As boys chase ducks, farmer hails simplicity, relationship building

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Becky Ensinger and her husband, Bill, usher visitors through the front door of their farmhouse in Dayton, Tenn., which is celebrating “local economy in one lesson” for customers and the curious.

From left, Noah Campbell, 10, watches as brother James, 6, and Robert Henderson, 7, quibble over height next to Robert’s brother, Thomas, 9. Jacob Tulis, 9, looks on at left at the Dixie-Does farm in Dayton, Tenn.

By David Tulis

As boys in the front yard make a terror among the ducks, Bill Ensinger pushes his daughter Elizabeth on a swing set and expresses satisfaction about his “local economy in one” lesson open house.

In the house, Becky, his wife, is worn out but won’t show it. She’s been at it all day, showing visitors around the garden and yard and explaining about her goats milk soaps, which she concocts and peddles on the Internet. Around her are other women on a sofa, some of whom she is meeting a first time.

[Originally published Dec. 1, 2012. Thanks. — DJT]

But Mr. Ensinger is ever ready with narrative and explanation. He is explaining a series of screened-in hooches for fowl he calls a “chicken tractor.” As the birds peck clear the ground, he inches the contraption across the yard.

On the other side of the house a businessman is loading his three young children into a van for the hour’s drive home to Chattanooga. Jason Mitchell, 29, runs Wee Care Diaper Service in the city. His daughter Selah, 3, is munching on an apple as his wife, Katie, rests in the passenger seat.

“We decided we wanted to check out the goats here at Dixie Does Alpine,” Mr. Mitchell says, “and we enjoyed a lot of great snacks and learned about chickens and goats, and I guess we met [the Ensingers] at the Brainerd farmers market, where we go once a week, and that’s where we swap out clean diapers and dirty diapers for people.” Elijah, 5, the eldest in the back seat, pipes up that he is being homeschooled.

Also visiting from the city is Polly Curtis, who works in the financial department of a playground manufacturer, Playcore. She’s there with her mother, Anne, and an elderly woman friend, an artist, Bobbie, a farmers market regular who wears a broad-rimmed hat. “I have enjoyed getting milk and cheese and eggs from Becky and Bill for quite a while now at the Brainerd Farmers Market. It’s kind of nice to get the big picture and see how they live and meet the animals.”

Deep in the loam, a mystery explained

Mr. Ensinger introduces me to a fellow farmer he knows from the Brainerd farmers market. Mr. Ensinger has known him only as Organic Man, which is the name of Jim Everette’s organic farm on Lookout Mountain, Ga. Mr. Everette, capped, bearded, standing around with other guests, says agriculture starts with soil, about which he has much to say.

Heart attack survivor Adam Campbell cares about what’s in his food.

“I do closed loop agriculture as to where I take chickens, and the feed that I feed them, the grasses and legumes, and clovers and such as that, they process that for me because they have craws — right? — they have rock in their [throat], that grinds all that up, and they put that down in the soil, that actually feeds earthworms and microbials which does the nutrient conversion.

It doesn’t end there. Good health has behind it some science and, he admits, taking a lot of trouble in farming.

“And then, from that you get silica which are water soluble, which are very beneficial to your health. In my case I have scar tissue on my heart from when I had scarlet fever when I was a kid. I eat these eggs and greens and whatever I may grow from that. Then I get that silica into my system that’s water soluble that’s able to go through the blood lining, gets into the blood stream — and it actually keeps all that clean for me. So I don’t have to have a heart valve operation.”

Smallness is intimate, beautiful?

Dogs barking nearby to nearly overwhelm him, visitor Adam Campbell speaks of a sentiment at least two others expressed, that of human connection and scale. “Well, one thing I’m really encouraged about, is how God can bless individuals, and those individuals turn around and bless other individuals, or should I say families. God blesses one family, and they bless other families.”

Local economy is not just good feelings. “No, it’s actual practical helping each other we can’t take care of ourselves.” Mutuality, says Mr. Campbell, a family man recovering from a heart attack and paying much closer attention to eating better.

A Tulis boy clutches an Ensinger duck moments before a long green stream of liquid dribbles from the bird’s tail end down his pant leg.

Mr. Ensinger is ready to describe, explain. “Over here we have gardens, we have asparagus, we’ve had sweet potatoes, we’ve had regular potatoes” — his daughter goes down the slide and plops down as if dead. “Laura, are you OK?” Dad bends down, and she’s not dead at all, just playing.

Nearby, a rustle of ducks. “Here they come, they don’t like to be around people too much. They run into the bushes. The other night when I was feeding them in this bowl here, I stood next to the bowl in an experiment, and started to put food in and they ran circles around me,” he is laughing. “One duck would come up and eat a little bit of food, and the rest were running around me in circles. And I figured if they did it seven times, I’d probably fall down.”

He’s happy about 100 people have come to visit. “We’re hoping to do it again next year. We’ve had a lot of fun.”

Jim Everette is so familiar to Chattanooga area farmers markets that many people know him only by his farm handle, Organic Man. He tills the earth in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

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