Published on September 19th, 2019 | by TLV News0
Who’s Your Farmer: Jane Oliver & Schuyler Dickson of Alali Farm in Houlka, Mississippi
Name: Alali Farm, run by Schuyler and Jane Oliver Dickson, their ten month old twins Dot and Aila, and Steve and Debra Dickson.
Hometown: Schuyler was raised in Canton and Jane Oliver in Greenwood.
What brought you to the area? We were living in Jackson and looking to start a farm around there. But we found a piece of land in Houlka, Miss., that checked all the boxes we were looking to check, so we bought it and moved this way.
Are you a full time farmer? Yes
How did you get started in agriculture? My parents had, for a long time, a pretty big garden in their side yard in Canton. When we moved back to Mississippi after grad school, we started farming a few raised beds in my yard. Each year it grew a little bigger. Each year we tried out something new.
What’s a day on the farm like? It depends on the day. Most days, we wake up around five or six, go through our morning routine—my wife’s a yoga teacher and I have my MFA in fiction writing, so we both have an hour or so of our morning practices. I’m usually out in the field around 8, where we are weeding, pruning, stringing tomatoes, building infrastructure, picking, or whatever else needs done. My wife and mom are inside testing recipes or shelling or rearing babies. Usually, I’ll come in around supper and eat, help get the girls to bed, and then try to get some reading in if I can keep my eyes open.
What’s the best thing about working on your farm? Hands down, the best thing is being able to spend more time with family. I can just go inside, get some water and see my wife and girls whenever I want to. My parents live here, too, and being able to be around them and have my girls grow up next to their grandparents is a blessing.
What are you most looking forward to this season? The biggest thing I look forward to is helping people get fresh, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables on their tables and in their bodies. Most of my favorite times in life have taken place around food and a table, whether that has been with friends or family, so to be able to contribute in a healthy, sustainable way in bettering this community’s social and physical health is rewarding. If people ate more fruits and vegetables with people they loved, a lot of the problems in this country would start to solve themselves.
What’s your favorite crop? Jane Oliver loves basil (in a way that, if I wasn’t so secure with myself, I might find threatening). I like orange glo watermelons.
What’s your favorite music to farm to? This week, I’ve been listening to Paco de Lucía’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The Rich Roll podcast is great. And you can never go wrong with a Grateful Dead live album.
Ever dug up (or found) anything interesting? Nothing too interesting. Old horse shoes, a rabbit statue, Hernando de Soto’s kneecap.
Name an uncommon vegetable that people should try: Kohlrabi, especially in soup!
Is there anything you’d like to see change about the way food is consumed in our community? I would like to see people eat a more whole-foods, plant-based diet. Right now in the US, the top two killers, heart disease and cancer, are both largely caused by the standard American diet. And both are largely reversible by switching to a whole food, plant-based diet. Even one day a week of eating only locally grown legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables would go a long way in building better health and a better environment.
Name one piece of equipment you could not live without: We do our best to not be reliant on any type of machinery here, but if I had to answer, I’d say my two-wheeled ho.
Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you didn’t know when you first started farming: I’ve learned to try to mix idealism with practicality. Idealism is great and all, but it sometimes hindered me early on from getting things done. Perfect is the enemy of good, as they say.
What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten? The best meal’s always the next meal!