One man’s passion to eliminate the harmful chemicals not only the land but to the well-being of human lives and animals inspired him to think differently about farming.
When did you know you were a farmer?
Farmer Frank has always thought of himself as a farmer, even when he only had a garden. Seeds have enchanted him since he was a very little boy, he finds them magical. “Here is this small thing, hard but alive…you put it in the ground and you get food. Not even David Copperfield can perform that kind of magic,” says Frank.
Where does the name Crooked Sky Farms come from?
When he decided to start farming in 1999, Frank was visiting Arivaca, AZ. As he was driving around the area, he took a dirt side road called Crooked Sky Road, where he came upon a man chopping weeds. He asked him about the name of the road. The man explained that it comes from Native American tribes who used to live there, and pointed out the sky along the rugged mountain range which, indeed, appeared crooked – thus the name.
Why do you choose urban farming?
“The main reason is that there is simply not a lot of farmland left around Phoenix. Most of it was sold to agribusiness and developers in the ‘90s. The central location [where customers do their weekly pick-ups] has been farmed at least since the introduction of the Salt River Project in 1918-1920, but probably goes all the way back to Native Americans. This farm used to be bigger too; the interstate wasn’t built until the ‘70s. The most important factor in his decision to farm here was that it is here, and when farmers stop farming land, it ceases to exist as farmland,” Frank said.
Frank is leasing four different locations in urban Phoenix, ranging from 10 to 40 acres. He also has a property in Duncan, AZ, on the Arizona-New Mexico border, and just recently bought more land in Virden, NM, three miles away. These two properties lie at 3,600 feet in the Gila River Valley, where the climate is different, and can thus grow things like chile peppers and bell peppers much easier than in the Valley of the Sun.
Why did Frank decide to grow things naturally?
He grew up in Phoenix, in a house with no running water or electricity; his father worked on cotton farms that used a lot of chemicals and was a very sick man. When his father died, the doctor said but the cause was that there was so much “garbage” in his body. Frank understood from a very early age that chemicals are not good for you. As a young boy, Frank read his mother’s organic gardening magazines, where he learned (among other things) about composting. Frank says that most people who kept organic gardens or farms in the ‘60s were considered to be crazy hippies, but he understood from watching people get sick from exposure to chemicals that growing naturally is the only way. “If you spray bugs with poison, they will die, but you will eat that too,” he says. “Growing naturally means a different kind of thinking; things need to happen in one natural circle, and we are all in the same circle…bugs, plants, us.” He believes in stewardship of the land including the plants, animals, and people.
What is the secret to ladybugs?
Ladybugs are known for eating the “bad guys” (although few people know that they only do that in their larval stage, but not once they mature). “Now,” Frank says, ”you can go and buy buckets of ladybugs at places like Home Depot, but you can’t actually buy ladybugs…you can only rent them. Ladybugs are like homing pigeons…they will always return to where they were hatched, or at least try to, so they will leave your garden as soon as you release them if there is no reason for them to stay. You can buy ladybug eggs on a piece of paper, and hatch them in your garden, but then you have to provide food for them to stay,” says Frank. The nectar of certain types of plants is what keeps them put – arugula, dill, mustard – and that’s why he not only plants certain things, but also lets them go to seed in the field, so that the adult ladybugs can feed, and therefore stay. ”You see, there is a method to our madness,” he says with a smile.
Take a tour and learn more about Crooked Sky Farms at crookedskyfarms.com, 623-363-7422.