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Nutrient Pollution

Farmer Story: Little Rock Farmer Helps Minimize Fertilizer Runoff by Cultivating Interest in Organic Locally Grown Foods

Robert Lashley and his wife, Peg, operate Willow Springs Market Garden in Little Rock. In operation for seven years, Willow Springs raises and sells lettuce, cabbage, radishes, apples, tomatoes and blueberries for the growing number of families and restaurants that prefer crops fed with natural fertilizers.

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I’m practical. I use organic farming methods as much as possible to help protect our waterways by minimizing phosphorus and nitrogen runoff. These methods help preserve the clean water in my well and in my neighbors’ wells. I also believe organic farming practices provide a strong selling point to a growing number of consumers who seek locally grown foods.

I know that farmers cannot change their fertilization procedures overnight. But I do know that consumers are noticing us.

I’m not sanctimonious about it. I know that farmers cannot change their fertilization procedures overnight. I’m also a small-scale, specialty-crop farmer, so my operation might be beneath the notice of the big outfits. But I do know that consumers are noticing us. Increasingly, they want produce grown without heavy doses of synthetic manufactured high-phosphorus fertilizers and pesticides. Indeed, many farmers, on any scale, would go out of business if they found their water choked with algal blooms from runoff of phosphorus or other chemicals. The cost of trucking in water or employing extensive filtration would be prohibitive.

My wife, Peg, and I have been running Willow Springs Market Garden in Little Rock, Arkansas for seven years. We raise and sell lettuce, cabbage, radishes, apples, tomatoes and blueberries for families and restaurants that want crops fed with natural fertilizers. We use homemade compost and horse manure from local stables, as well as blood meal, bone meal and alfalfa meal.

When I was growing up in England, my father was an organic farmer – although he didn’t know it. He worked on a large farm and grew a big vegetable patch to help feed our family. He couldn’t afford to buy synthetic manufactured fertilizer, so he composted to save money.

I spent 40 years working as a registered nurse, but I always felt a tug to one day get back to raising crops. When I did, I was tickled to think that my father and I were employing similar methods, some 50 years apart. We were surprised and delighted when the organizers of the largest flower and garden show in this area reached out and invited us to their event last year.  The show draws about 12,000 attendees and apparently, many had asked the organizers to add exhibits from local farmers who use organic methods.

We had numerous inquiries from backyard gardeners who wanted advice on how to do the same. We told them that we also plant barrier crops around our vegetables to help filter potential runoff and to trap more rainwater in the ground. We even use an organic soap spray as a pesticide to avoid utilizing/applying harsh chemicals.

As I said, I’m practical. I know one small farm or one backyard vegetable patch by itself won’t protect our clean water. However, as these practices spread and consumer demand continues, the environmental and economic benefits will continue to become more visible.

My wife and I like to think that it’s best to work with nature rather than fight it. There’s too much at stake to lose.