Farming runs deep in Mary Blackmon’s veins. It’s part of her family’s heritage going back four generations. But it wasn’t something she ever saw herself doing.
During much of her childhood, she lived in Monroe, La., and spent many happy hours on her grandparents’ nearby farm. However, when it was time to make her own way in the world, she felt called by a completely different career that led to exciting work at several big media companies and a lot of big-city living in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
In 2008, though, she learned that her family’s farm — land her grandparents had tirelessly transformed from timberland into a thriving rice farm — was going to be sold. It was one of those crossroads moments: Either lose that piece of her heart and soul on the Arkansas/Louisiana border or take over the farm and run it herself.
“I had to do some soul searching, but it really wasn’t as difficult a decision as you might think,” recalls Blackmon. “Because of my love for my family before me and the feeling of sentiment I have for that area of the country, I realized there was no choice but to keep the farm and run it with passion and full commitment.” So like some fictional heroine, Blackmon, who was living in chic Los Angeles at the time, packed her bags and headed back home to the South. Today her Green Delta Farms grows corn, soybeans and wheat, and next year plans to return to the farm's roots by growing primarily rice.
From left, Jamila Norman of Atlanta, Meryl Kennedy of Mer Rouge, La., and Heath Bardin of Sterlington, La., have been featured as "Farm Stars" on Blackmon's website. (Photos: FarmStarLiving.com)
As she started learning the intricacies and complexities of farming and got to know other farmers, she grew increasingly inspired. Blackmon began to view farmers as intelligent and industrious heroes filled with passion and reverence for the land. “Returning to my roots ignited something,” she says. “I felt like I understood this world and saw it in a more understanding and enlightened way. I was able to appreciate not only this beautiful yet remote area of the country and all it offers but I was able to experience the people, including my fellow farmers, in a way that was absolutely eye opening. I felt it should be shared.”
Leaning on her media experience, which included running her own multimillion-dollar website called Spa-Addicts.com, she launched FarmStarLiving.com. The goal: to celebrate farmers and the importance of farming in all our lives. “Because of my past career I felt I had the ability to take my new view of farming, which is fun, exciting, interesting, hip and entertaining, to the general public,” says Blackmon. “I felt I could give farming a makeover.”
Today she splits her time between the farm and Atlanta, where her brother and his family live. It’s a crazy busy life trying to grow both crops and a website, but Blackmon is a woman on a mission. “In the next 50 years, we have to feed as many people as we did in the entire last 500, but farming is a dwindling career choice,” she says. “My hope is that Farm Star Living will provide people with a new way to understand and connect with farming, as well as actually get involved with it and support more farmers.”
Something for the city folks
Farm Star Living is chock full of information and useful resources designed to make the farming lifestyle more accessible even to the most diehard high-rise dwellers and to highlight the farm-to-table connection that often gets lost in the shuffle of supermarket shopping. “There’s a consciousness happening in our society where we are more interested in knowing who is behind our food and what process is involved,” says Blackmon. “I hope to provide a resource for this.”
One of the site’s biggest attractions is its profiles of real-life farmers. “I call them my Farm Stars,” says Blackmon. And stars they are. Blackmon’s profile picks are not only “easy on the eyes,” but also philosophical, articulate and undeniably cool. “Everybody has a perception that farmers are one way, but boy I’m not seeing it,” she says, laughing. “My LA friends would be shocked if they knew what’s always around the next corn row here.”
Farm Star Living also offers a section called Farm Fun, allowing you to search for farms that offer petting zoos, pick-your-own-produce programs, bed and breakfasts, classes, internships and other down-home activities. You can also look up hundreds of restaurants that serve local, farm-grown food through the site’s Farm to Table feature. And Blackmon plans to launch a companion Android and iPhone app allowing you to search anytime for farm-to-table restaurants, map them and call for reservations.
In addition, Farm Star Living offers the inside scoop on new trends in farming, including urban gardens and the farm-to-school movement, plus tips on bringing more of the farming lifestyle into your own home and backyard (such as how to create farm-inspired holiday decorations and how to plant a garden in the fall).
“I think the busier and more technology-dependent we become, the more we yearn for a connection with the Earth and nature,” Blackmon says. “In my opinion it all goes back to the farm.”
Learn more about Blackmon in her interview with Atlanta Business Radio.
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- 40 farmers under 40
- 8 awesome urban chicken coop [Photos]
- How small-scale farmers are growing more rice with less water and fewer chemicals