Who’s growing your food?
Hickory Hill Farm is run by Garry and Susan Shaw. They have a 204 acre farm located in Oglethorpe County. I never miss an opportunity to pop in and say hello to them on a Saturday morning at Freedom Park Farmers Market. Many of you have enjoyed their produce when I’ve cooked for you.
How did you meet?
Garry and I met in high school around 1975. We fell in love 38 years ago and we’ve been married 34 years. He’s the love of my life!
What was it that lead you to farming?
We live on my family farm. I lived here with my grandparents until my parents moved us to Atlanta in 1972. I loved this place, it was my home and I wanted to grow up and live here. I promised my grandmother when the time came I’d move here and take care of her. Just so happened that Garry always wanted to live on a farm also! So, in 1998 the time came and we gathered our girls and moved to the farm. We took care of my grandmother until she passed away in 2001. We live in the home my great-grandfather built in 1912 and our grandchildren are the seventh generation of our family to work the farm and they are here every week with their mom and dad who are in business with us!
You got your organic certification in 2011. Was there a moment of clarity where you realized that you wanted to get into organic farming? What was the genesis of that decision, and why did you feel compelled to go the organic route?
Garry and I have been self-employed and have worked together since 1989. We home schooled our children together as well. When we first moved to the farm we immediately bought a herd of cattle and began cattle farming. At the time though, we owned a small mom and pop cafe’ in Stockbridge, GA and Garry was traveling 200 miles a day round trip running the restaurant until we were able to sell it in 2003. Once it sold we immediately went into the construction business because of the housing boom, we built pre-cast septic tanks. In 2008 when the economy crashed the housing market came to a screeching halt. We sold our equipment and left that business in 2009.
At that time, we looked around at our land and decided we needed to see if we could make a living on the farm. In 2008 the Athens Farmers Market opened and we visited the market and decided we could grow veggies organically. We had always had a garden, so why not! Let’s just say it was a huge learning curve getting our minds around the amount of veggies and the variety you need to grow to supply markets. We broke ground in 2009 and grew a small garden (because as I said we had no idea what the scale needed to be) for the market and two acres of grape tomatoes for Whole Foods. We went to market our first Saturday in 2010 with a meager $60 worth of veggies! Just for perspective last Friday we carried $8300 worth of veggies to Athens and Freedom combined. At that time we were Certified Naturally Grown but the venture with Whole Foods led us to get our USDA Certification due to price point differences between CNG and USDA. We no longer sell to WF but we are thankful for the experience and the fact that it did lead us to our certification. We still grow a couple of acres of tomatoes each year and what started out as maybe a half-acre vegetable garden is now an 8 acre garden!
We’ve gone from literally not being able to afford to eat our own veggies and just me and Garry working the garden by ourselves to supporting two families (Garry, me and our daughter Jennifer and her husband Josh and their children) to eleven people working in the summer.
We branched out in 2014 and helped start the Freedom Market and we are so thankful we were invited to do so. We have met so many wonderful people in Atlanta and we truly feel appreciated and we certainly are humbled and have a great appreciation for every customer that chooses to try our veggies.
It has been a long up hill climb from truly living below poverty and a lot of hard work but it is rewarding and we love providing people with healthy, local, farm fresh organic veggies! It is most definitely a lifestyle and we do believe we are trying to recover a way of life for our family. Needless to say, we’ll never get rich (which is not our goal) but we will be happy living a busy full life together with our children and grand children.
I remember speaking with the two of you about your love for traveling, especially in South America. Do you find ways to intertwine your love of traveling with your work on the farm? What does your ideal trip look like? Well, I wish we could but the farm demands too much time! But maybe one day we’ll get to go again who knows. We have been truly blessed to be able to travel with our children throughout our home school years!
Is there a vegetable you feel the most proud to grow? Something you think really shines on your farm, or maybe something you struggled to cultivate, but finally mastered?
That’s a tough question. I really believe in eating in season so with every season I have a favorite veggie. I love tomatoes, green garlic and strawberries. Strawberries and green garlic come in together and strangely enough I love the smell of the two together I suppose because I’ve packaged them at the same time for so long the smell has many memories!
There is nothing better than a ripe field grown tomato in the summer! It makes me want to throw my Paleo diet to the curb pull out the white bread and dukes mayo and eat an old fashioned southern tomato sandwich, but I do not do that I restrain myself, at least so far!
What is your Saturday morning market routine?
Depending on how many vegetables have to be loaded Garry and I get up between 2:30 and 3:30. He loads two trucks one headed to Athens to the Athens Farmers Market at Bishop Park and one headed to Freedom in Atlanta. We hit the road at 5 am and we arrive at the market between 7 and 7:30 to a group of smiling people standing in our space waiting for us to arrive!
What’s the best way for people to find out what’s going on down on the farm? Do you have a facebook or instagram account that people can follow?
We are on FB and Instagram. I must admit I’m not great with social media but Jennifer tries to make sure she post on Friday’s what we’re bringing to market. www.facebook.com/hickoryhillfarmga/ www.instagram.com/hickoryhillfarmga/