May 6, 2014

Grower Jim's Undiscovered Produce and Plants

Although Grower Jim started planting his not-quite-one-acre yard twenty seven years ago, he didn't decide to become a full-time grower until more recently. Jim has been supporting himself in Apopka, Florida for the last six years by selling the produce and plants that he grows. His next door neighbors live in suburbia, but Grower Jim lives in a food forest. He lives simply and plants simply. To quote Jim, "You can stick a seed in the ground and grow good food."

Jim grows all his plants in a chemical-free fashion. This is much stricter than the standards allowed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for certified organic growers. OMRI standards allow the topical application of insecticidal soaps, pyrethrins, Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), and horticultural oils amongst others. But Jim doesn't use any of these.

So how does Grower Jim control the multitude of viruses, bacteria, bugs, and varmints for which Florida is famous? He attributes his lack of pest problems to extensive diversity. When there is a lot of diversity and when one species gets out of hand, another usually swoops in to take advantage of the glut. On Jim's property, I could see evidence of aphid infestation on one of his kale plants. There was also evidence that beneficial wasps had parasitized the aphids. Several leaf levels later, the kale was leafing out beautifully.

I couldn't nail Jim down on the number of hours he works the farm, how much produce he grows, or any other quanititative measurements. But I can share one of the successful strategies he is using to earn a living on such a small piece of land. On our tour around the property, I saw a unique variety of plants, yielding lesser-known produce that one doesn't find at the supermarket. You can find bananas and kale at the supermarket, but you can't find the ten varieties of banana and four kale varieties that Jim grows. He's growing cassava, sugar cane, longevity spinach, acuyo, and yacon. I've never seen a black radish before, but I was introduced to the Black Spanish radish. If you want to grow a hot pepper, you can get ghost pepper seeds from Jim. Each year, he changes out what he grows as he discovers what grows well, what sells well, and what strikes his fancy. And one word of advice to other growers, "Every farmer's market is different." Just because a vegetable or plant doesn't sell well at one market, doesn't mean it won't sell out across town.

Where to find Grower Jim's produce in Apopka, Florida: