The Mountain Valley Spring Water was proud to sponsor Heifer International’s fourth annual Feast in the Field, a farm-to-table fundraiser held recently at its headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. The event seeks to raise awareness and funds to help smallholder farmers in Arkansas through Heifer USA’s program. Five Acre Farms of Pleasant Plains, Ark., has been working with Heifer USA since 2015. Brandon Gordon and his wife, Cat, own the farm, along with their 2-year-old twin sons, Jasper and Liam.
Please share a brief history of your farm, as well as your family.
I started the farm in the spring of 2009 and failed miserably my first season with traditional tractor and tiller farming methods. That winter I researched permaculture and intensive planting methods and decided to give it another try in 2010. I started small, but could see potential. In 2011 Cat joined the farm, and in 2013 we were married. The farm continued to grow slowly every year. In 2014 Jasper and Liam were born. In 2015 we started working with Heifer USA and the Foodshed Farm Cooperative, a collaboration of local, small-scale Arkansas farmers working together with Heifer USA to offer a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program in the Little Rock area.
How did you become involved with Heifer USA?
We started working with Heifer USA during the project's second year. Mitchell Latture, a farmer who had been working with the Heifer USA livestock cooperative, Grassroots, passed my name along to the coordinators of the Foodshed project, and we started working with them in 2015. Since joining the cooperative, the farm has seen its fastest growth. In fact, it’s grown at an exponential rate.
How has Heifer USA helped your farm?
Heifer’s projects overseas are a lot different than Heifer USA. Farmers could join together on our own and do something like this, but it would take years and years. We have Heifer’s name and backing behind it. They aren’t giving us a tractor, but they are setting us up for farmer-owned business, and supporting that business structure.
We’re building jobs here. Everybody drives at least 30 minutes to work, and many of those jobs require the workers to leave their families for extended periods of time. We’re providing rural jobs that were non-existent before. It brings more farms together, so logistics are improved, and it offers mentorship.
Do you think more people are becoming aware of the importance of local food systems?
In 2010, we began selling at a nearby farmers market. We were doing well if we made $80 a day. Now, we have a lot more support. More people understand what an heirloom tomato is. They don’t complain about the price. I think that’s a good indicator.
What sustainable practices does your farm employ?
We are certified naturally grown. We have the exact same standards as certified organic farms do, but we are inspected by other farmers instead of government agents. Within the next two years, we will also be certified organic. Our co-op standards are certified organic or certified naturally grown.
How do you support your community?
Last fall, we were part of the USDA’s Farm to School Program, which helps provide local produce to public schools. We would love to be involved in that again. In the early spring, we hosted a big group of extension agents at our farm. I also serve as a contractor for Heifer USA, so I offer technical assistance to other members. There are four farms I visit on a regular basis, every two weeks. Some are just getting started as farmers, and some are new to organic practices. The most common question I get is “What do I spray?” But that’s the wrong question. Spraying is the last resort. Sustainable farming is a whole system of more preventive practices.
What are your goals for the next 5 years? 10 years? Beyond?
In the next five years, I hope to get to a stopping point. We don’t want to get too huge. When we feel like we are making a good living and have a good standard of living – that we’re not working all the time – that will be a good place to be.
In 10 years, I’ll be a little older, and it will be harder on my body. I’d like to have a manager for the farm so that I can focus more on education, on assisting other farms. Most farmers want to do too much, have too much land. They have more of a homesteader attitude. That’s fine, but they are likely stretched too thin. We’ve focused on a couple of things, and have been successful. We picked a path, and we’ve stuck to it. We made a ton of mistakes early on, and there weren’t nearly the resources available that there are today. I want to help others avoid those mistakes.