Do you know what makes food “organic”? Do you look for food that is GMO-free? Do you know what fertilizer is safest? Suwannee County residents Ed and Karen Young have been on a journey for over a decade, growing and raising plants and animals with the intent of producing the healthiest foods possible. It’s a journey that is not only benefiting themselves but many others in Florida.
Ed works two days a week as a CNA at Good Samaritan Center, Advent Christian Village’s skilled nursing community. Karen works part time for a home health agency one county over in Lake City. The two originally met while working together at Florida Hospital in Orlando. Following Karen’s husband’s death, she moved to the land the couple had bought here in western Suwannee County. After Ed, who was Karen’s good friend, visited six or eight times, he asked Karen out on a date, and the rest is history.
The Youngs are leery of the term “organic” because it can be manipulated and misleading. They like to say they raise their foods “like the good Lord made them” — no chemicals and only the most natural of fertilizers: the manure created by their own soy-free chickens and cows.
“When you kill bad bugs, you kill good bugs, too,” says Ed. He’s frustrated that the pesticides and herbicides the world has adopted are reducing earthworm and bee populations. That’s why he and Karen have been working to figure out how to farm successfully without using anything that might harm Mother Nature.
While they do some gardening for themselves, their chickens and cows occupy most of the Youngs’ time. They’ve adopted a process called “mob grazing,” which entails only allowing the herd to graze in one section of land each day. They chew down that section’s grass, leave behind their waste, and then are moved into a new (approximately) 4,500 sq. ft. section the next day to begin the process again.
The chickens are also moved from section to section to “heal the ground,” as Ed puts it. The chickens add their own fertilizer to the land, spread the cows’ fertilizer by scratching through it looking for bugs, and help reduce the number of parasites by breaking the life cycle of the bugs by eating them before they can infect the cows.
The result of mob grazing is very healthy grass and few weeds over most of the grazing land. In fact, using this method, the Youngs have turned parts of their land that were basically acres of dirt into meadows perfect for feeding their cows in the most natural way. First, they let the grass grow in, and then they move the cows in. It’s natural, and it’s healthy.
The rotation does take considerable time. Ed and Karen spend several hours a day moving the cows and chickens from one section to another.
Aside from raising cows and chickens for beef, poultry and eggs, they also raise turkeys, sheep and pigs, they have one milk cow and they recently acquired a peahen to accompany their peacock. By far, their three main products are beef, poultry and eggs.
The Youngs butcher around 1,000 chickens each year, processing them locally themselves. Over the years, the type of feed they purchased for their chickens has changed from whatever they could find at the local feed store to non-GMO feed, and now to a non-GMO/soy-free feed, resulting in even healthier chicken meat. They say of their products, “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you don’t eat” — meaning the many unhealthy additives found in most supermarket food.
While they open their freezers to their friends and neighbors, they primarily sell wholesale to two retail outlets: Pastured Life Farm (www.pasturedlife.com) in O’Brien, Florida, and Full Circle Farm (www.fullcirclerealfoods.com) in Live Oak, Florida.
If you’re interested in learning more about better, healthy farming, Ed and Karen recommend the Weston A. Price Foundation (www.westonaprice.org). And if you’re interested in visiting the Youngs’ farm for a tour, and perhaps purchasing some of their products, call (386) 776-1603.