Each month, MSAN will highlight one of the many hard-working producers here in Mississippi making a difference in their communities by committing to natural, sustainable, and regenerative models of agriculture. It’s not just about good food; it’s about good people.
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Farm In Progress (Progress, MS)
“We’re just normal, everyday people. There’s nothing special about us.” That’s how Dustin and Shellie Smith, owners of the Farm in Progress, describe themselves. However, it is something special in today’s world for normal people to feed their family and others good food. Farm in Progress, located in Progress, Mississippi, is positioned on an old family farm that follows Dustin’s family’s history. Shellie and Dustin started working the old family land due to a family member’s hobby of growing a large garden, and as an oasis in search for better eating arrangements due to their daughter’s illness. The couple also wanted the know-how of growing food in case they ever had to fully depend upon their own land to support their family.
Before Dustin and Shellie got started farming, the land they now work was being used by Dustin’s uncle, Kim Smith, simply planting the fields to watch things grow whether he harvested anything or not. At the same time, Shellie and Dustin were in a battle fighting against their daughter, Sadie’s, leukemia illness. Realizing at the same time that Sadie and her brother, Everett, needed better food than she was getting, and that there were fields of food being grown by Kim, the couple decided to start helping Kim and modify some of his practices.
Shellie, at the time a homemaker and homeschool teacher for her children, and Dustin, an electrician on an off-shore oil rig, began and continue to instill several practices that help make their farm products as organic and natural as possible. Some of those practices are crop rotation, cover cropping (winter peas, clover, vetch, ryegrass), marigolds to attract beneficial insects, sunflowers to keep unbeneficial insects from desirable plants, and discontinuing the use of biocides.
In its sixth year, the Farm in Progress grows all sorts of vegetables and fruits: tomatoes, corn, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, strawberries, lettuce, eggplants, peppers, peas, kale, beans, turnips, cantaloupe, and they’ve even tried sugarcane. On top of the fruits and vegetables grown, cut flowers and herbs such as zinnias, gladiolas, parsley, dill, and mints are a common sight too. “Everybody should grow something at some point in their lives,” say Shellie and Dustin, and it can clearly be seen that they live what they preach.
All of this bountiful harvest is put into the hands of consumers through the means of a fourth year community supported agriculture (CSA) program, a new “you-pick” option for customers, and two markets: Tylertown MS on Tuesdays from 8am to 1pm, and McComb MS on Thursdays from 8am to 1pm. Shellie and Dustin relayed one story about a young boy that wasn’t too enthused with the CSA/you-pick opportunity. To alleviate his distress, they explained, “If everybody comes out and picks just what they need, that’s less work on everybody, and everyone gets good food.”
Growing food in this manner asks for a lot of human work. Shellie and Dustin work long days from morning to night during the planting season in the Spring, and when Dustin is home from off shore. During the hot summer months, the Smith’s tend to work in the evenings to avoid the relentless heat and sun that southern Mississippi can expel. In addition, Dustin and Shellie have friends and family that help them out. Besides Kim handling a lot of the cultivation and tractor work when Dustin is out of town, Shellie’s sister has been helpful, not to mention friends Guy Schuerman and Illeen Rivers. Despite help from friends, and the fact that they can, in fact, grow food very well, Dustin and Shellie almost gave it up in 2014. The frost had effected a lot of their crops, and then they experienced bad seed emergence. The couple set sights on buying a mobile home and living across the country. That all changed though, with some new encouragement from other organizations and farmers throughout the state. This year, the farm is going on full throttle, and a whole host of new ideas and envisioning is going on.
By Ethan Norvell, Summer 2015 intern
Photos by Danny Klimetz