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The biggest ‘little’ farm: Big Oak

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 7/23/22

Organic farming is a lot of handpicking, according to Jessica Waid of Big Oak Farm in Petersburg.  

“It is more challenging, but we did a lot of research in 2017 when we started all …

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The biggest ‘little’ farm: Big Oak


Organic farming is a lot of handpicking, according to Jessica Waid of Big Oak Farm in Petersburg.  

“It is more challenging, but we did a lot of research in 2017 when we started all this on how food is raised, and it’s very expensive to buy organic produce at the grocery store,” she said. “We wanted to grow it for ourselves. But we also wanted to provide our community with it. It was important for us to be able to provide that at a price we could afford.”  

They’ve been cultivating their seven acres since then and have expanded to include a store and even a food truck called Farm to Fork. But there are challenges to running the biggest little farm.  

“We lose a lot of crops,” said Matt Waid, Jessica’s husband.  

“We have to physically go through and find leaves that have squash bug eggs on them, for example, tear those leaves off, and get rid of them, take them completely off the property,” said Jessica. It’s not profitable to keep that crop, so they have to take it out and start a new one.  

At a certain point, you have to spray it with pesticide. But they’re organic. So, if they do spray, the Waids will spray something organic based such as fish emulsion or fish poop, Jessica joked. It’s high in nitrogen and is great for anything that’s leafy.  

The Waid’s four sons―Hayden, Henry, Harvey, and Huck―enjoy the bug hunting, too.  

“Hayden is my tomato pest control,” Jessica said. “He likes to find army worms, horn worms, cut worms, and he pulls them apart, typical boy-fashion,” Jessica said with a laugh.

The Waids also grow cut flowers which bring in beneficial bugs― essentially good bugs that kill the bad bugs, Matt explained. For example, lace-wing bugs on the tomato plants like to feed on the bad bugs.  

“Something else that we’re learning...We try not to disturb the soil the most we can because that protects the worms,” Jessica said. said.

Through rows of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, there are pathways which help keep the soil up and from getting compacted. This is useful for organic farmers so they don’t worry about weed pressure. Every time you till, you bring weed seeds back to the top.  

The Waids also have their garden on a slight hill. To help with erosion, they have a weed barrier or a crop.

Though it’s not the best method for the soil, Matt said, if they don’t use them, their crops end up in their driveway. “It’s a constant battle,” Matt said.  

“And we rotate things around,” Jessica added. For example, beans are good for putting nutrients back in the soil. 

As June came to a close, they had around 200 tomato plants. And it’s still not enough.  

“Tomatoes in the south are like gold,” Jessica said. It takes a lot of water every couple hours a day. They used 28,000 gallons of water during one of their summer month.  

It’s how they can have this cold-crop plant in the summer. In fact, lettuce is what Big Oak Farm is most known for.  

One reason why their lettuce is so popular is due to the way they process it, which gives it a long shelf life, lasting three to four weeks in the fridge. They water the heads of lettuce over head for four minutes every two to three hours. When harvested, the lettuce is immediately dunked in cold water and dried well (using a spinner made from an old washing machine).  

For the rest of summer, the Waids will be pull out the sugar snaps, winter squash, watermelons and cantaloupe, mild and hot peppers. Later on in fall, they’ll have pumpkins, gourds, and sweet potatoes.  

“If it’s here, it’s because we’ve grown it,” Jessica said.  

Then they use everything for their food truck, which opened in September last year.  

“So we’re really excited this year that we’ll be able to utilize a lot of things from the garden, like when the tomatoes come in,” she said. “We try to use anything that we have that’s excess from the garden; we don’t want anything to go to waste. The truck is the perfect way to use that.”  

“Out here,” in rural Petersburg, it’s a “food desert.” So the Big Oak Farm helps to provide fresh produce to nearby residents. Plus, Jessica has always loved entertaining and having people over.  

“We have people from the community, when we opened the store, people I didn’t even know lived around here. And now I know their kids’ names, where they work, and what they’re doing. It’s been really good to build that connection,” she said.  

In the store, located right beside the rows of crops, they have trail mix, spice mix, homemade soaps, local honey for sale, as well as crafts like locally-made cutting boards. They also get their meat from a farm in Fayetteville.  

But overall, “It’s a whole family thing and it’s nice to be able to come out here together and work,” Jessica said