By Joan Hetzler
Organic farmers are sprouting up in Walker County much like their heirloom tomatoes - abundantly.
At least five small organic farms that sell to the public have started in the county within the past four years. Organic farmers grow their produce without manmade chemicals and from seeds genetically unaltered.
Mark and Gina Tant of tAnt Hill Farm began their farm two years ago and cultivate about two acres.
"Gina's a nurse and I work in the medical field, so we both are exposed to the diseases we believe are brought on by pesticides, hormones, all these unnatural products - chemicals that are used," Mr. Tant said. "We were originally just going to grow for our own health, then we realized that there were many people that wanted to get in on buying good, clean food."
He said organic farming is more labor intensive than conventional farming.
"It's more labor because typically the conventional grower, they spray herbicides on all the weeds. They don't have to get out there with a hoe and get those weeds out. And then as far as bugs, they put pesticides on them. We go out there and we squash bugs, and we do companion planting to bring in beneficial insects to kill the bad insects," Mr. Tant said.
Wally Babb of Furnace Valley Farm said organic produce is more satisfying to eat and more nutritious than conventional produce.
"The way the synthetic stuff is, it makes things look pretty, but it leaves them lacking in macro nutrients and things that you get with organic growing," he said.
AREA ORGANIC FARMS
* Pocket Farm Produce, Chickamauga (706-539-2635)
* tAnt Hill Farm, LaFayette (423-637-9793)
* Furnace Valley Farm, 702 Furnace Creek Road, LaFayette (706-397-8962)
* Thornberry Farms, Chickamauga (425-736-1490)
* Circle S Farm, Rising Fawn (706-398-7049)
"We use fertilizers such as horse manure, cow manure for nitrogen and then bone meal for potassium and then just natural ingredients rather than synthetic or manmade stuff," he said.
Mr. Babb sells his produce at his home and at the Battlefield Farmers Market.
Pocket Farm Produce, tAnt Hill Farm, and Thornberry Farms all sell in Chattanooga at venues such as the Main Street Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons or at Grace Episcopal Church in Brainerd on Saturday mornings.
In addition to selling at the farmers market, Letty and Curtis Smith of Circle S Farm in Rising Fawn sell their organic produce through a Community Supported Agriculture organization. Their customers order their produce ahead of time and then pick it up when it's ready.
None of the farmers mentioned in this story are certified as organic producers by the federal government, and they cited the expense and paperwork involved in pursuing the designation.
Joan Hetzler is based in Flintstone. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org