Around the Farm

around the farm pt 4

*Post contributed by Southern Valley, a family-owned produce farm that is based in Norman Park, Georgia and supplies produce to Canada and all over the United States. 


Around the Farm

*Written by Katie Murray

In this version of Around the Farm, we literally took a trip around the farm – not just my typical run through a couple of the fields. Jill, Courtney, and I spent the last week doing food safety refresher trainings in the fields. Wait, let me reword that, Jill and Courtney spent last week doing food safety refresher trainings and I tagged along and asked pesky questions on a few of those training excursions.

So, let me break these refresher trainings down for you. Jill, who is our food safety girl, and Courtney, who handles a variety of administrative tasks in the office, trek out to the crews in the field one by one to conduct these refresher trainings. When workers are hired they go through food safety training as part of their orientation. We then do these refresher trainings each season as a reminder to the workers about our food safety rules, policies, and guidelines which make our food safer for the consumer. The training includes basic things such as washing hands and wearing clean clothes to help prevent cross contamination and goes on to less thought about things such as having nails no longer than 1/8 of an inch and not wearing jewelry – both of which are food safety hazards.

So, from crew to crew and field to field we went. We got to speak with each crew supervisor and then each crew, making sure all were up to date on food safety practices and any personal questions or concerns they may have since beginning work here. In the next blog, I’ll delve more into what was covered in these trainings and the questions we addressed, but for now I just wanted to share what we encountered as we made the rounds around the farm last week.

Allow me to introduce you to a few of our field crews. We are so thankful for their hard work!

 Jonathan  Felipe  Cuco  around the farm pt 4 1


So, what is a “Pole-Grown Cucumber” Anyway?

cucumber 1

*Post contributed by Southern Valley, a family-owned produce farm that is based in Norman Park, Georgia and supplies produce to Canada and all over the United States. 


So, what is a “Pole-Grown Cucumber” Anyway?

*Written by Katie Murray

We are so glad you asked.

The average, ole, run-of-the-mill cucumber grows on a vine that creeps along the ground, growing wherever it wants. Here at Southern Valley, we grow the new and improved cucumber…and we do that by growing it up a stake with trellis netting. It looks a little something like this:

cucumber 2

Like all of our produce, our cucumbers are started from seed in our greenhouses and then transplanted by hand into the soil. Once the cucumbers have reached an appropriate height, the vines are then taught to climb up and through the net. This involves intensive training where we literally have to guide each vine by hand in the direction we want it to go. Once trained, they’ll continue to grow as long as they have something to wrap themselves around. For us, that means they grow to about 6 feet tall (as tall as our poles) and sometimes spill over to the other side of the netting.

cucumber 3

So, why do we bother growing the “Pole-Grown Cucumber”?

Again, so glad you asked.

We do so because of the superior quality of cucumber it produces. For starters, because it is not lying in the dirt, the product is cleaner from the get-go.  Also, because it is up off the ground, the belly doesn’t turn yellow and you get a solid, all-over-green cucumber. At the end of the day, this growing method leaves us with a cleaner, straighter, more uniformly colored cucumber. This is how we are told you like to purchase them in your local grocery store, therefore this is how we like to grow them for you.

We started growing cucumbers some 25+ years ago and over time have transitioned all of our cucumbers to Pole-Grown status. We think it is a superior product and hope you do too.

Click here to visit Southern Valley’s Blog. 


How We Grow

plastic in field

*Post contributed by Southern Valley, a family-owned produce farm that is based in Norman Park, Georgia and supplies produce to Canada and all over the United States. 


How We Grow

*Written by Katie Murray

Organic.
Sustainable.
Local.
Natural.

These words fill up my Facebook newsfeed on a daily basis. Perhaps they fill up yours as well. Articles, opinions, scientific claims, research, advertisements, bashing, fear mongering – all aimed at steering the general public one direction or another when it comes to the food they buy, and ultimately the food they consume.

Still being the newbie here, I wasn’t fully aware of the ins and outs of our production practices at the farm in Georgia. After a lengthy conversation with a few individuals in the company who are instrumental in the day to day production, food safety, and environmental stewardship of the farm, I was reassured to find things as I already suspected them to be. Here are just a few of the practices we utilize to keep this place sustainable and here for the long run.

Let’s start with drip tape irrigation and plasticulture. Those words may mean very little to some of you, so let me explain. Drip tape irrigation runs water from the well down the length of each row of plants and soaks the soil along the way through holes strategically placed in the hose. This is in contrast to overhead irrigation (think a sprinkler) and decreases our water usage by approximately 20%. We use drip tape on all of our crops and not just for irrigation purposes, but also for distribution of fertilizers and any other soil inputs. We combine this practice with growing on plastic, which also allows for a decreased use of herbicides (to control weeds) as well as keeping the produce significantly cleaner and keeping the soil warmer during growing months. The combination of plasticulture and drip irrigation keeps the soil moist and allows for direct application of inputs to the plant root base. Typical plasticulture gets two crops off of one laying of plastic, some growers manage to get 4, we work to get 6. This means we only have to fumigate the soil once every 3 years, instead of each year. This practice is not without a higher labor cost to us since weeds must then be controlled manually once the plastic has some age on it.

We combine these two practices with crop rotation – changing what crops we grow in which fields, on a seasonal basis – which is step one to breaking up insect and disease cycles that plague crops. In addition to crop rotation, we also utilize beneficial insects and natural methods to control plant pests, without the use of pesticides (for pests). This method of pest control is commonly referred to as Integrated Pest Management or IPM. We use this in conjunction with a professional who comes to scout the fields twice a week minimum alongside our own horticulturalist. Together they utilize natural insect and disease control methods. When all else fails and an herbicide or pesticide must be used, because we have our fields broken up into small plots called zones, we can treat only the zone with the issue. Thanks to drip tape irrigation, we can treat that zone by applying the herbicide or pesticide directly to the soil. We work hard to use natural methods prior to synthetic ones, soil-feeding practices before soil-destroying ones, and individualized approaches over blanket approaches.

Finally, in keeping with the theme of healthy soil, we regularly feed our soil probiotics. Similar to a probiotic you would take for the human digestive system, these probiotics are teaming with microbial life – the good kind of bacteria. We also provide digestive matter for this microbial life in order to encourage its growth. Actually, an estimated 7% minimum of our production costs goes into keeping our soil healthy through microbial life. Just like the flora in our gut, we want lots of healthy microbial life in the soil of our plants.

These are just a few of the tidbits I found out about how we grow produce here at Southern Valley. What I suspected to be the case, turned out to be true. The overall heart and intent of Southern Valley is to combine sustainability with profitability. One of these elements without the other is sure to mean the death of the farm. This has always been Southern Valley founder and owner, Kent Hamilton’s, goal and aim. From the very beginning, he has fought to ensure that the soil that grows his produce is still here, healthy, and growing produce when his children and grandchildren are running the farm. These aren’t new trendy methods for Southern Valley; this is who we have always been.


Five Fun Facts About Eggplants

eggplant

*Post contributed by Southern Valley, a family-owned produce farm that is based in Norman Park, Georgia and supplies produce to Canada and all over the United States. 


Five Fun Facts About Eggplants

*Written by Katie Murray

It’s #FunFactFriday and here are some fun facts about Eggplants!

1. Eggplant is part of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes, and all edible members of that family are actually fruits.

2. Tobacco is also a member of the nightshade family and eggplant, like tobacco, contains some nicotine (although in a much smaller amount). Eggplant has the highest level of nicotine of any vegetable, but you would still have to eat 20-40 pounds of eggplant to equal the amount of nicotine you would get from one cigarette.

3. It is called “eggplant” in three countries, the US, Australia, and Canada, because the first varieties of eggplants in those countries were smaller and were a white or yellow color and shaped like an egg.

4. Salting and rinsing eggplant is a process used to remove some of the bitterness in the eggplant. Today’s varieties are less bitter so this isn’t as necessary, but most people still practice it.

5. 1 cup of chopped eggplant only has 20 calories and 11% of your daily fiber needs! Eat up!

 

Information gathered from the following sources:

http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/16-facts-about-eggplant-aubergine.html

http://indianapublicmedia.org/eartheats/eggplant-facts/

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2443/2