Growing Local: TiRoc Farms - Bounty And Board

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey

Gary and Debi Chambers own 30 acres in Trenton, Ga., where they grow produce and also have family vacation rentals.

“We have two vacation rentals,” Debi says. “I found VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners) and listed the houses on that. This whole place was supposed to be a subdivision. Back in 2002 we bought property and started developing it, we did the subdivision plat, put water lines in, roads in and electrical in and in 2008 we built these houses. Then the economy hit and we were left with six houses in a declined economy."

They are renting some of the houses and one is leased for purchase and then they have the two vacation rentals. “We keep them pretty booked, probably about 20 days out of the month. We were living in Wildwood and we moved here in one of the houses. For the first year we’d just sit on the front porch wondering what we were going to do - no money was coming in,” Debi attests.

Gary works in heavy equipment construction and Debi is in real estate. When the economy dropped, it had left Gary and Debi to find other ways to bring in income. “A friend of mine was working over at Letty Smith’s and talked me into growing. I said, ‘Gary we can just go back to farming’,” Debi says.

“I went to Letty’s farm and watched what she did and how she does the CSAs. We just haven’t started that yet.”

Debi has been a little hesitant to get CSAs going; she would like to make sure she has enough growing before she dives into that venture.

“So we said, ‘okay – let’s go back to our roots and start farming’. I got a hold of people at the Main Street Farmers Market. We decided to do the organic farming. We use organic sprays, pyrethrum made out of chrysanthemums; you can eat it the same day you pick it. We use companion planting, using basil alongside tomatoes, helps get rid of nematodes and dill gets rid of cabbage moths… also kale and collards,” Debi says.

“The winter that we had that big snow, we put in the fruit trees. They won’t produce for a few years, but that will be our retirement,” she says.

Debi learned how to work in a greenhouse in high school. “Things seem to have come full circle from our upbringing and brought us back to our roots. My grandfather had a 365-acre dairy farm in Fowler, Ohio. I lived there until I was16. We raised produce and took it to market and we also raised all the feed for the cattle. Gary was born and raised in this area. I was born in Washington state and only there for three days, then we moved to Ohio. I came here when I was 16 and went to Collegedale Academy. I met Gary when I was a senior in high school,” Debi states.

Gary and Debi moved to Wildwood and started a family then went back to Collegedale while the kids went to school. They moved back to Wildwood before moving onto “TiRoc Farms” 10 years ago. It was named after their son Rocky and daughter Tina.

The Chambers’ home is filled with Native American décor, Gary is part Cherokee and Debi is part Choctaw.

“One of the unique things we grow that always seem to be a conversation starter at the markets is ‘banana melons’ and ‘Zucchino Rampicante squash’,” Debi proclaims.

They sell their produce each week at the Main Street Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoon. “Bluecross Blueshield invited us to sell to their employees as well and we really enjoy that. They are very health conscious at that place and offer a lot for their employees to have healthier lifestyles. The farmers market is just one of the things.

“We are thinking about starting CSAs. Most likely when we get the apples in, I will fill more comfortable to do CSA once I have established perennials. I still sell real estate with Chattanooga Real Estate Consultants,” Debi says, “Gary works construction and he has two websites, Chamber’s Construction and Chattanooga Septic.”

“Our son Rocky went to school and was going to become a mechanical engineer but he became a civil engineer so he’s the one that does all the drawings for the layout of the subdivision and he is doing a couple of places for hotels and motels that are going up around Chattanooga right now,” Debi states.

Their daughter Tina came up a lot last year and helped them in the garden. “This year we are going on a trip to Alaska and Tina will work the farm while we are gone. You will see her at the market while we are gone,” she says.

Weather is the biggest problem Debi feels that they have to deal with. “Usually we have rain in April. We didn’t have a lot of rain that month and it was hotter than normal. We would have also started earlier if we knew how early spring would arrive,” she says.

When the 2011 tornados came through the Chambers had their greenhouse up and had starter plants inside. The tornados brought the greenhouse down; the plants got all mixed up and the markers were thrown everywhere. “We didn’t know which starter plant was which. We thought we were planting peppers, but we were planting basil… a lot of basil!” Debi laughs.

“I love the people at Main Street Farmer’s Market. They are so sweet and so helpful to each other and that is what I like about it - it isn’t like a competition,” says Debi. Soon, they will be able to accept credit cards at market.

The couple keeps birdhouses throughout the property. “It helps keep the bugs off the vegetables by attracting the birds. We thought it would be neat for the kids that come here with their families on vacation to make birdhouses if they want,” Debi says.

“Once I get the blueberries coming in, we will have ‘pick-your-own’ here. I want to do classes on canning and freezing – seems so many people don’t know how. I was raised to do it but a lot of people don’t know how,” she insists.

Debi prayed about the extra houses they had built and put them up for rent and also for VRBO whichever one had the most response - would be the direction she would go. The vacationing idea won out.

“We have had some really neat people come to stay in our homes. People will come that have family scattered and we are a centrally located place for them to all meet. Some people indulge in the farm and others like to just come to have a place close to Chattanooga,” Debi says.

“One thing that Chattanooga does that I think is so great, is to have something to do all year around. People will stay with us to go to certain events that Chattanooga is hosting. Once there was a dog Frisbee tournament! I really applaud Chattanooga for doing that.”

Debi reasons, “If you had to have three hotel rooms, with a minimum of a hundred bucks a night, that’s $300. With staying at our vacation rentals you get three bedrooms, 2 ½ baths a living room, kitchen and dining for $155 a night… and for three families that is a good price.”

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