If good health is true wealth, a small Edmond farm has found the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow —and wants to share it.
Tucked back off a gently undulating paved country road, just a half hour drive north of Edmond, lies Indigo Acres, a two-and-a-half-acre family farm recognized locally for its fresh produce.
“We’re known for our lettuce, arugula, spinach, kale, bok choy, and in the winters, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and carrots,” said Indigo Acres owner and farmer Kevin Marshall. “We’re pretty famous for our carrots because that’s where the big flavor is, and people like that bright orange carrot.”
These vegetables, along with some bright red radishes, orange beets, yellow butternut squash and various colors of bell peppers, make for a rainbow-like display at the Edmond Farmers Market where Indigo Acres sells every Saturday during the warmer months.
“Eat the rainbow every day,” said Marshall, reciting advice his wife, a certified health coach, often gives her clients and their customers. He explained how not only is color important to diet and health, but freshness and growing practices are too.
Using spinach as an example, he described how most greens like spinach lose 50 percent of their nutritional value within eight days of being picked.
“It’s harvested in California or Arizona or Washington or Oregon and packaged and washed and shipped and distributed and sent to the grocery store. It’s 14 days old before it hits the grocery store!“ he exclaimed. “You don’t have a choice to get truly nutritional food — but at the farmers’ market, you do.”
Just as this desire for quality has prompted the proliferation of many small independent breweries and coffee roasting companies, the same is happening in farming, and it’s a trend Marshall wants to support.
“People want to do fresh and better quality,” said Marshall. “Farming is just a different industry and the small farm can bring in better quality. It is fresher food and it’s healthier because it’s fresh.”
Not only does Indigo Acres want to heal communities with fresh and nutritious produce, they want to heal the earth as well through unconventional gardening techniques that enrich the earth and don’t destroy it.
Marshall described how conventional, large-scale farming operations plow up the soil, adding oxygen to it and releasing carbon. They then use chemicals that eventually kill the soil.
“There’s no health in that,” he said, saying Indigo Acres doesn’t till the soil or use chemicals. Rather, in ground with no crop, they plant cover crops like clover, rye, and buckwheat, reinfusing the soil with nitrogen, carbon, and organic matter. Later, they cut the plants and let the material fall to the earth.
“It decomposes and makes the soil healthier for my plants. So it’s a win-win. I’m making my soil healthier. The plants are healthier. Customers are healthier, and the earth is healthier. It’s all tied together,” he said.
Furthermore, the farm doesn’t use chemicals to kill plants to ready an area for planting; rather it covers them with a tarp or grass for six weeks to suffocate them.
The result is nice brown soil which he then covers with compost and then mounds into little hills. A machine then stirs up the top inch of the mixture, breaking any weeds and preparing the area to receive seed.
“The worms will come up, eat that compost, pull it down and then they’ll break it down even further to higher fertilizer level,” said Marshall, saying each year he adds a new layer of compost and it disappears into the soil.
In addition to the above methods, Indigo Farms does use fertilizers, but only certified organic varieties made from material such as poultry manure or ground alfalfa, as the compost and cover crops don’t provide the widest variety of minerals.
“For example, boron,” Marshall explained. “You don’t think much of boron, but it’s something that we need in our bodies. If it’s not in the ground, the plants can’t uptake it. So by adding organic fertilizer that has 85 minerals in it, it adds to the soil and to the vegetables that can get to the people.
“When you read the minerals in our organic fertilizer, it sounds like a vitamin pill — selenium, manganese, magnesium, iron, etc — just all this other stuff that we need in our bodies that comes from the plants. But the plants can only come get it from the soil if it’s there. We feed the soil so our plants can get fed, and our plants can feed our customers.”
So what is the result?
“We have a lot of customers that once they try our food, they come back to our booth every week,” said Marshall, saying he gets new customers who tell him after trying his lettuce they never knew lettuce could taste good.
“’I just thought lettuce had a plain taste! I’m addicted to your lettuce!’” he said customers tell him often.
Having come from 35 years working in IT, some of that time working for himself and some for large companies, — but for most of those years enjoying gardening as hobby — now as a farmer, Marshall said he has found his life’s calling.
After quitting his job and moving out to the country seven years ago, and now farming for five years, Marshall said between the Edmond Farmers Market, the restaurants he supplies and his online sales, the farm has been a great success.
“This year we’re probably using less than 3/4 of an acre. So we have room to expand, but even on what little we’re doing, we’re doing quite well,” he said. His vision isn’t just to continue farming, but to plant more farms like Indigo Acres in the community.
“A lot of people can learn how to grow food, but the business side of it is very difficult,” he said. Most small farms fail within just a few years, largely due not to the farming side of the business, but due to the business of running a business.
“Having a business background, I’ve been able to mentor a few other small farms in the area, but starting next spring, we’re going to start a paid internship or we’re going to try to hire people that want to start their own farm and come work for us one for one two years and then, hopefully, we’ll help them get some seed money and be able to start a farm.”
Marshall said the challenge with young people wanting to start farms today is they think they need to buy large swathes of land, which requires lots of money.
But by using the market-to-farm technique as he does, such vast properties are not needed, he said. Farmers can start with even a quarter acre or half acre to get established before they expand out.
So for Marshall, Indigo Acres is not only about growing fresh, nutritious, and healing food, it’s about growing other farmers in the community to meet the growing need.
“These small farms that I’m hoping to help grow and mature, we’re going to bring more nutrition to our community. The more nutrition we have, the better our community is going to be and hopefully healthier.”
The ultimate goal is to create an environment for healthy living.
“I can’t do it alone. I can’t feed Edmond. I can’t feed a 10th of Edmond. I can’t feed one 100th of Edmond. We need 1,000 farms in Oklahoma City and metropolitan area.“
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About Thomas Berger
Thomas Berger is the owner of Ciskus Creative, an Edmond-based creative agency focused on creating marketing content for small and medium-sized businesses.
Prior to starting his own company, he worked as the communications/marketing specialist for an Oklahoma City-based office technology company. Former to coming to the Oklahoma City area, he had worked as a career journalist for more than a decade — initially reporting for several newspapers in western North Carolina and northeastern Oklahoma and later as a multimedia journalist for KJRH Channel 2 in Tulsa.
Thomas has lived in Edmond with his wife Alison since 2013. He has a passion for traveling, photography, learning languages, landscaping and coffee roasting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Carolina University.