Certified Organic: PineyWoods Farm works on three tenets — charity, education and sustainability
Tucked away off West Point Road in LaGrange is a certified organic farm that has donated more than 50,000 pounds of food to hungry individuals since 2016.
Working through local food charities such as Feeding the Valley Food Bank and LaGrange Personal Aid, PineyWoods Farm works to ensure residents of Troup County have fresh, organic produce available to them.
According to Jessica Jarvholm, the farm’s general manager, the nonprofit organization works under three tenets — charity, agricultural education and sustainability.
Sustained by a private trust, the farm grows food organically, and it is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture each year.
“They audit us pretty much, and so you cannot put any kind of pesticides on your crop,” Jarvholm said. “It’s pretty much grown as naturally as you possibly can.”
If one of the crops on the farms gets a bug infestation, they simply pull up the crop, which would make it difficult for most to grow organically and turn a profit. However, Jarvholm said the farm isn’t looking for a profit at this time.
“We just do organic because we think it’s the healthiest,” she said. “And I feel like there are people in the food banks that need it but don’t get that because it is more expensive. It’s more expensive to grow. Therefore, it’s more expensive to buy it.”
She said farmers couldn’t grow organically and feed the world due to the costs of farming. She added several farmers are doing a great job to feed people and not growing organically, and it’s a matter of preference at the farm.
When driving on West Point Road, the white tunnels where most of the food is grown can be seen from the road. Currently, due to COVID-19, the farm has focused on creating more calorie-dense products like squash and zucchini to feed people.
The farm began as a charity, but as the farm owners continued to see the need for educating the community about farming and where food comes from, the agricultural education side of the farm began to take hold.
One part of the educational side of the farm is the kids’ farm. Jarvholm said a few schools like Hillside Montessori would come out a couple of times a month to plant crops, learn about composting or soap making. There’s a dedicated place on the farm for the students and their experiences.
Adjacent to the kid’s farm is where the bees on the farm live.
According to Jarvholm, the bees satisfy all three tenets of the farm. There are tens of thousands of bees on the farm, and currently, the honey produced from those bees is given away. Jarvholm said the target for that charitable giving is directed at those with allergies and low-income individuals who can’t afford locally-grown honey.
Additionally, she said several bee farmers in the areas would like to process their own honey, but it’s cost-prohibitive. Eventually, she said the farm would like to offer a free class for bee farmers to learn how to process their honey. Also, Jarvholm said showing students the process and teaching them about the importance of bees is part of the farm’s mission.
Lastly, the vast number of bees also helps to pollinate flowers and crops throughout the farm.
“To have them here, it keeps us healthy,” Jarvholm said. “The bees are everything.”
Also on the farm are several animals, including Henrietta, a hen, who refuses to stay with the other chickens in the coop or prefers to strut around the farm like a person.
Jarvholm said the chicken coop is moved around the farm for fertilization. Additionally, they aerate the ground with the claws, creating healthy grass for the donkeys who devour it.
PineyWoods Farm is also home to goats, miniature horses, alpacas and donkeys. She said the animals feed into the agriculture business for the students coming on to the farm.
Jarvholm said the future of the farm would be in the form of the Discovery Center. It’s a new building currently under construction on the farm. Jarvholm said she envisions classrooms for students and adults to learn about cooking, soap making, growing food and anything to do with fiber, which means cleaning sheep’s wool, spinning, knitting and drying it.
Jarvholm said there’s a big disconnect for some about where food is grown and how it makes its way from the farm to the grocery store.
“If you don’t know where your food comes from, you can’t respect that,” she said. “You don’t cherish it. You don’t protect it.”
Although a private trust backs the farm, Jarvholm said if the farm wants to expand and produce more food, the Discovery Center will be a place where people can pay to take classes.
“We want the farm to be self-sustaining financially,” she said.
Jarvholm also talked about hosting fairs on the farm when the hillsides are featured with blue and purple flowers and lavender crops. She said the proceeds that could come from selling honey, soaps or teaching classes could keep the farm running and allow the farm to produce more food for charities.
She said the agricultural education side of the farm is still taking shape, and they are planning what they would like to do. She said they are planning what classes to teach and looking for the best instructors to produce a quality product.
“It’s a lot of educating yourself on the best techniques and the most efficient techniques of doing them,” Jarvholm said.
However, she said it’s a learning experience for her, and she leans on Farm Manager Derek Kelley. She said Kelley handles the farming, and she handles the business.
“There are some days I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing, and I need to go read 50 books or go talk to someone who knows what they’re doing,” she said. “But I’m excited to come to work every day, and I have a big smile on my face. Once I pass those gates, it’s a beautiful place to work.”
It’s also a continuing learning experience for Jarvholm, and she’s excited about the prospect of adding an artistic vibe to the farm and having experts coming to teach her and others how to do new things.
“It’s a community thing where we get to meet amazing people and interesting people,” she said. “It just ties it all together.”