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The future of farming

Pughs, Mills are Farm Family of the Year

 
POSTED: November 20, 2010 3:00 p.m.
Autumn McBride/

Michele Gillman harvests romaine lettuce.

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Among the subdivisions with tiny yards, sits about 17 acres of something unexpected in suburban southwest Forsyth.

Cane Creek Farm, a reflection of a time past, rests comfortably, surrounded by what Forsyth County has become in recent years, more suburban than agricultural.

But to walk onto the property is like walking back in time. Grass and dirt, not concrete or asphalt, greet one’s feet. Rows of bright green vegetables, rather than rows of homes, fill one’s vision.

This oasis nestled in an urban desert is the home of Lynn and Chuck Pugh, whose log cabin overlooks their acreage.

Her parents, Bill and Carolyn Mills, relocated to the property about two years ago from Albany. Their house sits just a few dozen yards from the Pughs’.

The family has been named this year’s Forsyth County Farm Family of the Year by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The service is an organization that provides technical assistance to the farming community and urban landowners, encouraging wise and conservative uses of natural resources.

Lynn Pugh, Cane Creek’s primary farmer, said she and her husband have lived on the property since the mid-1980s, though they didn’t start farming there until 2001.

“Before then, I just had my garden,” she said.

Becoming a farmer was a little unexpected. She spent a career as an educator, teaching chemistry and biology, the last 10 years at Forsyth Central High School.

But her mother wasn’t entirely surprised by the career change.

“Our neighbors down in Albany are still doing battle against the morning glories she planted when she was 6 years old,” Carolyn Mills said.

Lynn Pugh also had indirect ties to farming through her father.

Bill Mills spent his career as an agricultural engineer, creating farming equipment for Lilliston Corp.

Since the move to the farm, Chuck Pugh said his father-in-law’s expertise has come in handy.

“He’s come up with a lot of new devices that we use,” Chuck Pugh said.

Added Bill Mills: “I think I’ve helped make working this farm a lot more efficient.”

One of his devices, a long barrel with sharp pipes sticking out like a porcupine and a handle for rolling, sat in one of the family’s fields on a recent afternoon.

Michele Gillman, a Cane Creek staff member who oversees the farm’s volunteer harvesters, explained that the device is used to create evenly spaced holes in the rows for plant seeds.

Gillman was busy in the field, harvesting Jericho romaine lettuce for the Cumming First United Methodist Church’s food pantry.

Cane Creek has 12 rows of vegetables dedicated to just the pantry.

“It’s great to give people in need fresh vegetables,” Gillman said.

Besides giving away food, the farm also sells to a few area restaurants.

Volunteer Tonya Hurbert was busy packing several dozen heads of the Jericho and bok choy lettuces into large coolers for the Five Seasons Brewing Company in Atlanta. 

While Hurbert was packing the lettuce, Chuck Pugh was busy greeting customers at the farm’s weekly Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program.

Through the program, customers pay a flat fee — $200 for the six weeks in spring and winter, and $400 for the 12 weeks in summer and fall — for the entire growing season.

Farm volunteers harvest whatever crops the farm’s producing that week on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, customers come and pick up their “share” of the produce.

Among the items this past week were pumpkins, green beans, lettuce, collard greens and jalapeno peppers.

“I just have to tell you how much I appreciate these vegetables being so clean,” customer Sharon Braning told Chuck Pugh while picking out her share of the collard greens. “When I get home and start cooking, it’s nice not to have wash everything.”

“Well, my wife and mother-in-law will be happy to hear that,” he replied. “They take the time to wash everything three times before we put it out.”

That level of care goes into everything on the farm.

Cane Creek employs organic agriculture practices. The goal is to provide nutritious food in a such a way that the soil and environment remain healthy, not depleted or polluted. No chemical fertilizers or chemical pesticides are used.

In addition to the CSA program, the Pughs also take part in area farmers’ markets during summer, as well as a new online market in conjunction with other local farmers.

Customers place their orders online and pick up the items on certain days at different locations throughout the area.

Besides just selling their crops to others, the Pughs also believe in teaching others how to start their own organic gardens.

Lynn Pugh offers several organic gardening and farming introduction courses, as well as a series of three one-day workshops on advanced farming topics each year.

The farm also welcomes school field trips and tours for children. Some 60 middle schoolers are scheduled to visit Monday.

“My background as a teacher definitely helps,” Lynn Pugh said.

Among the farm’s other offerings are fresh mushrooms, which are produced in logs in the woods surrounding the fields; a variety of medicinal plants; and cattle and sheep, raised for meat through a partnership with the Pughs’ neighbors.

Lynn Pugh said she was honored by the Farm Family award.

“I think they gave it us because we represent the way farming is going in Forsyth County,” she said. “Small, organic farms are the future, especially in Forsyth County, where land prices are so high.

“I’d like for our farm to keep going. We’ll continue to evolve and figure out ways to keep it going.”

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