Gilbert hobby farm a labor of love for family - East Valley Tribune: News

Gilbert hobby farm a labor of love for family

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Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009 3:09 pm | Updated: 2:23 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

People line up to buy the Worischeck family’s blue, ivory and speckled brown eggs as fast as their hens can lay them.

“They want eggs, and they want honey,” says Georgette Nork, who collects eggs twice daily at Chick-a-Bee Gardens, a hobby farm in Gilbert.

The nearly 2.5-acre farm produces so many vegetables that the Worischeck clan sell the excess twice a week at farmers markets.

Valley farmers markets are flourishing

Valleys CSA farms growing in popularity

Slideshow: farmers markets

 People line up to buy the Worischeck family’s blue, ivory and speckled brown eggs as fast as their hens can lay them.

“They want eggs, and they want honey. They’re always asking for those two things,” says Georgette Nork, who collects eggs twice daily at Chick-a-Bee Gardens, a hobby farm in Gilbert.

The nearly 2.5-acre farm produces so many vegetables that the Worischeck clan — husband and wife Joe and Mary Jo; Joe’s father, Joe, and his wife, Darlean; and Mary Jo’s mother, Georgette Nork — sell the excess twice a week at farmers markets in Chandler and Mesa.

What started as a place for Joe, a urologist, and Mary Jo, a nurse, to board their three horses is now a budding edible landscape, tucked amid RV and boat storage yards, new strip malls and suburban housing developments.

“When we bought this place, there were two trees on it: that jacaranda and a scruffy little walnut tree that the horses promptly ate,” says Joe, pointing toward the fading light on a recent weeknight. He’s stopped at the farm, near Recker and Baseline roads, between seeing daytime patients at his Gilbert office and making evening rounds at nearby Banner Hospital.

Now, five years later, about 100 trees bearing apples, pecans and blood oranges, to name a few, surround the property. Rangey asparagus plants choke the pasture fence, and garlic edges the long cobblestone driveway. Arugula, eggplant, parsnips, shallots and zucchini sprout from rich brown dirt between the red barn and the road. Horses and chickens roam the pasture, and bees make honey in white boxes.

Valley farmers markets are flourishing

Valleys CSA farms growing in popularity

Slideshow: farmers markets

The family plants, waters, weeds and harvests by hand, using no chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. A compost pile provides nutrient-rich amendments for the soil, and the farm has earned ‘Certified Naturally Grown’ status.

It’s all due, say Mary Jo and Georgette, to Joe’s green thumb and doctor’s affinity for the science of gardening.

“There’s a lot about gardening you can’t control, like the weather and insects, to some degree. If the bugs get something, they get it. It’s all a big experiment,” says Joe, 52, who grew up gardening on a family plot in Oak Creek Canyon.

He and Mary Jo, who live in Mesa and work together at his practice, start their day at the farm, checking in on animals and plants as early as 6 a.m. After a full day of work, they’re back at the garden. Friends and family drop by all evening, and they usually share a meal with their parents, who pitch in on the farm, before the day is done.

“If we get home by 10 p.m., we usually consider that a good day,” says Mary Jo. “If we’re not working or sleeping, we’re here.”

The couple says the payoffs are well worth the time and hard physical work.

“If we make enough to cover some of the animal feed or the water bill, that would be great, but that’s not the reason we do it,” says Joe. “It’s not an income producer.”

As health care professionals, they’re uniquely aware of the negative effects of the typical American diet.

“You really are what you eat, and we just see that every day — the problems people have because they’re overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, the high rates of colon cancer,” says Mary Jo. “It’s very gratifying to know we’re helping put a better option out there, for ourselves and other people. Every day, every dinner, we use something from our garden. I‘ll bet we have a salad every single day.”

Joe says home gardens like Chick-a-Bee can also help people who eat their foods build immunity to local allergens, such as orange blossom and mesquite pollen, because the bees that make Chick-a-Bee’s honey crawl around in the local plants that aggravate people’s allergies. Small farms also ensure biodiversity because they tend to grow varieties of tomatoes and other edibles that aren’t sold in grocery stores.

But most important are the farm’s unseen benefits.

“We are so fragmented in our work day, just pulled in so many different directions constantly, that to come here, at the end of the day, it gives me a real feeling of serenity. We can leave work behind and recharge,” says Joe.

After looking in on several projects at the farm, he’s headed inside for a quick meal before a night on call at the hospital.

“There’s a chicken dinner in there that Georgette made, from one of our chickens, sad to say, but I don’t have to worry that it’s full of antibiotics. And I’m not stopping at a drive-thru.”

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