Callahan pilot seeking Soil and Water seat

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  • Devin Mizell wants an unpaid job – to sit on the board of the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District – in order to educate local farmers on how best to care for the environment while growing crops. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
    Devin Mizell wants an unpaid job – to sit on the board of the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District – in order to educate local farmers on how best to care for the environment while growing crops. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
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When Devin Mizell started a farm, he knew a bit about farming; his family has generations of farmers.

“I don’t ever remember a time my grandpa or somebody didn’t have cows,” Mizell said. “I grew up on a family farm in Callahan. It didn’t come out of nowhere.

But learning how best to manage the soil organically, to grow things without using artificial means, was a process of self-education. Now, Mizell wants to sit on the board of the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District in order to help others learn about conservation of natural resources.

Mizell said the person who currently holds the position, Jackson Kinney, is a friend. Kinney asked him if he would be interested in the seat when he left.

“He told me a little about what he did, and it kind of goes in hand with what I do when I am not working,” Mizell said, which is to operate Hodges Homegrown, which sells grass-fed beef and pasture pork, along with his wife and father.

Mizell said he learned about farming through books and watching YouTube videos, but he wants to promote programs available to Nassau County residents through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. He said the information and services are out there, and he wants to act as the intermediary to facilitate that connection.

“What interests me in this board is getting that information out there,” Mizell said. “I stumbled across conservation practices and holistic management and regenerative agriculture, things of that nature, on my own. If you are like me, and you are brand new to farming, you don’t know that stuff exists. You don’t know that that fence you built for $2,000 could have been cost-shared if it was built to a certain specification.”

He learned, for example, that soil is a living organism, and keeping it alive will enable farmers to grow better crops without chemicals.

“You want to grow corn, (so) you think, ‘I need to put weed killer on it and I need to till the ground up,’” Mizell said. “But there are plants that suppress weeds. There’s plants that pull nitrogen out of the air and put it in the soil, so the plants that use nitrogen to grow, can grow. If you plant those plants, and manage them correctly with livestock and harvesting and termination at key times, you can manage a crop without killing things. If you just go asking somebody, ‘how do you plant corn while conserving continuity of the soil,’ they aren’t going to have a good answer, but what I’ve found is that by using
cover crops and getting away from chemical fertilizers and getting away from herbicides keeps the soil a living organism rather than something that you pump nutrients into, and it grows what you need to grow when you need to grow it. If you can keep the soil alive, it will grow whatever
you need. It’s common sense, but it’s not common knowledge.”

A graduate of West Nassau High School and Florida State College at Jacksonville, Mizell studied air traffic control and became an airline pilot. While his job may be in the sky, his heart is in the dirt. “I am the first pilot in my family. I am not the first farmer by a long shot,” Mizell said.

And it is certainly accurate to say Mizell is passionate about farming and conservation. “I can talk about this stuff for hours,” he said.

He and his wife, Erica, have an 11-month-old daughter, Amelia.

jroberts@fbnewsleader.com