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EQIP Helps Organic Farmer in Milam County

Story by Randy Henry

Out with the old, in with the new just isn't the rule of thumb at Sand Creek Farm in Cameron, Texas, where Ben Godfrey, an organic farmer and producer, has used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help increase the environmental benefits on his farm in Milam County.

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Godfrey teamed up after a suggestion from a neighbor to help increase production on his 170 acres of farmland supported by his wife and their five daughters.

Ben and Alysha Godfrey started Sand Creek Farm in 2007, and are using EQIP to increase organic production utilizing crop rotation, cover crops, and pest management.

"We heard from a neighbor about NRCS and EQIP, which seemed a perfect fit for our goals here on the farm, so I contacted the local NRCS office and applied for funding," says Godfrey. "We wanted to expand in organic production, and the program really helped with the overall success we are living today."

Sand Creek Farm produces raw milk, a variety of raw milk cheeses, grass-fed beef, yogurt, jams, honey, soy-free pork and chickens, and cage-free eggs that are sold to the public. Godfrey has seen his marketability expand from Milam County and its surrounding communities to larger markets, including Austin, Waco, Bryan, College Station, and north Houston.

"Our dairy products sell the best, and we also increased livestock sales. The grass-fed, grain-free raw milk is our number one product, so we currently have 40 cows used for dairy production," Godfrey said.

Prior to 2007, Godfrey had been planning to establish a larger farm beyond his first 40-acre organic operation, where he had one dairy cow and wanted to produce raw milk, cheese, and butter. After the supply of raw milk outweighed the demand, Godfrey gave some to his neighbors and applied for the proper certification from the state of Texas.

"I found out that there was a license required for proper certification in Texas, and after I received it I was told that Sand Creek Farm was the first dairy to get a raw cow milk license in the state," Godfrey said.

"Today, my organic farm production has many regular customers, and we sell quite a lot of our products at the local market, which focuses on locally grown and organically produced food that is healthier," he says.

"We grow good food and get to spread the word about organic living and a healthy food environment," Godfrey said.

Working the Land

With one full-time helper, his wife and five daughters working the farm with Godfrey, he practices old-fashioned ways of agricultural production, and uses a two-horse system to plow and cultivate his fields.

He says while working with NRCS, it taught him more ways to make his land more productive and expand the yields from his acres through technical and financial assistance using EQIP.

"The process to apply for the EQIP funding was a lot less paperwork than I thought it would be, and the NRCS staff in Cameron really helped make it a seamless effort," Godfrey said.

"It has been a pleasure working with Ben and Alysha Godfrey during their EQIP and organic contracting period," said Todnechia Mitchell, NRCS district conservationist in Milam County. It's great to see operators who are passionate about what they do with their land."

Godfrey noted the farm is committed to doing things the right way, offering quality that only nature can provide, and to offer the most nutrient dense food directly to their customers.

"NRCS and EQIP gave us the opportunity to have more diverse, healthier products for our customers and alternating vegetable crops every other year," he said. "Our vegetable yields will include onions, peas, and many varieties of potatoes, along with oats and Hairy vetch as cover crops."

"Our field office could not have asked for a better contract participant to break in the new EQIP Organic Initiative with, and now the Godfreys and NRCS have a great working relationship getting conservation on the ground in Milam County," said Cody Mathis, NRCS soil conservationist in Cameron.

Neighbors Going Organic

Since the first time Godfrey offered raw milk to one of his neighbors, he has seen a growth of approximately 150 regular members to the newly developed Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA). Sand Creek Farm will offer fresh organically grown produce starting in April to all the CSA members, as well as many local farmers helping them get seasonal, organic produce.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to have access to exceptional organic and seasonal produce while helping local farmers to go organic," Godfrey said.

He says there are a few neighbors that already are establishing an organic growing area in central Texas near Cameron.

"The best way to get the message out is working together to educate local farmers about organic production, including grass-fed beef and produce that is healthy for everyone," Godfrey said.

"Witnessing the role NRCS plays with helping landowners improve and maintain their resources through the planning process to financial assistance is what makes our jobs as conservationists fulfilling," Mitchell said. "It's really great to see organic farming getting a good start in Milam County, and hopefully many others will follow the mentoring Ben and Alysha have accomplished in Cameron."

Ben Godfrey and Cheese Wheel

Draft Horses and Potato Planter

Ben Godfrey, an organic farmer and producer in Cameron, Texas, holds up a large cheese wheel that is one of the many varieties produced at Sand Creek Farm in Milam County. He produces raw milk Gouda, Colby, Mozzarella, and Yogurt cheeses, along with other organic, raw milk dairy products and grass-fed beef products.

Doing it the old fashioned way, Todnechia Mitchell, NRCS district conservationist in Milam County, works the reins to control the only horsepower used to plow and cultivate fields on Sand Creek Farm in Cameron, Texas. Ben Godfrey, farm owner and organic producer, far left, walks behind Mitchell guiding the draft horses pulling an older version of a potato planter used on the farm.

Organic Crop Kale Purple Majesty Potato

Sand Creek Farm in Cameron, Texas, produces many organically grown vegetables for public consumption throughout the year, including this Kale that is a purple-colored, robust wild cabbage. Kale is considered to be a highly nutritious vegetable with powerful antioxidant properties that has a sweet taste right out of the ground.

Ben Godfrey (left), organic farmer and owner of Sand Creek Farm, shows Todnechia Mitchell (right), NRCS district conservationist in Milam County, a Purple Majesty potato that is one of many varieties of potatoes grown on the farm. Godfrey offers several organically grown vegetables to the public, including onions, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, melons, peppers, and okra.