Fresh vegetables in Houston

By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal

HOUSTON – Most people have a vegetable garden each summer, but doing it on a commercial scale and making money at it takes special skills and a lot of sweat equity.

Doil Moore and James Earnest tend to roughly 25-acres south of Houston and pull tomatoes, onions, peppers, okra, cucumbers, squash, beans, potatoes and peas from the field every day.

Prospect Produce was one of three farms featured on a tour of area vegetable farms Tuesday hosted by the Chickasaw Soil and Water Conservation District the MSU Extension Service.

“Most people have a garden because they enjoy it,” said Moore. “There is money to be made in this kind of farming, but it is a lot — and I do mean a lot – of hard work.”

Moore told the tour that getting your produce out of the field and to market is critical to the success of a truck farm.

“We have put in coolers and that has helped us a lot,” said Moore. “When your fields start producing, you have to get it picked, packaged and in front of your buyers before it goes bad.”

Moore said they sell their vegetables and fruit to several farmer’s markets across Northeast Mississippi, a couple of wholesalers and select grocery stores.

And Prospects grows more than just vegetables. They also have peaches, blackberries, raspberries and muscadines.

“This type of farming is not like planting corn, soybeans or cotton,” said Moore. “Each vegetable is so different and you have to tend each crop differently. You have to watch out for wide variety of disease and insects that can ruin a crop. Fertilizing and watering each crop is different, too.”

He also said this type of farming is labor intensive. Fields are prepped with a tractor, but just like your garden, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers and squash have to be staked by hand.

Moore also pointed out harvesting is done by hand every morning.

“I have worked in the furniture industry and I have farmed, and this really is a lot more work,” said Moore. “But just like your garden, there is a lot of satisfaction with holding a pretty basket of tomatoes, or beans or squash and knowing you grew them.”

Debbie Carnathan, of the Chickasaw Soil and Water Conservation District, said the day-long tour gave farmers an quick look at the details of a vegetable operation and allowed them to gauge their investment and commitment to this type of farming.

“We had a number of younger people looking at this as something they might want to get into,” said Carnathan. “This is a pretty big operation and they seem to be doing well.”

Carnathan said markets for fresh fruits and vegetables on a commercial scale have grown in both Tupelo and Columbus and she would love to see a farmer’s market develop locally.

The tour also viewed St. Bethany Farms in Pontotoc and another truck farm in Union County.

“This is our first year to host this event,” said Carnathan. “I think another vegetable producer in this area would be a viable business venture for the right person.”

Chickasaw County Extension Agent Scott Cagle agreed.

“Doing your research and knowing what you are getting into is so important,” said Cagle. “There is room for more, but, again, you have got to realize this takes special skills and knowledge and it is a lot of labor-intensive hard work.”

Cagle and Carnathan said MSU Extension and the USDA stand ready to help anyone interested in learning more about vegetable farming.

Moore and Earnest started with three acres on the edge of Houston before moving to the Sonora Community south of town.

Earnest used to graze cattle on the property. The sandy, red loam and easy access to roads suits the needs of truck farming well.

Prospect Produce also sells their produce on site. Potential customers are asked to travel south on Highway 389 out of Houston and follow the signs.

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