Celebrity Farmer: Nathan Brett finds fame at Athens Farmers Market

By Lauren McDonald

A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.

“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”

“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”

Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”

Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.

“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”

Nathan Brett, with his wife Simone and son,  at DaySpring Farms on March 2, 2015.

Local farmer Nathan Brett, with his wife Simone and son, at DaySpring Farms on March 2, 2015.

DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.

“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.

Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.

DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.

“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.

DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.

The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.

But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.

Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.

He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.

“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”

His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.

“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”

So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.

DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.

Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.

Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.

He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.

“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”

DaySpring Farms' stone flour mill, which grinds wheat into flour.

DaySpring Farms’ stone flour mill, which grinds wheat into flour.

Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.

DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.

Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.

Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.

In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.

“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”

Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.

“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”

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