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At Lockard’s Produce, Debra Lockard farms the same land that her parents and grandparents took care of. Today, Debra feeds the community in many ways–mentoring young farmers, teaching young growers, and of course, growing nutrient-dense food.
Where do you farm?
For how many years have you been farming?
I’ve been growing food my whole life, but for the past 6 years I’ve been operating full-time as Lockard’s Produce.
How did you first get into farming?
My parents grew up on their farm, and I am the third generation farmer on the same land. When I was a child, we lived in Memphis and we went up to the farm three days a week. We’d get there in the early morning, do our work, and then go to school.
We grew just about everything–squash, purple hull peas, whippoorwill peas, red potatoes and onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, strawberries, plums, apples, peaches. We also raised cows and chickens.
My grandmother had a cotton field. We wanted to pick cotton, so she made us cotton sacks. We got tired quickly, and she said, “Oh no, you’re not at the end of the row yet! Now you know what it’s like. Don’t ever be in a cotton field.”
Today, I plant many of the same vegetables that my family grew when I was a child. I was an elementary school teacher, technology coach and a principal, and always farming. When I retired, I took a part-time job as the Pre-K instructional coach for the Millington Municipal School District and began Lockard’s Produce, farming full-time.
Please tell us about any farming heroes or mentors of yours.
My mentors were my parents whom are now deceased, my 90 year old last surviving uncle, my siblings, the Soil Conservation and NRCS in Lauderdale County, the AgLaunch team in Memphis, Tennessee State University professors, Agricenter urban/rural Farm Department in Memphis, TN, the Master Gardener program director, and words of wisdom from farmers.
When I was growing up, my parents and grandparents taught me several things that keep me motivated today–get up early in the morning, head to the fields, and be back in before the sun comes up. I still have a hard time sleeping past 4 am! We were also taught to stay on schedule, keep a calendar, write everything down, and make a 5 year plan! It may not turn out as you planned, but at least you tried.
My elders also taught me how to rotate crops and plant cover crops to keep yourself from working so hard. Farming is difficult when you don’t have the help or labor! So I learned how to grow things that don’t require much of my time. Go there and check it, water and maintain it, and put things under landscaping fabric to keep the weeds back.
What does it mean for you to work on the land?
Carrying on the legacy of my forefathers is very important to me. I value the soil health to continue sustainability of growing without chemicals and pesticides. We have always shared with the community and no one was ever without food. We were raised to find every answer to a question in the Bible. Therefore, the land will rest after 7 years. In preparation for this time, more farmland has been cleared, while the previously cleared farmland is resting with cover crops.
My family members are great supporters, and some have started farming and now I am one of their mentors. The cycle continues.
How did you come to have a commitment to sustainability?
My brother is a Geophysicist and showed me that soil health creates a productive and sustainable farm. He showed me how to use cover crops, and I attended workshops to learn more. Now, I am seeing an increase in yield.
Is there anything else you’d like to share as part of your profile?
It was difficult starting out farming as a woman. That changed when I was introduced to the chapter of Women in AG.
As I mature, I do not plan to stop farming. I now share with others, and I continue to enjoy my dream job.