Earl and Charisse Snell
Dale County, Alabama
Earl and Charisse Snell grow watermelons, peanuts, peas, squash, greens, tomatoes, and other vegetables on their small farm in Dale County. Earl is a former USDA inspector who now divides his time between farming and managing the Ozark City Market. Charisse is an elementary school teacher.
The Snells grow fresh produce for their family and local customers in a seasonal high tunnel (also called a hoop house) that functions like a greenhouse, but requires no artificial energy source – just natural sunlight. Their hoop house protects their crops from wind, hail, rainfall, insects and diseases, and allows them to harvest higher yields, earlier in the year.
The quality of the soil is critical to the proper functioning of a hoop house. “To have healthy plants, you have to have healthy soil,” Earl said. Mulching and adding substantial amounts of compost or leaf litter increases the organic matter content in the soil, increasing its capacity to provide oxygen, water, and nutrients to the crop. The Snells conduct regular soil samples and rotate different species of plants to keep their soils healthy.
Most of the Snell’s crops are grown using micro-irrigation. The water is directed to the root of the plants, keeping nutrients and pesticides from draining into adjacent waterways. The Snells also promote the consumption of fresh, local food through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, and Alabama’s “Buy Fresh – Buy Local” initiatives and work with local schools, university research departments, and community groups.
Currently, Earl is working with local producers to form a community-based farming organization. The group helps beginning farmers and long-time producers alike install micro-irrigation systems and hoop houses. The couple also encourages and assists other farmers through the Alabama-based Federation of Southern Cooperatives’ outreach activities.