In the fall of 2011, my husband and I left a charmed, idyllic urban lifestyle in Orlando, Florida, where an organic food movement blossomed and thrived, and returned to his hometown, Madisonville, Kentucky, to 15 acres of private woodland nestled in a community of mono crops, cattle and coal.
Hungry for organic vegetables and the lifestyle I left behind, I planted my own small vegetable and herb plot in the hard clay-packed soil of my property. But my effort and hard work did not equal a robust, fruitful harvest. With no knowledge of how to manage the soil, or how to keep the critters at bay, I was desperate for a solution. But I needed more than answers. I craved a tribe, like the food community I’d left behind in Florida.
My quest began with a call to the County Ag extension office.
“You ought to call Chris Devoto of Twin Maples Organics in Anton. He’s the only certified organic farmer within 200 miles of Madisonville,” Andy said. His tone implied that everyone knew Chris.
Anton is a tiny rural community in western Kentucky, once populated with dairy and tobacco farms. But these days, like many landowners, those farmers turned to more profitable crops, like corn and soy. Anton sits about six miles west of my home in Madisonville, just past the regional airport.
Back in the early 1960s, Eloise Malone, the matriarch of TMO, took back her soy- and corn-cropped land from the government. Today, TMO is a 100-acre, seventh-generation, award-winning organic tree farm and certified organic Community Supported Agriculture.
Within a week or so of that call to Andy, I met Ebie and Chris on their farm. Ebie, as she’s called by family and friends, is a tiny, beautiful 80-year-old woman with sparkling blue eyes and strong gnarled hands that whisper of a love of the land. Chris is a tall, lanky, bright-eyed 30-year-old personal chef with an open smile and heart. Chris relocated to Anton from Knoxville, Tennessee, to help Ebie manage their family homestead about the same time I’d moved from Florida.
That year, I bought my first 15-week share. During cool, early mornings, I harvested tomatoes, beans, okra and herbs. “Basil-picking therapy,” I’d called it. I yanked overgrown weeds from a strawberry patch until the dense rich soil clung to my sweat-drench arms, filled my nostrils and nurtured my soul. Some mornings before the sun rose too high in the sky, I’d head out to the barn and snap photos of the goats, donkeys and chickens. Or I’d stroll through the fruit orchards to catch pawpaw, pears and pecans bud from the tree limbs. I watched hawks and eagles soar across the landscape.
I realized that since I didn’t find what I needed on the surface, that I just needed to look inward, feel in my heart and know that the polished gem I was seeking would come only when I dug deep.
And that is how I found my #favoritefarmer.
Thanks to Ebie, Chris and his new wife, Elizabeth, TMO is the kind of place that makes me feel like everything is going to be all right with the world. One farmer at a time.
Chris is competing in Alltech’s Favorite Farmer contest. The photo with the most likes on our Facebook page will win a trip to ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. There, the winner will have the opportunity to meet farmers and other agriculture leaders from around the world.
Vote for Chris by liking the photo here.