Is There New Interest in Production Farms?


Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

Every year, the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association holds a conference on sustainable agriculture in a city more or less central to most attendees. This year it was in Waco (yes, there are good things about Waco). Of course, Texas is a large state, so what's convenient to some can be a long trek for others. But the opportunity to hear experienced farmers and ranchers talk about what works and (especially entertaining) what doesn't is always valuable--even if some of the experts hail from faraway paradises where more things are possible than they are around here. As an adjunct to that weekend's lineup, several farms offered free tours. We were one of two from the Austin area.

It was clear, in an all-volunteer outfit, that promotion for the tours was up to the individual farms. I had nightmares that I would be taking an entire day from production to give a tour to two people. As worthy as that might be, I alerted the newspapers' food editors and the talents on the radio gardening shows to this magnificent opportunity for gardeners and aspiring farmers to exchange ideas and questions.

I expected around 30 folks. Geography, in farming as in real estate, is everything. Our five-acre farm is located in the central part of the City of Austin. Almost 300 people came. Well, the tour was free!

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Larry was at our rural farm, so my official tour guide, Meri Jayd, helped. The guests gathered in the front yard for the "opening remarks." First, I advised them that they were not looking at a show farm but a production farm that, along with our country farm, nourishes approximately 1000 people a week. Crops are snipped, cut, and picked--butchered at times--in the goal of securing their jewels for the farm stand, which sits less than 100 feet from the fields.

Many gardeners tell me, as they shop our market, that they cannot bear to harvest their own vegetables, that they enjoy just looking at them, so they buy our sacrificial crops.

From my perch on the front porch, I told the attendees that I knew why they were here. They looked up at me, expectantly. "You are nervous about the future, aren't you?" I asked them. Yes! They all nodded their heads in total agreement. Nothing more was needed. These folks are educated. They read. They know that they've lost the knowledge their grandparents possessed: the knowledge of how to grow food. And they are worried.

Meri Jayd and I divided the mob in half and she led her group to each field and to the compost piles, and I followed her with mine. At the end, we came together for more questions and answers. The two-hour tour lasted three and a half hours. They hungered for the information and the inspiration to grow, not a victory garden, but a security garden. And we were all certainly hungry after such a tour!