Bright lights, big field. Mikey Taylor drives around a bend and spots four lights glowing in the field fronting his Delta farm. In the darkness the pickers are pulling his crops and carrying away the plunder. Taylor, 39, chuckles and keeps driving. He has watched pickers all his life, but he has never seen anything like the gleaning swarm of 2017.
When Taylor planted a kale and mustard cover crop mix across a 110-acre field on Sept. 10, he turned the soil into a sea of greens. Initially expecting a few pickers, he was shocked when thousands arrived and carried away a haul of greens.
Taylor’s farmland rubs against the Mississippi River in southeast Arkansas’ Phillips County. On a sunny fall afternoon, the field, bordered by a pecan grove, tells a tale. Twenty-five vehicles are parked on the shoulder with a revealing list of license plates: Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The pickers have never encountered 110 acres of greens in one spot. Mattie Wright, Tunica, Miss., has picked greens for 30 years: “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never heard of one this big.”
Likewise, Mary Thomas, Helena, Ark., is in awe. “I can’t remember a field even close to this in the Delta. I’m just grateful to the farmer for letting us have these greens. It’s a real blessing,” she says.
“Some days 100 people stop by to pick,” Taylor says. “At first, I didn’t realize folks even knew about the field, but I got calls from friends driving by asking me what was going on with all the people. Word spread by Facebook and pretty soon it was on.”
Per acre, Taylor planted 10 lb. of black oats, 15 lb. of Austrian winter peas, 1.5 lb. of mustard, 1.5 lb. of kale and 1.5 lb. of tillage radishes. Taylor first began planting cover crops in 2015, solely for erosion protection. He transitioned to soil health covers, and recently to grazing covers in tandem with cattle rotation. On Taylor’s ground, livestock are the vehicle to building high-potential soils. “I treat my covers like row crops because my cows depend on them and so does my ground,” Taylor says.
In the winter, he typically runs 100 head of cattle on five to seven acres of cover crops for 24 hours and moves the herd each day to a new spot. However, the 110-acre cover crop buffet is located beside the highway, so the logistics are poor for grazing but ripe for picking. “The only thing I ask is for people not to drive vehicles into the field. Otherwise they’re welcome and the greens should stay good until about February,” he says.
Rev. Danny Robinson has lived beside the 110 acres for 20 years and calls it a “once-in-a-lifetime” field. “I tip my hat to the Taylors and thank them. We’ve never seen someone plant this many greens in one field, ever. I thank God for this special blessing for our community, entire county and beyond. People have to see what’s going on out here to really appreciate this huge field.”
“It’s true,” Taylor adds. “It’s something else when the vehicles are lined up and the field is full of people. Once you see it, you won’t forget it.”