Posted June 27, 2003: Cross the Chattahoochee
River, follow the sharp bend, and there at the break in the
roadside thicket is an unmarked dirt road leading to Glover
Family Farm. Not the kind of entrance one would expect for a
place that flourishes from such a rich mix of people and produce.
Hardly a day passes that a new group isn't pulling into the
driveway that winds into this 40-acre, third-generation farm.
Yesterday, tourists from St. Louis brought their children
to see a "real working farm." Today, elderly Korean
farmers have come to tend their donated patch of sesame and
hot pepper plants. Tomorrow, volunteers from AmeriCorp EcoWatch
will make preparations for an upcoming workshop on vermiculture.
Mostly what brings them here is the on-farm market and seven
acres of vegetables and cut flowers that have made this place
a model for successful organic farming in Georgia. But the
real draw are Skip and Cookie Glover, a husband-and-wife team
that has mastered the art of sharing their wealth of knowledge
through innovative workshops and education programs.
"I find that the purely dollar-driven reason for growing
stuff is not very satisfying," Skip explains as he waters
his bonsai trees-- a hobby he picked up in Hong Kong. "My
greatest enjoyment is working with like-minded people who
want to grow things and many of the ethnic folks I am working
with have that desire. They have smuggled seeds into this
country and that comes out of a love for growing."
This year, when Georgia Organics honored the Glovers with
the Land Steward of the Year Award, the state's 300-member
organization was not just acknowledging their considerable
farming and marketing skills. It also was recognizing how
the couple has gradually transformed their farm into a hands-on
classroom for beginning organic farmers, urban youth, and
immigrants eager to return to their farming roots.
"Skip has a strong sense of stewardship -- a Wendell
Barry type whose vision is big and constantly changing,"
says Cynthia Hizer, the founder of Georgia Organics and food
writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "What he
has done with the mentoring and immigrant farmer training
program is something we all thought about doing but no one
has had the wherewithal and the energy to make it happen."
Skip's passion for other cultures has taken him around the
world. When he and Cookie and their three children lived in
Australia, Skip used his Masters in Social Work to help set
up community development programs for Aborigines. Cookie shares
her husband's multi-cultural interests. In addition to managing
on-farm tours, workshops, and internships, she finds time
to teach English as a second language to local immigrants.
Watching his wife and intern Kate McAnish cut flowering sweet
peas for tomorrow's market, Skip explains his philosophy:
"There is always something you can learn from somebody
else's way of doing something. Even my fellow conventional
farmers around here who got caught up using chemicals after
World War II know cultivation and plowing techniques that
will be lost if you don't learn from them."
Whether he's running presentations for master gardener classes
or teaching young Asian students how to double dig, Skip's
passion to pass information seems to come as natural as dust
to water. As Hizer points out, organic farming has grown up
outside the traditional agricultural school program and depends
on mentors and community support. "It's had to be learned
orally, literally from the knee of the elder," she says,
"and that is what Skip has been doing."
Skip's organic farming roots were passed down from his father,
who supplemented his timber business with cattle and corn.
Back then, the farm was 200 acres and the insatiable maw of
urban development wasn't biting at it borders. Skip was attending
the University of Georgia when he received a letter from his
father explaining how newspaper excerpts from a new book had
convinced him to give up pesticides. The book was Rachel Carson's
After travels, a return to his roots
Throughout his travels, Skip always kept a garden and practiced
organic techniques. Only after other pursuits, which included
training horses, did he start organic farming fulltime --
back on his parent's farm, in the same soil his mother grew
food for the kitchen table. Skip was approaching 50, but good
health and a growing appreciation for locally produced food
were on his side.
What began as one acre quickly grew to five. Then seven.
The menu of produce also expanded -- seven varieties of lettuces,
25 varieties of cut flowers. It diversified, too, adding bok
choi, oriental steaming greens, and tat soi for the growing
Asian population in Douglassville, a fast-growing community
25 miles west of Atlanta.
"We sold virtually everything the first year,"
Skip recalls. "Soon it gets in your head -- the more
you do, the more you can make." The farm was making money
but the Glovers soon found themselves overextended.
"We tried all the other ideas everyone else has gone
through," Skip says with a knowing smile. An internship
program was set up, followed by workshops and classroom tours.
Bees were added to the mix, proliferating from two boxes to
50. Reaching out to other nearby farmers and artisans, the
Glovers started an on-farm market that sells not just their
produce but goat cheese, pottery, and oak trellises made on
The Glovers also began reaching out to new communities. A
partnership with the Pan Asian Community Center in Atlanta
brings 50 kids each week during the summer. Divided and assigned
to five work stations, they learn the fundamentals of organic
More recently, vermiculture has come into the picture as
a result of a joint project with the Atlanta Community Food
Bank's Gardening for Youth program. The experience of raising
worms and selling their castings not only has given urban
youth new entrepreneurial skills but has convinced Skip of
the advantages of using pure castings for his transplant mix.
Not only is the soil pH balanced naturally, but the casting
inoculate the root zone with microorganisms, giving them a
fertility head start in the field. "I'm thrilled about
vermicompost," he says. "Our plant starts this year
Then again, getting intimate with worms has proven more difficult
than anticipated. Like his tomato plants, the floods this
spring that ended a five-year drought have uncovered a drainage
problem in the worm beds. "All of us tend to overextend
ourselves until we learn our lesson," he says. "I
guess I haven't learned this one yet."
Teaching farmers new -- and old
Skip's eye for doing what others might overlook -- or ignore
-- led to him to the Elderly Farmers Program he started three
years ago. On a given day, up to a dozen Koreans make the
25-mile trip to grow their traditional crops, which they share
with their friends and neighbors. The youngest is 63.
|"Everyone has focused on youth
and one day I noticed some old folks sitting around at
the Pan Asian Center. I asked if they would be interested
in growing some traditional food at the farm and they
just jumped at it. I expected they would just like to
piddle in the dirt but it wasn't like that at all."
"Everyone has focused on youth and one day I noticed
some old folks sitting around at the Pan Asian Center,"
he says. "I asked if they would be interested in growing
some traditional food at the farm and they just jumped at
it. I expected they would just like to piddle in the dirt
but it wasn't like that at all."
Indeed, the learning has spread in both directions. After
noticing their peppers were doing better than his, Skip wondered
if they weren't secretly slipping their plants liquid fertilizer.
The magic ingredient turned out to be a mulch of spent tea
leaves and herb roots. "If this works like I expect,
I'm going to find a herb shop for myself," he laughs.
Off the farm, Skip cultivates like-minded people in numerous
ways, first as president of Georgia Organics during its formative
years, and then, closer to home, by helping other farmers
develop new markets. Through his leadership on the Carroll
County Farmland Preservation and Protection Partnership, the
organization formed a sustainable agriculture subcommittee
that led to small marketing grants from SARE and a thriving
farmers market in nearby Carrolton. With the help of a nutritionist
he also has started a farmers market nutrition program for
the local health department's WIC participants, and is working
to get organic food into the city's schools and hospital.
For reasons that go beyond the practical, Skip chose not
to renew his organic certification when the USDA began certification.
His farming practices have stayed the same but now "organic"
is missing from his marketing pieces.
"We were organic before organic was popular, so it hasn't
changed our practices," he says. "My gut feeling
was that the "O" word would lessen its meaning but
that individual farmers with their own reputations for growing
practices would increase. So far it looks like I'm right."
Even in Georgia, where organic farming has been slow to catch
on, the state's extensive small-farm culture is starting to
benefit from emerging markets. "The small farm that is
appealing to the local market is going head over heels,"
Skip notes. "People are demanding fresh produce. Whether
it's organic certified they don’t really care, as long
as they trust the person who grew it."
Gaining that trust has been a signature of Skip's influence
and success, say those who know him. "He has a way of
articulating what other people want to share and without his
own agenda or ego getting in the way," says Fred Conrad,
director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. "People
can understand him, and want to be a little bit like him."
Preserving the farm through teaching
Now both in their 60s, the Glovers are devoting more of
their energies to building the farm into a center for education
and training. It is a natural progression, born out of necessity
and a vision for the farm's future.
"We have been focusing lately on the education approach
because of our age and the idea we want to keep this property
in tact and in some kind of environmentally-friendly condition,"
Skip says. "That isn't easy when you're farming on the
urban edge and the pressures to sell are so high."
||"If he were younger and not focusing
on education, Skip says he would probably cut his acreage
in half and put up hoop houses...Instead, Skip is actually
clearing more ground as he gets ready for the most ambitious
If he were younger and not focusing on education, Skip says
he would probably cut his acreage in half and put up hoop
houses, a trend that has proven profitable for Alex and Betsy
Hitt in Graham, North Carolina. "They've been able to
go from seven acres to four and not reduce their bottom line,"
Instead, Skip is actually clearing more ground as he gets
ready for the most ambitious project yet. As part of Heifer
International's "Farmers: A New Generation" initiative,
a dozen or so refugees from the Hmong klans of Laos will be
learning how to farm in Georgia's hot red clay. This spring,
Skip cleared some woods to develop terraced fields comparable
to the way the Hmong farmed in Laos before the Communists
drove them out after the Vietnam War.
Skip is breaking new ground in more ways than one. "I
have a framework for how I think it should work," he
says, "but it will be in a state of change, according
to the needs of the people."
He could be speaking for organic farming in general. If he
has learned anything from his past, it's that farmers have
to be quick to adapt to a changing environment. The farm started
by his grandfather more than a century ago hardly resembles
Glover Family Farm today. Which isn't a bad thing. If the
Glovers fulfill their dream, this farm stands a good chance
of being here -- as a producer of knowledge -- for generations