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May 28, 2007

Oak Hill Acres: a labor of love

By Radish staff
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Oak Hill Acres is farmed by Christina and Andy Tygrett, Joe Nosler, Diane Stilwell and Terry Tygrett. Not pictured is Lorraine Tygrett. (Photo by Dan Videtich / Radish)
Oak Hill Acres in Atalissa, Iowa, is a certified organic farm that provides fresh fruits and vegetables at regional farmers’ markets and through its CSA. Radish recently caught up with the farmers for the following Q&A.

Radish: Tell us a little bit about Oak Hill Acres.

Oak Hill Acres: In 1997 we bought our 267-acre farm. “We” are Andy (son) and Christina Tygrett and Terry (father) and Lorraine Tygrett. The farm is certified organic by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and consists of about 140 acres of timber, a ˝-acre pond and 30 acres of vegetables. The remainder of the farm is seeded down in grass, hay and small grains. We also have five greenhouses used for bedding plants and seedlings. We start from seed our tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli and other vegetables and transfer them to the field later.

R: What do you grow?

OHA: Spring-flowering beddings plants (annuals and hanging baskets), heirloom vegetable plants (tomato plants, peppers and herbs), cut flowers (gladiolus and sunflowers), small grains (rye, wheat and oats), field corn, hay and all varieties of vegetables: leaf crops, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, summer and winter squash, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, green beans, peas and many, many more.

R: Do heirloom veggies taste better?

OHA: Heirloom vegetables come from plants that are not hybridized, so they have their original tastes and flavors. Heirloom tomatoes are one of our favorite vegetables to grow because there are so may different kinds and tastes.

R: Your farm is certified organic. How did you earn this certification?

OHA: A large part of the farm had been in the Conservation Reserve Program for 10 years before we purchased it, so it was able to be certified organic right away. The rest of the farm had to be farmed without chemicals or pesticides for three years before it could be certified organic.

R: What are the benefits of organic farming?

OHA: One of the main benefits of organic farming, for us, is that we do not have to be around or breathe any of the harmful chemicals that you would if you were farming using those chemicals.

R: Are there hardships?

OHA: Yes. Organic farming is very labor intensive since we cannot use any chemicals to control weeds, disease, pests and fungus. Organic farmers have to control problems manually, whether it means pulling weeds by hand or cultivating with a tractor. We also use a three-year crop rotation to help. We use organic or untreated seed, as well, and some seed is hard to find in large amounts at a fair price.

R: Anything new happening at the farm?

OHA: We plan to continue to expand the varieties and the amount of produce that we grow.

R: When did you start your CSA? How does it work?

OHA: We started in 2002 with about 10 members. Today we have around 70 members in Illinois and Iowa. Each member, whether they opt for a half- or a full-share subscription, receives a cooler filled with a selection of fresh produce each week for 22 weeks from mid-May to mid-October.

R: Where can we buy your produce?

OHA: Aside from our CSA, we also have a stand at several regional farmers’ markets. We’re at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.; the Trinity Farmers’ Market in Moline on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon; and the East Moline Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. We also sell fresh produce on the farm.

R: Tell us a little bit about your family.

OHA: All family members have a role on the farm. Andy handles growing and harvesting vegetables, cut-flower crops and marketing. Christina handles CSA subscriptions, the greenhouses, marketing and preparing produce for CSA coolers and farmers’ markets. Terry maintains equipment, does marketing and grows the small grains. Lorraine does marketing. Also, Christina’s mom and brother help with whatever is needed around the farm.

See Oak Hill Acres at the Healthy Living Fair (go here for details) or visit their farm at 978 310th St., Atalissa, Iowa. The phone number is (563) 946-2304.

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