Hornsby Farms

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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.”

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pistachios

Fifteen minutes after I started on this recipe, scents of curry and cinnamon flooded the kitchen. The hearty quality and warm flavors of this stuffed squash recipe embody my perception of fall cuisine. Pistachios and cranberries contribute a salty and sweet dynamic to the recipe.

This stuffed acorn squash recipe makes a great side or a light lunch.

I recently accepted an offer to intern with Food Network Magazine during next Spring semester. The internship will necessitate a temporary pause in posts on Southern Sustenance, but I appreciate all the support and encouragement I have received, and look forward to what lies ahead!

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Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pistachios

Serves 4

2 medium acorn squash

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup red quinoa, rinsed

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups water

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup roasted, salted pistachios

Salt

Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Place the squash flesh side up on a aluminum foil covered cookie sheet.

Whisk the vinegar and oil together, and brush the outside of each half of squash. Roast squash flesh side down for about 50 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, combine quinoa, curry powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, water and a dash of salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook about 15 minutes, or until the quinoa absorbs the water.

Let the quinoa sit for about 5 minutes before adding the cranberries and pistachios to the mixture.

Fill squash with mixture and serve warm.

Recipe adapted from Food Network. Photos courtesy of Claire Sullivan

Autumn Salad Recipe

Last week, I used the excuse of visitors in town to show off Hornsby Farms’ salad mix. A big thanks to Josh and Beth Hornsby, who picked the lettuce for me the same day I made and served the salad to friends and family.

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Autumn Salad Recipe

Serves 8

12 cups mixed greens

1 pear, chopped

1 Honeycrisp apple, chopped

1/2 cup pistachios

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup poppy seed salad dressing

Rinse greens and pat dry.  Top with pear, apple, pistachios and cranberries. To make ahead, toss the apples in lemon juice to prevent browning. Toss salad with poppyseed dressing before serving.

An Introduction to Randle Farms

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Society Hill Road is bordered with rolling hills of fields and pastures. An occasional house or barn interrupts the otherwise green landscape. At the top of a hill on the road is a gravel driveway crowded with trees: a discreet and ordinary entrance to Randle Farms. The farm, however, is anything but ordinary.

Randle Farms is family-owned and operated, located about 12 miles away from downtown Auburn.

Frank Randle, founder of the farm and father of the family, welcomed me to his property. We had enough time for an introduction to the farm, which extends over 200 acres and is filled with livestock and crops nourished by members of the Randle family. The Randle’s enthusiasm for their farm has expanded the farm from its original 35-acre footprint.

Fruits, vegetables and livestock—mainly lamb—occupy the rolling hills of Randle Farms.

“I’m not trying to be the biggest producer, I’m just trying to be the best with what I got… And that’s enough of a challenge,” Randle laughed. “A lot of folks in the agriculture want to be the biggest in the county or have the most people employed; but we just want to be the best.”

Randle Farms provides over 100 families in the Auburn area with fresh, locally-grown produce through their Community Supported Agriculture system. Subscribers to the CSA pay for a season’s worth of produce and pick up whatever is fresh from Randle Farms on a weekly basis. 

“Next year, our CSA will be pick your own,” Randle said. “We tried it this year with blueberries, strawberries and tomatoes. Our customer satisfaction rating went through the roof when people came to pick their own food.”

Not only will the U-Pick model for the CSA program allow Auburn residents to be one degree closer to the production of their food, but it will also give CSA subscribers access to the produce when it is freshest.

“Really what you end up doing is becoming an educator,” Randle said. “One man, early on, brought us kohlrabi and told us it would grow well on our farm. We did, and people said, ‘what the heck is that!’ So we showed some people how you can prepare it: treat it like cabbage, grind it up, or eat it like slaw.”

By my 9:15 a.m. arrival at Randle Farms, Randle had already been up for four hours, tending to the farm. The success of Randle Farms is the product of the Randle family’s zeal for their land. 

“I’ve got two sons, Zach and Franklin,” Randle explained. “Zach is the horticulturist and Franklin is the animal agronomy person. I just fill in the gaps now.”

The fruits, vegetables and meat produced at Randle Farms are featured on menus including Acre in downtown Auburn, SpringHouse Restaurant at Lake Martin, and a few places in Montgomery.

In July, Randle Farms hosted a farm dinner.  Open to the public, people gathered to spend an evening on the Randle’s land, eating a meal with ingredients from the family’s farm, prepared by a chef.

“We had folks from Atlanta, Montgomery, Auburn, Opelika and Columbus who didn’t know each other, and we sure didn’t know them,” Randle said, smiling. “It was really wonderful to sit outside with someone playing really nice soft classical music and eat what the chef prepared. We started at 6, and by 10, people were still hanging around.”

The history of Randle farms begins with Randle’s alma mater, Auburn University.

“This all started when I was in school at Auburn, 40 years ago, and had an opportunity to work with Booker T. Whatley at Tuskegee on a small farm,” said Randle.

Whatley is attributed with promoting sustainable agriculture after World War II, and promoted a ‘smaller and smarter’ model for farming.

The lessons Randle learned from Whatley combined with reading works by Wendell Berry, renowned poet and author, solidified Randle’s plans to become a farmer.

“They had a big influence on the way I think and the way, hopefully, my family thinks and the way other people are starting to think,” Randle said.

Randle Farms began with a pick your own blueberry operation. Randle explained that once he learned how to effectively communicate with customers, he began to offer educational opportunities on the farm, from farm tours to teaching kids.

After years of farming, Randle maintains a sense of wonder and gratitude for the land he maintains.

“It’s a miracle happening right at your feet all the time!” Randle exclaimed.

Whippoorwill Vineyards

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Family owned and operated, Whippoorwill Vineyards boasts the products of hard work and determination.

Tim Watkins, Bobby Watkins, Chad Ledbetter and Amy Ledbetter work as a team from harvesting the muscadines to bottling the wine.

Amy Ledbetter, clothed in a pink dress with magenta, blue and yellow striped leggings, greeted me enthusiastically as I entered the winery’s gift shop. Her personality matched her bright, bold style. Sweet aromas of muscadines filled the space.

Ledbetter seemed to know each person that walked in on the Friday afternoon of my visit, from the elderly man with two grocery bags full of freshly-picked muscadines to the young woman in heels who came in with her friend to sit and taste Whippoorwill’s wine.

One of the women held up her left hand as she entered, and squeals ensued after Ledbetter noticed her engagement ring. Sense of community prevailed at Whippoorwill.

Ledbetter guided me through a tour of the family’s winery, a building with a store in the middle, fermenting tanks on one side, and a room for bottling, labeling and boxing on the other.

Three of the winery’s five fermenting tanks are imported from Italy. Ledbetter said it was a process to get them here, taking nine months in total. A tube runs below the gift store, channeling wine from the fermenting tanks to the bottling room.

The Watkins and Ledbetters work as a team when it comes to bottling, labeling and boxing; spending days at a time filling green bottles with wine so they are ready to be shipped.

Sundays, however, are always off, Ledbetter said.

The family’s idea to start a vineyard began with Tim Watkins’ glance at an article on vineyards in a Progressive Farmer magazine.

With the help of Notasulga community members, the Watkins and Ledbetters planted Whippoorwill’s first vines in 2005. By 2010, Whippoorwill Vineyards produced bottles of muscadine wine.

Rod Havens, of Blueberry Havens, provided the family with the harvester that they refurbished for their muscadines.

The vineyard now produces 11 varieties of wine, ranging from dry to sweet. A full list of their wine selection is available on the winery’s website.

While mid to late September is prime for picking muscadines, several groups picked their share when I visited mid-October. Wine tasting is free, and the U-Pick price for fresh muscadines is $1.50 per pound.

Whippoorwill Vineyards also produces honey and pecans. The honey is available in the vineyard’s store, and the pecans will be ready for purchase in November.

Wine from the vineyard is available at ABC stores nearby. Click here for a full list.

Breakin’ Bread Local Flavor Festival

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A cool breeze swept sweet aromas of pumpkin and cinnamon one moment and savory scents of roasted chicken and squash the next.

Food brings people together. Local food brings people together by uniting food consumers with food producers.

When local farmers, restaurants and people congregate, a celebration of the land and people around us ensues.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Birmingham for the Breakin’ Bread Local Flavor Festival. Visitors enjoyed unlimited tastes of food from Birmingham’s finest restaurants presented in bite-size portions.

Rows of tents covered chefs and representatives from restaurants unique to Birmingham, many of which used produce from nearby farms.

A portion of the festival showcased local farmers and The Urban Food Project in Birmingham. The Urban Food Project is part of REV Birmingham, an organization that aims to make Birmingham a better place to live through economic and community development.

The Urban Food Project picks up produce from farms near Birmingham and delivers the food to corner stores and about 20 restaurants in the city. Not only do farmers benefit from increased demand, but Birmingham residents have the opportunity to enjoy seasonal, locally-grown produce.

Many of the restaurants at the festival boasted the local ingredients included in their dishes with the help of the Urban Food Project.

Attendees sampled a variety of cuisine, ranging from Mexican to Barbecue to desserts.

My favorite sample was Chez Lulu’s asian pear bread pudding topped with cinnamon whipped cream. Petals from the Past, the farm that supplied Chez Lulu with the pears, sold asian pears at the event.

I can infer from my experience at the food festival that Birmingham residents are interested in farm-to-table eating, and the restaurants recognize the benefits of sourcing locally.

Birmingham restaurant Little Savannah, for example, hosts ‘farm table’ dinners regularly from May through October. Chefs prepare dishes that incorporate produce from local farms and invite the farmers to the dinners. Guests get a chance to enjoy locally sourced food while talking to the people whose hard work created it.

Blueberry Havens

Angie, a white maltese the size of a mailbox, greeted me as I reached Blueberry Havens. A man sporting blue jeans, a navy t-shirt and a mustache followed behind his energetic canine he lovingly refers to as his mascot. Rod Havens smiled as he introduced me to himself, his dog, and his property: over 200 acres of land filled with blueberry bushes he calls Blueberry Havens.

Havens’ blueberries are the diameter of a penny, sweet, and will dye your mouth blue. Warning: this will not prevent you from eating a bag at a time.

Havens cleared the land himself about 30 years ago, and has been nurturing each of his blueberry bushes since.

Havens shares the land he maintains as well as the fruits of his labor. Blueberry Havens is ‘U-Pick,’ meaning Havens allows anyone to stop by during the summer months to spend a morning or afternoon picking blueberries to take home. Frozen blueberries are also available by the gallon when picking season ends. 

We toured through Blueberry Havens on a dirt road that runs the length of the property. Trees crowded the horizon before opening up to a vast expanse of blueberry bushes neatly arranged in rows on either side of the road. As we reached the end of the road, we got out of the car to walk around the property. Two massive hills of blueberry bushes dominated the landscape. The breezy 70-degree weather added to the refreshing quality of the land that surrounded me.

A health nut himself, Havens explained how many of his regular customers are doctors who appreciate the health benefits of blueberries as well as the balance provided by spending time outdoors. Havens notices his customers often leave Blueberry Havens relaxed and refreshed.

“There’s a different rhythm in nature, and I think that’s why people like to come out here,” he said.

Havens grows his blueberry bushes organically, not using any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. He lets weeds and grass grow between the rows of bushes when the berry bushes are not being picked. When he cuts the vegetation between the bushes, the scraps are left to decay, providing the nutrients for his soil.

Havens is more than a generous farmer, he is an intellectual. Havens, a retired High-School counselor, has a passion for books that he shares with others like he shares his land. He maintains a well-organized bookshop on his property chock full of used cookbooks, novels and children’s books.

Havens’ latest finds are health, architecture and gardening books he picked up at a book sale in Atlanta earlier this week.

A small greenhouse is attached to Havens’ bookstore and office, where he cares soon-to-be blueberry bushes. He nurtures the plants until they are ready to move into gallon containers outside, which he sells to customers looking to produce their own blueberries.

Picking your own gallon of blueberries costs $8, and you can purchase a gallon of blueberries already picked for $14. Blueberry bushes, which Havens grows and cares for, cost $5. Blueberry Havens is an easy 40 minute drive outside of downtown Auburn.

For more information about Blueberry Havens, visit http:/blueberryhavens.com/

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Mr. Larry’s Garden

Tucked away in downtown Opelika is a garden, about a block long, that helps feed the needy in the Opelika and Auburn area.

Larry Presley, with the help of his friend Robert Bellflower, cares for the garden, running off of donations, goodwill and prayers. Presley works with New Birth Ministries in Opelika.

“We picked 167 watermelons off of that vine over there,” said Presley. “God has really blessed this place.”

On Saturdays, when the garden produces an excess of vegetables, Presley doles out the freshly-picked food to those who stop by between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. The interest in locally-produced food is evident through people’s willingness to show up around 7 a.m. to get what is in season.

Presley asks for a donation in lieu of pricing the vegetables. The donations he receives go toward maintaining the garden, Presley explained.

Bellflower was busy picking field peas upon my arrival. The misty rain did not prevent him from filling two buckets with peas by the time I left.

“This here is one of the greatest men God has created, Mr. Robert Bellflower!” Presley exclaimed.

Kale, squash, collard greens, turnips and field peas are currently flourishing in the garden. Presley shared photos from summer of 2014 that show the garden in full bloom. The corn grew as tall as Presley and Bellflower.

As the seasons shift, the garden is still producing a generous amount of produce. The two men picked about 60 pounds of shelled peas last week.

Auburn University and Storybrook Farm provide manure for the garden.

“When I was growing up I never heard of the word organic. I don’t think it hurt me because I’m 79 years old and I’m still here,” Presley said.

Presley is a man with a generous heart and a sense of humor.

“Word is that Saban’s only dressing half the team for the game Saturday. You know why? He’s gonna let the other half dress themselves,” Presley laughed.

The garden is located on Magazine Avenue a few blocks down from the Overall Company.