By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Four years ago, Will Reed turned his back on society and moved to a shack in northern California.
“I ran water out of a spring,” said Reed, 24. “I had no electricity, no plumbing. I was into reading Thoreau and Walt Whitman, that sort of thing, for seven months.”
Still looking for his dream, Reed spent the next three months backpacking in Europe.
“I really came to see how food is viewed over there,” he said. “I realized that in America, we’ve been sold multi-colored cellulose that passes for nutritious food.”
With a new appreciation for locally grown produce, the young man returned to America, re-enrolled at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., and went to work on a degree in cultural anthropology.
“There’s a direct correlation between a community, a society and where food comes from,” said Reed, the son of Ray and Kim Reed.
While in school, Reed worked as an intern on an organic farm before being hired as a full-time staffer. He got exposed to several different types of farms and even took some botany classes.
And in December 2009, he moved back home to Tupelo to become an organic farmer.
“My parents started off thinking I was crazy,” he said. “I started chipping away at them for about two years. Now, they’re into it, too. I couldn’t do this without them.”
Right now, Reed is farming a little less than an acre on his parents’ 28-acre property in west Tupelo. He’s growing 350 varieties of heirloom tomatoes as well as heirloom eggplants, snowpeas, heirloom beets, broccoli, corn, peppers, watermelons, musk melons, Romaine lettuce and salad turnips.
He doesn’t use any chemical fertilizers, treated seed, chemical pesticides or herbicides, and is in the process of getting his farm organically certified.
“For me, the idea of organic presupposes a rightness,” he said. “I have faith that the natural system is correct. And I don’t believe that man is smarter than the system. As an organic farmer, it’s my job to figure out cycles and tap into them. I see myself as a mediator between the heavens and the earth – a facilitator who provides optimum conditions for plants to grow.”
Part of those optimum conditions includes manure, and lots of it.
“You might say I’m a connoisseur of manure,” he joked. “But I’m serious. Anyone who has any can give me a call and I’ll gladly come pick it up. 678-3497.”
Ideally, Reed would like to sell his produce on Saturdays at the Tupelo Farmers’ Market, which opened May 8. But he’s already had a lot of demand for his crops and so far, he’s not had enough to take to the market.
Still, he misses the sense of connection, of community, that selling at the market provides. It’s also a way to give back to the place he temporarily turned his back on.
“After high school, I tried to get out of Mississippi as fast as I could,” he said. “People would talk bad about Mississippi and I’d agree with them. Then I started seeing all the reports – we’re No. 1 in heart disease, No. 1 in obesity, and I’m thinking, ‘Why is no one doing anything about this?’ I started thinking about all the problems in Mississippi.
“When I got to my last year of school, I knew I had to get serious, to find the right livelihood for me. Something I could sink my life into that I was morally comfortable with. A way that maybe I could help somehow.”
And has he found that?
“Oh, yeah. I’m living my dream, you know?” he said, as he munched on a turnip freshly plucked from the dirt. “I love it. And with all the unemployment and all the unused land around here I think more people should take to the fields. Let’s get this food in schools. Let’s feed the community.”
Contact Ginna Parsons at (662) 678-1581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.