What is in this article?:
- From academia to agricultureâ€” Worden Farm: driven by personal passion
- Crop rotation critical
- Plenty of risk involved
• They’re organic farmers, which in itself, interests many people these days. But, there’s more to the Wordens than production techniques. One reason they went organic, Eva says, is to show it could be done in Florida.
• “Many people say you can’t do organic in Florida. “There are no hard freezes and too many pest challenges, they say. Well, take a look around this farm. If we can do it here, it can be done in many other places. Every environment has its challenges, and so does Florida. Growing organic best fits with our personal ecological ethic. That’s our reasoning.”
EVA WORDEN, and her
husband, Chris, combine
organic production techniques
marketing on their Punta
Gorda, Fla., farm.
Plenty of risk involved
“Ag is such a hard industry,” Chris says. “There’s a lot of risk. In a very real sense, we’re all in this thing together.”
He and Eva met during a biostatistics class at the University of Maryland graduate school. Both were interested in composting. She began doing field research, and he helped her. Their shared interests led to a deeper relationship, and they married.
“She made a really interesting project out of studying CSAs, and looking up ecosystem approaches being utilized to study environmental issues,” Chris says. “That gave her a perspective that was a very unique way to approach the topic area she chose. That got crafted into a study of things like land tenure and social issues, which is really why she went to Yale instead of a school like Cornell, where the emphasis would have been different.”
After graduation, Eva took a job with the University of Florida as an urban landscape horticulture specialist in South Florida. She did some teaching, along with Extension work in community gardens. Meanwhile, she and Chris began farming on leased land at Homestead, where Eva’s parents own an avocado grove.
“Land there is farmed intensively,” Chris says. “Everything is used — there’s no open space. By that, I mean something is on all sides; the urban fringe is taking a toll on the ag sector out there. You’re basically in a big city. It’s tropical. I kind of liked it. We could grow starfruit and mangoes there.
“But it was intense. With it being an urban area, there were a number of issues going on. So, we were looking to rotate either to the northeast or farther north in Florida. This land we’re on now became available through a friend of Eva’s family.”
When the first of their sons was born, they felt it was time to move — which they did, even though the place looked unimpressive.
“The front was 20 acres of horse pasture,” Eva says. “The back was 35 acres of standing dead citrus trees on sour orange stock that had succumbed to tristeza virus. There were no buildings on it. We built a barn, and within weeks, Hurricane Charley hit and ripped the roof off.”
For a few minutes, anyway,the young couple pondered whether they were doing the right thing. Then they got to work.
“I guess you could say we were undaunted,” Eva says. “We put the roof back on and kept going. We built the house here, too. We were driven by personal passion to develop this farm in a short time.”
After that shaky start, the pieces fell into place. Selling their produce at one farmers market led to another, and another after that. Hauling with one old flatbed pickup truck with a trailer gave way to the several reefer trucks they use today. Doing all the work themselves evolved to the crew of 50 or so full- and part-timers they employ now. Their food surplus is donated to area soup kitchens for the needy.
Even they are fairly amazed at what occurred in eight years.
“When we moved here, we didn’t know anybody,” Eva says. “This farm is like our entire lives. We do spend a lot of time out in the community talking to people about different things. It’s not like we’re pushing services people don’t want — people find what we do interesting.
“Everybody eats. Most people we’re associated with are trying to eat quality food. Our farm’s reputation has grown through word of mouth, from our mouths outward to others. We’ve never placed advertising — not that we’re against advertising; we just have no budget for it.”
They hope that along the way, they’ve somehow helped agriculture as a whole.
“Agriculture has quite a story to tell,” Eva says. “The thing is, people are interested in it. If you eat, you should be interested in farming. Potentially, we also may have influenced others toward this type of farming, which we recognize is not for everyone. But, it can be fulfilling for many people”