Family moves from suburbs to Dacula farm to focus on sustainability

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

DACULA -- Pilar Quintero spent a recent morning learning to dehydrate foods.

The Dacula resident plans to extend the shelf life of the vegetables and spices she harvests from her two-acre garden. Dehydrating, she said, preserves the nutrients and the flavor of foods, unlike canning, in which the nutrients are lost.

The workshop she attended ties directly into the her overall goals for sustainability -- vegetables grown on Quintero's farm that aren't picked and eaten immediately can be preserved instead of thrown away.

Sustainability has become a buzz word for businesses seeking to appease a call for increased eco-friendliness -- Proctor and Gable recently announced a plan to use renewable sugarcane-derived plastics on select packaging for its products beginning next year -- but for the Quintero family -- Pilar, her husband Juan and their three children -- sustainability has become a way of life.

The Quinteros serve as an excellent example for others who would like to practice sustainability in their own lives -- the family left behind their life in the Norcross suburbs six years ago to move onto 21 acres of land in a rural part of Dacula where they now run Rancho Alegre, their small farm where the focus is sustainability.

"We lived a very urban lifestyle, extremely urban," Pilar Quintero said. "I always had liked being holistic and I had always thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could grow our own food, be more nutritious?' I had always thought about that but never had any idea that I wanted to have my own farm. I just suppose that's how fate would have it."

Since purchasing the property six years ago, the Quinteros have immersed themselves in learning more about sustainable agriculture and have implemented practices that meet their present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill their own.

"What we're trying to do with our farm is to be a model of self-sustainability, self-sustaining farming where everything is like an ecosystem and one thing gives off to another," she said.

Nothing is wasted at Rancho Alegre, not even the rain -- a 1,000-gallon rain barrel captures falling precipitation, which is then used to irrigate the entire farm. Eventually the Quinteros would like to drill a well on the property in order to eliminate their reliance on city water, as well as shift to using solar energy.

"All those things have a huge, tremendous initial cost, so it's very challenging to start so we're going stage by stage," Quintero said.

For now, Quintero is focusing on sustainable gardening practices, particularly using composting to enhance the soil in which her crops are planted and avoiding the use of pesticides and chemicals. The Quinteros also intend to plant a fruit orchard of blueberry and raspberry bushes and fig trees, which can be re-harvested every year without replanting.

Educating others on sustainable practices has since become Quintero's passion and Rancho Alegre has become a resource for workshops and activities that promote sustainable agriculture. The farm has also become a means for suburbanized families to experience farm life through agritourism -- children can celebrate their birthdays at the farm, where they can experience milking a goat and pony rides.

"(Agritourism is) really a huge benefit for a lot of farmers, for people to come out and see the farm and by allowing agritourism, that's a huge component of being self-sustainable," Quintero said. "It brings in a lot of extra income for the farm and because of our location, that allows us to be an even better benefit for the community."

Plans are also in the works for the farm to offer cooking demonstrations -- items plucked from the Quinteros' garden will be prepared in the farm's outdoor kitchen, which is currently under construction and will include two barbecue grills, a sink and a cobb oven, which Pilar Quintero said retains heat well and is thus more energy efficient. She hopes the cooking demonstrations will encourage others to use fresh fruits and vegetables in meals.

"We're all in a rush," she said. "We all buy very easy, cookable items. We buy it very convenient, prepackaged, pre-frozen, pre-done and it's just really hard to break that cycle. That's the culture that we're all in now."

It's a culture the Quinteros have tried to escape living on their farm.

"We are trying to use all the resources here and trying for us to eat healthier, more nutritious, and be self-sustainable," Quintero said. "It's not only farming for me but also educating people. There's people that think, 'I don't have a green thumb, I don't do this.' I didn't think I had a green thumb either. I didn't think I had any of the talents that I have nowadays."

The Quinteros will host an open house from 8 a.m. to noon Aug. 28 at their farm, which is at 2225 Givens Road in Dacula. The community is invited to learn more about sustainability and how sustainable practices are used at Rancho Alegre. For more information on what the Dacula farm has to offer, visit www.ranchoalegrefarm.com.