Early one Monday morning, I awoke stacked on the layers, poured a hot cup of joe and hopped in the car. Although it was rather cold out, the sun offered a warm and welcoming light. The early morning light was absolutely magnificent, which is why it is my favorite time to photograph. By the time I arrived at Skylight Farm, Justin was already out and about ready to start the day ahead of him. I had met Justin and his girlfriend Brittany a few months back at the Green Market in Piedmont Park. I worked at couple booths down for my Chiropractor and couldn’t help noticing their beautiful array of fresh, organic vegetables each week. Now while it may seem a rather small detail, I am very much a visual person. So when I saw the layout of their booth and how aesthetically pleasing it was, I could tell they truly cared about every detail that goes into their work. I had such a blast finally making it out to the farm to see where the process all starts! My time at Skylight was fun, filled with information, and awe at what Mother Nature does best when we aren’t getting in her way. Here’s a little bit more about Skylight and the man of the hour: Justin Aiello.
[This story is best read with a hot cup of coffee and your coziest sweater or blanket!]
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
-I am 27. I graduated from Jacksonville State University in 2009 with a degree in Geography. After college I did various landscape related jobs until I began farming.
What exactly brought you to farming?
-I really wanted to build community, work with my hands and grow. Farming was the perfect fit. I was still working a landscape job when I saw a documentary called Grow, which is about young Georgia farmers. I was inspired, quit my job and began farming not too long after.
How did you find the Glover Family Farm?
-I discovered the Glover’s through a friend (my now girlfriend) who was interning at Georgia Organics at the time. She let me know about an apprenticeship opportunity there and eventually I was offered my own plot of land to steward and start my farm business off of.
What spoke to you and inspired you to want to be a part their farm?
-I loved the legacy the Glover’s had already left and still wanted to leave. Not only did they play an integral role in moving forward organic and sustainable growing during their farming career, but they now want to open up their land to let younger new farmers begin their careers as well. To be able to farm on such amazing land with amazing mentors is truly a special thing.
What made you decide to start your own farm versus working for someone else first?
-After doing a 4 month apprenticeship I was pretty eager just to go out on my own and give it a try. There was a rare opportunity for me to get started and a small window to do it – so I figured it was worth the risk and jumped right in.
Are their any activities on the farm that are therapeutic for you?
-There are quite a few activities that I love doing and have some great instant gratification results, but nothing quite beats some quality time on the tractor mowing the grass.
What has been the biggest thing you have had to overcome in order to pursue this dream of yours?
-The fear of failure. I still deal with it at times, honestly. Starting the farm business was a huge risk. Working with living organisms in an ever changing environment can often times be unpredictable. A lot of things I have done on the farm this year have been the firsts for me which is both very exciting with a nice mix of slightly nerve-wracking.
Tell me a little bit about your farm to table dinners and the vision you see for it in the future.
-So far this year we have had two farm to table dinners that coincide with farm work days which have both been lovely experiences. We’ve had 12 to 20 people show up to work for the day by helping me accomplish a huge list of tasks such as planting, weeding, prepping new fields and shutting down fields that are done for the season. At the end of the day we get to enjoy some fellowship and farm fresh veggies cooked by a very talented chef friend of mine. In the future I hope to do three or four farm work/dinner days as well as have some other local chefs come out to the farm to do dinners that benefit local food based organizations such as Slow Food or Wholesome Wave Georgia.
What about farming helps you get out of bed every day and work such long hours of manual labor?
-Farming for me is more of a lifestyle than a job. It’s a commitment to stewarding the land, living sustainably and building community. It feels like a good and meaningful way to live that is incredible satisfying at the end of the day. I definitely have to work long hours, but getting up every day is easy when what I get to do is so satisfying and full of meaning.
At which point over the last year, did you realize you had something good going?
-I think my first farmers market of the year was the first time I realized that things were on the right track. The market was in April, but I had started growing my first veggies in February. There was a lot of build up and nervousness involved, but it all worked out and I had plenty of veggies for market and I was really well received with a lot of kindness amongst the other farmers and market-goers.
What is something you have learned about yourself since you started farming?
-I’ve learned quite a bit about myself through farming…a big one recently has been that I love working alone on the farm, but I definitely need people.
In your off time (if you ever get any!) what can you be found doing?
-I can be found napping, eating tasty food or adventuring around Atlanta with my lovely girlfriend. I’ve been known to do a little rock climbing here and there as well.
You had mentioned to me that you did a lot of climbing in the past. Where was your favorite place that you traveled to?
Bishop, California. Hands down one of the more unique and beautiful places I have been in the US.
Are there any common misconceptions about organic farming that you would like to debunk?
Yep! Just because something is labeled organic does not mean it is automatically good. There are many growing and labor practices that need to be taken into account as well. One of the benefits of buying from your local farmer is that you can usually meet most of the employees and ask any questions about growing and labor practices.
How would you describe yours and Brittany’s role in making Skylight Farms what it is today?
-It’s pretty simple for us..we just try to be honest, genuine and and show lots of kindness to the people we get to interact with. We really want people to feel connected to where their food comes from.
Is there any significance in the name Skylight Farm?
Skylight is my favorite mountain from when I lived in the Adirondacks in New York.
*If you want to keep up with whats new on the farm, and all their exciting events be sure to head over to Skylight Farm on Facebook and LIKE their page!