Farmers: Chuck and Lynn Pugh
Location: Cumming, Georgia
Specialties: Organic produce and farmer education
You could say that Chuck and Lynn Pugh, owners and founders of Cane Creek Farm, are the epitome of the hobby-farming dream: They bought their land in the mid-1980s and kept off-farm jobs—Lynn was a high-school chemistry teacher and Chuck has a corporate office job—while gardening in the summer and raising several animals for their children.
After the couple’s children grew up and their priorities shifted, Lynn quit her job and started Cane Creek Farm in 2001. Her interested in ecology and botany led them to focus on starting an organic CSA farm, and after Chuck retired, they added more animals and medicinal herbs to the farm. But Lynn’s knack for education resurfaced after a few years, and in 2007, she worked with Georgia Organics, a nonprofit that focuses on getting organic produce into Georgians’ hands, to develop an organic-growing curriculum.
After 10 years, the course has reached more than 200 beginning farmers and gardeners. Now, the pair is continuing to branch out in educational opportunities by starting an incubator farm program.
“The incubator farm will provide land, infrastructure, training and mentoring for farmers that have some experience but are not yet ready to branch out on their own,” Lynn Pugh says. “After a few years, the farmers in training can move to their own place with assistance in identifying appropriate affordable land.”
Because of Chuck’s ties to the military—he was in the Air Force Reserves—they’re currently focusing on finding veterans and farmers with limited resources to be part of their first class of incubator farmers.
We are most proud of the new farmers that have benefited from the educational offerings of the farm, including our organic growing course, interns, apprentices and volunteers. The farm seems to attract talented people, and we create a supportive community that helps them get started or continue on the farming path.
Developing an economically sustainable business. The farm has to be profitable to stay in business, and this takes a lot of constant fine-tuning of crop mix, marketing, labor, production, etc. These are not the most fun jobs on the farm, and we have to discipline ourselves to pay attention. We have never borrowed money for the farm and have managed to turn a profit each year, though some years that profit has been very small. Many farmers struggle with business planning and finances, so training in these areas will be integral to the incubator program.
Start small and learn from other farmers by volunteering, working or interning on a farm similar to one you would like to run. Courses, books, conferences and magazines keep you up to date on the latest trends and developments in the sustainable farming world. Grow incrementally, leverage your successes and minimize impact from your mistakes. —Lynn Pugh, as told to Cory Hershberger
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Hobby Farms.