Last month two men, who did not speak English, came to my booth at the market. One pointed to the picture of my free range chickens, so I showed him a dozen eggs and a vacuum packed chicken. He pointed to the chicken and then held up 2 fingers. I got another one out and he put his hands close together, so I got a bigger one. I showed him the price, he gave me a credit card, and the transaction was complete.
When I go to work off the farm, I interact with people of different ages, races, countries of origin, religions, politics, sexual orientation, income, and culinary skills. In Houston, one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in America, I sell at the vibrant and diverse Eastside Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome to shop and join in the civil discourse about life, farming, and food policy. A conversation about the herb rau ram, with a woman from Vietnam, leads to a new recipe to try at home. A Romanian customer and I share sauerkraut recipes. The Indian couple and I discuss the difference between tulsi and African blue basil. Later a young woman tells me she has never cooked a chicken and asks for a simple recipe. I am learning the Spanish words for cuts of lamb but am not so adventurous as to learn any of the other 145 languages that are spoken in Houston.
The vendors at the farmers markets, and all small farmers, are independent beacons of capitalism. While industrial, corporate giants control most of the food chain, we are entrepreneurs running family businesses. The organic product that you so love at the supermarket is probably owned by a corporation whose web site will tell you that their mission is to “maximize shareholder value”. Most of the farmers I work around would agree that our mission is to provide the best, freshest food we can deliver and hope to make a living doing so. We represent the closest thing to free market capitalism in America.
As small independent businesses, including farms, close year after year, we need the support of everyone, and we will, in return, support the community. Much of our money (that was your money before you bought from us) stays in the community supporting local processing facilities, butchers, and restaurants. We owe our farm’s existence to the loyal, single family customers.
While the number of butchers, bakeries, fishermen and cheese makers dwindle, and most Americans cannot tell the difference between the taste of chicken or armadillo, because salt, flavoring, and sweeteners cover the fact that there is no flavor in much of the industrial foods, our customers go out of their way to get the perfect chicken, egg, chèvre, kale, or bread, because they can tell the difference.
We are stewards of the environment, we preserve heritage breeds and seeds, we risk our own capital to do these businesses, and we seldom get the subsidies that support our wealthy and politically influential competitors. Of course, they are not really competitors because they make something completely different. There is a reason our products are called food, and theirs are called commodities.
The greater Houston area eats, or wastes, about a million pounds of food an hour. We local farmers will provide only the prime part of that to anyone who wants to visit a farmers market or a farm and support real food and real farmers.
We are a diverse group of farmers. We love our diverse group of customers and welcome the refugees and immigrants.
P.S. I was told a story about a man that was buying trapped armadillos and selling the meat as chicken with no complaints.
This is a pdf of the slides in my presentation at TOGFA 2017
In the past few years we have had flooded gardens dozens of times. The most recent rain totaled 13″ over two and a half days, making for the third double digit rain event this year. But we have also had a few 3″ to 6″ rains that can do their share of damage as well. We have lots of dead wood dating back to the drought of 2011 and we are using that to build hugelkultur mounds in the garden. Combining these mounds with more swales to hold and move the water, will help us work better with our little ecosystem.
This combination of sticks, soil, hay and yes even dirty paper egg cartons, will turn into rich organic matter. Then we can raise a few chickens on and around the mounds, continue to add compost and soon we will be selling produce from our new and improved gardens.
So do not throw away your leaves, dead wood, grass clippings and newspapers–put them to use building a permaculture garden, rich in organic matter. Or you can drop them off at the farm.
We are now growing microgreens. These nutritious and tasty little seedlings will be available at the market on Saturdays.
This is an article from ACS News Service from 8/29/2012
“The first scientific analysis of nutrient levels in edible microgreens has found that many of those trendy seedlings of green vegetables and herbs have more vitamins and healthful nutrients than their fully grown counterparts. A report on the research appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Qin Wang, Gene E. Lester and colleagues point out that microgreens have gained popularity as a new culinary trend over the past few years, especially in upscale markets and restaurants. Those seedlings of spinach, lettuce, red cabbage and other veggies are usually 1-3 inches in height and harvested within 14 days of germination. They enhance the color, texture and flavor of salads, soups, sandwiches and other foods. Despite their growing popularity, no scientific information existed on how nutrients in microgreens compare to those in mature plants. To fill that gap, they analyzed vitamins and other phytochemicals in 25 varieties of microgreens.
They found that microgreens generally have higher concentrations of healthful vitamins and carotenoids than their mature counterparts. But they also found wide variations in nutrient levels among the plants tested in the study. Red cabbage microgreens, for instance, had the highest concentration of vitamin C, for instance, while green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E. Concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids in popcorn shoots and golden pea tendrils were low compared to other microgreens, but were still as high as some common mature vegetables.”
We will be slowly ramping up production as demand grows. See you at the Eastside Farmers Market on Saturday.
We accept cash, checks and credit cards. Email me if you want to place an order for pickup at the market.
We have the following fruit trees/bushes:
Fig 3 gallon $25
Blueberries Southern Highbush 3 gallons $25 very low chill requirements
Muscadines $25 female vines must be planted within 50 feet of a self-fertile vine
For care see my fruit tree fertilization schedule
I eat meat. Kenan and I decided that if we were going to eat meat we needed to either raise it ourselves or get it from a farmer that we knew, one that raised the animals with care for the environment, the soils, and the animals themselves. We respect those that have chosen a different diet, but believe that moderate meat consumption is more ecological sound and sustainable. We raise chickens and lamb in a humane, responsible manner.
The industrial model of raising animals, in confined animal feed operations (CAFO), is not ethical nor sustainable. This meat accounts for almost 99% of all meat. It is cruel to the animal, produces a meat that is not healthy and is antibiotic dependent, and is an environmental travesty with the concentrated waste produced, and the chemically dependent grain used as a feed.
Pasture raised, grassfed meat is high in omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene and vitamins E and low in saturated fat. Livestock raised in an ethical environment must have access to their natural foods, clean water, shelter, protection from predators and room to move in a natural habitat. For pigs it might mean mud, for chickens they need to scratch in the soil. Sheep, cows and goats need a variety of forage eaten while roaming, usually from rotational grazing.
The earth’s ecosystem is supposed to have plant and animal impact with the soil. The animal manure feeds the microbes in the soil that develop the fertility needed for plants to grow nutrient dense food. The impact of the hooves or chicken feet aerates the soil and the grazing animals can turn grass and forbs, inedible to humans, into food. Few inputs are necessary for this type of animal husbandry. We do not have to buy and truck in fertilizer and herbicides. Many of the ethically raised animals are raised on land unsuitable for raising vegetables and many others are used in a rotation with vegetable plantings, like we do at Laughing Frog Farm. Ruminates have a unique ability, with the help of sunlight and water, to turn hundreds of different naturally growing plants into protein while monoculture crops need tractors, fuel and fertilization, to produce their nutrients.
Many vegetables and grains are raised using environmentally destructive methods. In order to grow vegetables we need to add fertility to the soil. The use of manure has traditionally been the farmers go to solution, but with the advent of chemical fertilizers, animals became unnecessary because the farmer can now purchase the fertility. Heavy use of these chemicals is causing polluted water, interrupting the soil food web, and creating dead zones in our oceans. There is evidence that these chemicals are chelating the nutrients in the soil and consequently reducing the nutrient levels in our food.
Compost can add some fertility, but it alone will not provide the nitrogen needed for healthy crops. Many organic farmers turn to cottonseed and alfalfa meals that have been produced, usually, with chemical fertilizer. Furthermore, most of them are now genetically modified, meaning large doses of chemical herbicides have been used, further robbing our soil of its nutrition. Fish emulsion is used extensively in organic farming to raise nitrogen levels. Those fish were often fed GMO corn and soy and, of course, dead fish are not a particularly good vegan option. These amendments are trucked across the country powered by fossil fuels.
Most alternatives to manure, for fertility, have limited availability and high costs in the developing world.
Nitrogen fixing cover crops, vermicastings, mulches and compost tea all are alternative fertility solutions that we use, but most require energy, and labor.
Most of the farm animals would become extinct if farmers quit raising them. These animals have been developed over centuries to provide meat, milk, wool, leather and eggs to humans. Goats, sheep, chickens and cows are not prepared to live in the wild. Pigs have proven they are prepared and have become a nuisance in many parts of the country.
Eating requires taking a life. People just choose where to draw the line. A cabbage is alive. We kill cockroaches and mice. “Vegetarians” often tell me they eat fish or shellfish. Modern vegetable agricultural methods eliminate earthworms, starve monarch butterflies and interrupt the migration of birds.
We know that plants communicate with one another through the soil and that plants have a survival instinct as they struggle to stay alive in bad soil or weather conditions.
Animals are truly an integral part of sustainable agricultural systems worldwide. Of course, we can always raise animals just for their manure and not their meat. Many aquaponics operations utilize goldfish and horse manure is an alternative, as are zoos, though not part of a sustainable agricultural system. Some farmers use animal power as an alternative to tractors but a two oxen will not fertilize a whole farm.
If all animals are to be raised in a pastured, humane way we have to eat less meat and seek out the best places to purchase it. At this point humanely raised, pastured meat is seldom available in a supermarket or a restaurant. Organic, cage free and natural do not mean responsibly raised or humane.
You are what you eat and you are what you eat eats. If your chicken was fed pesticide ridden corn or your farm raised fish was eating GMO soy it will affect the quality of the meat and the quality of the manure we use as fertilizer. Also if your soil was fed chemicals that limit a plant’s nutrient uptake it will affect your health as well.
I honor people who make moral and ethical decisions about how they eat, whether they chose vegan, vegetarian or omnivore.
Remember that the food that nourishes your body is a precious investment in your future.
Don’t eat the cheap, fast and easy American diet.
Don’t be cheap, fast and easy.
We are trying to mimic nature as much as possible here at the farm. It improves the biology of the soil, saves a bit of labor and saves on the purchased organic fertilizers. Nature never pulls out the chemicals or a rototiller or a tractor and everything grows like crazy.
We are working our gardens without tilling. We only plant one of our three gardens at a time and run sheep and chickens in the other gardens or plant cover crops during their off season. It means hoeing, mulching and tolerating some weeds. After the animals leave the garden we do not eat vegetables out of that garden for 120 days, as per organic guidelines, to give the manure time to break down.
Last winter’s garden was very successful but the spring brought in weed competition. That was after the 60 inches of rain from mid April to early June. The rain also made it impossible to bring in loads of mulch.
As you can see below, the winter squash is growing in the company of weeds, but the soil is so fertile that it can feed them both.
After another year, lots more mulch, another cover crop, and 200 more chickens, I hope I can report that it is running smoothly again.