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Sowing seeds

Williamson Farmers Co-op cultivates garden interest
By Glen Liford, Editor 6/28/2018


Daniel Stephens has been growing a garden at Williamson Farmers Cooperative in Franklin for several years to demonstrate to customers how Co-op products and proper techniques can yield a bountiful harvest. Tips like using cattle panels as a structure for climbing pole beans can make gardening easier and more fun, he says.
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Right from the start, customers have known they could depend on their Co-op as a source of reliable information and expertise as well as quality products.

Williamson Farmers Cooperative has been demonstrating that principle for the last few years by showcasing their knowledge of horticulture with a demonstration plot outside their garden center alongside Eddy Lane in Franklin.

It’s grown by the Co-op’s Garden Center Manager Daniel Stephens, who farms with his dad, Ronnie, on the family’s 800 owned and leased acres in Marshall County, raising row crops and hay. Daniel also assists his father-in-law, Jimmy King, who raises sweet corn, hay, and pumpkins and has a cow/calf operation.

“I bring in a 140-horsepower tractor just to turn that little spot of ground,” says Daniel with a slight smile about the demonstration plot.

That little spot is somewhere around 30 feet x 140 or so feet, and it becomes an outdoor classroom for the Co-op.

“It’s more or less our own little demo plot for customers,” says Daniel. “We show them what their garden should look like and how it should be laid out. Place your rows east to west. Plant taller species toward the front, so they don’t shade the other plants. Plant companion plants when you can, such as pole beans in the corn.”

Daniel also shares innovations he has learned over the years, such as using cattle panels to bend over rows of pole beans for the plants to climb.

“The customers absolutely love that,” he says. “And I do, too. I don’t like bending over, and when I go to pick those beans, I’m standing up and in the shade while I’m working.”

Like many of his customers, Daniel often learns by trial and error. For example, one of the previous years, the local deer population discovered the smorgasbord the Co-op offered and wreaked havoc on the harvest. Not to be outdone, Daniel talked with Jason Jones, his Tru-Test Fencing representative, and together they added a deer fence to the plot, complete with a fake fence charger to show customers what was possible. The only problem was that the deer weren’t fooled and soon began munching on the tasty plants again. Daniel added a working charger, and the deer haven’t bothered it since.

Daniel says the garden seems appropriate for the bustling Williamson County store’s setting and the Co-op’s typical clientele, many of whom are not farmers and appreciate the education the plot provides.

“Someone will ask, ‘How do I do this?’” says Daniel. “We walk right outside and show them. It’s a good selling tool. We can show them how to identify insects, weeds, you name it.

“It’s a lot of extra work to keep it up and looking presentable. But I think the return is high.”

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