When Kelly Carney of Jacksonville ended his 20-year career of developing and selling software, he had no idea he would come out of retirement to become a farmer.
“I retired in 2007, and I was going to spend my time trout fishing,” Carney said.
But after just a year, Carney decided to go into farming.
Trading in his suit and cubicle for work boots and a shovel has turned out to be a good move for Carney.
“When I started, I would say, ‘I’m an [information technology] geek who became a farmer,’ but now I can say, ‘I’m a farmer who used to be an IT geek.’”
Carney’s grandfather had a garden, but aside from that, Carney said, he is a first-generation farmer.
Carney bought a 9-acre plot in Cabot and started North Pulaski Farms, one of 37 certified organic farms in the state, he said. He commutes to his farm every day.
“I knew I had to invest a lot [when I started] because I wanted to make money, not just get by,” Carney said.
Organic farming is defined as a process of farming that uses no chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides.
Although organic farms make up only 37 of the 45,000 farms in the state, Carney said, becoming a certified organic farm was the easiest part.
“Growing crops organically is the hardest part,” he said.
He started out his first season with tomatoes, green beans, squash, peppers, cucumbers, okra and cantaloupe.
He had some failed attempts at some of his crops when he first began, but this year marks his fifth season of producing and selling organic crops successfully.
The seven crops he started out with have steadily been increased to 36 fruits and vegetables, depending on the time of year. These range from three types of cucumbers to Red Marconi sweet peppers.
On his 9 acres, Carney has five growing sites, which he has named after The Flintstones characters, because he is striving to get his soil back to bedrock.
“Fred,” for example, is 2.1 acres of gutter-connected high tunnel hoop houses that keep crops warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Carney practices crop rotation with all his crops. Crop rotation is the practice of growing various crops on the same land at different times, a practice that replenishes the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Carney said he does this in a three-year rotation. This process gives Carney’s crops more nutrients to grow fuller and better.
“When you have good soil, you have good properties for growing [crops],” he said.
“Organic farming is all about nutrient recycling,” Carney said. “The soil gets better with time.”
Carney said that of his 9 acres, 6 1/2 are in cultivation.
When he went into farming full time, Carney said, he didn’t realize how much fun he would have selling the products he works so hard to produce.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “Each season, I like [farming] more and more.”
Farming is hard work, Carney said, but he enjoys the people who buy his crops just as much as he enjoys growing them.
“I get to sell food to people I used to sell my software to,” Carney said.
The praise and kind words Carney gets from the customers who buy his produce at farmers markets across the state are what keep him going.
“I’m an affirmation junkie,” he said.
Although Carney’s primary income comes from selling his produce, he said he wants to raise awareness about the importance of eating locally and organically.
“I’m not [farming] to make money,” Carney said. “I’m doing it to make a difference.”
More information about North Pulaski Farms is available at www.northpulaskifarms.com.