By: Daniela Cintron
On a sunny Saturday morning, you can make your way to the Clayton Farmers Market at the Northeast Georgia Food Bank, and find an array of local farmers offering the best of their harvest. It’s a bustling market teeming with freshly-cut flowers, honey, meats, and, of course, a variety of vegetables.
And amongst the colorful tents and umbrellas you’ll also find a couple.
Amy and Chuck Mashburn.
With her dark hair and beautiful smile, Amy will mostly likely be behind the table offering you an impressive looking squash or a crunchy seasoned peanut. If you carry on the conversation, she will give you great tips on cooking the vegetables she is offering.
Do not be intimidated by the massive Asian squash, she says.
Amy has a trick to cooking it quickly and deliciously.
“We grow vegetables that take less than 20 minutes to cook,” she proudly tells her clients. “To conserve the taste and texture, you want to make sure you are not overcooking it.”
If you have any further questions about the farm, Amy will quickly refer you to her husband Chuck.
The couple run Mill Gap Farm in Tiger, Georgia.
A Northeast Georgia native, Chuck grew up working the field as a hobby while pursuing a carpentry career. And it wasn’t until his sister bought the land in the late 1990s that he decided to go full-time into farming.
“It was very small and very slow, as I was still trying to learn,” says Chuck about his early years farming at Mill Gap. “I started by growing a few vegetables that I would eat, and then sell a few.”
Chuck’s passion from the beginning was to harvest organic food, eliminating the use of synthetic chemicals. At the time, not many local farmers were applying such techniques, so he had to rely on books and research to learn how to successfully grow the wholesome foods in the most natural way possible.
“I grew up around conventional farming, so it took me trial and error to learn how to grow without all the chemicals,” he said.
At the time, Chuck relied on books only, but some of them seemed to be lacking on some of the information and making him fall into the substitution game.
“You start substituting for organic fertilizer, insect spray and all, and think that essentially you are going to get an organic product, but that doesn’t work. It took me a while to figure that out.” Chuck enrolled in classes focusing on composting and spent years studying different techniques. Despite the many generations that have gone through the land since the American Indians, the 12 acres have been a chemical-free farming land before the 1940’s and since 1999.
Sometimes people seem to drift away from organic products due to the price difference. When it comes to vegetables, organic can be more expensive depending on the product and season.
This might turn away people from supporting local farms like Mill Gap, so it is important to understand that organic requires a lot more laboring, time and patience.
In this case, Chuck and his wife do all of the labor by themselves, devoting their every day to their job and their farm. They don’t have big machinery to make the job easier, or chemicals to make vegetables grow faster.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, organic vegetables can cost 10 to 30 percent more than those mass-produced, but one must understand that local organic farmers depend on the weather more than they would like to, and work tirelessly growing and selling their harvest.
Farming is a very consuming and labor-intensive job that starts as soon as the first rays of sun start to shine through until the darkness of the night takes over.
—A Day on the Farm—
At 5:30 a.m. Chuck and Amy wake up and get ready for the day. As soon as the sun shows some light, Chuck lines up his tools and hits the field while his wife goes to feed and check on their animals. Dependent on many factors, including the day of the week, the weather and the season, Chuck could be planting more Asian winter squash, pulling some okra, cleaning up the corn, or preparing the soil for a dry week.
At 1 p.m., after six hours of intensive labor, the heat of the sun starts to feel stronger on the farmer’s shoulders, so Amy and Chuck take a break to prepare and eat whatever Amy cooks from their vegetables.
The break doesn’t last too long. As soon as the day starts to feel a little cooler at around 5 p.m., Chuck and his wife pick back up where they left off until the sun is completely down.
This routine takes place at least four times a week. The other days they focus on the sale of their product through the main source of their income, online sales.
Using NortheastGeorgia.LocallyGrown.net Mill Gap Farm and many other local farmers have been able to sell their products to people in Northeast Georgia. Anyone is welcome to place an order for locally grown organic products every week until Monday nights.
The online market closes then, and the farmers are notified of their orders.
Chuck and his wife gather up the vegetables needed to meet the orders on Tuesdays, and by Wednesday they can deliver it, not only to the Rabun County area but also to Habersham and Hall County.
“Timing is everything,” says Chuck. “It is a very structured process that allows us and other local farmers to sell our products.”
Chuck is not interested in producing large amounts. They are happily growing a little, but with one main goal in mind.
“My biggest focus is to figure out a cheap affordable way to do organic farming and be able to teach it to other people,” he says with a hint of pride in his voice. “That is my way of promoting organic farming.”