Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Flying S Farms: Ten Years of Deep Roots and Strong Values

by Jas Faulkner 

"This is our way of life, it is not a hobby but a living. We love what we do, it is hard work but at the end of the day we know we are providing the best we can grow and helping others learn what real food tastes like and where it comes from, locally!" 
                        -Catherine Simmons,  Flying S Farms

One of the benefits of getting your produce from a true farmers market is that you are buying it  from the people who actually grew what you see on the tables. A visit to each individual vendor can and often does reveal the personalities behind the people who create the places that produce what feeds you. In a way, it's a chance to get a feel for those farms.  Okay, it's not absolutely like being there, but it can be the next best thing. 

The Flying S Farms' retail space at ENFM brings to mind the green, sunny expanses of Cannon County, Tennessee.  It is a treat for the senses. In spite of this summer's challenging weather, everything looks lush and vibrant.  There is the smell of fresh produce, sometimes accompanied by a tantalizing whiff of items from their kitchen.

You will also encounter Catherine and Ben Simmons, the owners and operators of Flying S Farms and Baking   The Simmons are not only part of that elite subset of farmers who work on sustainable terms with their environment, they act as approachable ambassadors to anyone who is not quite sure why it is so important to support local agriculture.  

Their sense of community and a natural instinct towards education informs much of what they do.   In fact, it was an observation made by a child Mrs. Simmons encountered in a grocery store that inspired her decision to add prepared foods to their products:

"Baking Farmer came about when I was shopping at one of our local grocery stores and during checkout a young child pointed at me and said "Look mommie, there is that farmer lady and she bakes too!" They had been to our local farmers market and shopped at our booth and I guess through the eyes of a child she ?described me; a 'baking farmer'."
Simmons attests doing all of this can put her in the position of educating people about what that farm has to offer:
"You can not just place your produce on a table and say here it is, you've got to promote it. You need to learn what the produce taste like, how to use it, how to store it and where it comes from. People are so far removed from the farm anymore, they don't know what it takes to produce it or how to use it. We are amazed how many people do not know that green beans do not grow cut up!"
Even with the odd customer who thinks their green beans sprout from the ground already French cut, it is encouraging to see the increase in return customers and the growing awareness of the nature of food production and how it directly affects everyone involved in the process.  The Simmons credit the current market manager (Amy Delvin of Delvin Farms) with much of the market's success.

Even though Flying S Farms is a relative newcomer, having started operations in 2002, the Simmons have strong emotional ties to where they work and live.  Catherine Simmons recounts the history of the farm:

"Ben has always been involved in some form of Agriculture since a young child in Arkansas and Mississippi and through the years has worked with John Deere and with row crop farmers in Tennessee in various ways. My background came from parents of the Depression, we always had a garden in our backyard in Arizona. I recall my dad giving me some yellow banana squash seeds to plant in my very own 5x5 plot, we went on vacation for couple weeks and returning home my squash plants had taken over our backyard! He told me I was a born gardener and I had a green thumb because he never dreamed the seeds would even grow. I was hooked. In 2002 Flying S Farms began when Ben and I moved to the farm to care for my mother after the passing of my father. We met a family that market farmed and they encouraged us to make our kitchen garden larger and sell the excess at local farmers markets. We started very small with about 1/4 acre over a couple years making a few more plots I called Ben and told him Flying S Farms was growing, when he got home that evening I had tilled up the rest of the field with drive around plots, there was now 2 acres of growing room. Flying S Farms is still growing on acreage that we lease locally."
The name of the farm is also steeped in family history:
"As a young man, Ben designed a brand for their family farming business, his father was a pilot in WW2 and Ben followed in his dad's love of flying and he used the Army Aircorp Wings as inspiration for their brand."
Fans of "The S" state that the hearts, hands and minds that drive the farm can be seen in the quality of what appears on their tables.  Most of what goes in to the prepared foods they offer from their licensed commercial kitchen is either directly from their fields or provided by local farmers.  Customers can also be confident that the same care goes into their produce.

"We use natural and organic methods of growing our produce, the produce is getting their nutrients from the soil, not from commercial fertilizers. We sow covercrops in the early fall in various locations of our field to turn under in the spring providing the soil with green manure. During the growing season, we cultivate any weeds and grasses that grow between rows back into the soil. All our plants are either direct sown or started from seed in our greenhouse. We grow mostly heirloom type produce, the real thing and the real taste! As for day to day work, that is exactly it, work!"
Want to know more?  Visit Flying S Farms at East Nashville Farmers Market and on the internet at:  

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