Meet the Villines family. Genevieve, Joe, and their sons live on Joe’s family farm in the small historic farming community of Boxley Valley, Arkansas. The family is living on a part of the property where Joe has envisioned a home since he was 13, raising sheep, chickens, and vegetables. I spoke with Genevieve about her farm, family, and experience with the new P6 program at Ozark Natural Foods.
Villines Family Farm began as an addition to Joe’s farm work with his father. Joe and his family started with a school bus that his grandfather had bought to make a sleeping area for his goats and turned it into a chicken coop. The family raised over a hundred chickens of various heritage breeds and sold their eggs through Ozark Natural Foods and other local vendors. After moving to a different part of the property, the egg business is on hold while the family focuses on raising Katahdin breed meat sheep and vegetables including winter squashes and tomatoes. They are still selling chicks of the heritage breeds that they raise, including Americauna and Black Copper Marans. (You can read about the egg business in this 2011 article.)
Genevieve and Joe both grew up in farming families. Joe grew up on the land the family now lives on. Genevieve is from South Arkansas. As a child, Genevieve said that she helped out with the chores, but she is working to create a more holistic look at farming as she and Joe homeschool their sons on the farm. She said, “I believe my sons are developing a good sense of what it takes to be a productive person in the world — we’re doing education during a certain period of the day but they see what it’s like to run a business. It’s different from how Joe and I grew up. We lived in farming environments but it wasn’t necessarily immersed in our everyday lives.” Genevieve says her sons are learning skills like math and customer service from working on the farm, but also about how to relate to the land as a partner and the animals as more than units of production. This includes letting the children make real decisions on the farm, like which sheep they should buy, and participating in all parts of the business.
The local food scene is still emerging in Arkansas. Genevieve could think of about five other families like hers where young people are returning to farm the land, but she said in her town, the Villineses are the only farmers under 65. Up until the 1950s, she said, many people farmed either for local consumption or to sell to distributors, but as the price of food fell, many people were driven into other industries. Genevieve said that many of the new farmers have a business mindset, but many have some farming background ties from their parents or grandparents. Joe’s father, Paul, and Genevieve’s father, Jack, are priceless sources of advice and farming information according to Genevieve. With both fathers being multiple generation farmers, many invaluable tips are passed down.
Genevieve told me about the efforts of Ozark Natural Foods to generate community among small farmers in Arkansas. Ozark holds an annual dinner for small local farmers, which this year will be the P6 Dinner, to help them get to know each other and build community. Genevieve is also doing her part by teaching chicken keeping classes and offering demonstrations at the co-op. She said “One impact I’m seeing on the local level is an increased inclination to try new things. Many people have never tried butternut squash, lamb meat, or raising chickens. They walk by it in the stores or don’t feel like it is something they can do. But when I can be the face of the product, I see people being willing to try it. The fact that people can reach out and touch the farmer or the educator gets people to try things they wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
I asked Genevieve what she would like customers to know about the farm. Her answer: “As we are working in the field we are continually thinking of you. It gives us great joy to bend down to tend a plant or harvest a squash, knowing about you and your support of us and others like us. You are making the choice to seek us out. When those seeds go in the ground, the sheep are fed, and the harvest comes in you are always on our minds.”
Villines Family Farms products are available and labeled P6 at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, AR.