Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Growing Good Things To Eat In Texas

I was intrigued when I opened the fall issue of Edible Austin and read about Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas by Pamela Walker(2009 Texas A & M University Press). I initially thought it was a cookbook with farm profiles like mine Local Vegetarian Cooking (left), but the review said Walker's book contained 11 organic farm and ranch profiles. Curious, it didn't take me long to order a copy.

Overall, I found the book similar in scope to Fields that Dream by Jenny Kurzweil (2005 Fulcrum Publishing). Jenny gathered ideas for her farm stories from farmers who sold at the University District farmers' market in Seattle. She drove out and visited each farmer and the profile tells their stories of how they started their farms. Walker and her husband purchased a farm near Shulenburg (a hundred miles west of Houston). She was instrumental in opening a farmers' market in Schulenburg, near her own farm in Texas and said that she began wondering about other farmers' stories in the late 1990s. Walker got a list of farmers from the Texas Organic Farming and Gardening Association and had an initial list of 150 names. She eventually narrowed her choices to 24 farms and finally the 11 profiled in this book.

These are thumbnail sketches of the organic farm profiles in Walker's book:

South Texas Organics—citrus grower Dennis Holbrook in Mission, Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico discovered how harsh chemical pesticides and fertilizers damaged humans and soils and how organic techniques nurtured them. South Texas Organics wholesales their produce across the United States and Canada, Europe and Japan.

Boggy Creek Farm—urban farmers Carol Ann Sayel and Larry Butler nurture their five-acre farm on the edge of east Austin. They wholesale vegetables to Whole Foods but make about 95 percent of their income from their farm store open on Saturdays and Wednesdays. A must-see local foodie tourist destination.

Tecolate Farm—“David Pitre and Katie Kraemer grow 150 vegetables on five to six acres of their certified organic, fifty-five acre farm . . .” says Pamala Walker. Just north of Austin, this farm has one of the first CSAs in Texas and has a waiting list of 300 or more each year.

Animal Farm—sixty miles west of Houston, Gita Vanwoerden grows organic vegetables on eight acres of her land. She sells her harvest to the best chefs in Houston and at farmers’ markets.

Home Sweet Farm, Brad and Jenny Stufflebeam owned a 22-acre farm about halfway between Austin and Houson and in 2008 they signed a lease for a 112-acre farm just five miles away where they’re restoring the soil and planting more organic crops.

Permian Sea Organics—55 miles west of Odessa in west Texas, Bart Reid raises shrimp in water as salty as sea water in the middle of the desert. The Reids don’t use chemicals or fishmeal and they were organic certified until USDA secretary Ann Veneman rescinded the aquaculture certification policy in 2004. According to Walker, the Reid's are still raising shrimp with organic techniques and they plan to expand when the national organic standards of aquaculture are established.

Rehoboth Ranch and Windy Meadows Farm—two certified organic farms just south of Oklahoma and about an hour away from Dallas that sell pasture raised meat. and

Ross Farm—west-central Texas just north of Austin, near Sonora, Betsy Ross raises pasture-grazed beef steers with rotational grazing methods.

Pure Luck Dairy—25 miles west of Austin. Amelia Sweethardt is a second generation dairy farmer who runs the farm with her father and sisters. They raise goats and make chevre.

Full Quiver Farm and Diary –50 miles southeast of Dallas, Mike and Debbie Sams and their nine children maintain Holstein and Holstein-Jersey cows and make cheese that they wholesale to natural food stores and sell at the Sunset farmers’ market in Austin.

I wish both books had included some recipes, but that's my food focus. I could always use some new inspiring ideas for foods. Books like Kurzweil 's and Walker's echo a hopeful promise for small-scale organic farmers. Look for Jenny Kurzweil's book, Fields that Dream at the University District farmers' market in Seattle. Check out Paula Walker's book in Austin at BookPeople--a very cool independent bookstore, or buy either book online at your favorite online retailer.

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