Local farmers are resilient and have adjusted to the times…they’ve created ways for not only their farms to thrive but also helping neighboring farmers as well. This is also the case with Billy’s Botanicals and their Farm Bags.
Billy’s Botanicals is a husband and wife team, Billy & Ana Dugger. They own and operate an aquaponics farm and seafood processing facility on 5 woody acres in Richmond Hill. The couple met in the restaurant industry when they bar-tended together. They shared a passion for environmentalism and farming. Ana says, “After a few long shifts, and having more than a few drinks, we ended up moving in together and the rest is history.” Not long after, Billy asked Ana to move to Georgia to a vacant family farm house and start Billy’s Botanicals, she did not hesitate. Eight years later they never looked back. They both still maintain jobs in the service industry, Ana at Husk and Billy at Prohibition. Ana says, “I’m not sure either of us were ever cut out for the work our parents thought we should be doing. We love our food and beverage family and our relationships forged in the trenches of these places have blessed us with some unique opportunities for our farm. The food and beverage industry is filled with hard working, passionate, loyal and often dysfunctional people. Those are definitely our people.”
Most of Billy’s Botanicals produce comes from their aquaponic greenhouse. They also have some raised beds where they grow peppers, okra and herbs. The produce is never treated with any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Aquaponics is a 100% natural system you can see in nature all around you, the natural relationships between fish, water and plants that produces a nitrogen rich environment for leafy greens to grow happy and healthy. Although that does not mean they haven’t had their share of pests, they have had huge crop failures due to pesky little bugs. As a result, they use a combination of organic neem oil and lady bugs that are shipped in from California. Ana says, “We buy them by the 1000’s about 4-5 time a year and release them in the green house. Lady bugs are aphid eating machines! Unfortunately unless you have a closed system, they will more than likely fly away. If you want them to stick around, make sure your release them on an overcast day with lots of plant coverage.”
The idea of the farm bags were created when COVID hit and they both lost their restaurant jobs. Ana says, “I decided I wanted to offer deliveries immediately, but how much kale and fish can you bring somebody before they get sick of it?” She started reaching out to her farmer friends like Ancil of Swampy Appleseed and Adam of Adams Farm, they were sitting on a bunch of product they typically sell to restaurants. Ana said, “Billy and Ancil had just constructed a walk in cooler on our property (which I was admittedly against). I fussed at him for spending extra time and money on it when we could just put everything in coolers. Perhaps a rare case of the husband being right. Because of the walk in, I could place restaurant style orders with other farmers and I would put them together in a farm bag and deliver them on Thursdays and Saturdays.” They add new vendors and customers almost weekly.
The fish, shrimp, and clams that are featured in the bags are all 100% Georgia caught. Billy has a shrimper in his family and their network of local fisherman has grown a great deal. Billy has even begun fishing with the mongers and bringing in catch. They process everything on the farm…GA caught and GA packaged. Nothing sits on ice for more than a few days and nothing sits in the freezer for longer than a few weeks. They are staunch supporters of local food systems. Ana says, “If we stop supporting local fisherman and shrimpers, we will be left with what? Imported seafood that is regularly mislabeled and misrepresented. It is often treated with chemicals and shipped all over the world. Nothing about it is natural or sustainable. We live right next to a beautiful pristine ocean with responsible regulations and enthusiastic mongers. They have been under constant threat of cheap imports that have taken over the market. We encourage all seafood lovers to support your local guys here! They are a dying breed.” Very good advice!