As Lillianna Keeney Gannon puts it, farming is good for womens’ souls because they thrive off of the community it brings. She, along with her husband Brendan Gannon of Gannon Organics, works to provide vegetables, flowers, and more to Forsyth Farmers’ Market.
For Women’s History Month, we want to highlight the women who help bring fresh produce to Savannah. In this conversation, Lillianna discusses her farming origin story, centering the kitchen around organic foods, and the introspection that comes with her work.
Note: This Q+A was edited for length and clarity.
Gannon Organics is a fresh food vendor that comes every Saturday to Forsyth Farmers’ Market.
Darriea Clark: How did you get started with farming? What’s your history?
Lillianna Keeney Gannon: I started probably in 2014. I worked with the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms in Idaho for a couple of months. I originally wanted to go to Alaska and ended up about 30 minutes from Canada. It was a really great experience, and I saw all the work that was put into farming, but it definitely inspired me to do it in the future.
All of the produce Lillianna and her husband Brendan brings to market is 100% grown at their Savannah farm.
DC: And then did you immediately start working with Gannon Organics, or was there some experience in between?
LKG: So, a couple of years went by after that. I finished my degree in photography, and during my last year in school, I met Brendan (the founder). He’d just come down from New York and was working for Canewater Farm in Darien. We moved to Darien for a little while, and I worked markets for the owner. After that, we came to Savannah, and Brendan started leasing land from the Bethesda Academy in December 2019.
I started helping him that year to get the market together. I collaborated with friends on the branding, while Brendan worked to seed and cultivate. I helped seed for a bit but eventually found other help for the farm. Now I work the markets every Saturday, but I also help Brendan during the week. Sometimes it’s paperwork, sometimes I go in the fields. It’s kind of whatever he needs. I think I’m more of a support system versus the main farmer, but I definitely learn a lot, and there’s always work to do.
“[Farming is] a really big connector for community, and I think women thrive off of that interaction and socialization,” Lillianna said.
DC: Oh, I can imagine. So from your perspective, why is it important for women to be involved in farming?
LKG: I think women in general – especially in the United States – grow up with diet culture and that can get confusing and overwhelming. Every day it seems like something is bad, and something else is good. You’re eating too many calories. You’re not eating enough calories. Farming helped me fall in love with food and focus more on meals that were fun and yummy versus counting calories and trying to become something else.
I also think farming helps you form a center in the kitchen for your family, for your boyfriend or girlfriend, or husband or friends. I think it’s a really big connector for community, and I think women thrive off of that interaction and socialization. We like to be around people. I think it’s good for the soul. It’s good for womens’ souls.
“That is the best part of farming for me– the peacefulness that comes with it, and the hard work is very rewarding,” Lillianna said. “It showed me that it isn’t bad to slow down and have a family life and have a farm and do the whole thing.”
DC: That’s a really good point. And as far as the community aspect you were talking about, have you found that there has been one woman or a group of women that have impacted your experience with farming? Or have you grown to meet a group of women in the farm industry?
LKG: Yeah, I’ve met a lot of women in the farm industry. Some of them are the owners of farms, some of them are the wives of the farmers and they take care of the kids, some of them are in between. Some of them have WWOOFed themselves, and others have traveled. I’m always meeting new people. Especially with tourism and people coming into the market and meeting farmers from other locations who just wanted to see what it’s about.
I’ll say growing up, I was really motivated to make a lot of money, do really well in school, and be successful. It was all very, “Go, go, go! Go fast. You’re behind.” You’re always behind, and I think meeting a lot of the women in farming helped me realize that I don’t have to do it any one way. There are a lot of people who want to be the breadwinners, and kick butt, and be more corporate-style, and there are people who want to be stay at home moms and slow it down.
In farming, I’ve met a lot of people who are between all of that and kind of just does what’s best for them. It reminded me as a woman that I can slow it down too. On one hand, that go fast mentality is great, because I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement to do anything a man can do and more, but there’s also that added pressure. So it was nice to see that there were other options that could be financially successful– that you could have a little bit of everything.
“We’re working very hard to bring people the best quality that we can and to help people fall in love with vegetables,” Lillianna said. Gannon Organics provides greens, herbs, flowers, and more.
DC: Wow. That’s so important, right? Knowing that you can create your own destiny and reap the benefits, but also do it in your own way and not adhere to what other people traditionally want from you. That’s an amazing lesson.
LKG: There’s a lot of reflection in farming. You are alone with your thoughts a lot of the time. So you have a long time to think about things like that.
DC: How would you say your life has changed since farming?
LKG: Directly it changed the course of my life because in falling in love with my husband and marrying him, I’ve kind of married the farm too. Everything we do centers around that. And the same goes for women who’ve started their farms by themselves. They’ve kind of married the farm in a way. You can’t just up and leave. There’s certain drawbacks if you want to move. You’re moving the job and business.
In more positive ways, everything is a lot slower. That is the best part of farming for me– the peacefulness that comes with it, and the hard work is very rewarding. It showed me that it isn’t bad to slow down and have a family life and have a farm and do the whole thing.
DC: And speaking more specifically about your farm, I stopped by your tent this past Saturday and saw your inventory. Can you talk a bit about your favorite crops to work on, and in general more about what Gannon Organics offer?
LKG: I like the peppers in the summer. It changes a lot because each of the crops have a different way to grow, a different way to be harvested. In the winter we offer mostly greens, so we have collards, two different kinds of kale, at least four different kinds of radishes, two types of turnips, and two different kinds of cabbages. We’ll have scallions, mint, salad mix, bird mix, chicory mix, chicory greens, and red ruby streaks.
And in the summer, a huge portion of it is peppers. Sometimes, we’ll have up to a dozen different types of peppers, and they just keep yielding all summer. I love that just because I can dry them out. I can put them in sauce. I can eat them raw. I love our tomatoes, and I like stringing up the tomatoes a lot.
DC: So is that usually around June or May?
LKG: Yeah, we try to do the tomatoes as soon as possible, because they get diseased really quickly, but we’ll also do cucumbers and squash. We’ll get those in pretty quickly, because by the time it heats up – like the high point of summer – the weeds are insane, and it becomes a full jungle out there. We’ll do edible flowers. I love growing those. And then we have some stuff that grows wild that we’ll harvest, like Lamb’s Quarters. A lot of the wild stuff we harvest is just more nutrient dense naturally. So it’s really cool to be able to bring that to people so they can try something that they can actually find in their backyard.
And this year, we’re going to try and do some herbs. We’ve started to do flowers the last couple of years too besides sunflowers. We’ve started doing mushrooms, and Brendan has been experimenting with artichokes. We try to keep it interesting every year and switch it up. I mean, it’s a pretty versatile farm. We have things that we always have, like lettuce and arugula and turnips and radishes, and we have a lot of other fun stuff in there too.
DC: Does any of this stuff have the possibility to start showing up in March, or is it a little bit later down the line?
LKG: Oh yeah. Some crops depend on the frost– the last couple of years especially. It’s always like this in the spring, this hot cold hot cold hot cold. Like it’s beautiful outside today in early February, and it’s nice and warm, so everything is starting to bloom, but one year in April, we got a nasty frost, and it killed off some stuff. This winter, the kale and collards got a nasty frost in December, and they were all stunted, when normally they’re fine and do really well. So it all depends on the weather because everything’s planned out ahead of time, but once you’ve planted something outside, even if it’s hardened off, if there’s a surprise frost and it gets cold enough, you could lose a couple hundred crops sometimes.
DC: What is something people should know about Gannon Organics? What sets you all apart, a point of difference?
LKG: So, we are working on getting USDA Certified Organic. We had to wait three years because there were no files on the land before that. Even if you’re registered as an organic, you can still use fairly toxic pesticides depending on what it is, but we try really hard not to use pesticides at all except for two times a year. Brendan is extremely talented. He learned how to organically farm in New York. He came here and knocked it out of the park. We really go for quality and quality control. We never buy in. So everything that we bring to market is what we’ve grown. It’s not bought from someone else who’s grown it. We’re working very hard to bring people the best quality that we can and to help people fall in love with vegetables.
Before I got into farming, and before I met Brendan and worked full time on a farm, I wasn’t crazy about vegetables, even though I’d experimented with farming before. Really growing not just organic food, but really good quality organic food– the vegetables just taste totally different. It’s really hard to buy something at the grocery store, because it just won’t compare. It doesn’t really have a lot of flavor. It doesn’t really have a lot of nutrients. Our food at Gannon Organics is very nutrient dense and it’s delicious. I think people should cook with vegetables a lot more. I think that’s a big thing we believe in.
This feature is part of a series to highlight the women who provide fresh food to Savannah. Happy Women’s History Month.
Interview and photos by Darriea Clark, Director of Communications and Fund Development for the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. For any leads, inquiries, or concerns, please contact us.