A Day at the Farm At Okefenokee

Words By Ambar Ramirez & Carmen Macri

Photos by Ambar Ramirez

It was a crisp Thursday morning. The sun was beaming, but the breeze was cooling. In our opinion, it was the best day to tour the self-sustainable community that Doug Davis and Jeff Meyer are creating at The Farm at Okefenokee, located just outside Folkston, Georgia. 

“Jeff and I worked together probably about 20 years ago, and he has an extensive background in agriculture, alternative energies and everything else. And my background is conservation-based development,” Davis shared. “And so he had bought this farm probably 10 or 15 years ago and he called me a few years ago and just said, ‘Hey, Doug, I want you to come take a look at my farm and see what you think.’ So I came up here and fell in love with the place.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Farm at Okefenokee is a 705-acre piece of land that is being developed to create an experience that evokes what it was like to live on a farm 150 years ago. The land invites visitors and residents to completely detach from the hectic modern life. It operates entirely with a focus on sustainability and conservation. 

While Davis is on the farm, he lives entirely off the land. 

“All of the things that we grow out here come from heirloom seeds. So I’ve been rediscovering what it’s like to eat the varieties that haven’t been available, maybe anywhere around here,” he said. “And so even my palate is rediscovering what a tomato should taste like and what greens should taste like, what lettuce should taste like because we’re so used to eating foods that have been genetically modified.

Everything that we drink, everything that we eat, punches you in the face with sugar and so a lot of the things that we grow out here aren’t sugar forward in the palate. So it’s been a lot of fun for me to redevelop what it means to eat. 

Someone may go, ‘Well, why are you making that so hard on yourself? You can go to the store and you can buy canned tomatoes, right?’ And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not against that at all. But then again, I mentioned this a few minutes ago, too, to really experience a fulfillment, you kind of have had to walk through the struggle,” he added.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Meishan pigs are just one of the many heritage breeds found at the farm and are actually a threatened species. The Farm at Okefenokee is one of the first farms to reintroduce this species in over 100 years. All breeds are registered with the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. All of the animals on the farm play a huge role in the farm’s overall ecosystem. Other than providing food for the farm, the Meishan pigs provide nutrient-rich manure that is used for the farm’s composting system, as well as allow the farm to practice the age-old technique of “plowing with pigs.” The pigs work just as well (or even better) than a rototiller!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Farm at Okefenokee is set up into roughly six thematic phases. Each “small village,” as Davis called them, is centered around a certain type of experience that residents will gain in those specific areas. For instance, The Meadow is dedicated to vegetative farming, providing residents the flexibility to engage in farm work according to their preferences. Another upcoming phase focuses on water ecosystems, offering opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy activities such as fishing, canoeing and more. Each “small village” will feature around 20-25 cabins to accommodate the community.

“We started that process roughly two years ago. We started construction about 18 months ago and, you know, it’ll probably take us another five years to get it finished up,” Davis said. “But it’s been an amazing journey. I mean, each day has its own challenges, but the rewards far outstrip the challenges.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lo and behold, the standing garden meadows. The Farm at Okefenokee is revolutionizing the field of agriculture. In today’s world, global soil degradation is a pressing issue, primarily attributed to practices like tilling, the overuse of fertilizers and erosion. The Farm is taking on the challenge of addressing these detrimental practices and is actively engaged in combating climate change through the implementation of regenerative farming methods.

Davis explains: “Regenerative agriculture is so cool. I mean, you’re going to fall in love with it. The idea is rather than using inputs like fertilizers and pesticides and everything else, I mean, you already know about organic, right? Regenerative takes it a step further. 

You’re using the natural life cycles that would have existed in nature, and you’re replicating those through livestock and through cover crops. And so you’re armoring the soil and improving the soils by growing a diversity of different types of legumes and radishes and all kinds of grasses. And so they become the food for the livestock, but they also become this thing that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, grows down in the ground, creates additional porosity in the soil so that you can actually take the rain.

And instead of washing our topsoil away, it goes into the ground, and it stays so you don’t have to irrigate as much. So you get this virtuous cycle that begins to happen by doing these things. And then as the livestock moves through, it’s eating the grass, causing the roots to go deeper, increasing the durability and also the performance of the grasses so that they work harder and they exude more carbon into the soils.

As long as you don’t overgraze the cattle, then, you know, the cows are pooping and they’re stomping in it and creating organics in the soil. And then you run the chickens and the hogs through it. So you’ve just got this natural cycle that would have always happened in nature. And we’re replicating that here on the farm instead of putting in the fertilizers and pesticides and everything else.

So at a very high level, that’s kind of what regenerative farming is, it’s using nature in lieu of manmade inputs. And so we’ve been kind of perfecting that. And I use that word lightly because you don’t perfect anything in farming. But we’ve been working on our process here at the farm lab, and now we’re perpetuating that all through the 700 acres that we’ve got here, which we call The Farm at Okefenokee.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Winter greens ready for harvesting.

Davis mentioned one of his favorite things to do while living on the farm is waking up and walking out to the standing garden to pick fresh vegetables for his breakfast and lunch – including homemade olive oil from their olive orchard and protein from their hens’ eggs.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along with regenerative farming, The Farm at Okefenokee is implementing what is called “guilds,” which involves planting support species around each tree to reduce competition, create biomass and nutrients and provide natural shelter. It also helps attract pollinators. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun fact: Those flowers that the butterfly is having a snack on are actually broccoli. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No GMO seeds are found at the Okefenokee farm. The result? No chemicals, healthier soil, healthier people, authentic taste and plant diversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Dan “The Mule-Man” Wilson. Wilson has spent his entire life surrounded by animals and was the perfect candidate to train and strengthen The Farm’s pulling mules. These two lovely ladies are a crossbreed between a Belgian mare and a Mammoth Jackstock donkey — an ode to George Washington as he was a major influence on the breeding between the two species. 

Wilson has been working closely with the pair since their arrival at the farm in early March. The trio quickly became family as Wilson explained there is nothing coming between them, going as far as to say the farm could fire him (they wouldn’t), and he would still come around to help, as he loves the farm and everyone around. But if they tried to come between him and his mules, there would be a hefty custody battle. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mules provide the power for the wagons used across the farm. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This original pulling wagon is over 100 years old. They recently repainted and reupholstered it, but the body remains the same. We were lucky enough to be the first to ride on this historic piece. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy and Ethel hard at work. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The poultry at the farm are all raised on the land with a free-roaming lifestyle where they, just like the residents, live off the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The king of the coop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new greenhouse is where vegetation and flowers begin blooming for this season. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooling fans for those hot summer days to keep the vegetation acclimated.

 

 

Pineywoods cattle are one of the oldest breeds of cattle found in the United States. Just like all the animals on the farm, the Pineywoods cattle are beneficial to the overall prosperity of the farm and ecosystem. Plus they’re cute. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was at this point that we started playing some instrumental jazz music in hopes of grabbing the cows’ attention. And though we can’t say for sure that this theory is approved, Honey (cow pictured above who we named ourselves) was definitely curious and came closer after hearing the calming tunes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views from our future home. 

 

To learn more about the Farm at Okefenokee visit okefarm.com or follow them on Instagram @the_farm_at_okefenokee. 

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