Robert and Tara Stainton purchased their farm to house their horses. but it quickly became much more
While only being in the farming business for eight years, Tara and Robert Stainton have made the most of their organic farming venture.
Located on the Faulkner/White county line, the Staintons have transitioned their farmstead from a hobby of owning horses and rodeoing to a sustainable certified organic vegetable and flower garden. The transition was not 100 percent intentional, but necessitated by a need for peace and quiet.
“We found out really quick living above a herd of horses does not lend itself to a quiet family life,” said Tara. “We built our ‘temporary’ living quarters over the stables and found out that was not going to work. Something had to go, it was us or the horses, so the horses went. We still live above the stalls by the way.”
The Staintons’ farm consists of 45 acres with approximately 13 of it certified for organic production. Currently, 5 of the 13 acres are in vegetable and flower production and all crops are irrigated. Crops include over a dozen vegetables, strawberries, and sweet corn with all being irrigated.
Some of the remaining 8 acres certified organic acres is used for free range chickens, which are rotated across the acres using an electric fence and shaded layer wagon.
While not all of the acres are used, it has provided plenty of room for organic certification and room for future growth. The farm is bordered by woods on three sides and Highway 64 on the north which gives it a good buffer from neighbors to insure the certification.
“We bought the 45 acres for our horses when we first married,” Robert said. “So it worked out well as Tara got into organic vegetables.”
When the Staintons first married in 2005, Robert worked out of town a lot. Not having family close, Tara started gardening to give herself something to do. It didn’t take long for Tara to become a believer in organic gardening. Tara started selling vegetables in 2008. The hope was all along to raise their family in the farming life style, so in 2010, while pregnant with their first child, Tara quit her job and started farming full time. The farm operation has grown every year since. The farm operates under the name Rattles Garden and the Staintons have been named the 2017 Faulkner County Farm Family of the Year.
Farm responsibilities are clearly divided among family members and stretched beyond Tara, Robert and their two sons, Milan and Gus. Robert works off the farm in Little Rock, Ark., as a hydrologist engineer, but when he comes home, he readily steps into his other job on the farm. Robert has built every farm structure, including the barn/living quarters. Tara takes care of the rest of the farm work and oversees the seasonal help and farm interns. Tara’s parents still live in Iowa but are very involved with the farm and make periodic trips to help with building and maintenance projects Robert doesn’t have time for. And of course, a couple of grandmas are always ready to assume babysitting responsibilities when needed. Milan and Gus are starting early with their farm duties. Milan teaches the intern how to transplant, and both boys help harvest, gather eggs and move dirt (aka play in the dirt).
While certified organic by the USDA, the Staintons take their philosophy one step beyond certification.
“We adhere to very strict crop rotation and cover crop schedules,” Tara explained. “This helps us slow down pest and disease problems. We can’t grow vegetables all summer and work around life cycles of problematic pests. We do that rather than spray biological pesticides. We also rotate our 150 laying hens around the farm to increase fertility and rely less on off farm inputs.”
Drip irrigation is used to conserve water and insure that only the plants that need water are watered and the right amount of water is used. Vegetables and some flowers are grown in unheated hoop houses all winter using only solar heat.
The Stainton’s farm operation has three sales outlets. They sell at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in Little Rock. They also sell through their Farmshare programs which is a subscription service which has 85 members who sign up for weekly boxes of food twice a year. The farm is also a member of the New South Cooperative. The co-op is a group of organic farmers from across the state that contracts with the Staintons to grow vegetables. Tara is board chair of the co-op, which accounts for about a third of their vegetable sales. Being a co-op member also provides a year-round outlet to move food and requires the farm maintain a part-time farm hand during the winter.
While small in acres, and small in number, Tara, Robert, Milan and Gus certainly make the most of their farm operation. The Stainton’s Rattle’s Garden is a prime example of sustainable organic farming and how to maximize yield and profits on a small farm.