Located in the rolling hills of the Georgia Piedmont, Little Bit Farm is a 280 acre sustainable family farm. The property, originally part of the Billingslea Plantation, was acquired by the Armstrong family in 1970. The farm garden was first established in 2005, and today it is Certified Naturally Grown. The farm is currently providing seasonal fruits and vegetables to several restaurants in Atlanta, Columbus, and the surrounding area. SVM spoke to Mary-Martin White to learn more about sustainable farming and the growing trend in the farm to table movement.
By Alessio Caligaris
How long have you been farming, and what drew you to this line of work? Ian and I are going on two years, so to be honest, we are just now beginning to figure everything out. I grew up in Columbus, Ga. My entire family lives here and always has. Both of my grandparents live within a five-minute drive from the house I grew up in. Like a lot of people who grow up here, I wondered what else was out there for me. When I graduated college, I moved out to Park City, Utah. I had never been there, I just did it. Luckily, within the first month of moving there, I met Ian. We clicked from the start. He had graduated from he University of Oregon with a degree in Environmental Science and was working as a teller at a bank in Park City. I was working for a large corporation based in Park City, on their marketing team. I knew that what I was doing was not giving me what I wanted in life. I knew a desk job wasn’t for me. I left every day feeling like I was not doing anything good for anyone by my work, and Ian felt the same way. So after a lot of thought into what we both wanted in life, long talks and research, we decided we wanted to start a farm.
We wanted to work for ourselves outside in nature, to be able to see our work at the end of a long day, and to know that it is all done for a good reason, from a good place. We wanted to do well by our planet, and our communities, our neighbors, and our friends. So we moved back here to my hometown, to do just that.
How did you ended up working for Little Bit Farm? We originally wanted to buy our own piece of land, but we were extremely lucky to meet Lisa and Brad Armstrong (the owners of Little Bit Farm) at just the right time. Little Bit all stems from Lisa and Brad’s passion, which is very similar to ours. We believe in taking care of the each other and the earth, working hard, and inviting others to the table. Lisa guided us through everyting in the beginning. She was patient and thoughtful with us. She started growing in just a small plot on the farm, which is now a colorful, thriving perennial garden that most gardeners could wander around in for hours. We think she has magic hands.
Ian and I currently live in a loft inside the top of the barn. We are very close with Lisa and Brad, who live in their house on the property as well. We see each other daily, harvest food for one another and often run ideas by them both, receiving continuous guidance from them to better run this farm together. We would not be able to live out our dream of working for ourselves, serving our local community, and overall, doing something GOOD with our work. Without Lisa and Brad passion and ideas to make their piece of land into something that can benefit others in this town, Little Bit Farm would not be what it is today.
With the farm business growing, are you looking into adding more people? We recently added another person to the team, Rachel Martz. She has taken on so much responsibility in such a short amount of time. She started just two months ago, and within her first week we had about 40 piglets born, along with a million other things. She was a trooper. We could both immediately tell that she would bring something incredibly special to the farm. She has a knack for this kind of work, and her passion and positivity keep us smiling even on the rainy cold days and the 100-degree sunny humid days when we feel like we want to throw in the towel. She is a quick learner with a beautiful soul, who we think will continue to do great things in the local farming world.
Why do you think there’s been an increase in the public’s interest in sustainable farming? I think the public’s interest was sparked in the same way that mine was. I started asking “where is our food coming from” and “is what I am eating truly good for me?”
How do you sustainably manage your land? We use a number of sustainable measures here on the farm such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and minimal tillage practices. Crop rotation and cover cropping are key to building a healthy soil column. We, of course, have heavy red clay soils in this part of Georgia, and our main objective in managing our land is making the soil better then it was the season before. When it comes to the soil, you get what you give. We also raise pastured pork. The hogs have room to roam on over 20 acres of land. Along with foraging, we feed them a grain-free natural feed and tons of leftover farm vegetables. They live a good, long life.
Why do you think growing your own vegetables is important? When I first decided I wanted to farm, I had no idea just what I was getting myself into. Immersing yourself so intimately with life on this planet is one of the most awe-inspiring things we can do as humans. To tuck dormant seeds into warm, wet dark earth and to watch them as they germinate and send a tiny stem up with fresh, green perfect first leaves reminds us each time just how giving our planet is it and gives us a feeling of refreshed hope for the changing season ahead. I didn’t realize just how meaningful this work would be. Being so in-tune with the amount of daylight each day and being able to feel it slowly fluctuate from 7 hours in the winter to 15 on those long summer days really makes you realize how important life is and how to live in each moment of each day.
Of course, as farmers, it is our fulltime job to work in nature, so it is much harder to have that connection when working inside for most of the day. I think it’s important for people to put their hands in the dirt. Watch something grow, nurture it and then take pride when your nurturing has worked, harvest what you’ve grown and feed it or share it, to yourself and your family. It just feels good.
How are your farming practices different than those of other, larger scale farms? Everything that is on a plate at Columbus’ local restaurants is from LBF. Everything that is on the market table is put in the ground by us, cared for by us, harvested by us, rinsed, weighed, bunched, bagged and delivered by us. You can find us in the kitchens at our town’s favorite restaurants with bags of food we just harvested that is ready to be prepped and to be put on the menu that night. You can also find us at market ready to bunch you up some flowers and tell you how we cook Hakrurei Turnips or how the tomatoes are coming along.
You can get to know the people who are growing your food, you can ask us how and we will tell you. That’s important. We are growing what can be grown in our climate, our weather, our seasons, our town. That is cool to see. You don’t get that kind of one-on-one service from a large-scale farm.
Why does sustainable farming matter? If for some reason we could no longer fix nitrogen, create Round-Up ready seeds or synthetic insecticides our food system that we know and love in this country would crumble. Large farming has taken fertile soil and turned it into a dry brown media that you can grow food in. Without any inputs nothing would grow in that dirt. That is not sustainable. We must get back to caring about our soils and build them up before they blow away.
What Little Bit Farm meats/products can we expect to see at Market Days on Broadway, in Columbus? If you can grow it in the southeast then we are sure to try it once. That is our biggest weakness; we can wear ourselves out. In the fall, we’ve got all your greens and roots. Collards, kale, cabbage, spinach, arugula, lettuce, broccoli, radishes, carrots, turnips, beets, cauliflower, and so on. Spring will bring strawberries, snap peas, leeks, green onions, green garlic. Come summer, you can expect all different kinds of tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, okra, blackberries, figs, flowers and more.
Where in Columbus are you providing your produce? We currently go to two farmers markets, one is located downtown on Saturday mornings and the other is on Tuesday nights in Green Island which is north Columbus. You can also find our produce, as well as our pastured pork, on the menu at many restaurants around town. The chefs who order food from us each week care about what they put on the plates they serve. They are making an important effort to source their food sustainably. We also sell to many restaurants in Atlanta as well. Please check out our website to see a full list of the restaurants we provide to: LittleBitFarmGeorgia.com
What is a common misconception that people have about sustainable farming? We see more misconceptions about small scale farming rather than sustainable farming. Sometimes we feel like people think that farming is a bit dreamier than it really is. They think that we are just a few kids who don’t want to work in an office, or that we end each day sitting on the porch, sipping a sun tea looking out over the fields as the evening sun falls over them. Now don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful out here, and some moments can be dreamy, but it’s a lot of hard work and long days. There are days that an office job looks pretty good. But this is our passion, so we stick with it and move on even when things don’t go right. It’s a job that you must be fully devoted to mentally and physically.
What are some of your favorite farm-to-table recipes that you prepare in your own kitchen? One of our favorite things to do is to play with what we’ve grown. I like to cook it different ways and experiment with our food. This way, we can tell you what to do with an unfamiliar vegetable. This time of year, since we have both arugula and strawberries, we love to make an arugula salad with radishes, strawberries, feta cheese, tossed with a light vinaigrette. It’s a simple salad that is so hard to beat. Also, nothing beats a sliced LBF tomato sandwich.