The Local Voice

Who’s Your Farmer: Luke Heiskell of Woodson Ridge Farms


Name: Lucius Lamar Heiskell Jr. of Woodson Ridge Farms (“Luke”)

Hometown: Sumner, Miss.— Oxford now

What brought you to the area? School originally, the farm now.

How did you get started in agriculture? My step father, who I grew up with, had a cotton farm at Swan Lake, Miss. and we always had gardens on the farm and some times at our house. My dad’s favorite thing to grow were Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes, and I am still growing them.

What is a typical work day like? We start at daylight. After harvesting in the morning, we irrigate, plant, plow, or whatever is necessary.

What do you do on a rainy day? Paperwork, plan, or work on equipment. But we always harvest.

What’s the best thing about working on your farm? The smell of the earth when it’s freshly tilled up, and the smell of the fresh veggies!

What are you most proud of this year so far? Our CSA program has been well received by the community. Also I am proud of being a part of the Oxford Community Farmers Market Advisory Committee. While it doesn’t look like it will be able to open this year, we are moving forward to establish the new market with a fresh look and feel that will really make people want to visit and get involved in the fresh local food movement. I want all farmers and citizens to come together and work together to get more people eating healthy local produce and also proteins.

Chicken, pork, lamb, and beef are all raised here in our community and we need to support the farmers raising them. One farmer can’t supply the whole community. It takes a community of farmers to supply a community. We need all the farmers and ranchers. I can only grow so many tomatoes, and that says that there has to be other farmers growing tomatoes, too. Same with lettuce and also with beef. There is room for all the farmers and growers we can find, if we get more people to buy local foods.

In my mind it is not a competition between growers, it is a competition between where the food is from. Did it come from nearby, or did it come from California? How far has it traveled to get to your plate? And most importantly, does it still have flavor when it gets to your plate?

What are you most looking forward to this season?  We are always trying new varieties and I always look forward to new things coming out of the ground that I’ve never tried before.

Funniest / strangest thing that has happened on the farm lately: The funniest thing has to be the volunteer tomatoes that are growing in a new plot that was planted where we piled the tomato plants as we pulled them out of the field last fall. The seeds from the rotting tomatoes left on the vines are very prolific and some are taller than our first transplanting of tomatoes. Of course, we won’t know what variety that are until they come in!

What’s your favorite vegetable? That depends on the season. I love the carrots, and potatoes are always great. I really love most all of them.

What’s your favorite insect? While I don’t like being stung, the bee is the most important to us farmers.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while digging in the ground? I am definitely a country music guy! I also like older rock and even 60s music, but my iPod is mostly country, blues, and some folk.

Ever dug up (or found) anything strange / interesting / valuable? I have found some old farm implement pieces while breaking ground here. Mainly small hand tools and parts off of field equipment, but nothing “valuable” yet. I always bring them in and they will all eventually be displayed on the walls of our pole barn.

Name an uncommon vegetable that people should try: They are almost all common to us now, but I would say different varieties of common veggies. I have grown up eating turnips, mainly the greens, but now I really like baby white turnips. My favorite way to fix them is sautéed in a skillet with a little olive oil and sea salt.

Tell us one thing about farming that most people probably don’t know: It really is easy to grow your own food. It just takes a little time and really very little space, even if you live in an apartment. In just a few containers you can grow some great food. You might not grow everything you need to eat, but you can get enough to enjoy.

Is there anything you’d like to see change about the way food is consumed in our community? I really think everybody needs to learn to cook. When I was young, we all learned to cook, from vegetables from our garden to wild game and seafood, my sisters and I were taught to cook what we had. Nowadays, kids are too used to fast food. Don’t get me wrong, a good dinner out is great every now and then, but if you teach kids to make pizza at home, it will generally be better and healthier. And it’s fun to cook together. It’s one of the really fun times I have with my daughters. They all three like to cook from the grill to baking cookies. And using fresh vegetables when cooking makes it even more fun.

Name one piece of equipment you could not live without: Well if you put it that way, it would be the tractor since all the others work off of it. But I really like our planter. It is a Matter Macc vegetable vacuum seeder. It plants even very small seed like turnip or mustard seeds. Even onion seed can be precision sown in lines 10 inches apart on rows  down to 30 inches apart or up to 80 inches apart. By changing plates in the planter, and moving the row units which slide on the tool bar, I can change row spacing very quickly. It has to be one of the most easily adaptable pieces of farm equipment I have ever used.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you didn’t know when you first started farming: Well when we started here, I thought as most people did that we couldn’t grow vegetables in the winter months. Most farmers here quit for the winter. Well that might be the right idea in really cold years, but we grew all winter this past year. And we hope to really expand our winter production this coming year.

What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten? I have to say that my wife Elizabeth is the best cook I know and she has created some wonderful dishes with our vegetables. I would have to say grilled Old Thyme Farms pork chops with a medley of our vegetables, roasted squash, onions, and a big salad with my vinaigrette dressing would be hard to beat.

Know Your Bartender: Mike Jaure of Rooster's Blues House in Oxford, Mississippi
Cook Of The House: Maury Leslie of Two Stick in Oxford, Mississippi
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