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Glimpse into past and future of farming industry
Residents take a tour of Northeast Georgia farms this weekend
Mike Vahn, left, and Ronnie Wiley run a planter pulled by a horse at the Nacoochee Valley Farm during the 2012 Georgia Mountains Farm Tour.

Georgia Mountains Farm Tour

When: 1-6 p.m., June 28-29

Where: Rabun, Habersham, White, Stephens counties and surrounding areas

How much: $35 per carload

More info:

The future of agriculture in Northeast Georgia and the nation may depend on the industry’s past. At least, that is what guests will learn on the upcoming Georgia Mountains Farm Tour this weekend.

Visitors may tour up to 14 local, sustainable farms in Rabun, Habersham, White and Stephens counties from 1-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Some tour stops include community gardens, a honey bee farm, a working grist mill and fruit orchards. Guests may watch demonstrations of working farms as well as taste their produce.

Several locally owned restaurants and guest chefs will prepare farm-to-table meals featuring seasonal produce and livestock for guests. Participants are encouraged to bring coolers and purchase food directly from the farms.

The tour also will allow guests to witness the inner workings of smaller, individually owned farms. Many of these practices differ from the industrial scale on which most food is produced. Several participating farms have resurrected agricultural techniques decades or even centuries old.

Sharon Turner Mauney, the self-titled steward of Loganberry Heritage Farm, prides herself on taking a different approach to raising food and livestock.

“What people can expect (on the tour) is to see a farm that is based on a natural farming system, permaculture and biodynamic methods,” said Mauney, who also goes by the name Organic Rose. “Loganberry is a holistic farm and we see what we do as a whole, not in parts.”

Permaculture is an ecological approach that involves mimicking natural habitats to aid the growing process versus monoculture, where crops are segregated. Biodynamics refers to planting in accordance with the lunar cycle to maximize crop quality. Loganberry Heritage Farm utilizes both approaches, in addition to forsaking pesticides and other chemical additives.

“We combine animals and plants, and our farming techniques are designed to incorporate and move all of these parts together,” Mauney said. “These methods are ancient, tried and true, and they actually work.”

Guests may take hayrides through a 200-year-old farm to witness these approaches. Tomatoes and garlic, grass-fed beef and soy-free eggs will all be available for sampling and purchase at Loganberry Heritage Farm, which is slated as one of Saturday’s potential tour stops.

Nacoochee Valley Farm, a stop on Sunday’s leg of the tour, also utilizes an approach that diverges from mainstream agricultural techniques.

Dr. Scott Hancock, the proprietor of Nacoochee Valley, is a horse veterinarian by trade. After spending most of his career around Amish Country, he decided to combine his lifelong admiration for the four-legged animal with farming techniques learned from the Amish.

“We do the majority of our work with horses,” Hancock said. “We use horse-drawn machinery. We cut, rake and bale hay with horses. We’ll probably demonstrate (on the tour).”

Hancock’s Amish connections also provided the aspect of the tour he is most excited to share with guests. Thanks to a seed donation, Nacoochee Valley Farm has begun to grow a crop of spelt. Spelt, an ancient wheat variety mentioned in the Old Testament, has recently seen a surge in popularity as a healthier, low-gluten alternative to commonplace wheat.

“We’re told this is the first time spelt has been raised in the state of Georgia,” Hancock said. “It’s famous for giving a light, nutty flavor to the bread. We’re going to actually sell flour for bread, and I think we’ll have some spelt bread for people to taste.”

Other items available for sampling and purchase from Nacoochee Valley will include potatoes and corn grown without any chemical interference and free-range lamb and eggs.

“For the farm eggs, our hens are out all day,” Hancock said. “We think the eggs have a better flavor. We can’t supply enough eggs for the demand we have.”

Hancock and Mauney agree on the importance of sustainable, chemical-free agriculture. Hancock, who grows his corn and potatoes with no herbicides or pesticides, appreciates knowing the story behind his crops.

“We think you are what you eat, and more and more people want to know where their food comes from, what kind of chemical it’s been treated with,” Hancock said. “We just appreciate the fact that what we eat, we know the history of it.”

Mauney, who inherited Loganberry Heritage Farm from her family in 2008, sees local, sustainable farming as indespensible to the food supply of the future.

“We cannot continue with monoculture and chemical-supported agriculture anywhere in the world,” Mauney said. “It will come down to small farms and communities growing their own food. I love to encourage folks to grow their own food, whether it’s in a pot on their balcony or in larger areas. Whatever you do there fills out into the greater environment.”

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