“ORGANICS PIONEER” is one way to describe farmer Relinda Walker of Walker Farms Organic Produce. Soulful, wise, and sand-gnat-pecked are some others. But adjectives alone just don’t do this woman justice. In order to really KNOW Relinda, you’ve got to know her veggies. Rainbow carrots. Baby arugula. Fava beans. Canary melons. Sweet Vidalia onions. Each is a gourmet being in its own right, and Relinda builds them all a lovingly-tended, healthy-soil home.
To learn how Augusta got lucky enough to win the heart of Relinda Walker, you’ve got to go back to the year 2001. Her mom had recently passed, and her dad was struggling with his own health. Relinda left a corporate career in NYC and returned to her childhood farm in Sylvania, GA. At first, her dad thought her a bit of a nut for pursuing organics, but eventually he came around. “Turns out he loved eating some of the vegetables we were growing,” she said.
Her first venture into Augusta was as a very green farmer in Spring 2002. She arrived with an open basket of French green beans and a smile, and remembers it fondly. “The chefs in Augusta were so much more amiable to me than they were in Savannah back then.” Within a short time, she was selling directly to some of our city’s most well-known chefs, including Chef Heinz of La Maison on Telfair, as well as those at the The Partridge Inn, Calverts, Bistro 491 and Chow. Today her fan base of chefs is primarily in Savannah, but Augustans can still get a good sampling of Walker Farms through such contemporary enthusiasts as Chef Charleen Tinley of Culinary Connections.
At the heart of this relentlessly hard-working farmer is a relentlessly hard-working activist. From 2003-2008, Relinda helped lead a state-wide effort to transition conventional farmers toward organic practices. Relinda and her like-minded cohorts focused primarily on increasing acreage of organic blueberries, peanuts and Vidalia onions; their efforts are quite evident in Georgia’s yields today. Relinda was also one of the first farmers to support the creation of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market in Savannah, The Main Street Statesboro Farmers Market, and several on-line farmers markets, including Augusta Locally Grown. She is a board member of both Georgia Organicsand the Coastal Organic Growers … and we all wonder when she ever sleeps!
The most lasting impression this farmer makes on our local foods front is in growing young, new farmers. A steady stream of budding organic growers arrives each year at her farm from organizations such at ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture and WWOOF. Two to three interns learn and work and live on her farm at any one time, all sharing a quaint trailer on the property. “They all bring so many different skills,” she said. “The common bond being a true passion for this kind of work.”
A true passion for this kind of work. Maybe we found just the right adjective to describe Relinda Walker after all.