Crossing over Alabama’s border lies the quiet town of Foley, Alabama. Wide open skies lie just past the vast pastures that cows are grazing on in the distance. The 45-acre farm is just up the red dirt road, with multiple greenhouses and lush clover pastures for the grazing cows.
Meet The Farmer
Foley is a small coastal city in Alabama with a proud population of about 17,000. Just on the outskirts and up the red dirt road lies Nature Nine Farms, home of grass-fed beef and naturally grown produce. Open, explosive green fields and great big skies greet you well before the free-range chickens do.
Stewart and Kellie Perkins have owned their farm for 5 years, recreating the vision as they learned their customer’s needs. Stewart, who grew up swearing off any outdoor job as a child now embraces the hot Alabama weather, acknowledging the harsh sunlight the Summer provides. Graduating with two business degrees, he worked as a mortgage underwriter but decided the corporate life was underwhelming and headed for a new career.
After working on two farms in Virginia, and meeting his wife, they headed back to his family-owned property in Alabama and made it their own. Over the years they have produced pork, chickens, grass-fed beef, and even turkeys. Slowly, the dynamics shifted, as Stewart realized the meat production aspect of the farm was not part of the future vision.
The Changing Vision
Stewart’s favorite aspect of the farm is selling to customers who make educated purchases. As consumers, it can be overwhelming buying food. What brands to buy, the best bang for your buck, and what is in the product. Nature Nine Farms takes pride in the integrity of their products, carrying those values over in the changing vision of their farm.
At first, the farm started mainly as a meat production farm. All animals were fed non-GMO feed, grazing freely amongst the lush white clover pastures. Finding a butcher who processed the animals to Nature Nine standards, without extra preservatives, proved to be hard. The pigs were brought 150 miles one way just to be processed at the right butcher!
Family farms are unfortunately in competition with factory farms. When you buy a chicken from a family farm, consider how much feed, time, and money has gone into raising the chicken. With factory farm produced meat at all-time low prices, it is so hard to get the general public to see the value in investing in a more expensive, but family farm produced meats.
When Nature Nine started to sell at the Palafox Market, they realized that the culture was much different than the smaller markets they were selling at. The consumers wanted to know about the farm, hear about the animals, and cared about the quality of the products. This fresh breath of air happened just after they had shifted their farm and headed toward the vegetable route.
Now with only grass-fed cattle and free-range chickens for eggs, the farm has multiple greenhouses packed with seasonal vegetables. Salad mix is grown right under the hot Alabama Sun, while tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, and eggplant are shaded in the greenhouses. Fans circulate the air, lowering the temperatures and providing the ventilation needed for healthy photosynthesis.
Hard Work Under Brilliant Skies
With an average high temperature of 90° on a typical Summer day in Foley, Summer can tend to drag on. The extended Summer season can cause droughts in the pastures, leaving the plants to suck up every last bit of nutrients in the soil in their desperate attempt to stay alive. Days can be long and grueling on a sunlit Southern farm.
“Without my wife, Kellie, our farm would not operate. She is a fantastic mother, farm organizer, and partner” Stewart says as he reflects on his journey. He is simply amazed by the many tasks she performs within her farm duties and motherhood combined. “She plants crops, she weeds beds, she washes greens, helps heard cows, castrates pigs (when we had them), guts chickens, runs the farm when I am away, her tasks are endless.”
Farming is all about a delicate balance of manipulating nature. Stewart’s favorite reminder of this beautiful land is the way the sky paints it’self a beautiful goodbye. After a long day under the sun, the golden pink hues stretch beyond view, setting into a stillness in which we all can rest.