When Evie and Doc Carney moved to Baldwyn from Las Vegas three years ago, they decided to plant a little garden in their backyard for their own enjoyment. That project went well, so the next year they planted twice the garden.
But twice the garden means twice the produce and the couple soon discovered they had way much more than they could consume. So they began hauling part of their booty to the Tupelo Farmer’s Market.
“We found out quickly we didn’t have nearly enough product,” said Evie. “So this year, we put six acres under cultivation, including 500 tomato plants.”
Today, the couple, operating under the name Ralph’s Doc and Evie Farms, grows not only tomatoes but also squash, okra, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, purple hull peas, bush beans, watermelons, bell peppers, hot peppers and zinnias.
Evie also makes pickles, salsa, chow chow, chili sauce, jams and jellies as well as an assortment of breads, including whole wheat, oatmeal raisin, rye, buttermilk honey, brioche and raisin bran muffins made with Splenda.
“The only problem we have is Evie can only be eight people and she needs to be 10 people,” said Doc, laughing. “The day before we come to the market, she works all day and into the night to get things ready.”
Back to school
The couple lives in a rambling home outside Baldwyn with their dog, Ginger, and two African gray parrots, 13-year-old Ralph and 5-year-old Bailey.
“Ralph owns all our businesses,” Evie said.
And there have been several. Furniture manufacturing, air-conditioner repair, RV repair – you name it and they’ve done it. And to boot, Evie was an entertainer in Las Vegas for 37 years, appearing with the likes of Glen Campbell, Perry Como, Charo and Jerry Lewis, while Doc is a retired psychiatrist.
“I’ve always been a perennial student,” said Doc. “I’ve spent most of my life in school.”
In fact, Doc is going back to school again this fall. He’s headed to Mississippi State to take an agriculture class.
“I want to know more about what I’m doing,” Doc said. “I found out there’s a lot more that I don’t know about this than I do. Like everybody else in this business, we’ve made our share of mistakes. We want to rectify those. I want to learn how to do this right. I thought the course might cut down on trial and error.”
One thing the Carneys have learned is the importance of a greenhouse. They built one last fall so they could raise their plantlings themselves.
“When the last frost came this spring, we had tomato plants two-and-a-half-feet high, ready to go in the ground,” Evie said. “We’re very proud of the fact that we had the first vine-ripened tomatoes at the market this year.”
While the couple has found farming to be rewarding, they’ve also found it to be extremely hard work.
“We really didn’t intend to do this,” Doc said. “It just turned out that way. It’s hard work but we’ve really enjoyed it. We start planting in the greenhouse in December and plant the spring garden in February, March and April. Then it’s sun-up to sundown.”
“We pick every day about 5 p.m.,” Evie said. “You have to work the garden every single day. We’ve learned there are no breaks for the farmers.”
But the Carneys aren’t throwing in the towel. They’ve already planted their fall garden so they can catch shoppers at the farmer’s market in September and October. Plus, it’s too late to turn back now.
“If I told you how much we had invested in this farm, you’d suggest I see a psychiatrist,” Doc said. “You’d insist on it.”
And while the couple does hope to one day turn a profit, money isn’t the reason they got into farming.
“The farmer’s market has really expanded our social circle,” Evie said. “They’re starting to accept us here now that they know we’re in it for the long haul.”
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal