Farm livin': Local couple grows heirloom vegetables

Photo by Karen Rohr

Photo by Karen Rohr

COVINGTON -- Christina Norman traded in her 4-inch stilettos for flip flops and she couldn't be happier. The former real estate worker and her husband Andrew Norman recently established Noring Farms, a Newton County farm which produces heirloom vegetables and fruits, free range eggs and specialty items like jellies and jams.

The Normans sell their products to Atlanta restaurants, at farmer's markets both in Atlanta and in Newton County, and online at www.noringspecialty produce.com. Locally, customers may sample the Normans' wares at the Clark Street Farmers' Market sponsored by the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, 4140 Clark St. in Covington, each Wednesday from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

So how did the city girl with family ties to Manhattan find her way to the farm? A few years ago, Christina Norman's job as a mortgage banker evaporated when the real estate market collapsed. Her husband, a fine wine sales director, also got laid off.

The couple decided to take advantage of Andrew's culinary connections and Christina's business savvy. They started growing heirloom tomatoes and sold them to major restaurants in Atlanta. As the number of clients grew, so did their need for space; they had outgrown the modest-sized plot at their East Lake Atlanta home.

They started farming three acres in Conyers in 2009 and a year later they sold their East Lake home and moved to a 108-acre farm in Newton County. They still use the Conyers plot, but for now their efforts are directed toward 10 acres they have under plot at their homestead in Newton County.

They specialize in heirloom vegetables, produce grown from seeds that have not been genetically altered for mass production.

"We're going back to the original seeds," said Norman, who added that they order many of their seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, operated by an Amish family.

Heirloom vegetables offer a greater variety of one type of plant. For example, the Noring Farms grows red, orange and white okra. Asparagus comes in purple. Bell peppers are available in white, chocolate, purple, yellow and red. Baby carrots come in purple, white and orange.

"We might have 1,200 plants but 65 varieties with different colors and textures," Norman said. "People are always shocked when they see our things."

The majority of the 3,000 plants in production are comprised of heirloom tomatoes such as San Marzana, chocolate, big rainbow, brandywine yellow, banana legs, Eva purple, big zebra, German Johnson and Mr. Stripey. Other crops coming in are carrots, beets, radishes, squashes, cucumbers, corn and okra.

The couple also plans to expand into fruits and they've planted orchards of apples, peaches, figs, blueberries and raspberries.

Norman said she taught herself how to pickle, can and make jellies, so those types of products are also for sale at the farmers' markets, online and at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit gift shop in Conyers.

As another component in their farming endeavor, the Normans are cultivating a variety of exotic chickens such as French copper Marans, Aracanaus and Americanaus, which lay pale blue, green and pink eggs.

They've planted the farm and established the chicken coops by themselves, with a little help from family and friends. Norman said her two children, Alex, 10, and Savannah, 11, feed the chickens and gather the eggs, while she and her husband tend to the fields and the markets.

"We're having a good time. Anything's better than the corporate world, especially for children," Norman said.

Andrew Norman grew up in Conyers and had some farming experience, whereas Christina learned most of what she knows about farming as an adult. She said she's got a closet full of high heels she never wears now, except on special occasions, and that's OK with her.

"At the end of the day, you feel like you've accomplished something. You can run your own schedule, you're not punching the clock, it's a slower way of living, and it's a better set of values for our marriage and our children," Norman said.

"I think we'll live longer even though we work harder."