July 24-27, 2017
Mac Stone likes to tell people that the only things he’s allowed to do around Elmwood Stock Farm are drive trucks and give farm tours. While he is pretty good at those things, he is responsible for a whole lot more. As one of the managers of Elmwood Stock Farm, Mac has had a host of agricultural experiences outside the farm, including as manager of the Kentucky State University Research and Demonstration Farm, chair of the National Organic Standards Board—the committee that makes the rules for the US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program—and director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Marketing Office. He’s currently the president of the Organic Association of Kentucky and executive director of the Kentucky Horticulture Council, making him one very busy, very dedicated person.
If you’ve shopped with Elmwood at the Lexington, Hyde Park or St. Matthews Farmers Markets; gone on a farm tour; or picked up your CSA share on the farm, you’ve probably met Mac. If you haven’t, here’s your chance to get to know him a bit:
Q: What farm jobs or projects are you currently working on?
Mac: My daily farming concentration includes poultry and sheep and refining their management systems. Each week, I am invigorated by going to the farmers markets. I like visiting with customers and hearing about the meals they’ve shared, especially when they tell us their kids notice and appreciate the difference in the food they’re eating from us.
The farm-tour series is another ongoing interest of mine. I think it’s important to educate people about how their food is grown and we’ve gotten positive feedback from guests. Each tour is a little different, depending on the season and time of day, but our message of wholesome, healthful food produced in a responsible manner is always the same.
A big project this year has been retooling our produce-handling systems and our packing shed so we can more efficiently handle more products through the same footprint of space. The improved systems are more ergonomic for our workers and also will help to maintain products’ highest quality and freshness.
Q: What’s your favorite task on the farm?
Mac: Clipping pastures. After the cattle graze in the chicken and turkey fields, we mow the grass and weeds that weren’t eaten or trampled. While rolling across the fields on the tractor, I can see the grazing pattern of the cows and get satisfaction in chopping the heads off the few remaining pesky weeds while the barn swallows swoop and dive for insects being kicked up by the mower.
Q: Tell us about your typical Saturday.
Mac: I’m up before 3. [Note: That’s a.m.] I get to the packing shed by 3:45 to load products for the various farmers markets we’re going to that morning. We keep produce in the coolers and meat in the freezers until it’s time to go. So I sort the products and organize them for each market. We are on the road by 5:30 and set up and ready to sell at market by 7:30.
The markets wind down around lunchtime or just after, so we pack up and head back to the farm to put away our goods. I restock the coolers and freezers for Sunday farmers markets, then check on the turkeys, chickens and sheep before dinner at 6. It’s bedtime soon after that. [Then Mac gets up to do it all over again on Sunday!]
Q: What do you most look forward to about the busy season?
Mac: Truthfully, what I look forward to most is the positive feedback we get from the customers. That makes this work worthwhile.
I’m excited that we are able to welcome new CSA members each year, too. The voucher programs that employers, such as Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, are offering to employees are great opportunities for more people to eat well, and it’s important to me that we get to be a part of that.
Q: What’s the most valuable non-farming skill that you use in the farm business?
Mac: My time in the KDA Marketing Office helped me realize all sales are relationship based, be it one customer at a time or establishing restaurant and retail accounts. We don’t think in terms of selling product; we think in terms of taking care of customers. This is very different than the faceless transactions of the commodity market.
Q: What’s one lesson you wish you knew when you started farming?
Mac: There are days when you can’t imagine being any busier than you are, and then a storm approaches or a ewe goes into labor, and you have one more thing to do. I wish I knew then how to roll with the flow to meet the plants’ and animals’ needs as dictated by Mother Nature without getting stressed out.
Q: With all of the teaching you’ve done at Kentucky State University and that you still do on farm tours, is there a topic that you, yourself, still want to learn?
Mac: I want to learn more about how the quality of the foods we eat affects the human microbiome (the population of microorganisms living within us). You rinse that strawberry before you eat it, but it’s not sterile. I still want to learn the real value of organic foods based on the microbiome of the plant.
Q: What’s your favorite farm meal?
Mac: Grilled chicken thighs, corn on the cob, steamed greens and roasted beets
Q: Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
Mac: Shrimp and seafood is a really nice deviation from normal. And then there’s chocolate.
You’ll hear from Ann, John and Cecil this season, too. If there’s something you’d like to know about Elmwood’s farmers, send us your questions. – Lisa Munniksma
In Your Share