Farmer Heroes | May 19, 2008

Kim Buchheit & Mike Robinson

Wise Acre Farm

We’ve known Kim and Mike for many years and they are always ready to lend a hand at a Farm Aid concert, or sending us a box of fresh greens and salad fixings from their farm. They are the Farm Aid staff’s Farmer Heroes. Enjoy this history of their farm by Kim Buchheit.

Mike Robinson and I are the current stewards of Wise Acre Farm—a 20 acre piece of sandy Central Florida soil at the end of a bumpy dirt trail that barely qualifies as a road on any respectable map. Previously known as McKenna Farms, the property had been owned by Joe McKenna since the late 1970s. Joe was Neil Young’s tour bus driver for many years and he grew a variety of southern vegetables and watermelons when he was home on the farm between tours and gigs. When he was diagnosed with cancer in the mid 1990s, Joe became very concerned about nutrition and was determined to grow and eat organic foods, almost exclusively.

Whether touring or traveling extensively to seek various alternative cancer therapies, Joe needed some help to keep the farm going. Mike and I stumbled onto Joe’s path in July of 2001 when we were introduced by a mutual friend. Joe’s charm and our curiosity to learn how good food was grown were the forces that placed us on Joe’s back steps for a farm tour one hot summer afternoon. After a brief visit, and some sort of totally smooth con job, we were volunteered to labor on weekends in exchange for a unique opportunity to learn to grow the freshest food imaginable and eat it, of course.

Joe wasted no time teaching us everything that he needed to have done from prep, planting, cultivation, care, weeding, mowing, natural pest control, and harvesting. Joe prepared us to be capable of managing on our own by September, when he would be leaving to “do” Farm Aid in Noblesville, Indiana. We were soon going to have our first shot at running the place for a couple of months while Joe was on the road with Neil Young.

Joe spoke highly of Neil and all the people involved with Farm Aid and piqued our interested in attending. We were still not clear on this farming thing, but we did know that we liked music and Neil Young had been a favorite for many years. We made plans to meet in Noblesville Indiana to experience Farm Aid 2001 for ourselves. Farm Aid was an amazing, eye-opening, first exposure to the good food movement. It would take time to digest and absorb everything, and by the way, the music turned out to be pretty darn good.

We raced back to the farm having incredible chores to do with two and a half acres of black-eyed peas maturing before our eyes. Joe thought that our concern over the quantity of peas to be picked was hilarious. Hearing Joe’s impish laugh at the other end of the cell phone with the hum of bus wheels rolling over the open road as musical accompaniment for his poetically recited orders would ultimately be one of our fondest memories of Joe. Mike and I weren’t laughing much,—picking, shelling and packaging peas until 3 in the morning, and working all day at our “real” jobs.

Joe continued to come and go, as usual, and our roles increased on the Farm as Joe’s illness progressed. We attended our second and Joe’s last Farm Aid as his personal road crew in 2002. Joe died in January of 2003 and later that year we were able to purchase the farm from his estate as we had pledged to do. We had doubts about our ability to overcome a series setbacks and tragic events, including the death of Mike’s 22 year old son, Brooks in August of 2003. The farm and we were in a general state of disarray. Joe would not have approved. We are quite certain that Joe’s spirit shamed us into getting our act together. We made the trip to Farm Aid in September of 2003 where we received several mysterious messages of inspiration. We made it our mission to persevere in Joe’s honor. The farm has been a work in progress ever since.

We have returned to Farm Aid each consecutive year since our first. We learn something new every year and bring our fresh experiences full circle, down that bumpy little road back to the farm.

Currently, at the farm, the Spring garden has produced yummy radishes, onions, carrots, and our fabulous signature turnips. We always eat good food when we are at the farm. We share produce with everybody we know. Friends who help with chores and anyone who wants to learn by doing can work for food. Our serious outlet is an established restaurant customer who will purchase whatever we can grow. Fresh, local produce from Wise Acre Farm, when available, is listed on the menu at Harmoni Market in Orlando. Our scarlet queen turnips, cosmic purple carrots and sweet potatoes have been their consistent favorites.

Wise Acre Farm strives to demonstrate and promote the value of fresh, local produce in our community. We do not fancy ourselves as any sort of heroes. The real Heroes are working hard to help Family Farmers thrive as the lifeblood of the good food movement.

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