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Singing Crow Farm blends faith, nature supplying organic vegetable plugs across Southeast

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Amy BeVille is a local songwriter whose Singing Crow Farm — the former Young’s Mill Farm between Rome and Kingston — produces certified organic vegetable “plugs” for farmers in six Southeastern states including Georgia. The trays of starter seedlings range from tomatoes and melons to lettuce, broccoli, kale and herbs.

She also happens to be an ordained minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday night, BeVille didn’t get a whole lot of sleep because heaters in her greenhouses had gone out, and she was out every two hours as the temperature dipped into the mid-20s.

She had to use smaller propane heaters to regulate the heat inside her greenhouses, and she was looking for air leaks to make sure her plants didn’t freeze.

The Chattanooga, Tenn., native, however, has a well-honed understanding of how to cope with things beyond her own control.

Especially the weather.

Before moving to Georgia in 2011, BeVille lived in Texas, where she was the co-founder of the National Disaster Interfaith Network.

She worked as a liaison between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and victims of Hurricane Katrina, and later helped FEMA during natural disaster situations in Alaska, Mississippi, Kentucky and Maryland.

But BeVille’s roots — and branches — are firmly planted in the soil.

Her grandfather, Doug BeVille Sr., had a farm on Signal Mountain and was a well-known butcher in Chattanooga. Her father, Doug BeVille Jr., helped with the butchering and the deliveries on weekends.

Her son, Chris Elder, runs a 30-acre organic farming operation near Bellingham, Wash., and serves as a consultant to his mother’s operation east of Rome.

Hearing nature’s song

BeVille said she named her land Singing Crow Farm because it combines images that are precious to her.

As a child she spent two weeks every summer at a YMCA camp, where she would lay in her cabin and listen to the crows. Today, she’s both a singer and a songwriter, with membership in the Cartersville Songwriters Association and plans to join the Rome songwriters group.

“That’s my balance to farming,” she said. “I’m an old crow and I sing.”

The Singing Crow Farm sells its certified organic seedling trays to farmers in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina. BeVille said her primary goal is to make sure families are putting good food in their bodies.

“Especially our young people — they really want to learn how to be sustainable,” she said.

What makes her vegetable plugs organic? BeVille said the U.S. Department of Agriculture now has rules governing what producers must do for the label.

“The main thing is that we want to make sure that our soil is good; that it’s not contaminated,” she said. “There’s an organic protocol and I’m very careful that, if I do add something to my soil, that it’s okay to do it.”

Organic producers deal with a lot of the same issues affecting their plants as conventional farmers, but their responses aren’t always the same.

“If we need to control some problem, we have to look at a list of things. We can’t use conventional fertilizers, we can’t use conventional pesticides, because in them are things that we believe are not healthy for our bodies,” BeVille said. “We look for things that are natural and naturally occurring, to let nature lend a hand.”

BeVille said she pays close to attention to insects and how they thrive in certain conditions. She has learned that if she starts out the healthy plants with the right kind of nutrients the insects will go somewhere else.

Unlike her son, who is working on a master’s degree in organic farming and nutrient management at Washington State University, BeVille said she’s learned a lot from the past — from her father and grandparents who didn’t necessarily understand the science of what they were doing, but knew what worked and what didn’t.

“We want to provide a plant that uses the nutrients naturally, that will grow into a strong healthy plant. For me, it all has to do with providing rich healthy soil,” BeVille said. “Then if we water properly, we provide a really good, strong, healthy plant that’s ready for the farmer to put into the ground.”

Turning practice into produce

The Singing Crow Farm has an extensive product list, primarily vegetables, with a few herbs on the side.

“Coming into the spring we’ll be starting with broccoli, kale, cabbage, things that we do in the fall too,” BeVille said. “Lettuce will be real popular, and then people will start real quick on the tomatoes.”

From tomatoes, the list expands to peppers, squash and melons.

“We do lots of varieties of basil and we do rosemary and oregano,” she said.

Currently, BeVille is preparing for her final shipments of the fall. The last shipments will be leaving her greenhouses in the next two weeks.

She’s also working on equipment in one of the large greenhouses, which helps jump-start the germination of seed. This time of year, BeVille tries to clear out her greenhouses for maintenance and cleaning. This past week, heaters have been out in two of the greenhouses.

During the spring and summer months, BeVille has a crew of five who help with the potting and planting.

“Some of them are more full-time than part-time,” she said. “About 30 hours is the most that somebody can work around here.”

All of her plugs are grown to fill orders.

“Even for retail we have a specific order, but we do try to grow some extra,” BeVille said.

The average farmer orders 10-12 trays of plants, although some of her larger customers order upward of 600 trays. The typical tray sizes are 128 plants or 200 plants, depending on the size of the root cell the farmer wants.

During the heart of the planting season BeVille’s farm has a goal of putting out 200 trays of produce plugs each day.