Meet The Clarksons of Grove Ladder Farms.
Photography by Corey Woosley. Written by Taylore Harris.
Entering the 10 acres, Freddy and Bianca come bounding towards the truck attempting to determine the threat that is trying to greet their family. These two Great Pyrenees act as protectors of the Clarkson’s three daughters and the chickens which have numerous predators in the open fields in East Sarasota, Florida. Rounding the final corner where the oaks hang low with loads of Spanish moss, a driveway to Grove Ladder Farms illuminates the farmers already hard at work. Before the sun has peeked through the stacks of clouds, Tim Clarkson is in his Ford making the rounds loaded with feed for the chickens. Even in the early morning haze, the fields are coming alive as the chickens which are separated into multiple pens are anxious to begin their feeding frenzy. It appears to be organized chaos as Tim is swarmed while he distributes the feed and the chickens flutter about. One pen is a soy free flock for egg-buying customers with dietary restrictions. Making his rounds to the chicks and “pre-teen” enclosures where the younger birds are housed, the morning poultry feeding comes to a close. Remnants of the non-GMO grain that the chickens are fed leave small chunks on the 10-acre property which exhausts the land once the chicken’s manure hits the ground. To preserve the pastures, Tim moves the egg houses every few days in the summer so that the pasture-based birds don’t exasperate the grass. Relocating the movable electric fencing provides the chickens with fresh grasses and little bugs to munch. Next door the sheep bray as if to remind Tim that they want his attention and food as well. It’s a humid morning; even while the clouds continue to stack forming cotton-candy-colored whisps, Tim and his wife Chelsea smile and laugh as they take a moment to allow the two sheep and the little lamb to eat from their hands. The early light seems to match the ease and clairvoyance of the Clarkson couple as they dream about more sheep, which is what Chelsea is hoping for eventually.
As the couple kicks off their boots and enter the house, the mood shifts from country fields to a tasteful and warm smorgasbord of velvet thrones and carefully curated walls of art. Life is happening within these walls, and it must also pause for moments to absorb the fast-paced performance that the farm demands. Looking around seems to transport you from the heat and the humidity of the summer into a fusion of Chelsea’s Cuban roots and the appreciation that she and Tim share for literature about real life and making it more meaningful. In addition to the grove ladder hung above the cabinets in the kitchen, there is a beautiful array of artwork. The priceless relics lining the walls of the family room, tell a family history as you examine each piece. A reading nook provides space for thoughtful contemplation and a view of the land that the Clarksons manage.
“I don’t normally snuggle Tim after chicken chores,” Chelsea chuckles as they cozy up for a picture following the morning routine. Stretching on the sofa and having a cup of matte is a small deviation from the relentless frenzy of feeding their more than 2,000 Golden Comet chickens by 7 a.m.
As they retreat from the heat inside to a converted garage into their newly functioning home, it would be easy to forget that, just beyond the antique mahogany table and velvet Victorian sofa, there is much work left to be done. As the sun is rising and chasing away the morning mist there are still more than 800 eggs (significantly less than the 1200 eggs during the fall and spring) to be collected and washed. While listening to Tim and Chelsea visit about their farm and story, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that this is easy, a simple way of backyard homesteading. Most people would find it difficult to believe that Chelsea and Tim actually got their start in town with four chickens in their yard more than six years ago; today the system that they operate daily takes focus, determination, and consistent hard work.
Tim takes a seat near the bookshelves and lights a pipe. Chelsea adores the scent of his smokes and explains her memories in association with her childhood. It’s a scent that brings unity to this couple as they’ve known each other since middle school. The familiarity between them and their three daughters portrays a sense of consistency that permeates the property. They are pioneers: pursuing new ideas in their areas of expertise, honing those skills, and happy to teach those around them, both in the markets and with the vendors that they distribute through. The Clarkson’s have a rare affinity for taking pleasure in what they can learn and enjoy both the challenges of their work and the glory of discovery. They’ve trusted their abilities, and they aren’t afraid to work hard and laugh when things don’t go as planned. We tip our hat to their consistency and faithful farming.
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