A Seed is But a Gift

A seed is but a gift left by Mother Earth for us to find and flourish. It is small but mighty, filled with everything needed to spark life. It is magic in its purest form. As legend says, it possesses the power to read our nutritional needs simply from the contents of our spit and adapt for our health and longevity.

Words by Savannah Gates

Photography by Jayce Daniels

 

Farmers are the guardians of those gifts, and some hear that “calling” louder than others. Mariah Mercer is one of those farmers whose bones resonate with the responsibility of “the call”. Growing up in Azle, TX, Mariah fell in love with laboring in the great outdoors next to her father. A Mexican American immigrant, he was a daily example of the power and potential of the “American Dream”, instilling strong work ethic and determination amongst the shining qualities of his daughter. After high school, she enrolled at Tarleton University studying Environmental Engineering, where she could pursue her love as a professional steward of nature.  Early in her college career, she took a job working for a non-profit farm in Granbury, TX. It was then that she heard “the call” and shifted her degree to Horticulture with the intent of professional farming after graduating with an impressive 4.0. In 2019, Mariah returned to the land in Granbury she had farmed as an employee and bought it with her husband, Paydon.  This time, she was on a mission, and that mission was named “Cherokee Lakes Farm”.

The current ratio of humans in the U.S. that farm versus the humans that do not know anything about farming, combined with the power of marketing buzz words, has created a wide disconnect between people and food. It is, by design, a broken system perpetually dependent on government funding, grants, and chemicals. Fortunately, there is hope and there are solutions in the form of rare gems such as Mariah that are standing their ground for what is right instead of riches. 

In 2019, Mariah set out to prove that with a small parcel of land, she could develop a healthy, holistic farm model growing organic produce for her community for profit. In 2022, with the support of the Granbury area community, she can proudly say that she has accomplished exactly that. Her mindset is unique to our area but not alone. There are micro farms popping up across the world with similar approaches of layering “best practices” from ancient cultures around the world paired with modern tools that create vibrant ecosystems. Ask any of these passionate farmers where it begins, and they will all light up and respond, “with the soil”. Mariah designs what she calls “farm plots” which are 40’ x 100’ rectangles consisting of 10 rows containing 3 families of plants each. When developing a new farm plot, she must start by killing any vegetation such as weeds or Bermuda grass first. Usually, you would picture a tractor or horse pulling a plow, churning up the soil, and perhaps followed by a weed killing spray. Instead, Mariah uses a method called “no till” farming, meaning the soil is not disturbed. One of the strongest arguments for this method is that it preserves the microbiome (community of microorganisms) in the soil that help maintain moisture and feed the plants. To naturally kill the unwanted grass and weeds, she covers the plot with a black tarp that essentially uses summer heat and sunlight to cook the plants beyond recovery. A combination of dead plant material and natural microorganism stimulants concocted by herself gives the microbiome a boost in preparation for seeds to sow. The initial preparation of the soil for a new farm plot takes an average of four months, and only improves with time. The overall method of Mariah’s style of farming is called “biological regenerative farming” with the use of permaculture ideologies such as cover cropping, layering wide variety of organic material, and Korean Natural Farming, with seed varietal focus being on heirloom, open pollinated, and historic cultural bloodlines of the consumers.

Diversity is key. Monocrop farming is the way of large commercial farms, whether it be plants or animals. Small, organic, healthy farms are based on symbiotic relationships. There is a reason that people joke about chickens and goats being the “gate-way drugs” into farming. You cannot just have one, and you always end up adding another species, or ten. The same goes for plants. Notice the diversity within each row in the photos. Just like relationships amongst people, there is give and take between different categories of plants, such as offering shade, releasing nitrogen in the soil or even pest deterrents. They each play their role.

A profound survival skill in organic farming that Mariah possesses is recognizing the difference between a symptom and the root of a problem within the environment and then resolving it accordingly.  A prime example of this are bugs. Bugs attack plants, not because they are little devils, but because they are fulfilling their duty in the ecosystem. When a plant is stressed, it sends out signals that page the bugs for a clean-up on aisle 6. Most people see this and respond instinctually by killing the bugs in a panic. Mariah looks deeper as to why the plant is stressed in the first place and treats that by amping up the nutrition of the microorganisms in the soil which in turn feed the plants. This philosophy is the same as humans taking vitamins to support their immune system. Over time, you recognize the pattern, such as flu season being more common in winter or kids getting strep throat when they return to school after summer break. With a pattern, you can begin to anticipate issues and be more proactive. This is how Mariah stays ahead of disease or pests without using toxic chemicals. Each year the microbiome or “immune system” becomes stronger, as she learns and layers more positive reinforcement practices into the farm.

This is only a snapshot of the wealth of knowledge 28-year-old Mariah Mercer holds, and the labor she, her husband, and father have poured into their 9 farm plots. It is also merely the beginning for them, as they have displayed abundance in a short three years utilizing less than 1 of 7 acres without tractors or machinery. They have big plans for the next steps and need continued support from chefs and vegetable lovers in the community to catapult them to the next level. You can call/text her directly at 817.333.7929 to pick up from the farm, find them at Acton and Guerin Farmers Markets, or if you are not the greatest cook, go see Chef Rose Pebbles at Oz, Gary at Christina’s American Table and Gary’s Kitchen, Megan at Anise, Austin & Shannon at Oma Leen’s or Emily Harris at Baked. They are some of the strongest supporters of local farmers and love to talk to guests about the products on their menus. Another way you can support our farmers is to eliminate the guessing game and have conversations with them about products you would like to purchase locally. Establishing a relationship and communicating directly with them is the fastest route to progress. Remember, farmers are those that have answered “the call” as guardians of gifts left for us. Without them, we would be naked, thirsty, and hungry.

There are micro farms popping up across the world with similar approaches of layering best practices from ancient cultures around the world paired with modern tools that create vibrant ecosystems.

You can call or text Mariah directly at 817.333.7929 to pick up produce from the farm. Also find them at Acton and Guerin Farmers Markets.

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