Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2009
Tenn. Farm couple devote retirement to community-supported agriculture
CNS PHOTO | THERESA LAURENCE,
John McGary sorts spring salad mix into containers for their customers at their farm in Petersburg, Tenn.
BY THERESA LAURENCE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
PETERSBURG, TENN. — On a chilly and damp winter morning John McGary kneels in front of row upon row of green leafy vegetables, sorting through freshly picked spring salad mix and carefully packing it into plastic containers for his customers.
He and his wife of 48 years, Judy McGary, will deliver the salad mix, tucked into a box alongside sweet potatoes, butternut squashes, radishes, greens and apples to drop-off points in Nashville later that day.
“There’s nothing like taking these boxes of fresh vegetables to families and seeing how excited they are,” said Judy McGary.
Nestled in rolling hills near the Alabama border, Doe Run Farm, operated by the McGarys, is one of the few vegetable farms in an area where most land is devoted to cattle and horse farming.
The McGarys also have the distinction of being one of the few certified organic community-supported agriculture programs in the state that operates through the winter. In a community-supported agriculture program, customers purchase a “share” of the crops that are grown, and in return get a box of produce.
Instead of easing into retirement, the McGarys work the land every day, growing and harvesting vegetables and driving hundreds of miles a week to deliver them.
“Our children think we are crazy to be working so hard at our ages, but we have been blessed with good health and feel that we are being good stewards of our land which is dedicated to growing food for our farm supporters’ tables,” said Judy McGary.
With no other regular employees, John, 70, a retired electrical engineer, and Judy, 67, a retired nurse, do everything from planting seeds to marketing the business themselves.
“A lot of things are not in your control,” said Judy McGary, a lifelong Catholic. “Faith plays a real important part in farming, and everything you do.”
This winter season, 65 families signed up to receive a weekly box of produce from them. Since the subscribers know they will receive only what the farmer has available, they agree to share in the rewards and risks that befall the farmer.
With the community-supported agriculture model, “there’s very little waste,” said John McGary, and it provides for better planning than setting up shop at weekly farmers markets, which the McGarys no longer do.
With 150 shares sold to customers last summer, the McGarys expect even more this year. But, Judy McGary said, “the organic farming movement is still finding its place in the world.”
“I’m all for food that’s fresh, local and doesn’t have to travel 1,000 miles,” John McGary said. But with small-scale, organic food still costing considerably more than conventionally mass-produced food, “I don’t know how popular this movement is going to be.”
Judy McGary has faith in the organic farming movement, she said, because “people are yearning to know more about their food.”