1235 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee FL •  850.942.2557

Local Spotlight—Hoover Organic Farm

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Natural Times, January/February/March 2014

By Michele Hatton

I arrived at Hoover Organic Farm on a cool morning in November, stepping from my car into a big bold sky and verdant sweep of land. Smartie, the farm’s little brown dog, welcomed me with a sociable bark and some enthusiastic tail wagging. (He pretends to protect the farm, but he’s miserable at it.) He cheerfully led me up the drive to meet his family: the hard-working, innovative and gracious Hoover family that owns the farm (on the outskirts of Live Oak, Florida) and who grow many of the vegetables you and I enjoy.

Hoover Organic Farm is staggeringly beautiful: neat rows of fat red kale and collard greens march up and down the fields; green and red clumps of romaine poke up from a moist fluffy soil; and the bok choy, turning their white spines to the sun, inch their way up and ever closer to our plates. In the far corner of the farm, a mound of chicken litter and wood chips smolder into compost. In an adjacent field, the magical sunn hemp cover crop lays spent, relinquishing its nitrogen to the soil and discouraging nematodes. A low buzz rustles the air—bees from the seven hives on the far edge of the farm.

Bradley Senior and his wife Cathy, together with Bradley Junior and his wife Mary, learned to farm organically through trial and error. Mary, a relative newcomer to the family, claims that farming is in the Hoover blood. “They know how to do so much!” she says, “everything that has to do with farming—fix the tractor, get the irrigation system going, whatever it takes.” It is exactly this ingenuity and resourcefulness that has enabled the Hoovers to successfully shift from conventional farming to organic, no easy feat. 

Bradley Senior moved his family to Live Oak twenty years ago and, like six generations of Hoovers before him, he farmed vegetables. About seven years ago, he began to experiment with organic methods. “Organic doesn’t come in a bag or a bottle,” he remarks. “We thought we could just buy organic fertilizer and sprays. It took us three years to figure it out!” The switch to organic required a sea change in thinking, in equipment and in technique, but they successfully crossed the chasm. Now, there is no looking back. “My kids can play in the dirt and I don’t have to worry,” claims Mary. “They can eat a leaf out there and there’s no problem.” Simple things like clean dirt speak for themselves.

Hoover Organic Farm is now one of New Leaf Market Co-op’s foremost providers, responsible largely for the continual flow of plump leafy greens, radishes, broccoli rabe, and cabbages stocked on our produce shelves. In spring, as you dine on organic eggplants, peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and more, consider the family that made it happen. Jonathan Manning, produce manager at the Co-op, has nothing but praise for the Hoovers, “They are extremely reliable people and provide us with some of the most beautiful produce I have ever seen.” No disagreement there—I left the farm weighted down with gift bags of greens, the sweetest, most tender I’d ever tasted.

 

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