A Blackberry and the Basics: Good Groceries combines old-school style and attitude with new-school technology
Tate Tewksbury is a juxtaposition.
Blue sky above, green grass and brown earth below, the scene is pastoral, to say the least. Tewksbury pushes his tiller through an unplanted patch of garden, preparing the ground to be cultivated, before a jolting interruption from his pocket.
It's his Blackberry. And it's ringing.
He stops himself and, tiller still running, takes the call; a picture-perfect image of the modern farmer, working the land while simultaneously staying connected to today's Facebook status-updating, social media-obsessed, technologically driven society of 24-hour news and information overload.
Even with Blackberry in hand, Tewksbury admits that he believes in keeping it simple. And that's why Good Groceries was born.
Tewksbury is no stranger to agriculture.
By day, he works in landscaping.
Six years ago his family, while maintaining full-time jobs, got together and worked the same piece of land that his garden currently sets on. They worked it for one season.
"We all had normal jobs," Tewksbury said. "We started doing it [tending the garden] after hours."
Tewksbury started working the same piece of land by himself just this year. He works in the garden for about six hours a day.
"Letting the ground alone helps," Tewksbury said, about the lapse in time.
The list of produce for this year (which reads like the scene from "Forrest Gump" where Bubba rattles off a seemingly never-ending list all of the different ways to prepare shrimp) includes cucumbers, onions, carrots, squash, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, okra, eggplant, radishes, spinach, lettuce (about 400 pounds of it), broccoli, kohlrabi and Swiss Chard. He grows for customers that include average folks to restaurants and caterers.
This year's planting has been reactive, rather than well-planned according to Tewksbury.
"I planted pretty much standard fare," Tewksbury said. "There are so many people from so many different places, they wanted different things."
His customer base comes from previous customers, friends and word-of-mouth.
"Customers are really good about telling [other] people about it," Tewksbury said.
And, being the technologically adept farmer, Good Groceries has its own Facebook page and e-mail listserv (maintained by Tewksbury's wife), used to update potential customers as to the status of available produce.
Moreover, Tewksbury delivers.
Customers call him with an order, and he typically has it out to them that day.
"It [Good Groceries' purpose] had to be because it was easier for people than hopping in their car and going to Ingles," Tewksbury said. "I go get it for them...I have to schedule my day around that."
He's also out at Harmony Crossing, by Lake Oconee, every Saturday.
"I am a recent transplant from New York City, and not until I started this Saturday morning ritual did I experience what farm-fresh and fabulous produce is," one customer writes in an e-mail correspondence to Tewksbury.
Another says, "I have always wanted to prepare fresh 'farm-to-table' meals for our family. Tewksbury Farms has made that possible and, in doing so, provided us with the most delicious veggies we could ever imagine."
This year, Tewksbury has learned what and how much each plant needs to grow and grow well, something that can only be learned by experience. And after an experience with seed rot, Tewksbury also admits to having learned patience. He talks about his tomatoes like most parents talk about their children.
"Those tomatoes are testing my patience as well," Tewksbury said.
And while he hasn't made it official with the federal government, he grows organically: green manure is his fertilizer, and pesticide comes in the form of planting enough to share with the bugs.
Environmentally friendly, he keeps the garden wet by running water from the neighboring creek into the garden. Instead of buying plant stakes, Tewksbury uses old PVC pipes. And the previously mentioned Blackberry keeps him from burning gas to go home to check e-mail.
This fall, Tewksbury has plans to construct greenhouses, so that he can make a go of growing year-round.
Behind the tiller with Blackberry in hand, the farmer reveals why he spends six hours a day cultivating a more than 2.5 acre garden and a relationship with more than 150 customers: "It goes back to keeping a simple life. It's nice to be outside; it's nice to watch things grow."