When Josh Hornsby was a kid, he would spend days outside filling pillow cases with peas. He and his family would then sit on the porch, shelling what they harvested together.
“Josh wants to feed everyone,” Beth Hornsby, Josh’s wife, said. “He wants to be in everyone’s kitchen. We have a motto, homegrown by our family and made special by yours. We want people to feel like they’re a part of it, like they’re a part of our family.”
Hornsby Farms provides food for the Auburn area through restaurants, farmers’ markets and delivery. The Hornsby’s 300 acres of land are situated 10 minutes outside of downtown Auburn, off of College Street. Twenty of those acres are currently in use, lined with rows of lush greenery.
During my visit, a woman pulled into the driveway of the farm looking to pick turnips. The white root vegetable became the subject of conversation.
“I like them cooked in the greens,” said Wayne, a helper at the farm.
“I’m gonna start pickling them,” Beth added. “Someone else was saying they eat them like mashed potatoes with butter.”
Prepare the Hornsby’s vegetables in your own kitchen, or enjoy them at Acre, Maestro 2300 or Country’s Barbecue. As their production increases, the Hornsby family intends to supply their farm-fresh produce to more restaurants in the Auburn area.
The beginning of Hornsby Farms’ relationship with Acre began with Josh walking in the front door of the restaurant on a Friday night, arms wrapped around a wicker basket overflowing with their summer harvest: summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and more. A successful solution to no answered phone calls after many attempts on Beth’s behalf.
“I took the basket to the hostess with a few business cards,” Josh explained. “I turned around and walked right out the door. Well, supposedly he was chasing me out of the parking lot. I turned out the driveway and made it to Glenn Avenue, then my phone rang and it was David Bancroft.”
The next afternoon, Bancroft, head chef and owner of Acre, visited the farm. Ever since, Josh said, he’s been buying from Hornsby Farms on a weekly basis.
“We know everyone that works at Acre, and we’ll see them around town and say hey,” Beth said. “It’s nice to connect with everyone.”
Josh delivers to restaurants two or three times each week. Chefs will call Josh, ask if they have a specific item, and if they do, Josh will deliver what they need for the menu that evening.
“That’s as fresh as it gets,” Josh said. “If restaurants have something with spinach on their menu and no one local has it, they’re getting it from the warehouse. It takes about five days for harvested produce to get from the farm through the warehouse and to the restaurant’s kitchen.”
Josh explained how sourcing locally also lessens the amount of wasted food. At least a portion of bagged foods, particularly lettuces, turn bad by the time they reach the restaurant after sitting in a warehouse.
Hornsby Farms embodies the freshness, community and education that are involved with local food consumption.
“90% of kids don’t eat vegetables, and the 10% that do don’t know where they come from,” Josh said. “If you can get them excited about vegetables in the field, there’s a better chance of them eating them in the kitchen. They’ve got a connection.”
Farming at the Hornsby’s is a family affair. Sully, Josh and Beth Hornsby’s 4-year-old son, is eager to participate. Levi, 18 months old, may not be old enough to grow flowers or beans, but he played in the okra plants and began pulling some weeds with the help of his parents. Upon my arrival, Sully gave me a dime-sized piece of stone he deemed a dinosaur bone. Sully, however, does more than dole out dinosaur bones he finds on the farm.
“Sully planted marigold seeds and sold them from our driveway for Mother’s Day,” Beth said. “A 4-year-old had the patience to take care of them everyday. He thought he needed to sell more, so the next week he got butter beans!”
Josh and Beth want their boys to continue the Hornsby farming tradition. Josh said he values farming for the family time it allows them to spend together, and also because of the gratitude he has for his work.
“The boys are out here everyday, and they’ll grow up knowing how to do this,” Josh said. “Hopefully they’ll be teaching me stuff one day.”
Josh started farming ‘the arena,’ a section of their land named after its former use for trail rides, seven years ago. 2014 marks the Hornsby’s first full year of farming, as Josh no longer works as a wild land fire fighter. The first year Josh farmed, he maintained collard greens in the arena. The next year, he began increasing the variety of the vegetables he produced.
“I was working the arena at night and on the weekends,” Josh said. “I would be out there until 2 a.m. with a headlamp on, cutting okra. Every weekend I would stay from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Supper Club to sell my vegetables. I made more than half my salary selling out of the back of that ranger pick-up truck in three months.”
Josh graduated from Auburn University in 2006 with a degree in landscape horticulture.
Vegetables grown on Hornsby’s Farms are available for purchase through a subscription system on their website, http://www.hornsbyfarms.com/ . Subscribers can visit the farm to pick up their produce, meet Beth at a location in Auburn, or for ultimate convenience, Beth will deliver the produce right to your door.
“It’s about being content when you lay your head down at night and not worrying about the stress of a job you’re not happy with,” Beth said.
“Mother nature gets us every now and then but that’s part of it,” Josh explained. “Vegas doesn’t have anything on a farmer.”