“I sort of fell into gardening,” says Farmer Josh in his quiet casual way. Meet Farmer Josh of Oak Grove Farm.
I recently joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture) with the farm after my husband met farmer Josh Davis through the folk-music community. I wanted to see where and how our food was grown, so I invited myself out to the farm for a firsthand look.
After a solid hour-and-a-half drive, we arrived in Franklin — ten minutes from the Alabama line. Along with a pack of farm dogs and a very vocal rooster, we were greeted by a lovely white 1890‘s farmhouse situated in front of a scattering of small wooden structures — remnants of the original sharecropper community that occupied the space long ago. The buildings once used as a general store and cotton house now hold a library and a luthier’s workshop — clues that there is more to Josh than farmer.
Although he grew up on the 2500 acre farm that his grandfather split between his three children, Josh left the farm for a period. During that time, he not only earned a master’s degree in philosophy, he also attended a school in Vermont for guitar-making.
During his time away from the farm, Josh says he always maintained a garden wherever he was. In fact, at one point, he helped his buddy start Rise N’ Shine Farm in Rome, now one of the largest organic farms in Georgia. Upon returning home, he planted his own garden — the garden that would later produce enough for 44 full CSA shares.
With 2.5 acres of vegetables, which are Certified Naturally Grown, the farm grows everything from garlic, spinach and lettuce to chestnuts, huckleberries and prickly pear cactus. Josh proudly told me that they also grow a field corn variety developed by his grandfather that is unique to the farm. The produce is irrigated by rain collected in vinegar barrels, part of an elaborate system involving hand-dug trenches engineered by Josh.
But with only the help of a college friend, who now lives on the farm, and his fiancé Christina Corley, who lives in Midtown but drives out to the farm on weekends, Josh doesn’t foresee expanding the vegetable side of the farm’s business at this point. Because he is committed to farming organically, which requires extensive labor, he will maintain the vegetable production at a manageable size.
The current plan is to grow the animal business. Oak Grove Farm now has 120 cows and 25 chickens. Josh has plans to double the chickens but told me “You sell eggs to keep people happy.” With the cost of chicken feed, he can only charge enough to break even on the eggs.
Beef is more lucrative and Josh is most animated when describing his work with the cows. He was introduced to livestock as a boy when his father and uncle kept a herd as a hobby. Thriving on the challenge of raising grass-fed beef, which he confessed is “an art as much as a science,” Josh has spent a great deal of time researching and learning the industry’s best practices. In fact, his fiancé laughed that so much time is spent on the herd that many of their early dates consisted of sitting in the pasture “logging” cows (taking notes on each). The happy and healthy cattle we found grazing in the lush green pasture are the fruits of this labor.
After trekking through the thistle to the cow pasture, we hiked back toward the farmhouse and concluded our tour in the building known as the library. The library, shelves heavy with volumes, houses instruments of every kind: dulcimer, cello, ukulele, accordion, fiddle, autoharp, washboard and many more. In his spare time, Farmer Josh plays Old Time Americana music with Christina in a band called Sourwood Honey. He is also a skilled part-time luthier, buying and rebuilding older stringed instruments.
As we left the peaceful farm and returned to the city, we were gratified to have had the opportunity to get so close to the food we’re eating. We are grateful to know the story of the farmer. And we are grateful that he fell into gardening.
Oak Grove Farm delivers CSA shares to High Meadows School in Roswell and Atlanta Regional Commission, Clean Air Campaign and Southface Energy Institute in Midtown/Downtown Atlanta. The farm currently has a waiting list for CSA shares but continues to sell grass-fed beef by special order and produce at East Lake Farmers’ Market.
–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog
– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.