Urban Farm

When Jim and Margaret Mangham bought their house in the Old Dauphin Way Historic District in 1982, their youngest son, Will, was just a baby. Will went on to graduate from UMS-Wright Preparatory School and the United States Naval Academy. In 2010, after four years of duty in the Marine Corps, he returned to Mobile. Although his grandparents on both sides of the family grew up on farms in Alabama and Georgia, and he had worked alongside his father planting timber at the family hunting camp in Dallas County, it wasn’t until his deployment in Afghanistan that he became intrigued with the idea of growing food.

“It all started with nutrition, ” Will says. An avid cyclist since high school, he has long been conscious of eating well for stamina,  especially during his rigorous military training and service.

“The Afghan people are very generous, and when we were out on patrol, we could purchase food from local farms. A real treat when our other option was MREs (or meals ready to eat).” He began studying the agriculture in the Afghan villages. When he returned  to Mobile almost two years ago, he was ready to put his ideas into action. He convinced his parents to let him experiment with organic gardening on their 1.5-acre property in Midtown.

Deep-rooted Past

While organic farming is a new project for the Manghams, vegetable gardening and butter and egg sales are a rich part of the home’s long history. The two-story frame structure dates back to 1871. The Mobile Building and Loan Association built it six years after the end of the Civil War. D.M.N. Ross, a civil engineer for the port of Mobile, purchased it and lived there with two of his sisters. The ladies were famous for their fresh produce and eggs that they sold to friends and neighbors. 

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Originally, the home consisted of four rooms with two side porches. While substantial improvements have been made to the house, including the attachment of an outbuilding to the main structure for use as a kitchen, the natural light from the full-length windows and the warm glow from the old pine floors keep the original farmhouse feel alive. Now, the spacious grounds are being revived as well.

Will honed his agrarian skills as an intern at Polyface Farm in Virginia, which he describes as “a nicely profitable, completely organic operation, producing both meat and produce.” Over the past several growing seasons, the young farmer has raised corn, okra, tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and a variety of greens, all without pesticides.

Another component of Will’s operation is selling the eggs from his 35 laying hens. He has his own apartment near the Loop, but heads to Julia Street every morning to wrangle poultry. He moves the flock to a different space “so they will have fresh grass and more insects to eat.” Their manure, in turn, fertilizes the yards where they feed, so the eggs are of the highest quality. 

“My egg business really took off, ” Will says, “mostly by word of mouth.” Steady customers buy directly from his Julia Street Farm. He also supplies Café 219 in downtown Mobile for their specialty omelets.

At press time, Will was tending his winter garden of greens, while interviewing with medical schools to pursue his goal of becoming a family practice physician. “It’s all part of the same picture, ” he says. Will is undecided as to whether he will practice in his hometown or in a rural area in need of medical care. Either way, he and fiancé Mary Martha Gantt, who are getting married in the garden this month, are both committed to living a healthy lifestyle and helping others to achieve those same goals.

Raise your Own

Want your own chicken flock? To purchase, head to St. Elmo Feed & Seed’s Breakfast with the Chicks any Friday at 7:30 a.m. during March and April. Mangham is happy to lend advice or answer questions about raising them or building a coop. Message Julia Street Farm on Facebook or email him at [email protected]. Already have chickens of your own? Tell us about them on Facebook.

Julia Street Farm • 8 a.m. – 11 a.m. Sa. 26 S. Julia St. 808-783-4988.

St. Elmo Feed and Seed • 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. m – f. 7:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. sa. 9001 U.S. Highway 90 W. 957-2177. stelmofeed.com

Robin Fitzhugh

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