Georgia Organic Micro Farmer Squeezes Plenty from Small, Urban Lot
February 6, 2014 | Malka Geffen
Getting through the first season as a new farmer can be daunting, but Perpetual Harvest owner Frazer Love faced the challenge with a commitment to organic growing.
As Love explains: “When we contribute positively to our community, our community sustains us as a naturally created cycle.”
Love took a chance when he left his job in October 2012 to become a micro farmer. A micro farm, according to Love, is an urban plot of land no bigger than 4 acres dedicated to producing fruits, vegetables, and, at times, poultry.
To start his farm, Love built twelve 16-square-foot raised beds on his home property in Athens, GA, and installed a custom irrigation system featuring a feeding barrel for compost tea and ball valves on each bed to control water flow.
“I like to practice a form of dry farming, which is when you supply normal watering during the vegetative phase and restrict it while in bloom,” Love says. He explains that dry farming helps a plant build a stronger, deeper root system that makes it more drought-resistant. “Some theories hold that stressing the plant through dry farming increases the Brix, or sugar content, of the fruits,” says Love. “But, most importantly, dry farming is a sustainable way to grow food because of the water savings.”
Along with dry farming, Love practices strict organic farming at Perpetual Harvest. He has never used a pesticide, fungicide, or salt-based chemical fertilizer in the outdoor garden, and pest control is managed through predatory bugs and birds, companion planting, and, his favorite, microbial inoculation via foliar feeding.
He also produces all of his fertilizer from peat, worm castings, bat guano, composted chicken poultry, calcium carbonate, AZOMITE®, sustainable red wood fiber, and fishmeal.
Optimizing use of limited space is a priority for a micro farm, says Love. To ensure quality seedlings with limited space, he built a 12’x12’ hydroponic facility for seedling starts. He also grows out-of-season greens hydroponically.
“Hydroponic growing saves 70 percent more water than traditional agriculture while maximizing growing space, which is at a premium in an urban home,” he says.
In his first season, Love grew heirloom and hybrid varieties of tomatoes, beans, greens, peppers, melons, cucumbers, garlic and shallots. Ever the risk-taker, Love planted his tomatoes early and began harvesting clusters of 25-35 cherry tomatoes and four large heirlooms per set before most farmers. This was a good gamble; the yield went south after 30 days of rain in June, bringing early blight and decimating his crop.
“At one point during peak production I had a cluster of 14 Cherokee Purple tomatoes,” Love says.
In addition to selling at two area farmers’ markets, Love sells his produce through an online farmers market, Athens Locally Grown, which features over a hundred sustainable growers and food producers in the area. This unique member-driven venture has popped up in various cities across North America.
“I post my produce on the market website a couple days before it goes live,” Love explains. “Then I simply sit back for two days and hope the orders come in.”
Picked that day or the day before, items are dropped off at a central location for customers to pick up.
Despite a successful first year, Love has had to return to his job to maintain funding for the farm.
“If I expect to sustain or break even a minimal profit for this startup, I must have a way to fund it,” he says. “At this point, going into my second season, I know that I might not make a profit this year. The initial cost of setting up the business put that idea out of reach until the debt is paid.”
But he is optimistic for the future.
“This is just the beginning,” he affirms. “I want to establish my roots, and create what hopefully will be sustainable in the long run.”