By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Nine years ago, Horton Nash packed his bags and headed to Mississippi State University to pursue a degree in banking and finance.
After four years in Starkville and a year away from earning his diploma, he and some buddies decided to spend a summer in Colorado.
And Nash became hooked on the power of nature.
“I worked at the tiptop of a mountain near Vail,” said Nash, 27. “It was so amazing.”
Nash went back to Starkville and finished his degree and then headed back to Colorado to Telluride, where he went skiing or hiking during the day and worked in fine-dining restaurants at night.
“I went backpacking and began reading a lot of Thoreau and Wendell Berry – nature writing,” he said. “I got interested in the role that nature and humans have together. I’m huge on natural cycles. I got more of an understanding of what I wanted to do.”
Nash had a friend who was starting an organic farm outside Telluride and he went there to help out.
“After about two weeks, I was pretty much sold on it,” he said. “I decided to go back to school and learn more about it.”
Nash spent a year at Colorado State University, studying ecology and soil science, and working again on his friend’s farm. He also worked on a farm on campus called a CSA, or community supported agriculture farm.
“About that time, I decided I needed to do something on my own,” said Nash, the son of Bubba and Amy Nash of Tupelo and Julie and Glenn Herrington of Birmingham.
And so in November, he came home, to Tupelo, to start his own CSA – Isis Gardens.
What’s a CSA?
A CSA is made up of a community of people, often called shareholders, who pledge advance money to a farm to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season.
CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit in a vegetable box scheme, sometimes including dairy products and meat.
Community supported agriculture began in the early 1960s in Germany, Switzerland and Japan as a response to concerns about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land. The idea took root in the United States in 1984, and as of 2007, there were more than 12,500 CSAs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It’s sort of like a community garden, but people don’t have to work in them,” Nash said. “I’m not relying on people to come out and farm with me, although they’re welcome to. It’s important for people to be connected to their food – to know where it comes from and how it’s grown.”
Nash has already begun to work the land on his farm, which is on Mount Vernon Road. The cold, wet weather kept him from planting a cover crop in the fall, but he’s not deterred.
In a greenhouse, he’s started seedlings of Asian greens, kale, collard greens, bean sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, onions and herbs.
He’ll harvest cool-weather crops in mid- to late-April. In late March and early April, he’ll get seeds in the ground for peas, leafy greens and spinach. Onions and potatoes will come next, then green beans and early squash and cucumbers.
Summer will bring cantaloupes, tomatoes, peppers and watermelons.
Nash plans to grow about 400 different varieties his first year.
“That’s both crazy and impressive,” he said. “But you can avoid some problems with diseases and insects when you’ve got a lot of variety. I want to be the people’s gardener. If you want me to grow something, you need to tell me.”
Buying into the farm
Nash is currently looking for people in the community to buy into his CSA. The cost for the inaugural year is $650, which works out to about $25 a month, and can be paid in one, two or four payments. A $100 deposit is required to secure a spot, which will be limited to 25 members.
“I’ve already had some people express interest and send money, but I’m going to do this whether I have two members or 20,” he said. “I’m a patient person. I can wait.”
When crops start coming in, members can drop by the farm to pick up their weekly share of food. Nash estimates a share of produce will be enough to feed a family of four that cooks several times a week or a couple that cooks most nights of the week.
The young farmer acknowledges that CSA members will share the rewards of the farm, as well as the risks.
“Due to our complete ignorance of Mother Nature and her ever-changing weather, things can happen,” he wrote on isisgardens.blog.com. “Floods, droughts, tornadoes, disease and insect outbreaks, and the elusive coons – many of these things are mostly out of control as a farmer.
“So buying into the farm, members have to understand the realism of farming with nature. These forces will give us shortfalls in some crop as well as abundances in others. This type of experience will help us to truly love our vegetables and the blessings of variety that nature provides us through the year.”
Nash, who recently attended the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Chattanooga, Tenn., said he was surprised and pleased to see the number of young farmers there.
“More people are wanting to farm and work on farms than there are places to go,” he said. “People want fresh food. It’s intuitive. And you’re not going to get it unless you start supporting farmers in the community. It’s not a bad thing to sweat every day and go to bed tired at night.”
To learn more, visit isisgardens.blog.com and www.ssawg.org. To reach Horton Nash about joining his CSA, call (205) 612-7573.