IT’S MEET MY FARMER MONDAY!
City girl meets farmer boy: falls in love; trades in her office-job high heels for manure-kicking boots; never looks back. This is the storybook version of Jana Smith’s life at Radiant Acres Farm and Garden. But anyone who’s grown food in the South knows better than that. Start-up farming in Georgia would be challenge for any modern American to choose, let alone a person who claims she’d “always been the indoor girl in my family.”
You wouldn’t know this upon meeting Jana today. Ponytailed and sunkissed, she grows, harvests, delivers and displays crates of gorgeous veggies, herbs and eggs at market like a seasoned pro. Jana literally glows when she talks about gardening. “It’s amazing to learn how it all works together. Companion planting, natural pest controls, medicinal herbs.” She gets giddy about the luffa gourds she’s got planted for the first time this year. Even more so about her long-term goal to grow cut flowers. “I want to learn it all.”
Jana is also the first person to admit: the learning curve is steep, and mindsets don’t change quickly, especially when it comes to the topic food.
Jana grew up during the 1980s in a single-family home with a meticulously kept lawn. “That was my parents’ thing. They owed a landscaping business and they always had the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood. We girls had to help pick up sticks, sweep sidewalks, rake leaves. I hated it.” Jana’s mom worked for a florist for two decades, she said. “But me, I couldn’t keep anything alive. I never had that feel for making things grow.”
Her preference for more civilized desk work eventually landed her a job at the Augusta Court House as a Superior Court Deputy Clerk. She dressed the role. She ran a tight ship. Things were as they should be.
And then she met Steve.
“Our relationship started with a bunch of texts before we ever met. We had really good conversations by text,” she smiled, remembering. But when it was time to meet in person, things weren’t as clear. “He picked me up from work for our first date, for lunch. And while we were eating, he just sat there, completely silent. Just a few ‘yups’ was all I got.”
“I was thinking, ‘What am I doing? Is this guy just some dumb farmer? I don’t know if I can do this.’”
But something was there – some spark – and so Jana decided to give the farmer a chance.
“We’re different in 600 ways,” she laughed, “but in some ways, we’re 100 percent alike.”
For Steve, farm life has always been the norm. He grew up in Ft Loramie, OH, across from a dairy where he often worked. He also helped on his grandpa’s farm throughout childhood. His own family always had a great big garden and lots of fruit trees. Everyone was expected to work the gardens because there were ten family members to feed, “and I like to eat,” he grinned.
Steve – who moved to Georgia in 2009 as an electrician and now works at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant – started his own small farm venture in 2013. He had begun a deep dive into the organic and permaculture literature just before meeting Jana.
They met in 2014, married in 2015, and soon thereafter bought land and a home in Waynesboro, Georgia. Jana showed up from her day job to sign the papers, still in heels and dress pants. “I mean, I bought organic eggs and organic milk before meeting him,” she noted. “I was cool,” she smiled.
But the sustainable ag topics that Steve began introducing her to were, as she put it, “other level.”
“You cannot be dumb and be a farmer, not by any means. You’ve got to know and do so much. It’s endless.” She points out that Steve does all the pre-planting work, readying the fields, tilling, amending, sowing, irrigating. Steve is also “the numbers guy, the people-person at the market,” the one who engages others in thoughtful and informed conversations about complex issues related to food and agriculture.
Jana is all about the business aesthetic, about making their market displays and products look as beautiful as they are healthy. “I want everything to be fresh, clean and attractive,” she says. “But eventually, I also want to be able to have those deeper conversations with customers at market.” In fact, she’s been leaving Steve back on the farm on market days lately, just to give herself more practice.
While Jana and Steve expect all of their children to work on the farm, it’s their youngest, Arabella, who takes most naturally to it. Notes Steve: “We were sowing beans (this spring) in 50-foot rows, marking them out as we went. And there’s our seven-year-old, working right alongside me, just straddling those beds, knowing not to step in the growing soil all on her own.” Jana concurs: “Arabella is our animal whisperer. She could catch a full grown hen before any of the rest of us could.”
Indeed, the entire Smith family appears to thrive as a food-growing family. But it’s Jana who seems most surprised by how brightly she shines on those Radiant Acres.
“In this life on the farm with Steve, I’m able to be more me. I still dress up sometimes. I’m still a girly girl,” she confesses. But – dressed up or dressed down – “he thinks I’m beautiful either way.”
The Smiths are currently raising chickens for eggs, as well as a wide variety of summer vegetables. You can purchase their products year-round through the Augusta Locally Grown OnLine Market on Tuesday evenings, and seasonally at the Harvest Bright Farmers Market with Burke County Schools on Thursday evenings.