaving, and I can say without a doubt that it tasted better than meat from a grocery store.
Click here to shop at TurnTime. You can visit the farm on Wednesdays from 12-5 or pick up your order from the Food Mill on the 1st Thursday of every month. They also have a small store of locally made pottery for sell.
Fields of Grace Flower Farm
Some farms aren’t all food. We must not forget the art of growing flowers, and the joy they can add to a space. Brianne Womack began Fields of Grace Flower Farm two years ago because she loves to watch things grow and imagined a place of peace, healing, and serenity for her visitors. I definitely felt this as she provided a tour of the flower garden, pointing out some of her favorites. All of my senses were lit up as I took in the colors, ran my hand along some of the stems, inhaled the fragrances, tasted some of the edible flowers, and heard very few cars or noise.
Brianne says with gratitude that since God gave them this property she wants to give back to others, especially to women and children who are victims of trauma. She wants it to be a space of rest, creation, and joy. They’ll provide activities such as painting, making flower crowns, floral design, and games. She also wants the farm to be a place where social workers and caregivers can refill their cup and to be reminded that they are valued and loved for making a difference. “I want them to be here and see God’s creations – beauty that has emerged from ashes,” says Brianne.'
Fields of Grace Flower Farm offers a “You Pick” your own flowers, yoga, glamping, an event space for weddings, birthday parties, date nights with fancy charcuterie boards and drinks, and educational field trips. Besides flowers, you can also see a few pigs, geese, chickens, fainting goats, and a butterfly garden. You can expect the most gracious host and a “next level” experience as Brianne exclaims that she likes to do everything BIG and go beyond expectations.
Their next event will be a concert on June 25th in which proceeds will benefit Clement Arts and House of Grace for foster children and orphans. Visit their website to learn more.
The Farm House
Another gracious host who’s worth meeting is Becky McKenzie, owner of the Farm House Restaurant in Ellerslie, GA. Sometimes our soul needs a fill of good ‘ol southern style food just like mama used to make. The Farm House opened in 1981 when Becky and a few of her friends decided to open it as a craft store. Even though it’s only 20-30 minutes from Columbus, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you drive up to the small 200-year-old cottage and are surrounded by antiques, old pictures, framed articles, and tin cans lining the walls. They originally focused on selling crafts and furniture and had only two tables for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays. When they continued to have a line of customers waiting out the door, they decided to expand into a larger restaurant.
Becky says with a laugh that her Mom was the cook and she was the host. Becky loves to entertain and decorate. Her niece Olivia Rose is now the main cook who says her favorite dish to make is a curry dish with fried chicken called Country Captain Captain that was “originated by a famous Columbus hostess, the late Mrs. W.L. Bullard, to be served to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his disinguised guests at the Bullard summer home at Warm Springs, GA” (quoted from the Farm House Cookbook that’s for sell in their craft store). The Farm House has grown from two tables to an event center and a traditional southern style restaurant. Becky says, “We are now serving kids of the kids who used to come here.”
Besides their southern style buffet, they are also known for their delicious cakes, specifically caramel, chocolate, and coconut. Becky mentions that their original cakes came out of a box until a friend taught her Mom how to bake cakes. Mississippi Mud was the first dessert they ever sold.
Becky says that what she loves to see is how families stay after lunch to walk the yard, play on the playground, and see the animals. “We love sharing the Farmhouse with others. It’s such a special, peaceful place. The previous owners took care of it and we’re reaping the benefits.” Becky and Olivia agree that the Farmhouse is a healthy environment for their teenaged employees to work as they are learning problem solving skills in real life and how to set a table which “is a lost art,” Becky exclaims. They serve a lunch buffet on Sundays from 10:30-2 and a breakfast the first Saturday of every month from 9-12. Their eggs and sausage come from TurnTime Farms, and they grow their own okra, tomatoes, and lettuce.
Other services they offer are catered weddings at their outdoor venue, a yearly Spring Tea and Christmas Tea in which they serve family-owned Piper and Leaf Tea from Huntsville, AL, outdoor movies at the barn, painting and cooking classes, and tons of fall events. One of their next events is Restaurant Week on June 30th. Click here for tickets. Visit this page to learn more.
Other farms to support: