A scant 10 miles from Auburn University (AU), a winding red dirt road leads to an Eden of sorts: Hornsby Farms, a small fruit and vegetable farm whose owners are changing local attitudes toward food.
When Beth and Josh Hornsby married seven years ago, the pair never dreamed of earning their livelihood from the land. But that changed when they realized consumers wanted locally grown and canned food.
“We saw a desire and market in the community for local, farm-to-table food,” said Beth, 33.
The couple always tended a small garden for their family, but three years ago, they bit the bullet. Josh quit his day job as an Alabama wildland firefighter. He plunged into farm life full time on his family homestead near Macon County’s Little Texas community.
The Hornsbys each have childhood memories watching their grandparents work a garden and can homegrown food.
“We loved the bits and pieces of working in the garden as children and wanted that for our kids,” said Beth, mom to Sully, 5, and Levi, 2.
The boys lend a hand on the farm, as evidenced by the child-size tools, trucks and toys strewn across seven acres of plasticulture-grown crops. The Hornsbys also farm seven acres of conventional crops including peas, corn and watermelon.
Value-added products, like Beth’s jams, jellies and pickles, encouraged the farm’s start and are sold at festivals, farmers markets, local stores and AU dining halls. The Hornsbys deliver weekly produce baskets to community subscribers, in addition to deliveries to local fine eateries Acre, Maestro 2300 and Moore’s Mill Club, along with Country’s Barbecue, an Auburn classic.
Bob Steiner, Country’s Barbecue manager, met the Hornsbys two years ago. He said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to source produce from a local couple.
“We wanted to get local food that supports area people,” Steiner said.
The Hornsbys supply the restaurant with Southern staples like corn, beans, peas and tomatoes.
“Whatever they’ve got, we try to incorporate into what we’re doing,” Steiner said.
And the Hornsbys grow a lot — more than 100 vegetable varieties each year. Summer foods run the gamut from Cherokee purple tomatoes and Clemson spineless okra to peppers, blueberries and melons. Fall fare is mainly greens — Swiss chard, lettuce and kale — with squash, peas and kohlrabi (a cabbage cultivar) thrown in.
Folks taste the difference in homegrown food. Since the farm’s online store went live three years ago, one customer from Massachusetts ordered 40 jars of Hornsby products. He’s so loyal, Beth shipped him a baby blanket after his son’s birth.
“It’s all about building relationships,” Beth said.
It’s also about associating food production with real people. When Josh delivers Acre’s produce, he often passes through the dining room so patrons can see a farmer.
“The first time I walked through, I had dirt on my clothes and hands, and one customer said, ‘Now that’s farm-to-table,’” said Josh, 35.
The Hornsbys have been involved with the Alabama Farmers Federation and Lee County Young Farmers since the farm’s start.
“When our Alfa Insurance agent helped insure our property so we could have farm visitors, we realized we wanted to be part of the Federation,” Beth said.
The Federation network helps them collaborate with other farms to sell goods, like pumpkins from Lee County’s Lazenby Farms and sweet potatoes from Baldwin County’s Kichler Farms.
“We grow a lot of stuff, but we can’t grow everything,” Beth said with a smile.
The Hornsbys are resourceful. Last summer, Josh transformed an old shed into a cold storage unit — a move saving the farm thousands of dollars.
Startup costs detract many would-be young farmers, but because of resourcefulness, blessings and faith, the Hornsbys have made it work.
The couple takes advantage of every opportunity possible. Natural Resources Conservation Service grants funded their hoop house, and Opelika’s Red Clay Brewery donated fermented grains for the hoop house’s initial layer of organic matter.
“Ten years ago, people didn’t care where their food came from,” said Beth. “They’re finally realizing it’s better to get food from your neighbor.”
The Hornsbys believe in the power of giving back. They promoted farm marketing and social media at the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Conference in November and sponsored the Jason Dufner Foundation 12 Days of Christmas give-away for impoverished children.
At the end of a 10- to 15-hour workday, the Hornsbys are tired, but fulfilled.
“Everything we do is all about our kids, family, land and customers,” said Beth.