You could drive past the little black mailbox on Highway 63 and never notice Tanner Farm. We did. Twice. There isn’t a huge sign or lavish gate, but as you turn in and gaze upon rows of meticulously grown fruits and vegetables, you quickly realize why this is a place to be reckoned with.
Located a little over an hour outside of Little Rock in Rison, Arkansas, Tanner Farm is owned and operated by its namesake Richard Tanner. He and his family have been growing food on the land for the past ten years, but did not start selling to the public until four years ago.
The farm is approximately 40 acres, and the family rotates 8-10-acre zones of crops with personal livestock and nitrogen building cover crops. Tanner hopes to lease an addition 25 acres next year that would allow the land even more rest periods. “I feel it’s imperative to not overwork ground and allow the soil to rest – nature has a way of rebuilding itself,” says Tanner.
Standing in the middle of the crops with Tanner and his family on a 90+ degree late afternoon, you’re stuck by the passion that exudes from this self-taught farmer. He is calm, almost methodical with his mannerisms, but extremely focused about what it takes to grow crops the right way. The farm specializes in heirloom, cherry, and determinate variety tomatoes, but grow other favorites like patty pans, cucumber, pickles, peas, green beans, squash, zucchini, watermelons, cantaloupes, along with a huge variety of peppers. “This year we have added gourmet sweet corn and okra. We also have a small orchard with peaches, apples, plums, thorn-less blackberries, and raspberries,” says Tanner.
Those blackberry and raspberry bushes reside alongside a small dirt road that winds through the center of Tanner’s land. On the other side is his latest project: Tanner Organic Farm. You see, his farm is actually split into two entities, Tanner Farm, which is a conventional but sustainably farmed through crop rotations, cover crops and non systemic or natural pesticides and fungicides, and the second part, this aforementioned area across the road which will be Tanner Organic Farm (once its USDA organic certification is in place). Says Tanner, “We use mostly organic practices where practical for the conventional side of our farm but without the high price tag that goes along with the branding of ‘certified organic.’ Both sections are separated with a buffer zone and will be sorted, packed, and sold in two completely separate markets. This will allow locals who know and appreciate our clean, sustainable farm to enjoy naturally grown produce at great prices, while the higher priced ‘certified organic’ will be sold to retailers at wholesale prices.”
Tanner, a recently engaged single father, depends on this three girls, Lauryn (16), Julia (8), and Reagan (6), to help with the entire farming process. Says Tanner, “Every January they begin the process of starting seeds in trays, transplanting into cups in our greenhouse, and eventually watering, planting, pruning, staking, tying, picking, then cleaning everything up so that we can plant cover crops. Amazingly, my fiancé Mollie and her two daughters have bravely jumped in to help out, and allowed us to mentor even more young lady farmers. The girls have also gained invaluable experience and relationships through our ‘on farm’ stand, farmers markets, and customer deliveries.”
Local restaurant chefs are no strangers to Tanner and his kids either. Says Chef Matt Bell of South on Main, “Tanner Farm is a favorite of South of Main. His quality is second to none. Our favorite thing about Richard and his farm is the incredible emphasis he places on his family. When we can spend our dollar local and see the direct impact it has on a family that is hugely rewarding. I have never had a delivery from Richard that didn’t include his three wonderful daughters. He and his girls make our day with every delivery.”
Tanner’s girls have also provided farming/growing education to other children throughout the area. “One of the most memorable experiences for the girls has been taking part in the Clinton Foundation Culinary Camp organized in part by Executive Chef of Forty Two Stephen Burrow. Stephen asked if we would be interested in sponsoring the camps, and the girls had a blast with all the kids as well as judging the Culinary competitions. From the culinary camp to school field trips in the fall to speaking to elementary students about their farming experience, the girls have had great opportunities to gain invaluable skills for life,” says Tanner.
Lauryn (who goes by Renee), Julia, and Reagan are also helping out with Tanner Farm’s recently added CSA program. Says Tanner, “This is our first year doing a CSA, and we are very excited! The CSA is part of Tanner Farm, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to make four presentations to employees of Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield to promote our CSA. In previous years we had primarily delivered door-to-door and business-to-business. We are so thankful to Linda Kyzer and Rob Herndon for their progressive thinking and value for nutrient rich foods. As this concept grows, anyone will be able to pick up at multiple downtown locations. Sign ups for this summer’s first season CSA ends June 11th, please go to tannerfarm.com and you can read about or sign up for the CSA through our secure online payment system.”
As Richard Tanner guides us through his farm–crafted by years of painstaking trial and error procedures (“mostly error,” he says grinning)–Lauryn is 50 yards away, monitoring a field of crops with a confidence well beyond her years. Next to her is Mollie. Julia and Reagan are laughing and playing off in the distance. At that moment, everything–his family, his crops–is in eye’s view for Richard Tanner.
And he is happy.
Ways to Get Tanner Farm’s Produce:
-CSA Farm-Share Program (full share and half shares are being offered for pickup at 2 locations in Little Rock, once per week for 10 straight weeks)
-Baptist Health BFriends Farmer’s Market (Tuesday, 7 a.m.-noon at Baptist Health Main Campus in West Little Rock off I-630) Organizer is Missy Robertson. Set up by the main entrance in the parking garage.
-Farm-to-Chef (weekly delivery to restaurants in Central Arkansas)