SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING # 20
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
P.O. Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727
Phone (501) 587-0888; E-mail: email@example.com
Keith Richards, Editor
SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING is the quarterly
voice of the Southern SAWG, 50 member organizations
working for more sustainable agriculture in 13 Southern
states. The electronic version contains excerpts from the
printed version, and is not complete. Hard copy
subscriptions via U. S. postal service: $15 per year or $25
for two years
* Revitalizing the Family Farm: From Raw Products
to Peanut Butter
* Georgia Land Stewardship Association
* Can Eco-labels Help Farmers Become More
* Calendar of Events
REVITALIZING THE FAMILY FARM:
FROM RAW PRODUCTS TO ORGANIC PEANUT
by Keith Richards
By most measurements, Clinton Green is one of the finest
farmers in Pike County, Alabama. With a rotation of
peanuts, corn and pastured cattle on his third generation
farm, he has maintained the fertility of his soil while
producing high quality crops. His peanut yields consistently
surpass the county average, winning him several production
awards. One of his calves was named grand champion at
the county steer show in 1996 and another was the reserve
champion in 1997.
But the economic side of farming is a harsh judge. While
attending a banquet for top yielding peanut producers in
1996, Clinton saw a presentation on the phase-out of the
peanut program. Under the deceptively titled “Freedom To
Farm” legislation, production quotas and price guarantees
will be phased out by year 2002. It became clear to him
that even if he could raise two tons to the acre -- an almost
impossible feat -- he would eventually only break even on
his crop. One hundred acres of peanuts and 150 head of
cattle weren’t going to keep him in business as the prices
for those commodities declined and costs continued to rise.
Can We Grow Organically?
Clinton’s son, Luke, who had recently moved back to the
farm, had heard that organic crops were bringing higher
prices. Rather than switching to raising chickens for poultry
integrators like many of their neighbors had done, or giving
up on farming all together, Luke convinced his father to let
him grow a few acres of peanuts organically as an
experiment. In 1996, he plowed up 2-1/2 acres that had
previously been in pasture and planted his first plot.
Luke says, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I threw
chicken litter and lime on the ground and later sprayed the
plants with some seaweed.” By applying basic growing
techniques learned from his father and a little luck, though,
that test plot yielded 2,700 lb/acre (compared to the county
average of about 2,600 lb) and Luke was convinced that he
could grow an organic crop.
Obtaining a fair price was another matter. When he was
offered only $.88/lb. for the shelled peanuts, Luke realized
that selling a raw product was still not going to keep their
farm in business. “There are too many people in the middle
between me and the store,” he says. “You’ve got to create
another job on the farm, and cut some of the middle people
out.” So he decided to make peanut butter, calling his new
business “Luke’s Pure Products.”
Creating a Kitchen and a Product
“You have to be stubborn and have patience” when you
do something different on your farm, says Luke, “because
there are a lot of brick walls that you will come up
Since the state of Alabama doesn’t have an organic
certification agency, he convinced the Georgia Organic
Growers Association (GOGA) to come over and certify his
land. He also had to find a local sheller willing to run his
small batch of peanuts separately and get their plant
certified. Then he had to figure out where to do the
After weighing several options, Luke decided to build a
small processing kitchen in an old building on the farm. A
friend from the local health department helped him wade
through the regulations before he drew up plans. Then he
scouted around the countryside for used equipment; finding
sinks, faucets, a water pump, and a stainless steel table. He
had a locally-built propane grill modified into a roaster. A
peanut mill (grinder) was the only piece of equipment that
he bought new. The whole kitchen cost him less than
$5,000 and can process 50-60,000 lbs of peanuts per year.
Once the kitchen was in place, he ran numerous test
batches to fine-tune his roasting and butter-making process.
At the same time, he began networking with GOGA
members to get learn how other farmers packaged and
marketed their value-added products. “Skip Glover was
very helpful right from the start, and Mary and Bobby
Denton offered to sell my peanut butter at the all-organic
Morningside Farmers Market in Atlanta.”
“My first batch was in mason jars and it was so dry that
you couldn’t hardly swallow it,” laughs Luke. That didn’t
stop him from getting his product out, though. He figured
that the only way he could improve was to have potential
customers eating his peanut butter. With their feedback, he
knew he could perfect his roasting process to make each
Larger Acreage and Healthy Plants
In 1997, Luke increased his organic production to nearly
7 acres and beat the county average yields for the second
straight year -- because of a drought they were around
1,500 lb/acre. This year he is raising 20 acres both
organically and on irrigation for the first time, and the
plants look as pretty as any in the county.
Following his father’s practices, Luke rotates the peanuts
with Bahiagrass pasture and corn. They disc the Bahiagrass
in the fall, drill in winter ryegrass, and spread poultry litter
once a year. They either cut hay or graze the grass for 3-4
years, then turn it over and plant peanuts for 3-5 years,
followed by corn for one year. Luke feels the grazing on
Bahiagrass helps return nutrients to the land and takes
some of the toxic residues out.
Although he applies broiler house compost to the organic
peanut land in the fall, Luke would like to switch to a
cleaner and more finely-tuned commercial compost if it
can be cost effective. Believing that calcium is the most
important factor in growing healthy peanut plants, he also
adds high calcium lime at 1-1/2 tons/acre. “The peanuts
could use three tons of high calcium lime,” he says. “That
would really help with disease problems.” He has
experimented with foliar feeding fish emulsion and
seaweed, and believes 3-4 feedings per year would increase
the health of his plants.
“The biggest problem in growing peanuts organically is
dealing with weeds,” Luke says. Chicken litter contributes
to the problem by spreading weed seeds, especially
pigweed. He uses timed cultivations with a 4-row cultivator
as his main form of weed control.
Since thrips can spread the tomato spotted wilt virus,
Luke delays planting until nights are warm enough to
discourage them. He says, “Thrips aren’t a problem when it
gets hot. They like cool nights.” Clinton believes that leaf
spot will be his major nemesis in the long run, but it hasn’t
been a problem yet. Luke concentrates on plant health as a
deterrent to all fungi and disease. He also monitors for cut
worms and army worms, but hasn’t spayed any Bt yet,
because populations have been below economic thresholds.
In two years of marketing, Luke has made hundreds of
phone calls and put in thousands of miles on the road. “I
loaded up my car with peanut butter and drove all over
selling it.” He is constantly gathering information while
gently urging buyers to try Luke’s Pure Peanut Butter.
Through his efforts, he has expanded his markets to several
independent natural food retailers, who he praises for being
very supportive of his product.
“Stores like Life Grocery in Atlanta, Earth Fair in
Asheville, Deep Root in North Carolina, and Mustard Seed
Market and Cafe in Ohio all gave me a chance early on,”
he says. Now he is working with distributors like the Ozark
Cooperative Warehouse to reach customers beyond his
Luke has a five-year plan to build a bigger processing
facility, add other peanut products, and grow his markets
steadily, keeping a continual supply of top quality products.
“You need to have the highest quality on the market,” he
says. “Quality will take you further than anything else you
do.” He also is experimenting with growing organic
vegetables to fill the slow times in his season.
Meanwhile he is reinvesting all of his profits back into
the business. By shifting to organic methods, adding value
to crops, and diversifying his income; he believes his farm
will be thriving in a few years when others around him are
GEORGIA LAND STEWARDSHIP ASSOCIATION
A Southern SAWG Member Profile
The Georgia Land Stewardship Association (GLSA) is a
new organization with growing ideas, yet its roots are
within the 17 year history of the Georgia Organic Growers
Association (GOGA). Legacies of this organization include
GOGA’s organic certification program; Georgia Grown, a
growers’ cooperative that markets organic products to
Atlanta’s leading restaurants and health food stores; and
the Morningside organic farmers market in Atlanta.
GLSA grew out of GOGA to educofits for
sustainable producers, then they probably are helping
sustainable farmers stay in business and encouraging other
farmers to convert to sustainable practices. But if they offer
no economic or market incentives to farmers, then the
labels are simply defining another market niche.
For eco-labels to pull farmers toward sustainable
practices and help them stay in business despite many
obstacles, the labels need to:
- command a price premium in the marketplace, and/or
- expand market share for all products of sustainable
agriculture (including organic),
- be accepted by all levels of the market system
(processors, distributors, retailers, etc...),
- be understood and accepted by consumers with little or no
- keep the costs associated with participating in programs
- include support mechanisms (ie: technical assistance,
farmer-to-farmer networks, cooperative marketing, etc...)
for helping producers convert to ecological practices.
Eco-labels hold great promise as marketing tools for
sustainable agriculture, but still can be fine-tuned to make
them more effective.
Representatives from Southern SAWG are working with
Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, The Food
Alliance, and RAFI-USA to explore some of the issues
surrounding eco-labeling. We will conduct workshops and
focus groups sessions on this topic at a conference in
Portland, OR on October 22-23 and at the Southern SAWG
Annual Conference in Jekyll Island, GA on January 15-17.
If you would like more information on these events, contact
Keith Richards at 501-587-0888 or e-mail to:
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Oct 10-11: Sustainable Small Farm Ranch Workshop,
Oxford, MS. Biointensive raised bed growing, organic
disease & pest control, pasture management, sustainable
grazing. Contact Nan Johnson, Dancing Goats Farm, at
601-473-9026 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oct 22-23: National Eco-Label Conference, Portland, OR.
Contact The Food Alliance at 503-493-1066 or e-mail to:
Oct 24: 1998 Florida Small Farm Conference and Trade
Show, Brooksville, FL. Contact Christopher Yermal at
352-392-1869 or e-mail to: email@example.com.
Nov 6-8: CFSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference,
Clemson, SC. Contact the Carolina Farm Stewardship
Association at 919-542-2402 or visit their website:
Nov 21-22: GLSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference,
Jackson Lake, GA. Contact the Georgia Land Stewardship
Association at 770-920-5358.
Jan 15-17, 1999: Southern Sustainable Farming
Conference: Revitalizing Family Farms, Jekyll Island, GA.
For general information or to offer assistance, contact Jean
Mills at 205-333-8504 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on trade show participation, contact Marty
Mesh at 352-377-6345 or e-mail to: email@example.com.
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