June 27, 2003: Cross the Chattahoochee River, follow the
sharp bend, and there at the break in the roadside thicket is an unmarked
dirt road leading to Glover Family Farm. Not the kind of entrance
one would expect for a place that flourishes from such a rich mix
of people and produce.
Hardly a day passes that a new group isn't pulling into the driveway
that winds into this 40-acre, third-generation farm. Yesterday,
tourists from St. Louis brought their children to see a "real
working farm." Today, elderly Korean farmers have come to tend
their donated patch of sesame and hot pepper plants. Tomorrow, volunteers
from AmeriCorp EcoWatch will make preparations for an upcoming workshop
Mostly what brings them here is the on-farm market and seven acres
of vegetables and cut flowers that have made this place a model
for successful organic farming in Georgia. But the real draw are
Skip and Cookie Glover, a husband-and-wife team that has mastered
the art of sharing their wealth of knowledge through innovative
workshops and education programs.
"I find that the purely dollar-driven reason for growing stuff
is not very satisfying," Skip explains as he waters his bonsai
trees-- a hobby he picked up in Hong Kong. "My greatest enjoyment
is working with like-minded people who want to grow things and many
of the ethnic folks I am working with have that desire. They have
smuggled seeds into this country and that comes out of a love for
This year, when Georgia Organics honored the Glovers with the Land
Steward of the Year Award, the state's 300-member organization was
not just acknowledging their considerable farming and marketing
skills. It also was recognizing how the couple has gradually transformed
their farm into a hands-on classroom for beginning organic farmers,
urban youth, and immigrants eager to return to their farming roots.
"Skip has a strong sense of stewardship -- a Wendell Barry
type whose vision is big and constantly changing," says Cynthia
Hizer, the founder of Georgia Organics and food writer for the Atlanta
Journal Constitution. "What he has done with the mentoring
and immigrant farmer training program is something we all thought
about doing but no one has had the wherewithal and the energy to
make it happen."
Skip's passion for other cultures has taken him around the world.
When he and Cookie and their three children lived in Australia,
Skip used his Masters in Social Work to help set up community development
programs for Aborigines. Cookie shares her husband's multi-cultural
interests. In addition to managing on-farm tours, workshops, and
internships, she finds time to teach English as a second language
to local immigrants.
Watching his wife and intern Kate McAnish cut flowering sweet
peas for tomorrow's market, Skip explains his philosophy: "There
is always something you can learn from somebody else's way of doing
something. Even my fellow conventional farmers around here who got
caught up using chemicals after World War II know cultivation and
plowing techniques that will be lost if you don't learn from them."
Whether he's running presentations for master gardener classes
or teaching young Asian students how to double dig, Skip's passion
to pass information seems to come as natural as dust to water. As
Hizer points out, organic farming has grown up outside the traditional
agricultural school program and depends on mentors and community
support. "It's had to be learned orally, literally from the
knee of the elder," she says, "and that is what Skip has
Skip's organic farming roots were passed down from his father,
who supplemented his timber business with cattle and corn. Back
then, the farm was 200 acres and the insatiable maw of urban development
wasn't biting at it borders. Skip was attending the University of
Georgia when he received a letter from his father explaining how
newspaper excerpts from a new book had convinced him to give up
pesticides. The book was Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring."
After travels, a return to his roots
Throughout his travels, Skip always kept a garden and practiced
organic techniques. Only after other pursuits, which included training
horses, did he start organic farming fulltime -- back on his parent's
farm, in the same soil his mother grew food for the kitchen table.
Skip was approaching 50, but good health and a growing appreciation
for locally produced food were on his side.
What began as one acre quickly grew to five. Then seven. The menu
of produce also expanded -- seven varieties of lettuces, 25 varieties
of cut flowers. It diversified, too, adding bok choi, oriental steaming
greens, and tat soi for the growing Asian population in Douglassville,
a fast-growing community 25 miles west of Atlanta.
"We sold virtually everything the first year," Skip recalls.
"Soon it gets in your head -- the more you do, the more you
can make." The farm was making money but the Glovers soon found
"We tried all the other ideas everyone else has gone through,"
Skip says with a knowing smile. An internship program was set up,
followed by workshops and classroom tours. Bees were added to the
mix, proliferating from two boxes to 50. Reaching out to other nearby
farmers and artisans, the Glovers started an on-farm market that
sells not just their produce but goat cheese, pottery, and oak trellises
made on neighboring farms.
The Glovers also began reaching out to new communities. A partnership
with the Pan Asian Community Center in Atlanta brings 50 kids each
week during the summer. Divided and assigned to five work stations,
they learn the fundamentals of organic farming.
More recently, vermiculture has come into the picture as a result
of a joint project with the Atlanta Community Food Bank's Gardening
for Youth program. The experience of raising worms and selling their
castings not only has given urban youth new entrepreneurial skills
but has convinced Skip of the advantages of using pure castings
for his transplant mix. Not only is the soil pH balanced naturally,
but the casting inoculate the root zone with microorganisms, giving
them a fertility head start in the field. "I'm thrilled about
vermicompost," he says. "Our plant starts this year were
Then again, getting intimate with worms has proven more difficult
than anticipated. Like his tomato plants, the floods this spring
that ended a five-year drought have uncovered a drainage problem
in the worm beds. "All of us tend to overextend ourselves until
we learn our lesson," he says. "I guess I haven't learned
this one yet."
Teaching farmers new -- and old
Skip's eye for doing what others might overlook -- or ignore --
led to him to the Elderly Farmers Program he started three years
ago. On a given day, up to a dozen Koreans make the 25-mile trip
to grow their traditional crops, which they share with their friends
and neighbors. The youngest is 63.
|"Everyone has focused on youth and
one day I noticed some old folks sitting around at the Pan Asian
Center. I asked if they would be interested in growing some
traditional food at the farm and they just jumped at it. I expected
they would just like to piddle in the dirt but it wasn't like
that at all."
"Everyone has focused on youth and one day I noticed some
old folks sitting around at the Pan Asian Center," he says.
"I asked if they would be interested in growing some traditional
food at the farm and they just jumped at it. I expected they would
just like to piddle in the dirt but it wasn't like that at all."
Indeed, the learning has spread in both directions. After noticing
their peppers were doing better than his, Skip wondered if they
weren't secretly slipping their plants liquid fertilizer. The magic
ingredient turned out to be a mulch of spent tea leaves and herb
roots. "If this works like I expect, I'm going to find a herb
shop for myself," he laughs.
Off the farm, Skip cultivates like-minded people in numerous ways,
first as president of Georgia Organics during its formative years,
and then, closer to home, by helping other farmers develop new markets.
Through his leadership on the Carroll County Farmland Preservation
and Protection Partnership, the organization formed a sustainable
agriculture subcommittee that led to small marketing grants from
SARE and a thriving farmers market in nearby Carrolton. With the
help of a nutritionist he also has started a farmers market nutrition
program for the local health department's WIC participants, and
is working to get organic food into the city's schools and hospital.
For reasons that go beyond the practical, Skip chose not to renew
his organic certification when the USDA began certification. His
farming practices have stayed the same but now "organic"
is missing from his marketing pieces.
"We were organic before organic was popular, so it hasn't
changed our practices," he says. "My gut feeling was that
the "O" word would lessen its meaning but that individual
farmers with their own reputations for growing practices would increase.
So far it looks like I'm right."
Even in Georgia, where organic farming has been slow to catch on,
the state's extensive small-farm culture is starting to benefit
from emerging markets. "The small farm that is appealing to
the local market is going head over heels," Skip notes. "People
are demanding fresh produce. Whether it's organic certified they
don’t really care, as long as they trust the person who grew
Gaining that trust has been a signature of Skip's influence and
success, say those who know him. "He has a way of articulating
what other people want to share and without his own agenda or ego
getting in the way," says Fred Conrad, director of the Atlanta
Community Food Bank. "People can understand him, and want to
be a little bit like him."
Preserving the farm through teaching
Now both in their 60s, the Glovers are devoting more of their
energies to building the farm into a center for education and training.
It is a natural progression, born out of necessity and a vision
for the farm's future.
"We have been focusing lately on the education approach because
of our age and the idea we want to keep this property in tact and
in some kind of environmentally-friendly condition," Skip says.
"That isn't easy when you're farming on the urban edge and
the pressures to sell are so high."
||"If he were younger and not focusing
on education, Skip says he would probably cut his acreage in
half and put up hoop houses...Instead, Skip is actually clearing
more ground as he gets ready for the most ambitious project
If he were younger and not focusing on education, Skip says he
would probably cut his acreage in half and put up hoop houses, a
trend that has proven profitable for Alex and Betsy Hitt in Graham,
North Carolina. "They've been able to go from seven acres to
four and not reduce their bottom line," he says.
Instead, Skip is actually clearing more ground as he gets ready
for the most ambitious project yet. As part of Heifer International's
"Farmers: A New Generation" initiative, a dozen or so
refugees from the Hmong klans of Laos will be learning how to farm
in Georgia's hot red clay. This spring, Skip cleared some woods
to develop terraced fields comparable to the way the Hmong farmed
in Laos before the Communists drove them out after the Vietnam War.
Skip is breaking new ground in more ways than one. "I have
a framework for how I think it should work," he says, "but
it will be in a state of change, according to the needs of the people."
He could be speaking for organic farming in general. If he has
learned anything from his past, it's that farmers have to be quick
to adapt to a changing environment. The farm started by his grandfather
more than a century ago hardly resembles Glover Family Farm today.
Which isn't a bad thing. If the Glovers fulfill their dream, this
farm stands a good chance of being here -- as a producer of knowledge
-- for generations to come.
out Skip's article:
New organic farmers' markets emerge
in Georgia...but change is slow