By Ronda Cowen
News Star Reporter
Kelly Atkins and her husband Brandon have been farming together for 18 years but have never seen a year like this one.
Owners of Atkins Farms and previous owners of Stratford Greenhouse, Kelly and Brandon, along with four of their children and Joseph Prince, operate a small retail produce and gift stand six miles north of the Stratford four-way stop on Highway 177.
“Up until this year, we have been selling our produce wholesale to stores like Homeland and Crest Foods, but that had fallen off so we decided to open a retail stand,” says Kelly. “Our children are able to be with us all the time instead of one of us being away from home delivering produce.”
The change came just in time as this year’s crop was slightly delayed due to the large amount of rain the area received in May and June. The Atkins had intended to open the retail stand in May but it was the first part of July before they were up and running.
“We lost about two harvests due to the flooding, but that’s a lot less than others lost,” says Kelly.
The decreased loss was due to the techniques that Atkins employs in planting and crop maintenance.
Raised beds and consecutive plantings were two key methods that kept the farm from losing its entire crop.
The raised beds are constructed using a special machine and the plantings are spaced one to two weeks apart to keep a constant supply of mature produce on hand.
“If we had planted all our seed right at the beginning of the season like many gardeners do, we would have lost most of it, due to the flooding,” says Kelly.
“Our consecutive plantings helped with that, while the raised beds kept some of the seed from washing away or getting buried too deep in the soil.”
The Atkins Farm consists of 125 acres of land with about 50 acres used for farming, including the land surrounding the retail location.
About 25 to 30 acres is farmed per year, to give the land time to rest and rejuvenate.
A beautiful crop of okra can be seen just behind the small shop, the blooms of the plants closely resembling its cousin, Hibiscus.
“The sight of growing crops draws people in. They want to know that you are actually growing the produce and seeing those blooms assures them of that,” says Kelly.
This year the Atkins Farm has sold more than they could produce so they had to bring some produce in to meet the demand.
They are sure to tell the customers where the produce comes from since keeping an open and honest relationship with their clients is vital.
For instance, watermelon is difficult to grow in the soil around Stratford, so Triple S Watermelon Farms in Hydro, Oklahoma provides those.
The cantaloupes, though, come straight from the Atkins land, picked early in the morning to meet the day’s demand.
At least four more plantings of cantaloupes are left to be picked, providing a few more weeks’ supply of the sweet melons to the customers who stop by.
Fruit from the 5,000 tomato plants are still producing, but the Atkins’ onion and potato crop is already exhausted from the high demand.
They look for growers in the state of Oklahoma first, trying to keep the produce as local as possible.
The Atkins Farm also uses drip irrigation to water the crops, which provides a steady and more exact flow of moisture to the root of the plant, where it is needed most.
The water comes from three wells that are fed from the Gerty Sand Aquifer. Using this type of irrigation allows for better control of the science of the crop.
“People think the rain yesterday will make the cantaloupes that we picked today even better, but actually we stop watering the cantaloupes for a couple of days before we pick them so the sugar will concentrate and the melon will be sweet and delicious.
“The extra moisture the day before harvesting dilutes the sugar, and although they will still be good, they won’t be quite as sweet,” explained Kelly.
The Atkins Farm is truly a family affair with their four children helping out and learning about crops, marketing, retail selling and money skills.
Brandon and Kelly home school their four children, all of whom have been adopted by them in the last few years.
They range from age 12 to 17 and are a huge part of the business, as well as a blessing to Brandon and Kelly.
“People say to me, ‘Oh you are such a blessing to the kids,’ but I know that they are a blessing to us. God gave them to us and we are glad to be a family,” says Kelly.