On a Mission to Improve Alabama’s Health

-- By Alabama Living Magazine
Nelson Wells at his family’s homestead, where his wife, Joan, grows organic vegetables as a co-op. (Photo by Allison Law)

Standing 6-foot 5-inches tall with a football player’s physique, only the gray in his beard gives away Nelson Wells’ age. At 58, he says his good health is a reflection of his healthy lifestyle – and he wants all Alabamians to share in that mindset of wellness. He and his wife, Joan, own Lifetime Natural Organic Farm in Macon County, which grows, harvests and sells USDA-certified organic seasonal produce. The farm is already a supplier to Whole Foods, Publix and a school system in Alabama, but Wells has an ambitious vision to expand the farm’s economic base – and be a catalyst for change in the health of people in the Black Belt.

He still talks a bit like the surfer dude he was growing up in San Diego – friends often call him “Kahuna” – before he went on to play football at the University of Southern California. He went on to work as a project manager for Fortune 500 companies and has traveled the world, but now he’s a farmer, and he’s proud to call Macon County home.  – Allison Law

Talk about the genesis of the Lifetime Natural Organic Farm (LNOF).

My family had a prison ministry in Verbena, Alabama, and I said we should do something to bring some money into the ministry. I decided to pitch an organic farm. I put together a team, and some of that team is still part of the LNOF. We put together about a 10-acre farm, with 80 varieties of fruit trees. 

We were a biointensive farm – basically a high-yield farm, where you’re growing your plants closer together to get that higher yield. We had to sell the produce, and I didn’t know what to do. We had this beautiful product that was organic. I went to Whole Foods one day, said a prayer, and asked, “is the produce manager in?” (No, but a Whole Foods executive was; the relationships built then carried over to LNOF.)

That farm, Verbena Hills Farm, was successful, but they chose not to pursue it. Being a non-profit, it wasn’t in their vision. So we moved on, and looked for property to start a commercial farm. 

And you landed in Macon County.

Our adviser shared that we should go down to Tuskegee University, and go to the Carver Museum. I felt like the Lord wanted us to be in Tuskegee. Truly, it’s been a blessing. We felt this would be a great place to lay our heads, not only because we believed there would be a labor pool that wants to work, but (because of) the rich heritage of (famous scientist and inventor) George Washington Carver and (Tuskegee University founder) Booker T. Washington.   

There are so many people who believe there’s going to be a revival (here). It would be amazing if we could be a part of that history and reviving Tuskegee and Macon County, where people all over the world would know about Tuskegee through LNFO. That would be pretty cool in my book! 

Eating organic foods – why is that important to you?

What you eat becomes part of you. If you eat something healthy, your body becomes healthy. When your body is healthy, the mind becomes clearer and healthier. Once the mind is clear, you’re able to discern, and become wise, and it affects you in your professional life and your growth. 

I’ve been a vegetarian almost all my life. Eating right and living right – I work out almost every day. And working out in the field, you stay healthy. If you live right, you eat right, age is nothing. Life is good! 

You want it to be a part of your business model as well?

Part of my vision is to bring the health message – even before I thought about the organic farm, I’ve always thought about health. I was thinking about starting a TV show, or maybe a cooking show, or a blog about (healthy) cooking. We still plan on doing that. 

We (could) go out in the field, discuss what we’re picking, have a professor talk about the antioxidants of a plant-based meal, go into the kitchen, and create an amazing organic vegetarian and vegan meal. We’re working on that, but you can’t do everything at the same time. (Among the other ideas he and Joan want to pursue: Teaching people how to cook with fresh, healthy produce; opening a community center to provide classes for the community; and showing folks how to grow their own food.)

You just have to keep that vision. You build the foundation, and then when the Lord sees fit, it comes to fruition.

Editor’s note: To learn more about the farm, its goals and how you can be a part of its growth, visit LifetimeNaturalOrganicFarm.com

View a video that explores Lifetime Natural Organic Farm’s connection to Tuskegee:

Below is a link to the farm’s crowdfunding site:

https://gofund.me/a8736715

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Award-winning Alabama Living is the official statewide publication of the electric cooperatives in Alabama and the largest magazine of its type in the state, reaching some 400,000 electric cooperative consumers.

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