Little Farm in the Big City

By Carol Ann Sayle
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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

If they can find our farm, some folks are just plain surprised that it is here. Those asking for directions in the early 1990s asked, "How far east of town is it?" No, no, we'd reply, it's not east of town; it is in town.

A strange new concept! A farm in the middle of the city, two miles from downtown Austin, a block from an elementary school, 400 feet from the police station, eight blocks from a grocery store, and surrounded on all sides by houses on shady lots.

"How far east of town is it?" No, no, we'd reply, it's not east of town; it is in town.

Just about all the land that supports these buildings used to be a part of this farm, which was created in 1839, and underneath the grocery store and its neighboring enterprises lies the ghost of the rich soil that used to feed even more farms.

Development eventually swallowed up all the farms in the last century, and of course most of this farm too. The need for land for non-farming purposes lured the various farmers who preceded us into selling off large pieces until only five acres, and the pioneers' fancy for-its-time 1840's Greek revival farmhouse, remain.

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

People arriving on market day first come in on our bumpy driveway, past the vegetables and flowers into the front field. We've left the driveway a bit rough on purpose, as it forces folks to slow down and to calm down.

Once they've parked their cars, they've left their daily life and it's time to forget it for a while. They stroll the farm, wander under the huge 75-year-old pecan trees (picking up pecans if it is a pecan year), visit the compost area, examine the crops, watch our helpers continually harvesting, enjoy the feathered society in the Hen House, and eventually wind up at the farm stand, which is near the old farm house -- both shaded by a centuries-old huge live oak tree. There they can buy the nutritious results of our labor and we can chat a while.

Almost every grandmother tells us that the place reminds her of her mother's farm. Occasionally moist eyes reflect the poignancy of this memory. The older people remember farms, but few have any association besides recollection any more. In the summer, when the fence-line trees are fully leafed out, it's harder to see the neighboring houses, and the farm has the feeling of truly being out in the countryside, as it once was.

But when the trees are bare and the houses visible, when the city bus announces its route at the bus stop on the other side of our fence, when the barking of dogs drowns out the crows of the few roosters left in the neighborhood, and when the visitors head out our gate onto the pavement and into the traffic, they know they've left a farm that, yes, is in the middle of it all. It probably seems an illusion to some that the farm exists at all. And truly, after almost 170 years, it is a miracle too.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/03/little-farm-in-the-big-city/1191/