The idea of being a sustainable food production farmer came late to Greg Mathis, although in retrospect, he realizes the seeds were being planted slowly over a period of time.
“A friend suggested I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, which chronicles a year in the life of the author’s family as they attempt to eat only locally grown foods,” said Mathis. “That started me thinking.”
After Mathis started driving a truck for a well-known food distributor, he had even more time to think about that book.
“I was transporting food hundreds of miles, and that was after it arrived in the States,” said Mathis. “A lot of it was coming from overseas, and what came from in the States was often from companies that have questionable food production practices.”
“The more I thought about the quality of the food I was transporting, the more I realized that I didn’t want to eat it.”
Still, when Mathis returned to college in 2011, he first began pursuing a certificate in Natural Resources and Conservation, and then switched to biology, with an eye toward a career in zoology.
His “ah-ha!” moment finally came at a fund-raiser as he listened to SRC agricultural education instructor Jeff Bash talk about the sustainable food production program at the College.
Moment of Epiphany
“We had a great discussion, and Jeff obviously heard the passion in my voice when I talked about being part of the locally grown food movement, because he finally said, ‘Greg, you just need to get some land and do it.’ He gave me the push I needed,” said Mathis.
Although Mathis hasn’t started his own sustainable food farm yet, he did accept Bash’s offer of the student intern position for the summer and through the fall semester, and he has also been accepted for a grant funded program offered through the University of Illinois crop sciences department in Urbana. The year-long program features a mix of classroom, hands-on, and in-field instruction, as well as visits to established produce farms and access to incubator plots.
“My original plan was to transfer in the fall of 2013 and continue with a major in agriculture, but I liked the idea of getting more real-life experience in the SRC garden, and I’m very excited about the U of I program,” said Mathis, who earned his Associate in Arts and Science degree from SRC in 2013.
Mathis puts in approximately 8 hours a day – and that often includes weekends – working in the SRC garden, and he has discovered there is always something that needs to be done, either harvesting, weeding, staking up, or planting more. Because the College uses two high tunnels, the growing season is extended; it begins in March and doesn’t end until December.
“It’s a repetitive cycle – planting, weeding, staking, harvesting, and then starting over. It’s often hot, always dirty, sometimes exhausting, and I love it,” Mathis said. “Being able to pop a fresh tomato in my mouth while weeding or harvesting is a nice benefit; eating a meal that consists entirely of food that I grew is the ultimate reward.”
Mathis, who sells SRC produce at the Canton Farmer’s Market, believes the local grown food movement will continue to grow and spread.
“I think people are beginning to take a moment and think about where their food comes from; how it is produced, who is handling it and in what conditions, and about the nutritional quality – and the human quality – that has (or has not) gone into it,” said Mathis.
“Who knows? Maybe by this time next year I’ll be sweating and batting bees on my own plot of land,” said Mathis. “That is my ultimate dream.”