Frequent visitors of the Hillcrest Farmers Market are no doubt familiar with Rattle’s Garden, a booth filled with vibrant flowers and choice fruits and veggies. I recently caught up with Tara Stainton, who, along with her husband Robert, runs the farm just north of Little Rock.
Where is Rattle’s Garden located and approximately how big of a farm is it?
We are located four miles east of Vilonia on Highway 64. We have a little over five acres in organic production.
How did you come up with the name?
Our farm is actually named after a dog, which should come as no surprise to anyone that knows us well. Rattle was my husband’s yellow lab who was 15 years old when I met him. She passed away at age 16 while we were building the barn we live in now. I like to think she was the first blond in his life, and held on until I came along to take care of him…she was special. When she passed away, we spread her ashes on our property. When I needed a name for the farm, I came up with Rattle’s Garden and it stuck.
Is the Hillcrest Farmers Market the only Little Rock market you attend?
Over the past three years that we have been selling in Little Rock, we have been involved in the Hillcrest Farmers Market, Argenta, Westover Hills, Bernice Gardens and the Whole Foods market, as well as ALFN. We primarily sell though at the Hillcrest Farmers Market, and only attend the other markets when we have a bumper crop of something or another. We hoped last year to have planted enough to attend the Argenta Farmers Market as well, but the increase in customers at Hillcrest allowed us to sell everything there. We are increasing production again this year, and hope again to be at Argenta. But it won’t hurt my feelings to see the foot traffic increase enough again at Hillcrest that we can just be at one market and sell everything.
I haven’t seen you there in a few months…what have you been up to?
We haven’t been to Hillcrest since the end of October. The length of our growing season has always been determined by the weather. Last year, we had an earlier frost that ended our production a little earlier than the year before. That actually allowed us the time though to complete the construction of a high tunnel on the farm that will help extend our season earlier in the spring and later in the fall. We didn’t actually complete that project until late January, so we’ll actually see its benefit this fall and next spring. Another “project” completed in January was an addition to our family. We welcomed our second son in mid-January and are excited to show him off at Hillcrest soon. We hope to be back at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in the next couple of weeks with a few greens and the first of our tulips.
Could you provide us with some more details on this high tunnel?
It is a large greenhouse-like structure (30×72 feet). It’s unheated but heats up tremendously on a sunny day, and is going to allow us to grow some vegetables throughout the winter. It will also allow us to grow some of our summer vegetables earlier in the spring and continue growing them later in the fall. More details on that project can be found on the blog on our website-www.rattlesgarden.com.
What are all the various items you grow at Rattle’s Garden?
We grow just about any vegetable that can be grown in Arkansas with the exception of potatoes, sweet corn or melons. We also don’t grow strawberries for market. So, throughout the year, we will grow lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, tatsoi (greens), cabbages, several varieties of summer and winter squashes, cherry and heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers and a large variety of cut flowers (including tulips, zinnias and sunflowers).
What’s tougher to grow…the flowers or the veggies?
I think the flowers are actually easier to grow, but have been a little harder for me to learn because there aren’t as many people around here to learn from. Everyone has an opinion on what type of tomato to grow, how to fertilize them, how to trellis them and when to pick them. I don’t come across many people that can give me tips on growing and harvesting Ageratum or Dahlias. I’ve had to learn those more through trial and error.
What is the most difficult part about being a grower?
The most difficult part of being a grower is definitely the uncertainty we have in regards to weather. We can do everything right and still have major crop failures due to unexpected heat or cold or excessive rainfall. Growing in the tunnel is an attempt to have a little more control over these factors.
Could you describe what a typical Saturday morning is like as you prepare to for market?
Saturday mornings change a little over the course of the growing season. They are a little more laid back in early spring and late fall, as the amount of produce we have to take to market is a little lighter, and the market starts an hour later than it does in the summer. Once we hit late April and early May though, for me, it’s been getting up around 4:00 a.m. to get myself ready for market and then start loading the van with produce. I try to load everything that doesn’t need to be kept cold into the van on Friday night. On Saturday morning, I load everything that was sitting in the walk-in cooler. I leave for Little Rock at about 5:15 a.m. and get to the Hillcrest as close to 6 o’clock as possible. It’s then just a matter of setting up our booth as quickly as possible, so we are ready for the hardcore market customers to hit right at 7. If we aren’t ready by 7, we may not get caught up before the market is over. I love those days though where we have so many customers that it feels like we are never going to get caught up. The demand the Hillcrest customers have shown for our produce and flowers makes us feel really appreciated, and makes all the hard work worth it. Now, I’m not sure how a new baby is going to change my Saturday morning routines this year but we’ll figure it out.