Mr. WB Brown, of Brown’s Place Farm, easily recalls the biggest collards he ever grew. “One leaf,” he said, spreading his arms open as if to embrace a refrigerator. “Just one leaf would have fed all of us a meal. It was that big.”
“We were stationed in Asmara, Ethiopia,” he said, in 1972. “Beautiful weather, good soil, climate, all the houses were psychedelic colors, yellow, blue, white, pink.” But the country’s government refused to invest in agricultural technology for deep-well irrigation in those decades of drought. More than a million Ethiopians suffered historic-level famine during the 70s and 80s. While Mr. Brown shared his small plot of giant collards with neighbors, he also witnessed the devastation of a society in which farmers and farming were catastrophically dismissed and devalued.
WB and his wife, Lynn, have lived a true documentary of a life together. They’ve been stationed all over the world with the US Army, from Okinawa to Taipai (now Taiwan), to Augusta, GA, and three tours in Korea. At the time of his induction into the service, he interviewed with all four branches of the military. The Navy really wanted to train him as an electrical engineer on a submarine, he said, “but I’m a land man.” Mr. Brown chose the service that would keep him closest to the soil.
When he graduated from AIT in the top five of his class, he was selected for White House communications. Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. Brown maintained a high-security clearance and worked on high-tech satellite and microwave systems. And wherever he could, this “Land Man” planted a vegetable garden.
For the Browns, all this food growing wasn’t just a hobby. Mrs. Brown was on her own mission of love, a mission that included a lot mouths to feed. After having one biological child of their own, the Browns began bringing in other young people to grow up in their home. In all, more than a dozen have found themselves unofficially adopted into their household, and all remain a solid part of their family forever.
WB credits his own father for instilling in himself, and his siblings, the hard-earned ability to raise food for family first, and then for sale. Mr. Emory Brown was a share-cropper on 500 acres in Bainbridge, GA, where there was no choice in the matter: the Brown children woke early, year-round, for farm chores before eating breakfast, and then again after school, and all day in summer, every single day. They grew peanuts, corn, cotton, peas, and livestock. All eight of them were expected to work from a very early age until the day they left for college, tech school, the military or got married. “My father only finished the 3rd grade, but he was a very good farmer.”
Of the boys, WB took to farming the most naturally. “I was the only boy allowed to cultivate the peanuts,” he said. And that meant driving the tractor. “I seemed to be the only one who could cultivate peanuts exactly three inches between the plant and the plow,” he said.
WB and Lynn met at the high school prom. When WB’s friend brought Lynn to the dance, he told his friend, “You better hold on to her ‘cause if you drop her, I would catch her before she hit the ground.” As time went on, the friend and Lynn went their separate ways. WB and Lynn began dating and – seven months later – they were married.
Decades later, while stationed at Fort Gordon, WB started looking to buy land of his own for “retirement.” Lynn’s family had 200 acres back in Quincy, FL, where she was from, just across the state line from Bainbridge, GA. But after retiring from the Army, returning to that area wasn’t meant to be. Instead, a 20-acre piece of heaven in the gentle hills of Grovetown, GA, caught his attention. They purchased the land in 1984, and built a house on the property in 1990. WB became a taxman for income and a farmer for fun. But then he met folks at Augusta Locally Grown, enrolled for the Georgia Organics Conference, met Sam and Loretta Adderson and became permanently infected with the organics bug. Browns Place Farm hasn’t stopped growing since.
This season, WB is growing kale, turnips, mustard greens, collards, beets and lettuce. Later he’ll plant okra, beans and other summer crops. He also raises registered Kinko goats for breeding purposes and, at times, for meat. “Twenty acres is only big enough for 4-5 cows,” he explained, “but I can raise 50-60 goats on my land.”
As a tax professional, WB is keenly aware of the economic challenges of farming, especially with the additional responsibilities of USDA Organic requirements. “I’ve never counted on farming to make an income,” he noted realistically. “But today, I can finally say, that we are making a little profit.”
How can the people of Augusta help dedicated farmers like Mr. Brown stay solvent? “It would be good if we never had an extra veggie that didn’t sell at market. The margins are small. We need to sell everything we grow.”
Challenge accepted Mr. Brown. Challenge accepted.
You can meet the Browns at the Veggie Park Farmers Market again this year. Opening day is Tuesday, April 16, 2019.