EARTH Angels

View PDF of the article as it appeared in èBella magazine.

by Christine Otis


There is nothing like the fresh fla­vor of organically grown produce. It is mouthwatering to the palate and rich in nutrients, reasons why Nick Batty started Inyoni Organic Farm about two decades ago.

He and his wife, Natalie, work to harvest clean produce devoid of harmful pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers.

“The advantage of being a small organic farm is that we can pick at the peak of fresh­ness and take it straight to the market,” says Natalie. “If people develop a relationship with a local farmer, they become addicted to tast­ing food that has living essence, and food that is full of real flavor.”

When Nick initially began selling his organic produce at the local farmers market, he says, “most people didn’t get it.” Resi­dential property values had driven off most of the local farmers, and “organic” was like a foreign word to consumers. But people from the north, who were familiar with small farms and understood organics, purchased the pro­duce. And soon, his customer base grew.

“I had local support, so I felt valued,” Nick says. He emphasizes how that propelled him to improve his farming practices.

“I kept going and slowly got better at what I was doing. I bought a tractor. I used more intensive practices” to produce greater crops.

Ironically, Nick did not see himself as a farmer until adulthood, when his understanding and experience of the environment recreated his destiny.

He was raised in Africa Swaziland where Zulu is spoken. The word “inyoni” is “bird” in Zulu.

Natalie reflects on the couple’s journey as she sits on the ground, warming herself in the sun amid a mildly cool breeze and observing birds flying overhead.

“The reason ‘inyoni’ fits this farm perfectly is that Nick has created a habitat for birds here,” she says. “In organic agriculture, there is something for everybody. An indicator of a healthy ecosystem is seeing diverse insects. There is also a diversity in flora and fauna, not just of the crops you’re growing, but a diversity in the soil of microorganisms, up to the diversity in the macrofauna: the animals. Because there are insects on farms, there’s a food source for birds,” she says.

She pauses to experience the moment.

“It’s exciting to see the birds change throughout the year,” Natalie continues. “It’s kind of like a sanctuary,” she says. “It taps into a timelessness.”

That sense of timelessness harkens to Nick.

Swaziland was a natural haven to explore, something he did without parental supervision.

“My parents would say in the morning, ‘See you; and I’d come back in the evening in time for dinner,” Nick says, marveling at the experience.

“It’s a very peaceful place. I had so much freedom as a kid to go do whatever I wanted to. We lived on a research farm that backed up to a forest that stretched for a thousand acres. I could just roam around. I was gone all day.”

He surveys his farm, reminiscing.

“It’s a wonderful way to grow up.”

Nick was about 10 when his family moved to Naples, where, again, he was able to roam freely to explore his environment while his father tended his pineapple nursery.

“We’ve always had farms, but my family never pushed me into it. They were happy I made it through high school,” Nick laughs. “So they told me, ‘If you want to stay in the house, we’ll pay for college for you.’

“But I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

It was reading the work of environmen­tal activist Wendell Berry that he became interested in sustainable and organic farm­ing practices. Berry wrote numerous books, advocating for more sustainable agriculture.

Nick resonated with Berry’s messages of having a connection to the land in which we grow food, and the importance of treating it accordingly.

Thus inspired, Nick attend the University of Florida and obtained a degree in horticul­ture. He went to New Zealand for a year and returned to Naples to start farming.

“My parents gave me a quarter-acre of land, so I started to experiment with the quarter­acre I had.”

Fast forward to 2008, Inyoni Organic Farms began catering to local restaurants. It was a move to personalize the food relationship that brings farmer and pur­veyor together.

“Instead of a Sysco truck pulling up, now there’s a farmer . . . someone to talk to. It brings more unity,” Nick emphasizes. “It’s a good way to identify with food and meaning within the system.”

Natalie echoes the food connection.

“I come from dairy country in western New York State,” she says. Wherever she lived, she always grew her own food.

She was educated in New York State before she moved to Arizona.

“I specifically went to Arizona for yoga teacher training. I wanted to be a Grand Canyon guide. I wanted to be in the wilderness,” she says.

She guided river tours and worked as a member of a trail crew in the Forest Service. After her yoga training in Sedona, she con­cluded, “No, this is not for me.”

She left Flagstaff in 10-degree weather.

“I moved to Florida, basically on the faith that there was something here for me. I truly felt called.”

She got a teaching job in earth science and biology.

“That is my certification, so my first year teaching, I taught two subjects. I felt like I was in heaven.”

She lived in a gardening collective in Naples, “but after being out West, it felt restrictive, she says.”

Ultimately, she found a place that allowed her to do her own gardening and started delivering chicken fertilizer to Inyoni Organic Farm.

“It was my first time seeing a Florida farm. I met Nick and I was completely taken by him.”

They now have two children and work the farm together.

Natalie has spearheaded guided tours of the farm so people can see how produce is grown.

“They’re just blown away. That’s how that grows? That’s what that is?” Natalie admits it’s hard to fathom. “I grew up growing food,” she says.

Farm tours are not the only things Natalie has launched. She organized a yoga retreat with friends, conducting two last year. The retreats bring together skin care, herbal products and farm-fresh food cooked in a food truck.

She also initiated a Sunday song circle that connects people.

I’m a singer, songwriter and I play uku­lele, so music for me is a kind of a healing tool,” Natalie says. “The same is with the food and the yoga. It’s all about healing and connecting.”

That connection extends to the organic food the Ba ttys grow. Their customers are grateful for the food they provide.

“That’s really powerful,” Nick says of the farm connection. “It’s something we take very seriously.”

The Battys’ customers remark, “You’re the only organic farmer here. Why aren’t there more?”