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FSA helps organic farmer prosper

Special to The Journal

Gary Weil has found his niche – Organic Farming.

You'll find his passion, growing vegetables

chemical-free, at Red Root Farm, located in the small town of Banks, Alabama.

Red Root Farm exclusively uses organic methods to produce a variety of crops, mainly fruits, vegetables, herbs and sugar cane.

Weil uses botanical extracts, compost and cover crops to enrich the soil.

Weil has been farming organically for six years, usually managing three or fewer acres.

With the help of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA), he was able to increase his operation to 18 acres this year.

FSA helped Weil purchase a tractor, install a well, erect a greenhouse and purchase a transplanter.

This was made possible through an FSA Direct Operating Loan.

FSA makes and guarantees loans and provides credit counseling and supervision to farmers and ranchers who are temporarily unable to obtain private,

commercial

credit.

Weil said, &#8220The additional equipment has been a lifesaver this year.

With the added acreage, it would have been rough trying to plant with the small tractor that I was using to farm three acres.

I can now plant an acre per hour.

The well has also been a lifesaver, especially during this drought year.”

Weil found out about FSA's direct loan program through FSA Farm Loan Manager John Dorill.

Weil has an established market for his products through his utilization of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

With CSA, consumers share the costs of supporting the farm and share the risk of the harvest.

Weil's CSA is a subscription-type service where members pay an up-front fee to him in advance, and in return, receive fresh locally organic-grown products during a 15-week period.

He has 50 members and delivers to Auburn, Dothan and Montgomery.

Weil's products are also sold at local farmers' markets, and some customers visit the farm to pick their own products.

Weil seems to always have an abundance of products for his customers.

He said, &#8220I am able to control risk by planting a variety of crops; if something drops, something else does well.

It's natural crop insurance.”

Weil has no intention of increasing the acreage in operation at Red Root Farm anytime soon.

Eighteen acres is large for organic farming.

Most organic farms are small and worked manually.

However,

with the added acreage and new equipment, Weil has proven that organic farming can be done on a larger scale and more modernly.

Red Root Farm set precedence this year as the first recipient of the Specialty Crop Award at the Pike County Farm-City Banquet.

Weil is fortunate to get labor through various organizations and his web site (www.redrootfarm.com). He has two intern students helping now; however, they will soon leave to return to school.

Prior to farming, Weil studied herbal medicine in California.

He decided that he did not want to pursue a career in medicine and returned home to start Red Root Farm.

Weil said, &#8220I feel that I am still working in medicine, because organic products are the best preventive medicine.”

For more information regarding FSA's Farm Loan Program, you may contact the Farm Loan Officer in your area through your local USDA FSA Service Center Office.