Learn by doing leads to young farm family’s success
by Gregg Patterson, Arkansas Farm Bureau
Jeremy Gillam’s dad always intended for his eldest son to learn by doing. Part of that process was allowing him to figure things out for himself.
“Dad drove me to the farm, let me out of the truck and said ‘I know you’re ready for this,’” Gillam recalls. “Then he drove away, and I don’t think I saw him again for a week.”
Jeremy Gillam was 23.
He describes his dad as being a “hobby” farmer. “He enjoyed growing things and experimented with a little of this and a little of that, but it was more of a place for him to relax from his real job,” Gillam says.
The elder Gillam turned over the 80-acre farm to Jeremy Gillam and left his son there to figure it out. Jeremy Gillam didn’t plan on being a farmer. He had more of a “CSI” pedigree with bachelors’ degrees in psychology and criminology, and he’d just gotten married. Now he’d get a different kind of degree from the school of hard knocks in farming.
“Dad knew what he was doing. I had to become my own man; learn and do things my own way,” Gillam says. “When I went to the bank to present my business plan and ask for a loan, I went as Jeremy Gillam.”
Jeremy went into partnership with his younger brother, Doug, who was still in college at the time.
The farm is much bigger now. Gillam has 200 acres in blackberries, 75 in muscadines and 20 in blueberries.
Terraced rows of fruit cover Ozarks foothills, each plant individually watered via a gravity irrigation system developed and built by the Gillams. Natural and man-made reservoirs capture rainwater and feed drip lines that water every fruit plant except the grapes. A 10,000-square-foot warehouse and storage facility features three forced-air coolers that quickly move the hot air prevalent during the June and July harvest season out with high-velocity blasts of cold air.
“It’s the key to maintaining that fresh-picked flavor that makes our berries the best when they go to market,” Gillam says.
Jeremy Gillam has learned a lot since that first day on the farm – just like his dad knew he would. He and wife Carissa won Arkansas Farm Bureau’s 2009 Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award. Not bad for a guy who got dropped off 12 years ago to figure it out for himself.