Trendsetters: Small-farm Crusader
Terri Jagger Blincoe didn’t grow up on a farm or have formal agriculture training, but her passion for nutritious local food and sustainable family farms has led her to learn and innovate by doing.
The owner of Ladybug Farms in Rabun County left her corporate telecommunications career in 2000 to start a garden design and installation business in Decatur. Her interest in medicinal herb gardening eventually morphed into a love of both farming and the North Georgia Mountains. In 2008, she bought a 14-acre former cattle farm near Clayton and began following her instincts to grow organic crops with as small a carbon footprint as possible.
“I’m kind of like a homesteader on steroids,” she says. “This was all new to me, but sometimes that’s a good thing because you don’t have preconceived ideas about what will work.”
On about three-fourths of an acre, Blincoe now grows 40 different crops from spring through fall seasons. She harvests 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food each year and sells her produce to two community supported agriculture (CSA) member cooperatives and at the Clayton farmers market.
She is the first U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic hay supplier in Georgia, using no herbicides or fertilizer on her seven acres of hay. Instead, she plants clover and vetch groundcovers to restore nutrients in the soil. Tests by a University of Georgia lab revealed protein levels in her hay that are much higher than in conventionally grown hay. Because of its protein density, she can charge four times the average price for her hay.
To irrigate her crops, Blincoe pursued rainwater harvesting, which she says people do all over the world. With the help of a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and a USDA engineer, she designed a gravity flow system that collects rainwater off the roofs of a couple of outbuildings and stores it in four, 1,500- gallon concrete tanks with holes in the bottoms. The water runs through a 300-foot pipe down a 14-foot elevation drop with enough pressure to connect drip-irrigation hoses for watering her crops. The result, she estimates, is about 36,000 gallons of reclaimed rainwater per year without using pumps or fuel.
Her innovation landed her a spot on the Georgia Water Coalition’s 2017 Clean 13 list of water conservation heroes. The organization estimates it’s the largest gravity-fed rainwater catchment system in the state.
In addition, Blincoe designed and built a 10-foot by 12-foot passive solar sunroom for starting the seeds of approximately 5,000 plants and curing onions, garlic and sweet potatoes once the seedlings are planted.
“When you’re a farmer, you have to be resourceful,” she says. “I just figure things out. I definitely feel like a pioneer on the frontier.”