KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – The face of farming is changing as females break barriers in the agriculture industry.
Local farmers who bank on urban, sustainable growing techniques are becoming more common.
News Channel 11 spoke with two women farmers who say they care deeply about the community so they’re incorporating sustainable growing methods while also hoping to help out.
“Eden’s Vista is a brand new farm,” said Brenda Barnicki, Eden’s Vista co-owner. “It will be a fruit and vegetable and berry farm. What’s different about it though, is 100% of the profits go to children’s ministries.”
The farm owners also own Bellafina Chocolates in Downtown Kingsport — a chocolaterie that donates 100% of its profits to children’s charities both locally and across the world, and they hope to do the same with Eden’s Vista.
The brand new produce farm has already started growing some annual vegetables as they wait for the fruit trees and berry bushes to produce.
Many upgrades are in store for the farm as well.
“In our very first year while we’re building the barn and the greenhouse and the commercial kitchen, we have planted almost 200 fruit trees and berry bushes,” Barnicki said.
It’s much more than just a farm to the Barnicki family.
“So the experience with starting up and running Bellafina really taught me that life is so much more meaningful if you have a purpose, and for us, it’s really about living out our faith. And that’s really what gives us the purpose,” Barnicki said. “And the chocolates really weren’t conducive to that. So that’s where we really started with.”
She said she’d always been a farmer and that her son is studying Soil Science and Forestry at The University of Tennessee (UT), so he could help her.
“Our intention this summer is to sell produce out of this garden and some of the other plantings,” she said, while they wait for the 100 raspberry and blackberry, and blueberry bushes that they planted to mature, apart from the other fruit and nut trees they also planted.
People can visit Bellafina’s website to order their products.
“People can either pick it up at the farm, or they can pick it up at Kingsport at Bellafina, or for neighborhoods that are close to the farm will actually deliver right to their door,” Barnicki said.
The farm is still facing some growing pains.
“People would sign up for a subscription to get every week or every other week a basket of whatever’s freshest on the farm. And then we would either deliver that to them or eventually the barn behind me will have a place where people can come and pick up their vegetable boxes. We’ll also have a commercial kitchen on site. So we intend to do jams and jellies and baked goods and I hope to have an ice cream machine,” she added.
They also plan to build a greenhouse on the farm.
“Which means that we’ll be able to offer produce all year round, not just in the summertime. So we’ll have greens and herbs and all sorts of things right through the wintertime,” Barnicki said.
Meanwhile, in Colonial Heights, Amy Venable runs Little Mountain Microgreens from her basement and is already able to sell produce year-round.
“What we’re doing here is a vertical farming method. So we’ve got vertical shelves I can grow 16 trays per shelf and I’ve got three shelves set up with the light, I still do hand watering, and I grow in a germination mix. Some micro green farms do theirs hydroponically, so they’re completely a water-based system with all the nutrients added to the water, but I’m more traditional. I like the soil,” Venable explained.
She demonstrated planting her seeds when News Channel 11 visited her urban farm.
Each tray is packed densely with seeds and then weights are packed on top of them to help the seeds grow in the right direction. Then, the trays are placed under growing lights and, depending on the species of microgreen, ready for harvest in 10 to 12 days.
“Microgreens are tiny vegetables. We plant them very densely and let them grow for a couple of weeks,” she said.
After they grow a few inches, it’s time to harvest, or simply sell the whole of the tray.
“I harvest them by cutting them away from the roots and then preparing them into salad mixes or individual microgreens or even live trays to we deliver live trays to some of our customers so they can harvest on their own so they know that the food that they’re getting is very, very fresh,” Venable said.
She said both sets of grandparents farmed, so it’s in her blood. However, with the rising cost of every single facet of agriculture, she said traditional farming was out of the question for her.
“In this day and age, it would be great to have acres and acres of land that you could plant crops out in the field. And I know that traditionally when people think of farms, you know that that’s what they think of is a nice flat field somewhere where you’ve got the soil tilled up and you know, rows and rows of corn and tomatoes. But for us, it made more sense to do it inside,” Venable said.
So what exactly does urban micro-farming offer that traditional farming doesn’t?
“More control, obviously, we’re in a controlled environment with the lights and with the water. You know, if you’ve got crops grown in the field, you have to be dependent on the rain… you’re really at the mercy of the elements,” she said.
She pointed out that the region has seen higher-than-usual temperatures and longer stretches of drought or constant rain in recent weeks than in the past. To her, that’s not a bother at all.
“Here, I know when things are going to be ready, so you know I plant on the weekend, and then I know that it’s going to be ready to harvest in 10 to 12 days. So that brings about some certainty that you know, and what we’re going to have, and also because I’m so close to it, if I do see an issue with a tray, I can go ahead and replant it and not lose any time,” Venable said.
Little Mountain Microgreens is the only certified natural grower in Sullivan County. Venable said the production was certified in 2020.
“Certified naturally grown is a way to certify that I’m using organic methods to grow my crops. Another great thing about the program is that we do peer inspections. So farmers from other areas will come to my operation and we have forms that we go through, ask questions so it builds community among farmers. I’m actually having my inspection this Saturday,” she said.
But what exactly is the difference between certified naturally grown and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) certified organic?
“Certified naturally grown started around the same time that USDA Organic started. USDA Organic is a program through the government that requires a lot more paperwork, a lot more time, and a lot more money. So for a small grower like me, I checked into it last year and it was too expensive for me to consider,” Venable explained.
She said that a lady from Gatlinburg is coming to her farm Saturday to conduct her inspection.
“She’s a new CNG farm and also I’ve got another co-inspector coming in from Gate City, Virginia. We did an inspection this year at a new farm in Bristol, Virginia. So it just builds that community right here in Northeast Tennessee, but also it reaches across the border to other states, North Carolina. We’ve inspected over there and Virginia,” Venable said.
To look into Venable’s farm and find out how you can get some microgreens, mushrooms or wildflowers, visit her website, or swing by the Kingsport Farmers Market to meet her in person at her produce stand.