USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service

 

MARSHES SIDING, Ky. - Larry E. King was raised in a family with farming roots. The very land he now farms in McCreary County, Kentucky was purchased by his mother during World War II. He remembers his mother telling him, "If we didn't raise it, we didn't have it."

 

In his late teens, King raised strawberries on the farm. His life moved away from farming at 17 when he followed in his two brothers' footsteps and joined the Air Force.

For six years, King was stationed out of Little Rock, Arkansas where he worked with the mobile support systems out of the Military Airlift Command. After his military assignment, he finished college and worked for the U.S. Forest Service Civilian Conservation Corps. After a long career with the Forest Service, Larry retired a few years ago, bringing him home to the 34-acre family farm.

"I look at this place more like a homestead than a traditional farm, because I use it to help veterans who want to get started farming," he said. "I'm a farmer, but I'm also a philosopher."

King grows blueberries, raspberries and grapes in addition to potatoes, greens, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, okra, peas and green beans. And now, thanks to a conservation program through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), he has a new seasonal high tunnel to use as what he considers a learning center.

The tunnel is used to raise fruits and vegetables, and it helps promote local food sources as it lengthens growing seasons, allowing them to be grown earlier and later than normal. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance for landowners, like King, interested in seasonal high tunnels and other conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP.

Also, through EQIP, NRCS is helping King transition his operation into an organic one, a multi-year process.

Organic farming refers to ecologically-based systems used to produce food and fiber. It relies on preventative practices for weed, insect and disease problems, uses nontoxic methods to manage problems if they do occur and improves the natural resources of the farm, including soil and water quality.

NRCS offers assistance to farmers who are already certified organic or interested in becoming certified.

Farming comes with many challenges, but he appreciates each one. He runs the farm on his own and occasionally has the help of his "student" veteran farmers. King said he finds farming to be therapeutic and wants to share that with his fellow veterans. He said he has a passion for helping others get on their feet, which he said is why he has worked with local governments in the area.

He has worked with the local government and the Grow Appalachia program to establish a local farmers market and processing center. He continues to work with the Growing Warriors project to establish additional markets.

His advice to those who want to get started farming is: "You can learn from both good and bad so don't give up." King is a member of the Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, Growing Warriors, and Kentucky Proud's Homegrown by Heroes. He looks forward to expanding his operation.