Grant County recognizes organic farmer

Carol Rolf Originally Published August 4, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 2, 2013 at 12:18 p.m.
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Carol Rolf

Josh Hardin grows a wide variety of organic produce on Laughing Stock Farm near Sheridan. Among the herbs Josh Hardin grows is lemongrass.

Josh Hardin leads a “dual existence.”

“I’m an organic farmer here on my farm outside Sheridan, but I also continue to help on out my family’s more conventional farm at Grady [Lincoln County],” he said.

Josh and his wife, Anna, own and operate Laughing Stock Farm on 40 acres, where they practice

organic farming. Twenty-five of those acres are certified organic.

The Hardins are the 2013 Grant County Farm Family of the Year. They have a 10-month-old daughter, Miriam.

“I am excited about the honor,” said Josh, 30. “I am one of a few organic farmers in the state. I feel this honor will help me get the message out about organic farming and the importance of developing and maintaining a local sustainable food system.”

Anna said she also is honored by the recognition.

“It’s exciting to be picked for something that we’ve only been doing for a few years but that has caught the attention of others,” she said. “It’s gratifying to be acknowledged.”

During this growing season, Hardin has sold his produce to several chefs at Little Rock restaurants, as well as to members of the community who frequent markets that offer locally grown items.

“We also co-market and participate in our fifth-generation family farm, Hardin Farms, in Grady,” he said, adding that the family also maintains a store east of Little Rock in Scott.

Among the produce he raises on his organic farm are fingerling and colored potatoes, several varieties of cabbage, colored carrots, heirloom and hybrid squash, heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes, several varieties of sweet and hot peppers, baby pickling cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, shallots and fairytale eggplant. He also grows plants such as turmeric, lemongrass, Hawaiian ginger and galangal, which is a Thai ginger.

Many of his plants are grown in hoop houses, which are basically greenhouses, but the sides of the buildings can be rolled up for instant ventilation or kept closed for heat. The hoop houses allow Josh to plant in January instead of waiting for the spring months.

Josh is the son of Randy and Debbie Hardin of Grady and Becky Anderson of Augusta. He is a graduate of Star City High School.

At one time, he wanted to be a professional Rollerblader.

“I was going to do that for a living,” he said with a laugh, “but I woke up.”

Josh studied organic agriculture through the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems apprenticeship program in Santa Cruz, Calif.

“There is a whole revolution in the food movement out there,” he said. “I got a taste of it and came back home to try to make a go of it. I’m putting my all-and-all into it and am seeing it begin to pay off.

“I’m getting chefs to try new things,” he said. “And their customers are beginning to appreciate the new foods and are feeling comfortable with them because they ate them. They now want to go home and try cooking with the new foods themselves.”

Hardin is working on a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and eventually wants to teach agricultural education to perpetuate the art of organic farming.

“I am blessed to be able to grow things, and I have a passion for growing,” he said. “I am proud to be a fifth-generation farmer, and I want my kids to become the sixth generation.”

The Hardin family traces its roots back to Thomas Jefferson Hardin, who had a farm in the late 1800s.

Anna, who is from Prescott, is a clinical dietitian with the Veterans Administration system. She holds undergraduate degrees in family and consumer sciences and dietetics from Henderson State University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Josh works with the Grant County Conservation District Board of Directors and often conducts classes at the Grant County Cooperative Extension Service office.

Josh and Anna are supporters of the Society of Saint Andrew, which is an ecumenical, nonprofit charitable organization that salvages, or “gleans,” produce from the fields of American farmers when the crops might otherwise be left to rot. The society gives that food, free of charge, to local agencies that serve the hungry.

“I am the Arkansas coordinator,” Josh said. “I coordinate the gleaning in Arkansas. We give the produce to local food banks.”

Josh visits schools, churches and other groups seeking support for the program. He also works with those who have smaller farms to encourage them to take part in the program, which partners with the Rice Depot and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. He said the Society of Saint Andrew has gleaned 40 million pounds of food during the past decade.

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