Grove Ladder Farm: Sustainable Living on the Homestead
When Chelsea and Tim Clarkson talk about sustainable living, they get wide-eyed and poetic. Their hearts are in the concept of the homestead. They dream about a life in which family and farming come together in a soul-satisfying and organic (literally) way.
The Clarksons’ half-acre property off Fruitville Road in Sarasota—with its budding vegetable garden, honeybee hives, chickens and rabbits—is called Grove Ladder Farm. Even the name has metaphorical significance.
“I grew up in Ona, Florida, on 20 acres surrounded by orange trees. The migrant workers there built these ladders and would carry them on their backs down the road to the groves,” Chelsea Clarkson says. “If a worker showed up to the pasture with his own ladder, he could always find work. I began to imagine that the grove ladder represented some semblance of autonomy for the laborer.”
Autonomy is the operative word. The Clarksons, who are in their 20s and have two young daughters (an infant, Rosa Maeve, and a toddler, Celeste), are striving for this kind of independent living as they move from hobby to professional farmers. Their ultimate goal is to supply organic produce, clean poultry and other grass-fed meats to the surrounding community.
“Tim is a Florida boy who has always hunted and raised animals and was involved in agriculture in school,” Chelsea Clarkson says. “When I came back from college, I was on this radical homemaker kick and I convinced him to get egg chickens, and then we found people who were interested in the meat. The conscious parenting community in Sarasota has been very supportive of what we’re doing and we found there is a real demand.”
Currently, Chelsea is the “resident domestic goddess” of the operation and Tim has a day job as a heavy equipment operator at an offsite facility. Tim Clarkson’s morning begins at 5 a.m. when he heads outside, waters the garden, feeds the rabbits, and moves the chickens. Then, he heads off to his worksite.
“I’ve really been inspired by Joel Salatin and his farming ideas, ever since I saw him speak in Bradenton,” Tim Clarkson says, adding that he was active in Future Farmers of America and the 4-H Club in high school, as well as the animal science department at Sarasota County Technical Institute. “I’ve built our farm out of whatever I have and I’ve made it so the majority of the farm is portable. It makes complete sense, instead of building a confinement that costs millions and can’t be moved. When I buy a bigger piece of property, I can pick up the farm and move it onto the new land.”
In the meantime, the two are promoting an online buying club for what they wish to raise and sell, developed by website builder Amanda Hargen. This club will allow customers to purchase orders for pickup at the Clarkson home. In the past, Chelsea Clarkson has sold eggs to locals at Arlington Park. The Clarksons also belong to a feed-buying co-op that provides them with soy-free grain. They recently upgraded from 50 to 100 chickens, and, due to lack of room on their own land, found available space at another farmer’s 600-acre plot off State Road 64.
“Right now, we sell whole and frozen rabbits, and eggs. We want people to know us for kind of a Sam’s Club approach (in an eco-friendly way) to buying meat,” Tim Clarkson says. “You can buy it online, schedule it for later and get a reminder email. You can have 10 chickens in the freezer and know exactly where they came from.”
In Sarasota, as the autonomous farming movement evolves, the Clarksons are at the forefront of the small, family, backyard operation. They hope to see the revolution grow along with them.
“We’re both uncomfortable with the idea of the home being this place that’s dark and empty all day while we’re at work. It doesn’t make much sense to us. I think a home should be a living place,” Chelsea Clarkson says.
“The more you can save money by doing things on your own, the more you can work less and the home can be more of this living, vibrant center of your life. That’s what we want.”
Grove Ladder Farm: groveladderfarm.com