Small and Alternative Enterprise - Feature Farmer

Lynn Steward

Lynn Steward receives Award

Lynn Steward is a Florida farmer who operates with his wife Lew a highly diversified small farm in the rural community of Arcadia in DeSoto County. Lynn is also ‘Mr. Citrus Organics’, an organic farmer who is passionate about farming and life, and generous with his knowledge and experience. In recognition of these traits, Lynn is a recipient of the annual Innovative Farmer Award at the 2009 FL Small Farm and Alternative Enterprise Conference.

Lynn started his journey in farming while a student at New College in Sarasota. He earned extra money and learned his citrus growing skills under the tutelage of the Skinner family’s Midway Grove in Manatee County. In 1989 he started his farm that is located west of Arcadia about 5 miles off state road 72. On his farm is an old farmhouse that is over 100 years old, was purchased for the amazing price of $1.00, and moved to Arcadia from Bradenton almost 30 years. Today the farmhouse serves as both an office and a guest house, and is a source of pride and a symbol of Lynn’s tenacity in farming. For example, it survived a direct hit by hurricane Charlie in 2004 and is receiving its final restoration touch of a new porch this winter. Likewise, Lynn has done what needs to be done to continue to build his vision of a sustainable farming life no matter what challenges Mother Nature has in store for him.

Lynn’s production method and philosophy are organic and holistic in approach. His farm is Certified Organic. He believes in sustaining the soil to produce crops with low inputs and high nutritional value and in using all the resources on the farm to improve soil quality so as to provide superior, home grown products to the community. The 17 acre farm has a large garden of mixed vegetables with three acres of citrus grove that are being expanded with stone fruits and blackberries. The production area rotates crops from year to year. Sometimes black eyed peas, then green bush beans with other southern row crops are grown during the planting season. His production plans include greenhouse growing of organic vegetable and herb sets to market locally and statewide. The biofuel tree Jatropha is being grown for its biodiesel use and will eventually be generated on the farm to run generators for auxiliary power.

Lynn’s marketing plans include increased on-farm sales, local farmers’ markets and area high-end restaurants, as well as value-ad sales and agri-tourism. The goal is to have a operation that is sustainable with production costs reduced by the use of onfarm solar powered lights, fans and heat, as well as biodiesel fuel, and competitive with the growing of culturally unique fruits and vegetables, and adding blueberries, raspberries, peaches and seedless blackberries all grown organically.

He also plans to develop agri-education as an alternative enterprise by holding ½ day seminars at his farm to teach the community about backyard organic growing, raised bed growing, cooking with fresh herbs and vegetables, and other areas of interest. He is interested in raising goats for organic goat cheese and growing grass-fed beef. This activity will help him stay on the cutting edge of products and cultural practices to make sure all of our customers have what they need now.

Lynn’s entire style of farming is about protecting the land and giving back to the soil. What goes into the farm and what goes out is equally important for its sustainability. For example, the farm has a large wet land around the pond and it is the filter for the pond which supplies the clean water to produce clean food for sale. It also attracts wildlife and birdlife. All by-products are utilized in improving the soil. For example, chicken manure from the farm chickens is collected to use in preparing the ground for planting and fertilizing throughout the year. Soil-building practices reduce the leaching of nitrates into the soil It’s a Biologically Integrated Farming Systems based on monitoring pests, beneficial insects, water and nitrogen; soil-building practices that create on-farm habitat and reduce leaching of nitrates into the soil. Best Management Practices (BMP) UF/IFAS are practiced. Beneficial insects are utilized.

Lynn has always found the time to give back by reaching out to other producers, his community, and his local food system about how he farms and why is it important. Some of the different ways that he has accomplished and will continue towards this goal include the following:

  1. Grassroot formation of DeSoto Citizens Against Pollution in 1989.
  2. DeSoto County Chairman of the Southwest Florida Small Farms Network. We have hosted a meeting of over 95 members for networking and education.
  3. Past president of Florida Organic Growers and one of its earliest Board of Director members from 1990-2003.
  4. Certified Organic Crop Advisor for Florida Organic Growers (FOG) working with an EPA grant to reduce pesticide use.
  5. Florida’s Chairman of Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) 1992-2002.
  6. Public presentations on organic agriculture in hometown community and surrounding counties.
  7. Conductive informative tours of the farm for groups such as Women of the Florida Farm Bureau, retired farmers from around the country, grade school science classes and Certified Master Gardeners.
  8. Hosted a recent Slow Food FL state wide meeting of chapter leaders to plan strategies to support FL small farmers and local food systems and providing a tour of the farm for members.

But no matter how much Lynn has accomplished and plans to do on his farm, he always strives to be open to learn from others and share his knowledge. He is grateful to all of his own generous mentors and he knows that we can all learn so very much from each other.