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A Tender Transplant from Generation to Generation

Posted Mar 29 2012 6:32am

"When do you sleep?" I asked this 82-year-old man, who was demonstrating his invention of a "goat-mower" to me, where pygmy goats push their heads through a PVC pipe-and-mesh contraption, pulling it along to "mow" a row of crimson clover as they eat it.

His face exploded in smile, and he replied, "Oh, Pattie, I haven't slept in 30 years!"

Rod Pittman, who became my friend when we started a community garden together almost three years ago, was finally sharing with me the farm where he pours his passion, named The Veggie Patch and owned by Dr. Bouchard of Emory University. He had already shown me the greenhouse busting with tomato plants already two years old, planted in pots with little sprinklers buried in volcanic rock, and the pheromones that control pests organically thanks to his professional training as an entomologist (his low-slung cowboy jeans, a reminder of his former bronco-riding days in Oklahoma long ago, hold a phone that could ring at any time and require his hopping a plane to California or around the world, where he consults on numerous farms about organic pest management practices and transition to organic). 
He told me how tilapia tanks would soon run down the length of this building, and his plans for expansion of this farm and how he would implement some of his test projects that have proven to be successful.  He whipped me on a golf cart around the 600-acres of this 3-year-old USDA Certified Organic farm a litter-bug's throw from 1-85 an hour or so from Atlanta, speeding past the handful of smaller hoop houses, over ridges and through mud puddles to get to the fields, 10 acres here, a few acres there, a lone emu coming up for a chin scratch, cows calfing on the side of a hill, as he jumped out and opened deer fences or expertly sliced the base of a bok choy, talking the whole time about his plans.  Red and green lettuces glistened in the morning sun, destined for the regional Whole Foods distribution center just 20 miles away.  
In addition to Whole Foods, this farm provides more than 30 types of vegetables to Fresh Market, numerous farmers markets, an online local-farm site, and Emory University's farm-to-fork cafeteria program.  Rod makes the 140-mile round-trip drive here seven days a week from his home in metro-Atlanta's Dunwoody, GA, which he shares with his wife, Jerrie, and where he moved from California just three years ago to be closer to his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
I honestly don't know if he knows he's 82.
But he is.
A man almost fifty years younger than Rod came here two days earlier.  He is a friend of mine, too.  Already at 36 years old a renowned name in organic and biodynamic farming, Daron "Farmer D" Joffe has started farms and gardens at prisons and hospitals, at schools and the spa of Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson, at boys' homes and the home of eco-living expert Laura Turner Seydel (the daughter of Ted Turner).  He sells branded compost made from the green waste of Whole Foods (including, no doubt, Rod's vegetables) throughout the southeast region of the United States, he serves as a board member of Georgia Organics, and he runs a retail shop named Farmer D Organics in a space he shares with his parents' eco-car wash, where now crops grow in the median strip and the drive-through has been converted to a wood shop turning out everything from sustainably-harvested cedar raised beds to portable backyard chicken coops.  He's married to the founder of the eco-conscious company To-Go Ware , and they are about to become parents.  Oh, and did I mention that he is prominently featured in Williams Sonoma's new Agrarian line of products? 
Farmer D came here to the Veggie Patch farm to hand-deliver to Rod an order for 17,000 transplants that will find their way to dozens of school gardens Farmer D has helped start in metro-Atlanta, and to stock the shelves at his retail store. To put it more simply--this 82-year-old man will grow the plants for this 36-year-old man that will go into the hands of children.  And in that transplant of expertise and energy, and in that transplant of knowledge and passion, and in that transplant from one generation to the next to the next, you will find an effort to plug a gaping hole that has been in our society for not one but two generations, in a country where the average age of farmers is 54.

This is a story I want to write in much more detail.  Stay tuned as I find the right "place" for its telling.  (Can anyone connect me to Kim Severson ?)
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