It’s growing season, which means farms across the United States are increasing production, including Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County.
Elmwood Farm includes 550 acres of farmland that has been part of the same family for six generations. The farm raises chickens, goats and sheep, and it produces a wide variety of meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables.
The farm is owned and run by the Bell family: Cecil and Kay Bell; son John Bell and his wife, Melissa; and daughter Ann Bell Stone and her husband, Mac Stone. The Stones are fixtures at Elmwood’s stand at farmers markets in Lexington, Georgetown, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Elmwood is offering the From the Ground Up farm tour as a way to create a better understanding of how food gets to the dinner plate.
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Farming can be an unpredictable enterprise. Weather is out of a farmer’s control and can affect plant diseases and pest populations. Thus, some farms use genetically modified organisms — GMOs — to help with production. Some tomatoes have been developed to resist frost, and apples to not turn brown. Cows might be modified to produce a healthier milk.
But some farms don’t use GMOs, and Elmwood Stock Farm takes pride in being one of them. It’s also certified as an organic farm by the United States Department of Agriculture.
But what exactly does that mean to the customers?
Well, it involves a lot of paperwork. Elmwood Farm had to submit several documents to the state agriculture department before it could become certified. Those documents included information about how the farm manages weeds without herbicide and where it buys its organic seeds, Mac Stone said. Stone raises the poultry and sheep and handles marketing for the farmers markets.
The farm also must pass on-site inspection by an agent accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agent looks at the fields, soil conditions, crop health, water systems, feed production, and purchase records of livestock, according to a USDA organic certification guide.
Livestock must have access to pasture rather than be kept in a barn all day, and they must not be administered antibiotics or hormones, according to a USDA blog post.
“If you see that organic seal at the grocery store or anywhere, it’s been scrutinized to the nth degree,” Stone said.
As complex as the process is for the farmer, it can be just as confusing to the public.
When shoppers see the USDA organic label on a product, they need to know the integrity behind the symbol, such as no chemicals or containment being used on the farm, Stone said. At some farmers markets, there are misconceptions — some farmers label their products “almost organic,” he said.
“There’s so many conflicting labels in the marketplace,” he said, and Elmwood’s tours allow people to ask questions and get verifiable information.
It’s not just what happens on the farm, either.
The workers at Elmwood Farm must be mindful of their neighbors, who might use pesticides. Elmwood uses a tree and grass buffer near its neighbors, including the cattle farm Millers Run, to ensure that the farm remains fully organic.
Livestock cannot graze and vegetables can’t be grown in the buffer zone because it might be contaminated with pesticides. If a neighbor uses pesticides on a windy day and it spreads past the buffer, Elmwood Farm must document the pesticide use and must not grow any plants on that soil for three years, Stone said.
During mosquito-spraying season, signs on Paris Pike tell drivers of mosquitocontrol trucks when to turn off their pesticide spray and when to turn it back on.
“Good communication is very important,” Stone said.
The farm’s emphasis on being organic is a selling point for those interested in community-supported agriculture, which involves farmers offering a number of “shares” of products from their farm to the public which they ship to drop-off areas or directly to customers.
Depending on what a customer orders, a CSA box from Elmwood Farm can contain items such as green garlic, lettuce head, spinach, strawberries and ribeye steaks, all organic.
Sharon Schilling of Lexington, her partner, Bill Roche, and her granddaughter Vera, 4, went on a tour of the farm this month.
Schilling said she came to show Vera how food was produced.
“Food doesn’t come from a grocery store,” she said.
2017 From the Ground Up farm tour
The Elmwood Stock Farm tour will be led by Mac Stone. Group size is limited, so advance registration is required. Elmwood CSA members and children younger than 12 receive free or discount tickets.