Farming for a Healthier Community

Posted on Jan 23rd 2018 by Karen Thompson

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Yin and yang. It's a term in Chinese philosophy that describes how seemingly opposite forces may actually be complementary in the natural world. Simply said, they are two halves that together complete wholeness.

Man and a cowGreg Ferguson is a perfect example of yin and yang. By day, he's a buttoned-up corporate account executive for Florida Blue. But when he gets home in the evenings and on the weekends, he trades his corporate clothes for jeans and boots and becomes, by all accounts, a farmer.

These business/farmer sides of him actually complete a perfect life, providing him with unique opportunities to improve the health and wellness of our communities through his role at Florida Blue, by offering affordable products at services to Corporate Account Groups, and through his farm, with natural, sustainable farming and education to North Florida residents and companies.

The farm where Greg lives actually "grew" from Greg's love of gardening. With a master gardener as a father, Greg had his own greenhouse operation as a teenager. He also spent summers at his grandparent's farm where they grew and harvested their own food.

As an adult, he wanted to return to that lifestyle of growing sustainable food. But neither a garden nor a greenhouse was allowed where he and his partner, Bill, were living in a golf course community on Amelia Island Plantation, so they decided to move. 

Greg jokes that "they bought a house on a 15-acre property to have small garden" but that garden eventually grew into two 60-foot, raised vegetable beds and now includes a greenhouse and half-acre “green field.”

As the farm continued to expand with fruits, vegetables and flowers, Bill bought a donkey (Earl) off Craig's List. That led to more animals, and before they knew it, NaVera Farm was born. Along with Greg, Bill and Earl, other residents of the farm now include nearly 200 farm animals, many of which were born on the farm.

With the addition of the animals, more and more people wanted to visit the farm, including students from local schools.

"We realized we had something special," said Greg. "We were a self-sustained farm and chemical free like our ancestors, but we also wanted to share that knowledge with other people, because it's being lost through the generations."

Greg and Bill decided to classify NaVera as an educational, non-profit farm, which created Farm Life Foundation. They have a 501c3 status, which allows them to work with other non-profit agencies as well as companies that want to do team buildings or school tours to see where good food comes from. NaVera Farm through Farm Life Foundation is currently the largest, non-profit, educational, chemical-free farm in Florida.

Once they opened to the public, they quickly realized that being around animals was therapeutic for many visitors—particularly those with special needs.

"We’ve had children visit the farm that have autism or other learning disorders and they have had remarkable interactions with our animals," explained Greg. "The animals know they are dealing with a special human and there's a special connection—a kinder, loving nature that the animals have with children of special needs."

Taking care of a farm is a huge responsibility but Greg and Bill make a great team. They do everything from controlling the entire environment (electronics, including cell phones, are not allowed to be in use on the property as they may disturb natural patterns for bees) to sleeping in the barn during kidding season to help birth goats.

"We try to aspire to be the best we can be," said Greg. "Bill is the animal guy, I’m the growing guy, and we both work to sustain the farm. Farm animals get fresh litter every day and we compost all the old litter to turn into dirt. Then as I compost the garden with that dirt and kitchen scraps, it goes back into the farm to become a true self-sustaining process."

It's this type of big-picture thinking that Greg is drawn to.

"Working for Florida Blue for 30 years, I believe in our mission of building a healthier community," he explained. “We should fulfill the company mission not just when we punch the clock, but with what we're teaching the community and with what we're leaving behind."

As much as Greg wants the farm to impact the community, NaVera's effects on him have already been significant.

"Living and working on the farm has improved my physical health," he boasted. "I'm proud to say I’m not on any medications and have been able to control diabetes and cholesterol through healthy living."       

On Sunday nights, he has a "significant routine" to get his hands clean and ready for Monday morning. As he prepares to go back to the corporate world, he often thinks about how the two parts of his life come together.

"I love supporting our mission and I'm blessed with the fortune of working for a great company," he reflects. "Plus, it helps support my farm habit."

Click here for a list of programs, educational tours, and volunteer opportunities and NaVera Farm.

Filed under: Community  

Karen Thompson

Karen Thompson is a Communications Consultant for Florida Blue. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her two rescued pit bulls and hanging out with her friends and family. You can follow her on Twitter at @ktmarieFL.

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