Love Farmer Nic, the Real Deal

I am driving a stretch of bucolic tar just 30 miles east of Atlanta. The scenery is picturesque. Cows grazing, wistful horses flicking their tails, and because the trees are bare, panoramas of rolling, green pastures keep my eyes entertained. Georgia is beautiful and bountiful, and everyone should get out the city more often to experience this. Let our kids go sow some seeds, milk some cows… forget about hand sanitizer… oh dear, these thoughts have distracted me from the map on my phone. The blue highlight designating my route has vanished, only to leave a blue dot on a road. Panic sets in…where is this farm? Did I miss it? Should I turn around? Keep going? Do I have reception here? Just when I’m about to stop and reconsider my options, I spot massive white tunnel tents and a glimpse of leafy green vegetables flourishing inside these. I have a feeling I have found Crystal Organic Farm.

A gravel driveway welcomes me in, and a kind face, who spots my struggling with my napping son’s car seat (why these weigh a ton I’ll never know), suggests that I drive a little further to the rustic red barn where the farmer I am meeting should be. To kill some time, I snap some very regal and rowdy turkeys, and am amused by all the pomp and pageantry of the splendid male birds in their efforts to swoon the plain and simple females. I’m wondering why this theme is prevalent in the animal kingdom… when Nicolas arrives. A calloused hand meets mine, a firm handshake is exchanged and I can’t help but notice how warm and healthy his face is. The sun and land love this man.
I met Nicolas Donck a few weeks ago at the Morningside Farmers’ Market in Atlanta. He’s a regular there. He kindly obliged to be filmed for a role-play of ‘consumer asking farmer about organic produce’. But Nicolas didn’t role-play. He attended to the questions as if this was just another day at the market. Sincere, personable and in love with his work. These were my first impressions.

Nicolas needs to tend to a couple of tasks in the barn, so I wonder over to the hens and roosters. The clucking intermingles with the cock-a-doodling, a farm harmony always pleasant to my ears. My little one is in awe, silently observing these feathered creatures. I am joined by a beautiful lady with silver white hair. She too has an accent, a little different to Nicolas’s. She states that she was born in Austria and lived in Belguim before immigrating to the United States in the early 1980s. I learn that she is Helen, Nicolas’s mother.

She spots my little one, asks his age and goes on to offer homeopathic remedies for my son’s teething, mentioning that my current choices lack strength. I like her. I need something strong. Our conversation meanders to the farm. On her arrival to the US she acquired this 175 acres of land in Newborn, Georgia. She has always kept chickens, and has always grown organic food, long before the ‘organic’ label adorned markets and food shelves. The site on which we are standing, and the area designated for the chickens, was the first bit of land assigned with the task to grow food. Today, 25 acres is in food production. Clearly a family operation, neither Helen nor Nicolas volunteer this information but later that day, while researching, I learn that they were the recipients of the Land Stewardship award at the 2008 Georgia Organics Conference. My mother tells me that farmers are honest and humble. Indeed they are.

Helen departs and her son returns. In his teens, Nicolas arrived from Belguim to join his mother. A University of Georgia graduate, he studied international business but after several years in the business sector, his true calling was his family’s land. While his business world friends were making money and chuckling at the prospect of farmer Nic, 15 years of pioneering organic farming was orchestrated. Nicolas is happy. Being certified organic and consistent in quality has been good for business. He has a solid client base of reputed Atlanta restaurants, including Bacchanalia and Rathburns, and gratified farmers’ market customers. Mention his name to many young farmers. They know and respect ‘Nic’, with several having served apprenticeships on his farm to learn his trade and pursue their farming aspirations. He is a true mentor.

He guides me through the the high tunnels, explaining how this practice has merits. If six inches of rain passes through, his seedlings are protected. The plastic sheeting provides some insulation, creating warmer zones for his vegetables to thrive. Fewer pests can make these tunnels their habitats. The end products, rows of lush, voluptuous kale, swiss chard and butterhead lettuces. Knife in hand, Nicolas harvests endive and lettuce for me. He reaches for some green leaves, gives a gentle tug and reveals some blushing pink radishes. The colors are vivid. Although I am getting used to this, taking pictures one-handedly with a little one in the other arm is no easy feat (did I mention that I am typing one-handedly too?). Nicolas kindly offers to take him, his experience as a father obvious as he calmly tries to distract him. Unfortunately, my son has acquired a challenging milestone: stranger anxiety. In the distance I hear my car horn. Lulu, my rambunctious dog, is leaping around in my car desperate to get to the turkeys nearby. It’s a good time to depart. Nicolas washes my produce and kindly packs these into my overloaded car. Helen reappears and they both invite me to visit again. I would love to.

I neglect to ask about the origin of the name. Crystal Organic. According to the farm blog, quartz crystals keep emerging from the earthly depths to the soil surface, and it is speculated that these offer fertility to the farm. As I take a bite of scrumptious buttery lettuce, and fall in love, I think that maybe there is something to these crystals, but one thing I am convinced about; ‘Nic’, the farmer is the real deal.

Jess Avasthi, Real Time Food Warrior, Winter 2010, Keeping Food Real

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