By Terrah Baker
David Dickey said some of his first, and fondest, memories are wandering through his dad’s organic garden in California before he was five. He didn’t know then that he’d spend his entire professional career in the agricultural field, and especially that he’d start his own small farm implementing overarching sustainable practices and offering people the enjoyment of a farm experience.
Financial, Environmental Sustainability
The word sustainable to Dickey means more than just being organic, he explained. There are more pieces to the puzzle than just the environmental impact.
“Sustainability to me means a balance. Is it sustainable economically for the producer? Is it sustainable for the environment? Is it sustainable for the people who support you, your workers and people who you buy supplies from,” he said.
Right now, Dickey’s farm financially sustains itself, and leaves a little extra for growth, but he’s far from reaching his goal of making it his full-time job. To help make this a reality, he utilizes practices he’s researched in his time working for the UofA — implementing high tunnels to extend the growing season, using integrated pest management practices for a more holistic approach to saving his harvest from animals, and improving his soil quality using cover crops.
This has allowed Dickey to become a main seller at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market — where he’s been since 1998 when he harvested from his own garden — and is a part of the Fayetteville Farm-to-School program. The rest of what he grows goes to feeding his family, various on-the-farm customers and the U-Pickers who come out during the summer for strawberries and in the fall for pumpkins and squash.
A Professional Farmer
Dickey grew his first garden during high school in Central Arkansas for a 4-H and FFA project, using the harvest as part of his summer income. From there, he said, it became a part of who he is. That’s what keeps him going year after year even when things get tough, financially and otherwise.
“We do it because we love it. It’s a way of life. Most farmers believe that what we’re doing is important. It’s also about providing independence. I like to be able to say that 30 or 40 percent of what my family consumes comes from the food we grow. It gets in your blood,” he explained.
When he decided to go to college, he wanted to study farming. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics and then went on to earn his master’s in poultry nutrition and research at the UofA. After a stint working with Tyson to develop new breeds of chicken, he was laid off and took the opportunity to grow his farm.
The first step was choosing a cash crop. In his case it was fruit. He now grows about four acres of strawberries, apples and grapes, with many of the varieties specific to production in the Arkansas climate thanks to horticulture research at the UofA.
His years of experience and research give him an advantage, and allows him to maximize his production and provide food to the local community and his family. He also provides part-time temporary jobs for local students and residents during his prime growing seasons.
Pumpkins and squash were something that always fascinated Dickey, he said. Like many children, their large size, variety of colors and forms, and late season begged him for attention. He first started growing pumpkins and squash in his fields 12 years ago. Today, over 70 varieties of pumpkins and winter squash can be found in his 9-acre patch, along with a laid-back atmosphere where U-Pickers can come and experience a small farm.
“A lot of this stuff people have never seen before. We want them to experience that diversity and try to do some education if we can. And let their kids see what a farm looks like,” Dickey said. “One of the things we try to emphasize is we’re farmers first. This is an extension of what we do and we want people to come see it. There’s no entrance fee and we want people to be able to come out and be themselves and have a relaxing experience, and if they buy something, great.”
The pumpkins and squash are planted from June to early July and are ready to harvest by the end of September. The over six acres of U-Pick patch is open until the weekend after Halloween, with winter squash being available for purchase throughout the winter.
The hours run weekdays 4 p.m. until dark, Saturdays 9 a.m. until dark and Sundays from 1 p.m. until dark. To learn more about Dickey, Dickey Farms, the pumpkin patch, his farming practices and what local produce he has to offer, visit www.facebook.com/pages/dickey-farms/100232761473 or call 479-361-9975.