Small Farm Ingenuity
By Robert Pekel
The morning at Foundation Farm was enlightening, and just plain fun. Foundation Farm is an incredibly productive, profitable, and low maintenance farm that lies on the Arkansas — Missouri border north of Eureka Springs, owned and operated by Patrice Gros. I had listened to Patrice’s presentation at the Midwest Winter Production Conference in Joplin this January. His no till farming immediately caught my attention. His system was so simple and appealing it was difficult to believe, but Patrice extended a gracious invitation to visit his farm to reassure doubters. I decided to take him up on the offer.
The drive to Eureka Springs was an adventure in itself. The highway twisted and turned, up and down through the rugged Ozark hills. Cliffs dropping hundreds of feet were to my right, a rock wall to my left and no shoulder meant zero margin for error. Anyway, I arrived safely at Foundation Farm just as Patrice and his farm hand, Nazar, pulled up. We were greeted by Patrice’s’ two friendly farm dogs that live at the farm and protect the crops from deer.
Patrice started the day by having Nazar prepare the 4 by 100 foot beds with rabbit manure. Patrice has a friendly, easy to be with manner makes him fun to be with. “It’s all in the soil,” Patrice emphasized. “Healthy soil is essential to maximum production as well as disease and pest resistance. Just as a healthy body with a strong immunity system wards off sickness, healthy plants do the same. Healthy soil means healthy plants,” he explained as he brushed back the straw mulch to expose the rich, organic soil beneath. “See the earthworms, worms are good. Rototilling destroys worms and the infrastructure of the soil,” stated Patrice “We do no rototilling at all.”
Next we headed for the high tunnels. A high tunnel is Quonset-like structure covered with polyethylene that keeps cole crops in prime condition for harvesting through the winter months. The rows of mature, Red Russian Kale, Bak Choy, lettuce, spinach, and cilantro that filled his high tunnels were a sight to behold. Patrice wasted no time or motion as he checked his crops. He explained the various aspects of his system while momentarily pausing to talk to his plants. He would praise some plants for growing well, or scold others to encourage improvement.
The bottom line is that Foundation Farms requires only 60 man-hours a week, four farm hands working 15 hours each. No powered machines are employed. Patrice’s farming system is organized, simple, makes money and is fun, or as he prefers, “sexy.”
We wrapped the up morning with lunch. Foundation Farm has an outdoor kitchen area shielded by a roof and walls on two sides. Patrice is also a good cook. He created a hearty, delicious dinner from fresh picked winter vegetables. “It’s important to learn how to cook what you grow,” said Patrice.
• 3 medium turnips
• Several heads of Bok Choy
• Organic noodles
• Vegetable broth
• Salt, turmeric and cumin for seasoning
Patrice cubed up the turnips while Nazar chopped the Bok Choy.
The olive oil was heated in a cast iron skillet over a portable gas stove. Patrice added what looked like a tablespoon of turmeric, a little less of cumin and a small amount of salt. It was hard to tell because nothing was measured. The turnips were added and cooked over a high heat for several minutes. Patrice added about a half of cup of vegetable broth keeping the heat high. To make sure the turnips were starting to soften, Patrice tasted one. Satisfied, he added more vegetable broth (a cup or two) then a package of noodles. When the noodles where only minutes from done, the Bok Choy was added. Two more minutes the creation was ready. Fresh chopped cilantro was sprinkled across the top and lunch was served. It was a wholesome treat that made the whole experience complete. Thanks for a great day, Patrice.
To learn more about Foundation Farms go to: Foundation Farm
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