At A Glance
Luke Green and
pasture, hay and timber on 560 acres
• 150 head of beef cattle
• Organic roasted peanuts
and peanut butter
peanut prices. When it became
clear to Clinton Green that a family could no
longer make a living on a small peanut and cattle
farm, his son, Luke, decided to try organic production.
With Clinton’s production expertise and
Luke’s willingness to jump into the natural
foods market with both feet, they have found a
way to revitalize their farm without increasing
Adding value to
a commodity. The Green family
put their resources toward producing a profitable,
value-added product. They not only harvest high
yields of organic peanuts that regularly meet
or exceed the county average, but they also have
learned how to secure profitable marketing outlets
that reward them for creating peanut butter and
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 91 to 93
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Luke Green turned a profit when he turned a propane
grill into a peanut roaster.
By most measurements, Clinton
Green is one of the finest farmers in Pike County. With a
rotation of peanuts, corn and pastured cattle on his third-generation
farm, he maintained the fertility of his soil for years while
producing high-quality crops. His peanut yields consistently
surpassed the county average, winning him several production
awards. One of his calves was named grand champion at the
county steer show in 1996.
But the economic side of farming is a harsher judge. When
Clinton learned that production quotas and price guarantees
as part of the federal peanut program were to be eliminated
by 2002, it became clear 100 acres of peanuts and 150 head
of cattle weren’t going to keep him in business.
Clinton’s son, Luke, who moved back to the farm in the
mid-1990s, had heard that organic crops were bringing higher
prices. Rather than switching to raising chickens for poultry
integrators like many of their neighbors had done, or giving
up on farming all together, Luke convinced his father to let
him grow a few acres of peanuts organically as an experiment.
Focal Point of Operation —
Organic peanut production and
In 1996, Luke plowed up 2 1/2 acres that had previously been
in pasture and planted his first plot, using chicken litter
and seaweed as organic fertilizers. By applying basic growing
techniques learned from his father and with a little luck,
Luke got 2,700 pounds per acre from that test plot —
compared to the county average of about 2,600 pounds.
In 1997, Luke increased his organic production to nearly seven
acres and beat the county average yields for the second straight
year. In 1998, he raised 20 acres organically and began irrigating
for the first time. By 2000 he reached his goal of raising
45 acres of organic peanuts.
Following his father’s practices, Luke rotates the peanuts
with Bahia grass pasture. They disc the Bahia grass in the
fall, drill in winter ryegrass and spread poultry litter once
a year. They cut hay or graze the grass with their beef herd
for three to four years, then turn it over and plant peanuts
for two to three years. Luke feels the grazing on Bahia grass
helps return nutrients to the land. They used to follow the
peanuts with corn, but Luke says that crop no longer offers
enough benefits to make it worthwhile.
Luke applies composted broiler litter to the organic peanut
land in the fall. One of their neighbors spreads it for $15
a ton. Believing that calcium is the most important factor
in growing healthy peanut plants, he also adds lime at 1 to
1 1/2 tons to achieve his desired rate.
“The peanuts could use three tons of high calcium lime,”
he says. “That would really help with disease problems.”
He has experimented with foliar feeding fish emulsion and
seaweed, and believes three to four feedings per year would
increase the health of his plants.
All of Luke’s efforts to grow a quality product organically,
however, didn’t pay off in cash receipts. Offered just
88 cents a pound for his first organic crop of shelled peanuts,
Luke realized that selling a raw product was still not going
to keep the family farm in business. Aghast at the low price,
Luke decided to turn his raw product into a more valuable
commodity: peanut butter marketed under his new label, “Luke’s
The state of Alabama doesn’t have an organic certification
agency, so he convinced Georgia Organics to come over and
certify his land. He also had to find a local sheller willing
to run his small batch of peanuts separately and get their
plant certified. Then he had to figure out where to do the
After weighing several options, Luke decided to build a small
processing kitchen in an old building on the farm. A friend
from the local health department helped him wade through the
regulations before he drew up plans. Then he scouted around
the countryside for used equipment and was rewarded with sinks,
faucets, a water pump and a stainless steel table. He modified
a locally built propane grill into a roaster.
Of all of the equipment he needed, the only piece of equipment
Luke bought new was a $1,000 peanut grinder. The whole kitchen
cost him less than $5,000 and can process 50,000 to 60,000
pounds of peanuts per year.
Once the kitchen was in place, Luke ran numerous test batches
to fine-tune his roasting and butter-making process. He began
networking with Georgia Organics members to learn how other
farmers packaged and marketed their value-added products.
Georgia farmers Skip Glover and Mary and Bobby Denton were
a big help and helped him get shelf space at the all-organic
Morningside Farmers Market in Atlanta.
“My first batch was in mason jars and it was so dry
that you could hardly swallow it,” Luke recalls with
a laugh. That didn’t stop him from getting his product
out, though. He figured the only way he could improve was
to have customers taste his peanut butter. With their feedback,
he knew he could perfect his roasting process and create fine-tasting
Alabama grown and processed peanut butter.
Economics and Profitability
Once he figured out how to create a tasty, quality product,
Luke had to find a market that offered a fair price for his
efforts. “There are too many people in the middle between
me and the store,” he says. “You’ve got
to create another job on the farm and cut some of the middle
As he started marketing, Luke made hundreds of phone calls
and “loaded up my car with peanut butter and drove all
over selling it,” he says.
Since then, he expanded his markets to several independent
natural food retailers. As he learned more about the organic
food industry, Luke looked for other avenues. He made an agreement
with Wild Oats, a natural foods grocery chain, to produce
peanut butter under their private label. Although Luke enjoys
the control he has with his own labeled products, he says
there are benefits to producing a product for someone else’s
label — the costs of shipping, brokering and promotion
are all borne by Wild Oats.
By creating a higher value product and cutting out some of
the marketing middlemen, Luke and Sandra now make a living
on 45 acres of peanuts. While this business suits them, it’s
a tradeoff that wouldn’t work for everyone. They raise
fewer acres and enjoy the farming more, but they also find
themselves processing peanut butter until after midnight some
nights while their son sleeps on the floor at their feet.
Organic production has reduced chemical use dramatically on
the Green Farm. Stopping the use of chemicals seems to have
made soil organisms flourish. Luke sees more earthworms and
other organisms when he turns the soil.
“This way of farming made me realize that I’m
not in control of everything around me,” he says. “It
brought me closer to nature and to understanding the cycle
The biggest problem in growing peanuts organically, Luke says,
is controlling weeds. Chicken litter contributes to the problem
by spreading weed seeds, especially pigweed. He uses timed
cultivations with a four-row cultivator as his main form of
Luke battles another pest, thrips, with good timing. Since
thrips can spread the tomato spotted wilt virus, Luke delays
planting until nights are warm enough to discourage them.
Thrips, which thrive in cool evenings, aren’t a problem
when it gets hot.
Luke’s father, Clinton, believes that leaf spot will
be their major nemesis in the long run. Thus far, Luke’s
rotations have kept the disease in check. Luke concentrates
on plant health as a deterrent to all fungi and disease. He
also monitors for cutworms and army worms.
Community & Quality of Life
Luke believes his pursuit of sustainable agriculture has paid
off in greater ways than the obvious economic return. “I’ve
met some of the most genuine people on earth in sustainable
agriculture,” he says, “people who have big hearts
and appreciate family.”
Luke, who recently married, says, “Maybe the greatest
benefit is that it has allowed me to live a true family life.
Sandra and I can work for ourselves at home, and have our
children close by. I can’t think of anyone else in their
thirties who is living this way.”
Luke offers a bit of advice for other farmers who are considering
processing and marketing a finished product. “Don’t
be afraid to ask questions. You’ll find most people
are willing to share their knowledge if you ask.”
Growers and processors should do their best to create the
best product they are capable of. “Quality will take
you farther than anything else you do,” he says.
Finally, growers need to develop steadfastness and flexiblity.
“You also have to be stubborn and have patience”
when you do something different on your farm, he says, “because
you will come up against a lot of brick walls.”
Luke would like to continue raising 45 acres of peanuts each
year, increase his yields and do more processing. Meanwhile
he is reinvesting most of his profits back into the business.
He would like to upgrade to a bigger grinder, roaster and
a better storage and cooling facility. If he can find used
equipment and do most of the labor, he will only need about
He has begun negotiating with another processor to supply
roasted peanuts for private label peanut candies. As long
as Luke is adding value to his peanuts by roasting them, a
venture like this makes economic sense.
By shifting to organic methods, adding value to crops, and
diversifying his income sources, Luke believes his farm will
be thriving in a few years when others around him are gone.
--Photograph by Keith Richards