July 15, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
"I see you," Scott Enlow grinned, triumphantly plucking a stray squash bug from a plant thriving with bright yellow and green zephyr squash. Then, before heading back to the house where he grew up, the genial Columbus man cast vigilant eyes one last time across rows of summer vegetables in a garden like no other in the Golden Triangle.
These almost two acres off Black Creek Road, near Highway 12 -- filled with Japanese bunch onions, Red Velvet okra, Cherokee purple tomatoes, jalapenos, yellow wax beans and more -- represent long hours of labor, painstaking inspection and a daunting mountain of paperwork for Scott and his wife, Lydia. But, the effort paid off.
On June 22, the couple got news they''d been waiting for since January, when their application was completed. Both the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture approved them as certified organic gardeners.
"The Enlows'' Black Creek Farms in Lowndes County, and one other (grower) in Oxford, are the only certified organic gardeners in the north half of the state," confirmed Andy Prosser, director of market development and public relations for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture in Jackson. "There are currently 20 certified organic growers statewide," he added.
Sipping cold tea in the roomy farmhouse where he was raised, Scott, a self-employed painter, talked about the project. From a large, framed photograph behind him, his mother, Jo, and late father, Dillard Enlow, benevolently look over his shoulder. They helped pass on the respect for the earth their 49-year-old son embodies. Lydia''s family instilled the same in her.
"Lydia and I were both raised in families where gardening was just a normal part of life," Scott shared. "Hers was mostly in Pontotoc County, and mine was right here on this land."
The Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market vendors grew up knowing tilling, planting, picking and shelling were just part of a summer day.
"We gardened then like most folk did, using triple 13 fertilizer and killing bugs with Sevin Dust and Diazinon," Scott recounted.
After marrying 13 years ago, the couple continued gardening but became more and more aware of escalating media stories of potential long-term effects from chemicals and insecticides.
Organic farming avoids man-made chemicals and looks to nature for sources of insect control and fertilization. The Enlows had used organic practices before. Certification, however, required stringent compliance to MDAC and USDA guidelines, including submittal of a detailed farm plan, soil and water samplings, on-site inspection and review by the State Organic Board.
Once certified, daily records logging everything that happens in the garden must be kept. Growers can only use certified organic seed and plant stock and approved soil amendments and insecticides. They''re also subject to unannounced field and equipment inspections.
Tractors, tillers and all equipment must be washed before they can enter the certified garden. Any vessel used to transport produce to the Farmer''s Market has to be thoroughly cleaned before every use.
Soil analysis is an important element in building a long-term organic plot.
"When we do need to amend the soil, we turn to things like fish emulsion, wood ashes, kelp and alfalfa meal and powdered rock dusts to add required nutrients," Scott explained. "For insect control, we look to natural products like pepper sprays, soap sprays and tree oil extracts like neem oil.
"The stuff I use for fertilizer costs about three times as much as conventional farming; what we use for insects can cost five times more," he noted. "Is it all worth it? You bet. We know that by farming this way, we can provide our family and community with food that''s very high quality -- safe, clean and nutritious."
A few weeks ago, the couple began rising early on Saturdays to join other vendors at the Farmers'' Market. Along with organically-grown produce, they take rainbow-hued eggs from their flocks of free-range chickens. But, most of the sky blue, pale green, soft pink and khaki-colored eggs from the mix of Araucanas and Americanas are snapped up by customers at the farm before ever getting to market.
"Our eggs are not ''organic'' because there''s no availability of organic feed in this area," Scott clarified. "But we try to use the best standards of treatment for our birds, in many cases exceeding the National Organic Standard for egg birds.
"The Farmers'' Market has been an absolute blast," he continued. "We''ve made new friends and run into friends we haven''t seen in years." From a vendor''s perspective, "We''ve sold everything we''ve taken down there. The enthusiasm of folks who care about things like this (organically-grown produce) has been great."
Imagine me and you
It was Lydia''s vision to go organic. The couple do almost everything together -- from painting and fishing to tending their birds. From performing musically in public (both are talented and specialize in Celtic music ) to harvesting. Although Lydia, 41, recently enrolled in a pre-nursing curriculum at Mississippi University for Women, she still works side by side with her husband whenever possible.
"My very favorite part of gardening is in the spring when Scott gets the plow out ... the smell of the soil ... it''s just what God made me to do," she shared. "When something you plant grows and gives you something back -- it''s hard to describe."
The organic garden has room to grow, generating increased produce and maybe even an on-farm retail site. The couple would also like to confer with area restaurants about custom growing. Other options include pasture-raising larger meat breed birds and possibly even meat goats.
But for now, Scott and Lydia enjoy the everyday wonders of the garden, working to the music of "Bug," "Lucy" and the rest of their fine, feathered companions contentedly clucking and scratching in green pastures and sunshine.
"We''re just happy, picking what we have and seeing what''s in the basket every day," grinned Scott.
And they don''t forget those who worked the land before them.
With a smile and nod, Scott says of his late father, "I don''t do anything on this place that I don''t see him ... hear him telling me how to do something, or how not to do it ...
"It''s really exciting for us to see this old farm slowly come to life again; we''re looking forward to seeing what comes next."
Editor''s note: The Enlows may be reached by phone at 662-329-9147, or by mail at 559 Black Creek Road, Columbus, MS 39705.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.