Stephen Dobek, the new farm manager at the King of Crops popsicle farm, has come a long way from a post-college career sitting behind a desk to farming behind a tractor.
He joined the unique King of Pops company’s Winston farm operation at the end of March — hitting the ground running just in time for the peak growing season.
The native of Buffalo, New York, graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in political science and international affairs, but found himself unfulfilled with a desk job.
“I like Georgia a lot,” he said. “It has become home.”
It was in 2012 when he found his passion of working the soil and growing fruits and vegetables at a 40-acre fruit farm in South Carolina. Dobek gained experience from a variety of farming operations, making the rounds in Louisiana, Morgan County, Georgia, and in Louisville in southeast Georgia at a grass-fed beef farm and a second stop in South Carolina.
He enjoys working outdoors and has come to appreciate the taste and health benefits of the fresh fruits and vegetables of his labor on the dinner table. Dobek said that there is a demand for people who would like to go into a career in farming — and that he is looking for part time help with harvesting, packing and weeding.
Dobek worked at Baldwin Farm at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge on a 100-acre beef cattle farm. He said Camp Twin Lakes Farm teaches campers about where their food comes from and how they can be a part of taking care of the environment by employing organic methods of production in farming.
“We fed everyone,” Dobek said. “We grew all-natural, healthy produce for campers for them to learn about farming and agriculture. The goal was to teach them where food came from.”
Dobek said he got a lot of farming experience doing everything you can do on a farm – trees, fruits, perennials.
“It was something I was interested in going into,” he said. “Now I’m excited to be growing produce for the popsicles.”
In under four months, Dobek has accomplished a lot at the King of Crops farm, successfully growing a crop of basil, melons, ginger, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, blackberries and blueberries. The strawberry crop has expended its production for the season.
They have planted a quarter acre of figs for future production and have been planting and training muscadine vines in the way they want them to grow. This fall, they will be planting pie pumpkins — for King of Pops pumpkin popsicles, maybe? — and winter squash.
“Our focus right now will be mapping out the five acres in back,” Dobek said. He also wants to beautify the road frontage along Post Road south of Highway 166.
“Once we get through the fall and growing season, we have a plan for clearing brush and possibly experiment with bringing in goats,” he said. Dobek also plans to hatch some more chickens into the flock, which earns their keep with freshly laid eggs.
Future plans are to revisit having a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at some point, where members of the community can buy-in shares of farm-fresh produce grown at the farm. He would also like to further develop the acreage as a place to hold events.
“The farm is a unique thing to connect with people in a different way,” Dobek said.
The farm manager’s long-term dream for the farm is to build a small-scale processing operation at King of Crops’ farm.
“The advantage is that everything could be processed the day of harvest, we could make simple syrup and load up the concentrates,” he said. “The infrastructure is a challenge.”
He said most of the produce they get from other sources is already cooked down and ready for production into King of Pops popsicles.
A compost partnership with Compost Now, a company that collects recyclable food waste from residential, restaurants and other sources, and brings it to the farm for decomposing has worked out well for the farm in providing nutrients in which to grow healthy plants.
“The compost operation is a huge help and has the potential to not have to purchase it,” Dobek said. “We want the finished compost and put it to good use for soil building.”