Loving the land, willing to work

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Small farmers like Frank Nobles presently contribute less thanever to the United States’ food supply.

Nobles has found success, though. With Johnny McManus, he hasoperated a small farm outside of Brookhaven for 10 years.

This year, the two men planted 3,000 tomatoes. Squash, okra andcucumbers grow between the tomato fields.

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Nobles and McManus operate their farm almost completely on theirown. Nobles’ two brothers sometimes help.

“It’s a job,” Nobles said. “You’ve got to be willing to do thework.”

McManus agreed.

“We get out here right at daylight. We don’t leave usually untilthe sun goes down,” McManus said.

Nobles and McManus grow all of their crops on about 10 acres ofland spread across two sites.

The larger site lies at the end of a dead-end road that runspast the New Sight Volunteer Fire Department. Trees crowd close tothe road and to the edge of the farmland.

A few tractors, pickup trucks and two tillers make up the bulkof their farm equipment. A shotgun also proves usefulsometimes.

“Crows got into one of our fields about two weeks ago. Theydidn’t leave us much,” Nobles said. “They know who I am when I comewith the gun, though.”

The tomatoes are a particularly labor-intensive crop.

They have to be planted in February to be ready by early June.The weather, however, is too cool in February to planttomatoes.

Nobles and McManus start the tomatoes out in a greenhouse.Currently, they use one in Terry.

Once the tomato plants grow tall enough and the weather getswarm enough they move the plants from the Terry greenhouse into theground at their farm.

This process should be easier next year. Nobles and McManus planto take a greenhouse that belongs to McManus’ father and move itonto the land they farm.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), smallfarms make up 91 percent of all farms.

However, large family farms and non-family farms account for 68percent of annual food production. The USDA defines a small farm asone with $250,000 or less in sales.

According to Nobles, farms like the one he and McManus run havea difficult time competing with corporate farms.

“The big wheels have bought up all the land,” he said.

Nobles and McManus do have a number of local venues open tothem.

They sell directly to local grocery stores like Piggly Wigglyand Market Basket and will also set up roadside produce stands.Their crops will also be found at the Brookhaven Farmer’s Market,which opens June 3.

Both Nobles and McManus come from farming backgrounds.

McManus’ family is local.

“My people, they come from Crystal Springs,” he said.

McManus is from Terry.

Nobles is originally from North Carolina. He has lived inBrookhaven almost 20 years now. He has always kept a garden, evenwhen he has not professionally farmed.

” You’ve got to love the land, the farming, the work,” Noblessaid.

Nobles emphasized the point multiple times – to do the work, youhave to love it.

Nobles’ love for the work and the land is readily apparent. Hecan carefully explain where on the land to plant each crop so thatit receives what it needs, perhaps to avoid the morning sun butreceive the evening sun.

For the most part, Nobles takes the land and weather as itcomes. He and McManus keep water on their cucumbers but otherwisedo not irrigate.

“We take what water the good Lord gives us,” Nobles said. “If Hedon’t want us to have tomatoes He don’t send us rain.”