©Malgorzata Florkowska


In the 1950s a boy couldn’t find a more exciting place to grow up than Molena, GA, turkey capital of the world. Steve McCrary should know. With thousands of poults in the brooder house and waves of  brown gobblers grazing the pastures, McCrary Turkey Farm hummed with life. Employees, kinfolk, sales reps, cooperative extension agents, and neighboring farmers came to do business and stayed to visit. Steve was in the middle of the action whether they were moving pasture pens or plucking birds. A train even chuffed through on its own spur track, dropping off feed or picking up processed birds headed for markets in distant cities .

Then turkey farming took an industrial turn toward white-feathered birds housed indoors, a move that increased feed and housing costs. Later, droughts and the 1980s farm crisis took their toll. McCrary Farm  managed to hang on longer than most but eventually closed in the 1980s. For the next 30 years the land lay fallow other than to produce a sizable garden for the extended family.  Steve and his wife Patsy started their own family across the road from his grandparents.  Steve worked in landscaping, the closest thing to farming during those decades. Life was good, but he longed to bring the old farm back to life. He missed the bustle of local commerce, the camaraderie of people working together in the fields and buildings. Community spirit had been so strong that the farmers even hosted a turkey festival each year. Those families still lived in the area, but was there a place for an old farm in the new century? There was only one way to find out.

Steve prepared for retirement by tilling up extra rows in the family garden. With some refitting, the turkey processing building  became a produce packing house. Working with other local growers, Steve helped launch new farmers markets in Zebulon and Thomaston.  Customers flocked to the markets, and a new generation discovered the taste of homegrown tomatoes. Just as the vegetable business was getting too big for Steve to handle alone, a local horticulture graduate named Anna Garvey started looking for a job. The work had to be flexible enough to accommodate single-parenting two small children.  She asked her instructor Greg Huber for a letter of recommendation. Greg immediately thought of his Uncle Steve who was struggling to keep up with his farm’s success.

A young woman for the grueling  labors of farming? Especially a young mother? Some farmers might have balked, but Steve was raised under the watchful eye of farm women who balanced crops and kids. In fact his Grandma Martha had been one of his mentors. “I’d get off the school bus and work with her and Grandpa until dark when daddy would come get me. Even after I got married, I went across the road to have coffee with her every morning, and we’d talk.  And then there was Mama. Daddy did the work with the birds, but she was in charge of promotion and sales, plus she kept the books.”

That  McCrary tradition of mothers raising crops and children side by side fit right in with Anna Garvey’s  needs. Besides, Steve was eager to pass along the farm’s growing methods and values to a new generation. They brought the greenhouse into production and expanded into flowers and bedding plants.  New enterprises meant that even more help was needed. Anna suggested two friends from her horticulture classes, Miranda Baumgartner and Melissa Thornton.  The three young women brought enthusiasm and energy just in time for the local food movement, vegetarian lifestyles, and ethnic cuisine.  Their market grew beyond Pike County to Senoia and Peachtree City. A self-service farm stand appeared under the shade trees of the circle driveway.

The all-women farm crew prospered as well, and not just financially. Each was at a crossroads in her own life. Each found that the quiet rhythms of farming were conducive to working out her future.

“We all needed a place where we could earn a paycheck and be able to raise our children.” Anna recalls. “Steve made it possible for me to work without worrying about losing my job if I had to miss because a child was sick. Those were uncertain times, but I always knew I had a safe haven at the farm.”

The three friends were the first of many who would learn under Steve’s guidance and then go on to start farms, businesses, and families with the skills and confidence gained on the old turkey farm. Steve supported anything they wanted to try from joining an online market to producing seasonal festivals and maintaining a Facebook site.  Some of their ideas didn’t work out, but most did. They learned that farming requires faith to get through the risks of weather and unpredictable markets.  It was just one of the life lessons they picked up along with learning how to dibble tomatoes or lay an irrigation line.

Middle school teacher Christina Jones recalls her season on the farm as a time of personal growth.  “Steve graciously took me under his wing in the middle of the Fall season, when he really didn’t need anyone new. We spent the first few months cleaning, doing small projects, and dreaming up the Spring growing season. He never made me feel like I was too inexperienced to have ideas of value to add to the farm. I was always welcome to try out new varieties and new ways of growing. He reminded me of the value of hard work and urged me to follow my dreams no matter where they may take me. I miss my time on the farm and in the greenhouse, but I am endlessly thankful for the time I had there. Because of my time on the farm, I am more determined than ever to buy my own piece of land one day and live my life in honor of the lessons I learned from Steve.”

The current activity at the old farm has deep roots in the McCrary family, according to Steve’s sister Amanda. “Steve inherited his love of gardening from our father Lewis “Buck” McCrary and grandfather Lester McCrary,” she recalls. “Daddy was Steve’s best resource for any specific gardening questions or concerns and he enjoyed helping out in the garden, tending the muscadine vines, and gathering and shelling pecans for market. My father was always one of Steve’s biggest supporters, and I know he was very proud that the family tradition of farming continues to live on through his children.”

At McCrary Farms these days Melissa Santimo is the sole full-time employee working alongside Steve. She does every job on the farm from planting to going to markets. Laci Brown comes in just to tend the greenhouse. There are usually a couple of students who work part-time, irregular hours. It’s still a casual atmosphere. There will never be a time clock.

As for the old farm itself. Gone are the silent, fallow seasons. Local license plates stream through the circle-drive farm stand where drivers bag produce, put money in the box, and are back on the road in five minutes.  Neighboring farmers bring items for Steve to sell for them when he goes to market. Friends and family stop just to visit. Even in mid-winter the crew can be found in the processing house shelling pecans or trimming greens for customers. A pot of something good might be simmering on the stove. Over in the greenhouse Laci is starting seeds for another new season on an old farm.

Acknowledgements:   Steve expresses thanks to the many other young people who have passed through the farm for a season or two, leaving their mark on his heart forever. They include Elise, Chasity, Karsen, Gracie, Jamie, Shelby, Emma, Ariana, Victoria, Christina.