Earlier this fall, established farmers, young aspirants, food artisans, urban gardeners, and other interested citizens came together to celebrate the launching of the Texas Young Farmers Coalition, the great state of Texas, and all things agricultural therein. With the uncommon threat of a summer rain looming, tents were erected, paths were mulched, and fingers were crossed. Fortunately, the rain held back allowing the panel consisting of Ty Wolosin of Windy Hill Farm, Marysol Valle of Fat Frog Farm, Carey Burkett of Buena Tierra, and David Pitre of Tecolote to discuss their varied experiences growing and farming in Texas.
Ty Wolosin came back home to Texas after studying agricultural systems in Spain and soon began cultivating vegetables and stewarding goats. He aspires to see a Texas that provides for itself. He believes this to be possible due to the wide range of agricultural potentials offered by the vast variations in land and climate. Summers such as that of 2011 suggest that Central Texas may be becoming hotter and drier. Goats are climate appropriate in that they can tolerate brushy and rugged grazing conditions remarkably well.
Like Wolosin, Marysol Valle first learned about farming far from Texas. In her case it was the fertile lands of upstate New York that opened her eyes to the promise of farming and caring for land. Upon returning to Austin, Valle dug in and began farming in East Austin while raising her young son. After a few instructive, but successful years, Urban Roots, a local non-profit that promotes leadership in young adults through agriculture, was looking for land and proposed that Valle become their farm manager. She accepted and managed the farm for several years. Now, with the establishment of Fat Frog Farm, she and her partner Jeff Wylie are delving into growing delicious vegetables as before, but also fruit trees, cover crops, horses, sheep, and rotationally cycling the animals throughout the fields.
Before settling in Austin with his wife Katie, David Pitre studied agricultural ecology at the University of Santa Cruz, and worked on farms in California and Alaska. Now one of the most experienced vegetable growers in Texas, he has been farming the fertile soils of Eastern Travis County for nearly twenty years. Starting small, Tecolote has grown over the years to a sizable CSA while supplying local restaurants and farmers markets.
A common theme of the night was trial and error. While potentially one of the most stressful of ways to learn, it can also be exciting and instructive, as Carey Burkett of Buena Tierra pointed out. The many challenges and setbacks involved in farming can often make the small victories that much more significant. They can also drive home hard realities such as when a hail storm destroyed much of a large order she and her husband Steve were obligated to deliver the next day.
Although a good amount of farmers are providing a wide diversity of products to local markets, Central Texas is still in its infancy in this new food culture and is growing in producers and potential daily. What is remarkable is not only the quality of the food being produced, but also the people behind it. Over the years the path that food takes from field to plate has become a lengthy, anonymous process. Thankfully, a new trend is emerging, demanding that food be closer, fresher, and associated with a place, a face, and the knowledge of how to do an important thing well.
We are thankful to the panelists for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their experiences and help bring together a wide diversity of people who care about farms and food who might otherwise never meet. One of the goals of these gatherings is to promote an agrarian ethic that provides a working knowledge of how to feed one another while caring for the land. Another is to connect those wanting to learn with those in a position to teach. Central Texas is gifted with a growing number of farms exemplifying an agrarian ethic and showing that despite scorching heat and frequent droughts, it is still possible to farm. These farms of potential and possibility serve as the guideposts as we build agrarian networks, allowing us to learn from and support one another along the way. One TXYFC member’s son may have put it best when said, “We’re building a railroad!”