Gifts From Mother Nature

December 1, 2010 | By More

Family farms have been the mainstay of the River Valley economy for more than a century, but every year it becomes harder for local farmers to maintain this lifestyle. It has been estimated that only 2 % of the US population today lists farming as their primary occupation. 

So, how do these hard working caretakers of the land keep their lifestyle intact while big corporate farms reap most of the profits? They diversify!

“For a family farm like ours to stay in business, you need to try new things and roll with the punches,” agreed Kenny and Nancy Drewry, owners of Drewry Farm and Orchards.

As newlyweds, the Drewrys started out 30 years ago with only a dream, one acre of land and a small garden. While Kenny was raised on a Pope County farm, Nancy was a southern California “valley girl” who moved with her family to Pope County as a teenager. While attending Dover High School, Nancy met Kenny and their dreams for the future were planted.

“When Kenny and I got married, I had no idea what I was getting into, which is probably a good thing. Now I can’t imagine any other way of life,” she laughed. Before long, three daughters were born, and the family business began to bloom.

In the beginning, the couple had outside jobs and grew seasonal vegetables to sell at a roadside stand on their property. Since they were gone most of the time, the Drewrys left a canning jar or basket next to their produce for buyers to leave money. “Nobody ever took a dime!” they said.

Then in 1996 they expanded their market by joining the Pope County Farmers Market, ”We started doing well then,” said Kenny, a soft-spoken man with a ruddy complexion and ready smile.

By 1997, the couple had purchased one additional acre and another two acres in 1998 so Kenny planted 325 peaches trees, which started producing in 2002. Typical of hard working farm families, each child began helping with chores as soon as she got old enough and today the entire family works in the business. In 2008 Kenny & Nancy along with their 3 daughters, a son in law and the grandchildren were chosen as Pope County Farm Family of the Year and recognized for the amount of vegetables and fruit the Drewry family raised with no outside help.

Today, the Drewry family owns or leases over 100 acres and garden spots and 30 acres of bottom land which they use for vegetables and bee keeping. The family annually harvests 28 varieties of peaches, plus apples, plums and cherries and over 6,000 watermelons, plus tons of cucumbers, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, okra, turnips and other vegetables which the family sells at the farm and their store in Russellville. They also sell produce at the Pope County Farmers Market and Russellville Community Market at the Episcopal Church on Phoenix Street in Russellville.

Fresh seasonal produce is only part of Drewry Farm products. In 2009 the farm added an Arkansas Health Department certified kitchen on the property, Angie (the middle daughter) makes oatmeal raisin or oatmeal nut cookies, peanut brittle, peach pecan muffins, zucchini bread muffins. Nancy makes over 20 varieties of fudge flavors, including fudge dipped apples and bite-size Turtles and English Toffee, to name a few. Even Kenny helps with the baking and makes bread and pie crust for buttermilk pie, sweet potato pie and peels and cores the apples for their signature Arkansas Black Apple pie. He also harvests and bottles his own honey which is used in their confections and sold at the store when available.

Even the milk used to make their home- made goodies is special. The store sells fresh organic milk produced locally by Jersey cows, which make milk containing 9% cream compared to only 4% cream made by Holstein cows, said Nancy. “I couldn’t believe how rich tasting their skim milk is, and told the dairy farmer it couldn’t be true, But sure enough, it’s certified skim milk and people just love it.”

But wait, there’s more. The store carries locally grown “free range” organic buffalo and elk meat and a wide variety of home-made jams, jellies and pickles.

Plus, they produce organic honey and recently bought 150 “free-range” chickens for egg production.

Free-range eggs, which have a different flavor and orange rather than yellow yolks, will be for sale starting in January 2011, said Nancy. Along with the wide range of products they sell, custom made gift baskets are also popular, especially for holiday giving, she added.

You are What You Eat

For people who truly care what they eat, buying local food products is important. “People today want to know what they are eating and where it was produced. “Locavores” do that by shopping at local Farmer’ markets and at our store,” said Kenny.

“Locavores” are people who value locally grown food and try to eat a diet consisting of food harvested within a radius of 100 miles of their homes. The term has become so popular in the last several years that “locavore” was added to the New Oxford American Dictionary as its word of the year in 2007.

“Sustainability” is another popular buzz-word in food production. “A lot of people get confused with the differences between ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’. We grow everything sustainably, which means our crops are resource-conserving, environmentally sound and socially supportive,” said Kenny.

“Organic” means a food product grown or raised with no artificial chemicals, hormones or additives. We try to do that too, but sometimes we need to treat a crop with something in order to save it. However, we only do it with extreme care and always wait until the product has long passed its expiration date before we harvest. Our fruit is safe enough that we can give it to our grandchildren fresh off the vine and we don’t have to worry about it, said Kenny.

Some people go overboard with organics, said Kenny. Just because a product is labeled organic doesn’t mean it is completely free of harmful additives. Where do you think organic farmers get their fertilizer? How can you be sure every bit of fertilizer came only from organically grown animals or that the blood-meal they use came only from organically grown chickens? Also, organic food can have a tremendous carbon ‘foot-print”, as some of these products are shipped in from thousands of miles away.

The Drewry philosophy is simple; keep it local, sustainable, and always fresh!

Drewry Farm and Orchards products can be found at Pope County Farmers Market, at their road side stand on Parkway & El Paso in Russellville and at their home location in Dover which they are building up and improving for the spring of 2011 to make it more visitor friendly.

For more information, call (479) 331- 2987,contactthemviaemailatnandrewry@ hotmail.com or visit their website at drewryfarmandorchards.com.

The Buzz on Bees

“Bees are very interesting, but you’ve got to understand and pay attention to them and check the hives every week,” said Kenny. Although Drewry’s hives were started by local bees and Kenny uses organic pesticides to treat them, small hive beetles accidentally imported into the U.S. by ships from overseas, are causing problems now. It’s impossible to have bee houses and not address the problem, said Kenny.

The Drewry’s got eight swarms last spring and “carefully” split each swarm in half to make 16 hives.” Bee houses are generally called hives. Honey bees live up to 45 days in the summer months before their wings become to tattered to fly. At that point, they are cast out of the hive to die. In the fall of the year all drones or male bees are also cast out to starve, simply because they are not necessary.

“Honeybees are very proficient and would never allow any bee in the colony who can’t pull its own weight,” said Kenny. If a queen bee, who can live up to three years but is rarely productive over two years, doesn’t lay enough to suit her colony, she will be replaced. I have seen worker bees build queen cells just to frighten the queen into more production, only to tear them down if the queen picks up brood production.

What about getting stung? “We’ve got a strain of Italian bees that are pretty docile. You get used to it,” Kenny said matter-of-factly.

According to Kenny, unless a person is allergic to bees, getting stung is good for you! Apitherapy is the term for using honey bee products for medicinal purposes, such as bee stings to relieve joint pain. The patient intentionally gets stung on the painful joint and many people swear by the therapy, he said.

Locally harvested honey is also said to be good for allergies. “Eating honey is just like taking an allergy shot from the Doctor,” he added.

But, what about the bees themselves who give up their lives to string us and spend their short time on earth making our lives sweeter? “With up to 80,000 bees in one hive, bees get upset just like people,” said Kenny. They have some unique habits, too. Bees don’t fly in weather below 60 degrees and they won’t fly in the rain.

Bees are selfless team players, too. It takes the entire life of 12 worker bees to make one teaspoon of honey. With 96 teaspoons in a pint, that means 1,152 bees gave their lives to make one small jar. Think about that next time you enjoy a spoonful of honey.

 

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