August 2018
Farm & Field

Back to the Land

 

Kerri and Joseph Williams live busy lives, working from dawn to dusk. With Joseph’s parents, they started Williams Nursery in 2008. The business has prospered through the years, especially from social media advertising and online sales.

Living off the land and following the ways of nature have given a Washington County couple satisfaction and happiness.

In the small farming community of Leroy in Washington County, Kerri and Joseph Williams enjoy a simple lifestyle, living as close as possible to nature and steeped in the goodness of the earth.

"People used to live off the land," Kerri said. "If you didn’t grow it or kill it, you didn’t eat it. Food is one of the main things in our daily lives that’s changed."

The Williams family grows and preserves most of the food they eat. When they buy, they find local, fresh natural foods, because they want to know where this food comes from and how it has been produced. They teach their children natural ways of healthful living, because they believe we are all a part of nature.

To say this young couple stays busy would be an understatement! They have numerous businesses that place many demands on their time and energy. Joseph also works a full-time job with Brown and Root at BASF in McIntosh.

Kerri and Joseph are hard workers. It is very important for them to pass on a strong work ethic to their four daughters, who range in ages from 16 to 1. They, by example, teach self-sufficiency and independence.

The older Williams girls are as industrious as their parents. They work in the garden and at the nursery. Pictured from left are Maddie, 9; Mackenzie, 16; Marlee, 1; and Maygan, 8.

 
   
   

Kerri and Joseph grew up gardening. Kerri got her gardening and preserving inspiration from her great-grandmother, Margaret Counselman. As a child, Kerri lived near enough that she could run back and forth to Counselman’s house. She spent many hours gardening, harvesting and canning with Counselman.

Joseph’s inspiration came from his grandmother, Ethel Everette. He has fond memories of helping Everette shell peas and shuck corn. For years, his grandparents owned Everette’s Nursery in Leroy, so he grew up around plants. However, he most enjoyed working with Everette in her garden.

For the Williamses, gardening is a family affair. The older girls, Mackenzie, 16; Maddie, 9; and Maygan, 8; join their parents in planting and harvesting. Baby Marlee, 1, sits in her stroller and watches.

The Williamses practice natural farming, using fertilizer gathered from their bird and rabbit pens. They preserve seed stocks from their purple hull and lady peas, butter beans and okra seeds. Other supplies come from the Farmers Cooperative Market in Leroy.

Kerri cans and freezes their fruits and vegetables. By midsummer, she has her canning wall full of jars, filled with colorful vegetables, jams and jellies. She enjoys sharing her canned items with family and neighbors.

Kerri creates many of her own natural products that are free of additives, chemicals, fillers and preservatives. She makes butter and buttermilk. She does not churn, choosing instead to use her mixer.

When one of their girls had a reaction to dyes and perfumes in detergents, Kerri found a recipe and experimented until she developed her own detergent. She believes her homemade products are safer for her family.

An avid outdoorsman, Joseph enjoys hunting and fishing, especially with his three older girls. His family eats the game they harvest, but they raise most of their other meat.

 

Maddie, left, and Maygan work to defeather the Coturnix quail before skinning them. The Williams family eats some of the quail and sells the others.

On one area of their farm, Joseph has built a number of birdcages. He raises bobwhite quail and releases 300-400 in the Coffeeville area each year, hoping to increase the quail population. Before he releases the birds, he traps coyotes in the region to give the quail a better chance to survive.

He feels his efforts are paying off as he is seeing more quail in the wild.

Joseph also raises Coturnix, or Bible, quail. They are easy to raise and tend to be gentler than other species. Around seven weeks, the Cots reach maturity and start laying. There is a big market for both their meat and eggs. Joseph incubates his eggs in a large oven incubator, choosing to butcher about 150 birds for his own family. His daughters help him skin the birds and freeze the meat that is high in protein.

The Williams family keeps domesticated turkeys for meat and chickens for both eggs and meat. They give away most of their chicken eggs, but during the summer months, the girls set up a lemonade stand and sell the eggs at the nursery. The family also has ducks, which roam around their pond.

Joseph also keeps New Zealand and Flemish cross-mixed rabbits. Once again, the Williams girls help to care for these animals, giving them names such as Bugs and Sophia. Most of the rabbits are sold for meat, but the family does keep some for food.

Margaret and Eddie Williams help their children at the nursery. They love and enjoy working with plants, but most enjoy being with their grandchildren, who also help at the nursery.

 

In 2008, Kerri and Joseph started a plant farm. Joseph’s parents, Margaret and Eddie Williams, joined them in a venture to grow and sell plants to wholesale nurseries.

"I had talked to a friend who told me that he could not grow enough plants in his nursery in Lucedale, Mississippi. I came home and talked to Kerri, Mom and Dad, and we started growing for that nursery," Joseph stated.

Unfortunately, the economic downturn of 2008 caused the family to change their original plan. Because of customer requests, the Williamses started to sell their own plants at retail. They cleared more land and used one of Joseph’s old bird pens as a greenhouse. What started as a wholesale plant farm is now Williams Nursery.

"At first, we didn’t do tropicals," Joseph explained, "but the demand increased so much that we started picking up all the seasonal stuff."

The Williams family tried some traditional advertising with minimal success; however, when Kerri used social media to advertise, their contacts exploded.

"I can hardly keep up with Facebook," Kerri added. "People send pictures and ask questions about plants. They make orders and send requests. I have to use time at night to respond because I can’t get my other work done if I don’t."

 

Kerri deadheads spent blooms to make the plants bloom again. Weeding and deadheading are full-time jobs at the nursery.

Kerri related an interesting story about the power of social media. Eight customers had contacted her for a particular type of plant they didn’t grow. She drove to the supplier where she gets additional plants and decided to pick up 15 plants. Before leaving, she posted that she had the plants to fill all the orders she had received. By the time she got home, she had sold all 15 plants and had orders for 5 more.

Williams Nursery offers a variety of shrubs, trees, tropicals, ferns, vegetable and bedding plants; combo pots, and just about anything else their customers need. They grow many of the plants they sell. In Southwest Alabama, Williams Nursery is known for its healthy, well-kept plants and its great prices.

In 2017, Kerri and Joseph started yet another business. So many customers had asked them about landscaping that Kerri and Joseph agreed to start with just a few homes. Now, they have expanded to businesses and nearby factories. Customers use a computer program to design their individual plans, giving a much better idea of the final results. The Williamses use environmentally sound practices and usually do their landscaping on weekends.

Kerri and Joseph Williams have chosen to live off the land, work hard, teach their children self-reliance and help their neighbors. Their rewards: satisfaction and happiness.

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..