Staring at the 125 acres full of cows, chickens and vegetables at Long Cane Farms, it’s almost hard to take in all that you’re seeing. But for owner Richard Wolfe, this is just another day at the farm. “It’s turned into a serious hobby, but it’s still just a hobby,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe, a long time LaGrange resident and community figure, bought the farm when he moved back with his family 20 years ago. The farmer was born in LaGrange and went to LaGrange High School before going to Georgia Tech and then moving to South Carolina, where he owned an electronics business.
The organic farm was bought in 1997, when Wolfe and his son, John, were interested in cattle farming.
“When we first bought it, my youngest son and I wanted to get into the cattle business, so we did that and still do,” he said. “I had absolutely zero livestock experience but my youngest son, when we moved here, he was in the tenth grade and wanted to get a part-time job. He got a job working in dairy and just fell in love with cows. He has the ability to understand the psychology of a cow, which is really important if you’re going to have them because they will hurt you, not meaning to, but they will hurt you.”
Wolfe said he got into agriculture through his older son, Cary.
“I got very interested in sustainable agriculture through my oldest son, who’s a chef,” he said.
Cary currently owns a restaurant in Pine Mountain called The Kitchen at Rose Cottage. Wolfe said his produce goes to his son’s restaurant.
“All the produce that I grow here, goes to his kitchen,” he said. “We’re trying to do a true farm-to-table, where we harvest it in the morning, and he serves it that day.”
Because they want it to be a community kitchen, sometimes farming for the restaurant can be difficult, Wolfe said.
“It’s not as easy as you may think, in terms of trying to produce a certain volume that he’s going to need at a certain time of year,” he said. “It’s amazing how much a restaurant will consume. There’s probably 200 eggplants [here] that are ready to go and that will all be consumed over the weekend.”
The farm is named after Long Cane Creek, which runs around the property, Wolfe said.
“Long Cane Creek is the back [part] of the property, so that’s where it got its name. Many, many years ago that creek was the main water source for the city of LaGrange, so it’s a pretty large body of water,” he said.
The farm is completely organic ecause of legal requirements for selling produce to restaurants, Wolfe said.
“It’s almost required if you’re going to sell particularly to the Atlanta market that you have to have [an organic farm] certification,” he said.
Wolfe sees no problem with organic farming since he understands it as something generations of farmers did before synthetic fertilizers existed.
“The best way to describe what organic farming is actually what our great grandparents did. When our great grandparents were farming irrespective of where they were in the country, there were no synthetic fertilizers,” he said. “A lot of the things I use out here for insect control and that kind of thing are really products that our great grandparents and (their) parents used.”
One of the challenges of an organic farm is having to convert it so it is fit for standard inspections, Wolfe said.
“It’s hard to convert, I started this organically. Converting is harder because you have to show records of what’s been on this property for the last three years and most farmers don’t keep up with that,” he said.
“The part about everything being organic is everything that comes in here, I have to know it came from a certified organic source, that’s the key. I don’t bring anything in here that I don’t have a certification on. It’s pretty tight.”
Because organic farming is more natural, Wolfe says everything on his farms is meant to work together.
“We try to manage this as an ecosystem, in other words, everything out here plays a role, and we try to be very environmentally sensitive to everything we do,” he said. “It has made me much, much more understanding of the way the world works in term of nature.”
But Wolfe said he appreciates understanding how the farm works holistically, and he has adapted to how he runs it.
“Understanding how all of this is put together and how it all has to work together in harmony in order to be successful. I have to have bees — how do I get bees in here? What do I do if I have a certain type of worm, certain type of insect? Just coming to a better understanding of the complexity of this natural world,” he said.
Wolfe has used this understanding to make a more efficient farm, such as using a passive solar greenhouse. He is able to grow basil, eggplants, pepper and other vegetables that can be used for his son’s restaurant with this technology.
“[It doesn’t] have any heat in [it because] this vinyl (being used) is a special vinyl that allows solar energy to pass in, but it won’t allow it to go out. In the winter, I can close these side curtains, and it will stay warm in here all winter and can grow all year in here,” Wolfe said. “I’m still a rookie at this.”
Wolfe has about 40 chickens that he uses for egg production and about 100 cows.
Even though he’s approaching 70-years-old, Wolfe said he still enjoys working on the farm.
“I don’t want it to be to the point where I have to hire people,” he said. “That’s pretty much why I keep it.”
Wolfe said one of the best things about farming is seeing the tiny seeds he farms grow into plants.
“It’s almost a spiritual thing with me. A seed [that’s a tiny] size, every one of those has everything in it it needs to live,” he said. “Just think about that for a minute, and then put it in the ground and watch it grow into a plant. I’ve really enjoyed that.”