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Clark Farm one stop on Kiwanis Club's annual farm tour
Farm tour 2008
Bulloch County's only certified organic farmer Al Clark holds an organic tomato as he speaks to members of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club Thursday. The club stopped at Clark Farms near Portal to learn about growing organic produce and took home samples of the fresh, ripe tomatoes. - photo by HOLLI DEAL BRAGG/staff
    What's the difference between an organic tomato and a "regular" one? Members of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club found out Thursday and took home samples of the red, ripe organic tomatoes grown on Clark Farms near Portal.
    The stop at the organic produce farm was part of the club's annual farm tour. Club members and guests boarded a tour bus at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds and enjoyed the scenery along the route to Al and Debbie Clark's family farm on Clark Farm Road.
    The Clark Farm has been around a long time, with Al and his family being the fifth generation to live on and operate the farm. But with today's changes in agriculture, the traditional farming operation has given way to specialized farming — organic foods.
    Al Clark stepped up onto a picnic table to speak to the group, holding oddly shaped vegetables — a Chinese eggplant and a Japanese cucumber. Both were long and slender, different from what is usually seen in the grocery stores.
    The black-purple eggplant is "not as strong and the skin is more tender" than the usual eggplants, and the cucumber doesn't cause the gassy effects most do. Clark also displayed a tomato — and talked about the organic "Sungold" tomatoes — those don't turn red, but a peachy orange-yellow, and are sweet right off the vine.
    Clark said he made the switch to organic because there is an increased demand for products of the specialized market, but raising organic vegetables is not quite as easy as growing traditional row crops.
    "Organic is very, very labor intensive," he said. And organic foods are pricier than the rest, but people are willing to pay for fresh produce they know has not been grown with chemicals.
    "We use chicken litter and a product called Nature Safe," he said."Basically, with organics you can use anything natural." There is even an organic fungicide.
    Clark has ten acres of organically grown corn and eight acres of tomatoes, cucumbers, egg plants and other crops.  Clark Farms is the first and only certified organic farm in Bulloch County, and pays an annual fee for recertification inspection. He uses a small family of migrant workers and other employees to operate the farm.
    Before leaving, visitors watched workers shelling and grading peas, tasted strawberry lemonade and carried away samples of tomatoes.
    The next stop was at Wade Hodges' farmland off Middleground Road, where club members saw a healthy field of irrigated corn.
    Bulloch County Agent Wes Harris told how irrigation makes a great difference in crop success, and said it costs up to $5.50 an acre to put an inch of water on the ground.
    He pointed out the crops in the field. "That's really good looking corn, and beans and cotton that's been planted behind the wheat."
    Hodges uses strip-tilling — leaving wheat stubble, but tilling strips of land in between so seed can be planted, Harris said.
    Strip tilling and no-till conservation provides "better water retention and lets the residue take care of " erosion.
    It takes about 2 1/2 days to irrigate and put an inch of water on a field, he said.
    After the tour, organized by club member Bobby Deal, who is a former county agent, those who participated returned to the Kiwanis Fairgrounds and where each was given a watermelon compliments of Gerald Farms.
    Deal also gave away a country ham to club member Horace Harrell, who was one of five members who correctly answered several questions about points made during the tour. Harrell's name was drawn from those who got all five questions correct.
    Harris also spoke to the club after lunch, talking about the most recent farm bill and how local farmers have "pretty well held together" in spite of weather challenges and rising costs. However, he also spoke of concerns for the future, especially with government issues.
    "We are in some significantly transient times," he said. " We are addicted to oil, and we're addicted to good food, and we're gonna have both."

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