By MELANIE JONES
ALTOONA, Ala. —
When Cricket and Kimberly Adams plan their dinner menu, they don’t look in the fridge or the pantry. They look out their kitchen window.
They glance over acres of red potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, squash and zucchini. Fresh eggs are steps away in the hen house. Fresh herbs grow near the kitchen. And don’t forget the shiitake mushrooms.
For dessert, there are fresh berries — strawberries, blueberries or blackberries — or maybe some pears.
Their Gypsy Ranch in Altoona is a relatively new farm, and it’s thriving at the hands of relatively new farmers.
For a couple of decades, Cricket and Kimberly and their two children called Myrtle Beach, S.C., home.
Cricket was a state trooper, and Kimberly was a flight attendant.
After their daughter, Heather, had grown and left the house, Cricket and son, Bud, decided Kimberly was in the air so often, they could choose any place they wanted to call home.
They settled on Florida.
“We lived in Fort Lauderdale for six weeks before we realized we’d gone too far,” Cricket says.
Next, they tried Biloxi, Miss., which suited them just fine until Hurricane Katrina blew through, forcing them to move again.
“There was nothing left,” Cricket says.
They moved around in Georgia for a while, but they were back in Myrtle Beach when they found, online, the property that would become Gypsy Ranch.
With all that moving about, their family dubbed them Gypsies, so the farm’s name was born.
Cricket grew up on a poultry farm and wasn’t a stranger to the job.
So chickens were the first thing on their farm list.
“Then we started a garden, and it got too big,” Cricket says.
“He doesn’t know the meaning of small,” his wife chimes in.
The couple knew they wanted to go organic.
“That decision was made for us many, many years ago,” Kimberly says.
Bud was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 4. No one knew what caused it, Kimberly says, but they heard about water contaminated by runoff from farms and golf courses.
Their son battled his disease for four years, and the family came through it with a strong awareness of what they put in their bodies.
So when it came to farming, the decision was clear.
“We wanted everything the way it was meant to be — natural,” Kimberly says.
Gypsy Ranch is USDA certified organic, and the egg operation is Animal Welfare approved.
They don’t use pesticides. Instead, marigolds and other bug-repelling plants grow throughout the gardens. Weeds are controlled with plastic and hard work. And there’s no fertilizer.
“We say we have a magic well, because we water everything with it and it grows,” Kimberly says.
It seems to be working.
The Adamses enter their strawberries in tasting contests all around.
“We win every one we’ve entered,” Kimberly says.
And there is no shortage of strawberries. For the 2012 season, they cultivated nearly 10,000 plants, all grown from the runners of previous seasons.
Pick-your-own berry season is a busy time for them, but that’s not the only way they market their wares.
Their eggs are available at Apple a Day in Gadsden and at Burton’s Groceries. They sell eggs and produce at farmers’ markets in Guntersville and Jacksonville. And they’ve made such a name for themselves, some people just come out to the farm to buy.
For $25, a person can get a box of whatever is in season. Cricket says it’s about what you could buy for $35 at the store, only fresh, organic and locally grown.
All their plants are raised from seed, and they’re careful to buy only brands they know so the seeds aren’t treated, coated or genetically altered. They also gather their own seeds from plants that prove hardy or popular.
Don’t plan to visit and buy the exact same thing year after year, though.
They keep a few staples, but Cricket likes to mix it up a bit. One year, he found so many varieties of tomatoes that interested him, he ended up with 10,000 plants. Some tomatoes went to waste — and they gave plenty away — but he also learned what he liked.
Tomatillos, Abe Lincolns, German greens, black krim and ground cherries were just a few planted in 2012.
Black krims are one of Kimberly’s favorites, but customers have been suspicious.
“‘I’m not eating a black tomato,’ they’ll say, and I say, ‘Well, taste it,” she says. They generally become a fan.
They grow what are known as heirloom vegetables, which are the kind your great-grandparents would have had.
They even take requests.
“If a customer grew up with something they can’t find anymore, we’ll try to incorporate it,” Cricket says.
“We like to try to help people.”
The couple grow organic herbs, but they’re not exactly a profit-maker.
“We give herbs away and teach customers how to use them, and they come back every week,” Kimberly says.
The chickens have a special place in their hearts — and, in May, even their home. Hatchlings were kept under a heat lamp in a spare bedroom while a new chicken house was being built.
The birds get a special feed with no meat or meat byproducts, Cricket says, and they spend much of their time outdoors, where they eat grass and bugs.
“You should see them,” Cricket says. “You’ve got 25 chickens trying to eat one moth.”
The chickens also get some of the garden produce.
“Chunk up a watermelon and throw it in, and in three hours, there will be nothing left but the outer layer of skin,” Cricket says.
The new chicken house will feature a two-acre enclosure, and they’ll rotate where the chickens graze. Otherwise, they’ll pick the plot clean.
He’d like to let the chickens roam completely free, but sees a complication there.
“I have a feeling they’d like the strawberries and tomatoes too much,” he says.
The Adams family acknowledges they’ve benefited from the state, from the USDA and from Animal Welfare with guidance and loans.
Last year, they told the USDA they needed only half the loan they had been awarded for a greenhouse, thinking someone else could use the other half.
Then spring storms came and blew away the greenhouse.
“Since our half of the greenhouse went away, we get the other half,” Cricket says.
They also have had help from other farmers, who borrow each other’s equipment until they can afford their own.
From the wonder of the animals — Kimberly recently spent hours watching a chicken hatch — to the pride in their equipment — “Other than my wife, this is probably my most prized possession,” Cricket says of his tractor — the Adamses are true farmers.
And they do it naturally.