Piddler Farmers – Small town farmers take farming back to its roots

 

Farming1Jennifer Head and her farm dog Watson walk through Blessed Acres Farm, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in Milner, Ga.  Photo:  Branden Camp

By Branden Camp

Jennifer Head makes her way across the field with Watson the farm dog following closely behind. Watson just finished his job of rounding up the roosters and chickens to be placed back in cages after escaping. Eventually, Jennifer Head and Watson walked to where carrots were growing.   Ripe and ready, She pulled up a small Danvers carrot straight from the ground and took a bite.

“It’s so cool to come out and pick your own vegetable to have for supper,” Jennifer Head said. Jennifer Head and her husband Brian Head have not been farming for very long. Their dream started long before they were even thought of.

Making a piddler farmer

The year was 1932. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was about to become the 32th president of the United States. America was a few years into the Great Depression. At an unlikely time, a Georgia woman purchased 100 acres of land in Milner, Georgia and began her farming business.

In 2012, the farmland sat fallow and untouched by human hands for the last 30 years. Brian and Jennifer Head were living in Dahlonega, Georgia with their two children and were itching to fulfill a dream. Brian Head, still young, is approaching retirement after working for the state of Georgia for 25 years and is making plans to be a full-time farmer following his retirement. Jennifer Head has worked for The Healthcare of Atlanta for over 17 years. Bored and always wanting a farm, Jennifer and Brian Head approached her grandfather, Riley Sanders, about purchasing some of the family land.

Some land still remained in Jennifer Head’s family since 1932 and she wanted to carry on the tradition. To their surprise, they wouldn’t have to spend a dime to purchase that land. “I talk to my granddaddy about selling me some land and he wound up giving us the land,” Jennifer Head said. For this reason, they called their new venture “Blessed Acres Farm.”

The Heads have years of hard work before they become full-time farmers. For now, they will have to settle for being “Piddler Farmers.” A piddler farmer gets up before sunrise, tends to the farm for a few hours, leaves to work their other full-time job and resumes farm duties till the sun goes down. Brian Head looks forward to the long summer days when he can work longer into the evenings after quitting the day at his other job.

“I want to be able to provide food for people that can’t afford the organic in the grocery stores,” Brian Head said. The Heads see a lot of families ranging from low income to those with major health issues like cancer. Due to genetically modified foods and foods sprayed with chemical pesticides being unhealthy, those suffering from major illnesses can benefit greatly from organic foods. With mounting medical bills from treatments, cancer patients can’t always afford to eat grocery store priced organic foods. The Heads provide an affordable way for these people to eat. Jennifer Head said some pay and some simply can’t pay. Others have the opportunity to contribute by placing donations in a jar at the entrance.

Organic farming is more volatile and intensive than conventional farming. Conventional farmers maintain by spraying the crops with chemicals that single out the weeds and keep bugs away. The crop survival rate is much higher than organic crops as well. The Heads have to get on their knees and hand pull weeds from around the crops. They often recruit family members to come out and help work the farm.

Jennifer and Brian Head said they have been blessed with this free land, so they should also bless those who are in need. They live this out on a daily basis. The Heads go by the Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 3:7 that says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

Back to the roots

Brian Head says they farm organically because it’s the way farming was initially done. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that pesticides were introduced into farming. Farmers saw incredible results and it was great for the economy. They lost very little of their crops and prices dropped.   Farmers could produce more crops at lower prices without loosing large quantities and consumers could buy at low prices. No one thought to question the health concerns they may cause.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation reports that in 2014 organic farming saw an increase from over $ 3 Billion to over $5 Billion in revenue. Consumers are becoming more informed of the harmful effects of genetically modified foods and crops and the demands for organic foods are growing.

Though the Heads are making a small dent in a Billion dollar industry, these small town piddler farmers are providing a healthy alterative for their family and for many living in South Georgia by going back to how farming was intended to be.

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