CHARLESTON, WV, UNITED STATES
When Nikki Parker began growing her vegetable garden a few years ago, she didn’t dream that her produce eventually would be featured at popular local restaurants.
Thanks to connections made through Patriot Guardens, an agricultural initiative of the West Virginia National Guard, Parker’s Four Arrows Farm is supplying fresh vegetables to restaurants like 1010 Bridge and The Pitch.
“The idea that a restaurant is using my produce is truly like living a dream,” Parker said. “I am absolutely blown away that my first year in business I was able to get this opportunity.”
Parker, wife of Maj. Chris Parker of the West Virginia National Guard’s 111th Engineering Brigade, grew up around farming. Her mother and grandmother did a lot of canning, she said, and that inspired her to get into production herself.
“For me, growing is almost like therapy,” Parker said. “I just enjoy working in the high tunnel, growing things from seed and seeing the reward.”
Like many Guard families, the Parkers started farming with the hope of having continued income after Maj. Parker retires from the military. Four Arrows Farm, located near Big Chimney in Kanawha County, also serves as an extended classroom for their four homeschooled children.
“We hope to have enough business to allow my husband to stay home as long as he likes,” Parker said. “He has missed a lot because of his military career.”
Parker first started working with Patriot Guardens in 2018. Director Melissa Stewart helped Parker purchase and start producing in four aeroponic tower gardens, which is a soilless way of growing plants quickly and more efficiently.
Since then, Patriot Guardens has helped Parker secure grand funding through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which provides cost shares to small farmers to help them develop their production. Parker used that money to purchase high tunnels, a type of greenhouse constructed around plants growing out of the soil, allowing farmers to get ahead of the traditional growing season. In addition to high tunnels, Parker also expanded her farm by growing fruit trees and a berry patch and building raised beds.
Although Parker has been producing for a while, she didn’t pursue a business license until this year. Brad Cochran, an agriculture specialist with Patriot Guardens, helped Parker with the licensing process as well as naming and branding her venture.
“Brad and I worked with Nikki to make the restaurant connections with Chef Paul Smith at 1010 Bridge and The Pitch, and now with Bridge Road Bistro as well,” Stewart said.
Smith is known in the Kanawha Valley for his farm-to-table style of cuisine, using locally sourced food whenever possible.
Connie Dewhurst, an agriculture specialist with Patriot Guardens, said she is continually impressed with Parkers’ work ethic and willingness to try new things.
“Nikki is so eager and willing to learn anything that will improve her operation, and she is not afraid to try a new variety of plant, a new enterprise or a progressive practice to be the best she can for her farm or her family,” Dewhurst said. “Now that she is growing for Chef Paul, she is very open to new varieties that serve his market and personal preferences for his customers.”
Now that Parker’s farm is on the map, she is beginning to consider what other ventures might be on the horizon, including a Community Supported Agriculture program that would allow customers to schedule their produce purchase directly from the farm. None of it would be possible, Parker says, without the insight and knowledge from the staff at Patriot Guardens.
“They are full of ideas of how to make Soldiers and Airmen and their families successful in agriculture,” Parker said. “They are constantly coming up with new ways to help us in the field. If someone is nervous about getting started, they are the resource to help make you successful.”
Look for produce from Four Arrows Farms at 1010 Bridge, The Pitch and Bridge Road Bistro, all located in the Charleston area. For help on getting started in any agricultural enterprise, email Melissa Stewart, director of Patriot Guardens, at firstname.lastname@example.org.