Few Delta farms have the number or diversity of enterprises that can be found at Kin Growers. The Sharkey County, Miss., operation, home to the Bill Rutherford family, produces crops ranging from soybeans to fresh yard eggs.
Rutherford, following in his father’s footsteps, farms 3,700 acres of row crops along with maintaining a 250-brood cow herd, on land near the Mississippi River levee.
Soil health and the practice of planting cover crops on their land after harvest has been part of their management plan for several years. Rutherford remembers that the first few crops were remarkable during the early years when he and his father cleared new ground. “Those were some of the best crops we ever produced on that land,” says Rutherford. “The plants were taller and more vigorous than any year since.”
Remembering that success, Rutherford began planting cover crops and reducing tillage on his crop acres. Today, all of the land is planted after harvest and cattle are grazed on the crop residue and forage when weather conditions allow.
With his son, Will, taking over the major responsibility of the crop operations, Bill Rutherford and his wife, Mindy, have been able to tackle several projects that had been on their “bucket list” for years.
At their Council Bend farm, the Rutherfords have restored an old home to host family and visitors as well as constructing a store to merchandise the products produced on the farm. Two walk-in coolers and wooden racks display the seasonal vegetables grown in a large garden. “We can sell all we grow and are only limited by the amount of time we can spend on gardening,” says Mindy.
Addition to staff
One key to the success of their expansion is the addition of Libby Durst to the staff. After graduation from Mississippi State University, the Rolling Fork, Miss., native, who grew up near the Rutherfords and worked summers on the farm, joined the operation full-time. Durst’s responsibilities include helping with milking and feeding the livestock.
Rutherford had an interest in dairying, and in 2016 he began milking a small herd of jersey cows. The herd has grown to 28 head with milk sold on the farm and delivered to restaurants and groceries from Greenville, Miss., to Jackson, Miss. The grass-based operation is rotationally grazed and a mixed grain ration is fed while milking.
Milk is processed and bottled in a modern on-farm facility and plans call for the addition of cheese-making soon. Their chocolate milk is a favorite and many of the area chefs insist that Kin Growers’ milk adds to the quality of their dishes.
A growing flock of laying hens supplies eggs to many of their customers. The hens have the run of their pastures during the day and a large “chicken tractor” is being built to move them across the field in an organized pattern.
Requests for beef led the family to begin feeding steers from their herd, processing them at Mississippi State’s Meats Lab, and selling retail cuts in the farm store. Also, a few hogs were added for sausage and pork customers.
All the Rutherfords’ enterprises depend on the soil for success and they are working with nature to enhance the resources they have. “We now have the fourth generation of our family working on the farm and we know that, with proper management, we can continue to improve it,” says Rutherford.