Oak Tree Farm is a certified organic produce farm cultivating over 45 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs utilizing sustainable farming practices. Oak Tree is located in Jacksonville, Georgia, about two and a half hours from Savannah, and a large portion of our fresh produce offerings come straight from the farm to the Co-op. Robbie Graham, Oak Tree’s owner and farmer, comes from a family of farmers and has a wealth of knowledge about Georgia farming. She is a state representative for the Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON), and we are incredibly proud and honored to support the farm and offer her amazing produce to our members.
We posed the following questions to Robbie so we could share her story with you. Read on to learn more about her and her life on the farm.
When did you start farming?
I was born farming. I did other things for a while, but this is nothing new to me. My parents were farmers in Alabama, so I grew up doing this. My mom would can everything she grew, and we had produce for the whole year. My parents made sure we never bought produce from a grocery store, and we never ate store can food. The rest we sold, but a lot of it was given to the rest of the poor community around us. We would get in the back of my dad’s truck, and we would go through the neighborhood giving people potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, cucumbers – everything we grew. He fed the whole neighborhood.
What inspired you to farm using all-natural, sustainable methods?
Because it was the only way of farming that I knew. When I found out that products had chemicals in it, and I started feeling the side effects on my diet, I knew I had to go back and do the farming that I was taught. It’s the only way I knew.
What can you share with us about your products that we may not know?
I own 305 acres of land. Of that 198 acres are being farmed. I have a total of 12 employees who work the fields. They are mostly family and neighbors who have lost their jobs due to the economy. We named it Oak Tree Farm because there are so many Oak Trees in the farm, and there is a huge oak tree in my yard that I love.
Something interesting about the way I farm is that my produce gets sprayed with worm casting tea that I make myself here in the farm. It is great for fertilizing but also for pest control. I spray the casting over the produce when they start to bloom, and then it is done three or four more times during the growth of harvest. It helps keeps the pests away and nourishes the produce until it is ready for harvest. The produce comes out smooth and helps reduces the spoilage.
Another great hint, if your plants start to look yellow from too much water, is to put a teaspoon of epsom salt around the soil of every plant. It helps brings the color back to the plant, and your produce looks better. The more that you care for you crop the better it will produce.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Trying to find a better way to improve my produce and the way we grow it. Trying to grow new items like mushrooms and papayas, broadening the variety that we have to offer. Learning how to grow them and make them thrive in my land.
Also learning how to run a business. I enjoy the farming, watching the harvest grow but do not particularly care about dealing with the staff. I would rather work in the field pulling weed than having to do books and the hiring. Leave me in the field from sun up to sun down.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Making people happy. Selling the produce and the idea that I was able to supply someone good wholesome produce. Yes, I need money, but the idea that I was able to provide someone with a healthy option to feed their family just makes me happy.
Can you describe a typical day of work at your farm?
Getting up early, 6:00 AM, to load the trucks that are going to the different markets. Then we go to the field to handle the harvest. We look for what is growing, prep anything new that is going to be planted, harvest anything that is ready, clean the picked produce to take it to the cooling rooms, make sure that the rows are ready for the next crops. At the end of the day making sure that everything is ready for the next morning so we can load the next trucks to leave.