Stewards of the Land

Crystal Organic Farm sits on roughly 40 acres in Newborn and specializes in fruit, vegetable, flower and medicinal herb production as one of the oldest operations of its kind in the region.

by Michelle Floyd

The land of an Austrian mother who moved her family to the United States from Belgium in the 1980s continues to cultivate food for current and future generations. Helen Dumba purchased a 175-acre dairy farm in Newborn and grew organic food for herself and her four teenaged children, one of whom runs a farm on the same property today. Nicolas Donck bought the land from his mother in 1993 and opened Crystal Organic Farm—one of the oldest operations of its kind in the region. He recalls his mother growing their garden on roughly half an acre. When Donck and his siblings reached adulthood and moved away, it became too much for her to tend alone.

“That’s when the farm was born,” said Donck, who named the farm for the abundance of quartz crystals found in the soil. “It started really small.”

Crystal Organic Farm now rests on roughly 40 acres, includes 28 high-tunnel greenhouses and specializes in fruit, vegetable, flower and medicinal herb production. High-tunnel growing has made the farm more productive by allowing those who run it to have increased control over temperature, weed pressure and watering. Donck and partner Jeni Jarrard have transformed the site into a year-round operation. 

“We never stop,” Jarrard said. “There’s always food to grow.”

The farm employs four full-time and four part-time employees, participates in the Natural Resources Conservation Service and remains involved in university crop studies around the Southeast. It also grows heirloom seeds for national companies and prides itself on being active in the community. Crystal Organic Farm donates any excess food it produces to local churches and foodbanks in and around Newton County. The farm sells some 75% of its produce to Fresh Harvest, which delivers local organic products to Atlanta-area customers. It also counts Garnish & Gather, a meal kit and grocery delivery service, as one of its customers. 

“We grow for production, but the main thing is we grow for taste,” Donck said. “Now, you have to eat three heads of broccoli to get the same nutritional value that you did 40 years ago because the nutritional value in the soil has been depleted. Our main thing is to take care of the soil by using different organic practices. The soil is a living organism like the human body, so if it gets sick, it’s more susceptible to diseases and pests and won’t produce healthy plants or nutrient-dense food.”

“Our main thing is to take care of the soil by using different organic practices. The soil is a living organism like the human body, so if it gets sick, it’s more susceptible to diseases and pests and won’t produce healthy plants or nutrient-dense food.”

Crystal Organic Farm Owner Nicolas Donck 

Crystal Organic Farm received the Certified Organic designation from the United States Department of Agriculture in 1996. USDA-certified organic farms are required to keep detailed records on every aspect of their operation, and they are not permitted to use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Only products approved by the organic certifying agency can be used on the farm. 

“We grew up eating organic food, and when I had it as a garden, it was always organic but not certified,” Donck said. “It’s important to be Certified Organic because accurate records are kept and farmers are held accountable for how their food is grown. Customers can be reassured that their produce is grown under the highest standards when compared to big agriculture that is not as strictly regulated.” 

“It’s very important to have the strictest rules,” he added. “The term ‘organic’ is being washed down. We feel like we are above that name because we really do more than the minimum.”

The farm also holds the distinction as the second of its kind in Georgia to earn certification from the Real Organic Project—a grassroots, farmer-owned organization that seeks a return to original organic farming methods. It examines the holistic vision of an operation, from animal welfare and employee working conditions to the farming practices it uses.

While in the past Crystal Organic Farm tailored many of its sales efforts to a farmer’s market and restaurants in and around Atlanta, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 led Donck and Jarrard to focus closer to home through their Online Farm Store. Products available to the public include foods grown on the farm, like seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with flowers, some 25 varieties of medicinal herbs and items from other local vendors, featuring everything from grass-fed beef and honey to eggs, tea, ghee and granola.  

“It’s been good and successful,” Jarrard said. “Part of our mission is to offer good food to the local community, so it doesn’t always make sense to grow food and take it an hour away when we can commit to having it remain local.” 

For more information, visit Crystal Organic Farm online at CrystalOrganicFarm.com. Donck and Jarrard encourage those in need or those who know families in need to contact them regarding a free food box. In a mission to support the health and well-being of those around them, they also offer complimentary phone consultations for farm-and-garden services and personal wellness needs.

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