Before you go thinking that I’ve gone totally cabbage-crazy, let me reassure you – this post is not about cabbage. Not entirely about cabbage anyway. This lovely little cabbage was one of many growing at Boggy Creek Farm last Friday. (I’ve mentioned them before.) No, this post is actually about farming. Because, secretly, in the dark recesses of my imagination, I harbor a deep longing to have a bit of land and the ability to grow my own food. So when I saw that the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association was having its annual conference not too far from here…and that Joel Salatin was going to be giving the keynote address…well…I got just a little excited. Until I saw the price tag for what the weekend would cost if M and I were to both go. And until I found out that the banquet where Joel Salatin would be speaking was, in fact, already sold out. Le sigh.
Despite the fact that I was unable to attend the conference itself, there were several farm tours that were free and open to the public – two of them right here in Austin! So on Friday, I managed to drag M out of bed fairly easily, and we hopped on over to Boggy Creek Farm for a few hours. I had no idea what to expect, but the large enthusiastic crowd was not it! We pulled up a bit late but were by no means the last folks on the grounds. For those of you unfamiliar with Boggy Creek, it is a certified organic urban farm located in East Austin near, you guessed it, Boggy Creek, which at one point was probably a lovely natural creek but which now is more of a drainage ditch. They have a farm stand every Wednesday and Saturday morning and another location in Milam County that grows the main tomato crop, among other things. We used to frequent the place before we discovered Greenling and frankly it’s been good for our relationship that I don’t wake M up absurdly early on Saturday mornings to go get fresh eggs anymore. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Boggy Creek and if I had my own transportation, I would probably still head over every Saturday, if only for the atmosphere. (And some goat milk ice cream!)
The tour was very educational. We learned about crop rotation, composting, crop placement, water (more on that later), the benefits of growing flowers, shade cloth and more. None of it was groundbreaking, stop-the-presses sort of news to me, but it was useful and interesting nonetheless. One thing I had forgotten about is the benefit of having flowers near your crops – it attracts beneficial insects that will prey upon the “pests,” keeping them out of your crops! We learned about techniques used at Boggy Creek for planting, organic weed and pest control, watering and more. The use of shade cloth on the hoop house amused me. Growing up as I did in the northeast, hoop houses were greenhouses only, used for making things warmer and getting a head start on the growing season, not to drape shade cloth over in order to protect plants from the brazen heat of summer!
After Boggy Creek, we headed over to El Chile for some delicious tacos and gaucamole before moving on to a new farm to us – Green Gate Farms. Green Gate is further out of town than Boggy Creek, but it’s still not far. I had my doubts that going to two farms in one day would be anything but a repeat of information, but I was very, very wrong. Boggy Creek and Green Gate couldn’t be more different. Where Boggy Creek is an established urban farm, Green Gate is a struggling, new attempt at farming in a decidedly less urban area. (You have to turn onto a street entering into a trailer park to get there.) Where Boggy Creek is relatively lush (for dry Texas), Green Gate is dry and dusty. Where Boggy Creek has chickens, Green Gate has goats, pigs, a very friendly dog and some equally friendly cats.
Green Gate is a relatively new farm – maybe three years old, if I remember correctly? And because of their location, they’ve got it a lot harder than some other farms. It’s mostly flat where they are, and almost treeless. The wind picks up speed over the rolling landscape and by the time it smacks into the farm, it can be quite strong and carrying a not insignificant amount of trash and debris. The water is not as abundant as at Boggy Creek – and you could hardly call it abundant there to begin with! Both farms have had to dig wells in recent years because older, shallower ones had dried up for the first time. For a good look at the water crisis involving central Texas farms check out this article in the most recent Edible Austin.
Basically, the deciding factor here is water. It is vitally important and without it…nothing. Sure, there’s city water for some folks but the cost of watering an entire farm with city water? Outrageous. Green Gate has a potentially ingenious system involving a high water storage tank and solar powered pump, but it’s not currently up and running.
I’m genuinely glad we went to both farm tours. There were similarities, sure, but the differences were the most educational. Go visit a farm sometime…it really makes you think about where your food comes from!