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Produce Farming Is Labor Of Love

Local farmer Kenny Harmon points to a holding pond where spring fed water flows. He uses the water to irrigate his vegetables. – Photos by David Howell

The summer has started both hot and dry, requiring gardeners to water. Kenny Harmon pumps water from a spring fed pond to one of his corn patches.

Kenny Harmon inspects a zipper pea to see if it is close to maturity

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY – Imagine a job where you never get caught up – there is always something that needs to be done.

    Now imagine taking care of almost 40 acres of vegetables, truck patches, scattered across the eastern end of Yalobusha County.

    Kenny Harmon is doing just that – starting in February and continuing to September.

    “There is always something to do, six days a week from daylight to dark,” he explains.

    He’s got a half-dozen varieties of tomatoes, too many watermelon varieties to list and just about every other vegetable you can think of.

    His goal – get ‘em ready early and late.

    “I don’t care about having a bunch of tomatoes ready when everybody else has got them,” he explains.

    Harmon has been gardening off and on his entire life. Three years ago when the economy slowed, he got serious about it. That’s because his other profession, construction, had slowed considerably.


Moving The Product

    It take ingenuity to keep the large variety of vegetables moving to customers. Harmon keeps his phone number out there, and many times customers simply call and place their order. He sells his produce to the Main Street grocery store, the B.T. C. Grocery.

    But he moves the most produce each Wednesday and Saturday at the Lafayette County Farmers Market.

    Then there is the Watermelon Carnival. This year Harmon plans to pull between 500 and 700 melons timed to get ripe just before the carnival.

    “That is a lot of my business,” Harmon said.

    Harmon also has another marketing idea he hopes will be a success, u-pick.

    One pea patch alone spans two acres and he hopes to entice customers to come and pick their own.


Keeping It Growing

    Harmon, like all gardeners, has struggled with the heat and lack of rain this summer

    With crops scattered across the county, he comes up with different ways to keep the moisture flowing.

    North of Water Valley, just as Dogwood Drive heads out of the city limits,  is a large portion of Harmon’s operation. It’s a perfect setup, as a spring flows continually out of the ground on Larry Bell’s land.

    Using several different pipes, the spring can be diverted to a pond or a nearby creek. From the pond, there is a eight-inch PTO-driven pump that can transfer the water to several other holding ponds. Harmon uses a smaller gas-pump to carry the spring water from the holding ponds to each crop.

    At another field, a flowing creek has a hole just deep enough to accommodate a water pump. And yet another location, just west of Water Valley, he has a new dug pond to supply water.

    Only problem is this year’s lack of rain now has the pond almost dry.

    “If I have to, I will start hauling water,” Harmon said.


Making It Year Round

    Harmon is quick to report that vegetable farming is labor intensive.

    “It’s not a living by itself,” he adds.  Currently he keeps a construction crew – several men – busy.

    “I have to do carpenter work,,” he explains. But he is hoping another niche business could mesh well with his current farming operation.

    Harmon currently has locally grown hogs, from his farm, professionally butchered. The pork is U.S.D.A. inspected and what he calls grass feed and grain finished.

    “You get the best of both worlds,” he explains. His hogs do not receive any type of steroids or hormones. Currently he has sausage and pork chops available and within weeks he will also have country-cured ham and bacon also available.

    This fall he is going to add beef to the lineup. Like the swine, his beef will be butchered professionally from his herd and grass feed and grain finished.

    “By grain, I mean I raise the corn,” Harmon continues. He grinds the corn, cob, shuck and all, and adds most likely soybean pellets.

    “If I have a cow that gets sick and I have to give it antibodies, I will take it to the sale and get rid of it,” he explains.

    “That way Wendys or McDonalds will get it. People like healthy food.”

    For Harmon that’s more than words. He is banking on it.

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