The American Farmer is alive and well in north central Florida, but who is he or she? Many small farmers stay in the industry because they are passionate about protecting the land and their family heritage. Here, two local farmers share their experiences and commitment to farming cattle and crops.
ALVIN BUTLER – BUTLER FARMS
Question: Where is Butler Farms?
Answer: Butler Farms is in a small town called Wacahoota, just east of Gainesville. In 1919 my grandfather purchased a home on four (4) acres of land. He began raising cattle and crops and over time acquired more land. Currently the farm seats on more than 200 acres of land and we currently specialize in livestock.
Q: Did you grow up on the farm?
A: No, I grew up in Gainesville and I spent the weekends on the farm with my grandfather. As a child a remember riding bulls, an experience that very few kids have. My grandfather taught me a lot about farming. And I learned early that farming was very hard work- it’s something that you must love. My grandfather enjoyed working on the farm. I knew how much he loved the farm and that meant a lot to me.
Q: Is that why you continue to run the farm?
A: Yes, I took over the farm several years ago from my father. My grandfather had passed away by then, but I knew it would be important to him. I’ve acquired more land since I took over the farm and I’ve invested in new equipment. I’ve implemented systems that make the farm rum more efficiently. I think that it is important to preserve the heritage of the community and my grandfather’s legacy. The home that he purchased in 1919 remains on the farm today.
Q: What is a day on the farm like?
A: Everyday on the farm is different. In addition to the basic chores of caring for and protecting the cattle, a day on the farm may consist of many different tasks. I may have to clear land, repair a fence line, move cows to a different pasture to graze or assist in the birthing of a calf. This morning I had to help my neighbor save his dying goat; he fed him some corn yesterday and the goat ate too much. This morning he was bloated and almost died, so I went over to help him out. We gave him some medicine and hopefully he will survive.
Q: What advice would you give to a new farmer?
A: I would encourage them to do a lot of research and read a lot about farming and farm life. I would also suggest that they find a mentor – there is a lot about farming that you will learn as you go. Having a mentor will help a new farmer avoid some of the pitfalls of farming. They should also realize that farming is a business and if they want to be successful, they must approach it from that standpoint. They must decide what type of farm they want to have, who they want to market to and set some short and long-term goals for the farm.
ERIKA HENDERSON, HENDERSON & DAUGHTER PLANTS AND PRODUCE shares her perspective on farm life in the greater Gainesville community.
Q: How did your family get involved in farming?
A: My father’s family, like many county families relied upon the land for food. It’s just a natural thing, where you have obtained a lot of property and you grow exactly what you need, or you raise it if you have livestock. My dad was of the generation where you did a lot of that. HE grew up in Putnam county and there wasn’t a Publix around.
I was born in South Florida and my family had an opportunity to move back to this area, which allowed us to get out of the city and move closer to family.
So, we began gardening and the gardens increased in size and the next thing you know, we have for ourselves and it was an opportunity for me to open a business. So, I began taking produce to the farmers’ market. I learned more about community, food systems and a community that wants to know more about where their food is coming from and getting to know the people that produce it.
Q: What is a food system?
A: A food system is how your food is produced and where it is produced. Some people think of food systems in terms of large production, like a grocery store or a grocery chain or farming practices that support systems throughout the country. Or it could be a very specialized food system like Farm to Table, Farm to Community and Farm to School. A food system is anything that allows you to eat as a family, as an individual; rather you do it well or not, healthy or not.
Q: Why are a lot of local farmers, farming on a small scale?
A: There are certainly some farms that are working full-time. But for most of us, it is something that was built out of hobby, interest and passion. Farming is very satisfying, rather you are a nursery grower, or raising livestock or producing organically or conventionally . It’s hard work and is dependent on favorable conditions with weather and land, it takes a lot of time and quite frankly all of those factors combined can make it something that can be unreliable. So for many people it is a wonderful adventure and it is certainly something that a lot of people thought that they might turn to for a source of revenue but not necessarily their only source of revenue.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
A: I am so fortunate to have an amazing community. Often if someone comes to my booth and I am not there it is because I am shopping and supporting other farmers. We barter, we just take care of each other. I’ve had the opportunity to have some of the best produce that we have to offer in this community.