The First Gen Farmer – Meet The Elliotts of Maeday Farm

tfrnetwork October 28, 2019 No Comments

The First Gen Farmer – Meet The Elliotts of Maeday Farm

 

Meet Meredith and Steven Elliott of Maeday Farm in Walnut Hill FL

One of the most appealing aspects of farming is that it allows you to become much more self-sufficient. It’s a career where you can continue to learn something new, and keep trying different techniques and growing methods until you find one that’s successful. We love challenging ourselves and farming is a good fit for that. – The Elliotts on being First Generation Farmers

Seeking more from life than their corporate jobs in Austin TX could provide, Meredith and Steven Elliott took a chance, moved across the country and bought a farm in Florida in hopes of finding a greater sense of purpose.

We wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of a hard day – and we each found that it was difficult to get that feeling after a day filled with meetings in a boardroom. We also started questioning where our food came from, how it was produced, and the effects of farming on the environment. – Meredith and Steven Elliott of Maeday Farm

From that dream, Maeday Farm was born. They grow organic fruits, vegetables and herbs for farmer’s markets and restaurants. Taking on the true entrepreneurial spirit of the American farmer, they have already diversified into the agritourism by hosting a farm-stay cottage where they connect with guests who want to learn more about growing food and farming. They have plans to expand into farm tours and field trips for local schools. Already setting a local standard – and a huge part of why WE love our first generation farmers – their farm is the first USDA certified organic farm in their area.

They are successfully learning the ropes on how to balance and grow their operation while keeping it profitable, and are passionate about growing their supporting network of other producers as well as customers. The Elliott’s involvement includes Florida Farm Bureau and Florida Farmers Market organizations, and they also do everything they can do support their local businesses – sourcing coffee grounds and spent grains for their compost from a local coffee shop and brewery. We also think they do a great job in advocating for agriculture on social media, understanding that it’s incredibly important to help people to understand agriculture’s positive impact on our environment.

We think it’s extremely important to educate people that agriculture can actually be a solution to climate change. Properly managed pastures can sequester carbon. Healthy soils grow healthier food, reduce erosion, and absorb more water.

We appreciate them taking time to share about their unique journey into agriculture, what they are doing to be successful, and advice they’d like you to know based on what they’ve learned in trial and error as they grow and thrive. Take a look at let us know what you think.

Thank you so much for agreeing to share a little about your life with us. Please share your name and the name of your farm.

Meredith & Steven Elliott, Maeday Farm

What commodities do you currently raise?

We’re a small market farm growing organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs for farmer’s markets
and restaurants. We grow over 100 varieties of produce and we’re the first USDA certified
organic farm in the area.

Where are you located?

The farm is located in Walnut Hill, FL, which is about 40 miles north of Pensacola, FL. We sell to
restaurants and at markets in both Pensacola, FL and Mobile, AL.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family and your operation?

Sure! We’re a husband and wife team – we bought this farm in 2018 and moved here from
Austin, TX after leaving our corporate jobs to pursue more meaningful careers. We’re in our first
growing season and are still learning a lot about our soil, the climate here, and farming in
general.
We’re currently selling our produce at Palafox Market in Pensacola every Saturday. It’s a huge
outdoor market that’s popular with both locals and tourists. We also sell to restaurants in both
Pensacola, FL and Mobile, AL. Our farm is located about equidistance between the two cities,
which is one of the reasons we liked this particular property so much.

The Farm and Ranch Network - The First Gen Farmer - Maeday Farm

In addition to growing produce, we are also passionate advocates of agritourism. We currently
operate a farm-stay cottage that we rent through Airbnb. We’ve really loved connecting with
guests who are interested in learning more about growing food, organic practices, and farming.
We’d like to eventually expand into farm tours, and field trips in conjunction with our local school
systems in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Agriculture can be a tough industry; we can’t imagine what it must be like as a brand new first gen operation without previous experience to fall back on or family members with prior knowledge to help. What made you decide to get into agriculture?

We were both looking for careers that gave us a sense of purpose. We wanted to feel a sense of
accomplishment at the end of a hard day – and we each found that it was difficult to get that
feeling after a day filled with meetings in a boardroom. We also started questioning where our
food came from, how it was produced, and the effects of farming on the environment. We were
concerned after learning that small family farms are disappearing and that corporations are
buying up farmland and increasing their influence and involvement in our food system. We
believe the disappearance of the small family farm will be extremely detrimental to our rural
economies, the environment, and the food system as a whole.

We also started questioning where our food came from, how it was produced, and the effects of farming on the environment. We were concerned after learning that small family farms are disappearing and that corporations are buying up farmland and increasing their influence and involvement in our food system. We believe the disappearance of the small family farm will be extremely detrimental to our rural economies, the environment, and the food system as a whole.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Making a small farm profitable has been challenging. There are so many upfront costs for a first
generation farmer as we didn’t inherit any of our land, farm equipment, or infrastructure. We’re
swimming in bills before we even get the first seed in the ground and this makes routine crop
failures, pest infestations, or inclement weather much harder to bear in our first year.
Farmers markets are a lifeline for any new farmer as they have a low barrier to entry and help
many small farmers gain direct access to customers looking for fresh food, but the income
potential is extremely inconsistent and can be largely dependent on good weather that day.
Wholesale orders to restaurants, cafes, and markets are more consistent, but much less
profitable. It’s been a challenge to find the right balance for us in this first year and at our small
size.

Talk to me about the biggest rewards or your favorite part of being involved in the agriculture
industry.

We’ve loved connecting with other people that are passionate about local and organic food.
We’ve found a wonderful group of customers at Palafox Market that care about the quality of
the food they’re purchasing and want to support farmers that grow food in environmentally
friendly ways. We also have loved working with local chefs – they really challenge us to grow
things we’ve never grown and to keep polishing our skills as growers.

One of the most appealing aspects of farming is that it allows you to become much more self-
sufficient. It’s a career where you can continue to learn something new, and keep trying different
techniques and growing methods until you find one that’s successful. We love challenging
ourselves and farming is a good fit for that.

Social media has been really tough on those of us involved in agriculture lately – what do you do to try to combat the negative stigma? Do you have anything you’d like to say to those who are
misinformed?

A lot of the negativity comes from people concerned about agriculture’s impact on the
environment, or animal welfare – two things we’re also concerned about. We think it’s extremely
important to educate people that agriculture can actually be a solution to climate change.
Properly managed pastures can sequester carbon. Healthy soils grow healthier food, reduce
erosion, and absorb more water.

Tell us about your social media accounts, websites, etc so we can follow you!

Our website is maedayfarm.com – here you can find info on our farm and our Airbnb farm-stay
cottage. We’re also pretty active on Instagram @maedayfarm and you can find us on Facebook
as well.

Are you involved with any organizations or programs?

Yes – we do have our organic certification through the USDA and we’re also members of the
Florida Farm Bureau. We are trying to become more active in Florida’s Farmer’s Market
organizations as we’re passionate about increasing opportunities for farmers to interact with
and sell directly to consumers.

What do you wish you had known before you got your operation started?

How difficult it would be to source things as an organic farm. We’re very small, so we don’t have
major buying power and getting deliveries out here is near impossible. We have to source very
strictly to ensure what we’re buying is in line with our organic plan – everything from our seeds,
to soil-making materials, to compost and fertilizer.

The Farm and Ranch Network - The First Gen Farmer - Maeday Farm

What do you want others potential first generation producers to know?

Diversification is essential for small farmers – diversifying your crops protects you from
germination failures, inclement weather, pest infestations, and plain old mistakes. Biodiversity is
also healthier for the plants and animals on your farm and will attract beneficial insects.
Diversifying your income sources is even more important. Many small farmers struggle to make a
living just farming – adding additional revenue through agritourism, or value added products can
help.

Diversification is essential for small farmers – diversifying your crops protects you from
germination failures, inclement weather, pest infestations, and plain old mistakes…Many small farmers struggle to make a living just farming – adding additional revenue through agritourism, or value added products can help.

Anything else you’d like to add?

As farmers, it’s so important to interact with and support our local economies. We try to source
anything and everything we can locally to help support our neighbors, as they help and support
us by buying our produce. We get spent grains from a local brewery and coffee grounds from a
local coffee shop and both of these go into our compost. It helps these producers reduce their
waste bill and the compost we make helps us keep our soil healthy.

We are so appreciative of Meredith and Steven sharing their story with us. Do you have any comments you’d like to share or questions about their operation? Let us know at TheFarmAndRanchNetwork@gmail.com