Ara and Jim Holmes operate , a successful 62-member community supported agriculture (CSA) program, but they didn’t grow up raising vegetables or other food for their community.
Ara and Jim both started farming while working full-time as a safety and health professional and registered nurse. Things changed for them when they saw the potential in their local markets and decided to experiment with growing microgreens. Sales of microgreens really took off and showed them that a career in farming could be possible.
In 2016, they began searching for land to grow their operation and quickly realized there were a number of challenges in securing workable farmland. They farmed on two rented plots from 2016 to 2018, before purchasing their land. On their first rented property they had to clear out an area that was overtaken by brush and small trees mostly by hand, and on their second rented property they had to renovate the inside and outside of a 400 square foot cabin to live in on site. The soil was not ideal at either property, and both farms lacked basic infrastructure for tool storage and washing and packing, but they got scrappy and put together some facilities that would work for their operation.
It took Ara and Jim three years to find land that could meet all of their requirements to grow their microgreen business. The most important factors were affordability, zoning, good infrastructure, and workable soil. The property also had to be outside of a flood zone and it had to have access to clean and abundant water. Eventually, they found a three-and-a-half acre tract of land that met their specifications, and began the hard work of moving their pre-existing operations to their new permanent home. Rebuilding their farm three times was exhausting and expensive.
It was also impossible to continue farming while they were transitioning properties, and thus their income took a hit. At this point, Ara had to go back to work full-time off the farm while Jim spent months moving the farm production system to the new site and removing infrastructure at the old site. He even moved the compost they had worked so hard to create, using garbage cans to transport it over several trips.
In 2020, they went back to the farmers market, but after COVID hit and sales were not reliable, they pivoted to a CSA model serving 22 families that fall, then 32 families the next spring. The CSA proved to be a success: the pandemic brought them rapid growth as people were seeking safer options for local food and were trying to support local businesses. This year, they are serving 62 families for 16 weeks in the spring and fall, and they are happy with their level of growth and development as an ecologically responsible farm that serves a very-local customer base.
Two key lessons they learned through their land search as young farmers was that one or both partners had to be able to work off the farm for extra income to build up a farming business, and that they had to become incredibly frugal to maximize their savings. Their savings and off farm employment not only helped support them economically, but it was a necessary step in obtaining a loan for their permanent farm, the place they now call home.
Obtaining loans through various farm lending programs was unsuccessful because of their low levels of revenue. Off-farm employment was necessary in obtaining a more traditional mortgage. But working off-farm also slowed their progress in establishing and growing their farm business.
There was huge community demand for fresh food, but they lacked the land security to meet that demand. Farm loan options should exist to support new farmers so they don’t need to work off-farm to secure a traditional mortgage. With solid revenue records, they have been able to establish a farm number through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and received a couple of high tunnel grants through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
Ara and Jim are excited to continue building Texas Eco Farms and serving local families by growing fresh foods in organically managed and remineralized soil for years to come.