Funny how the memory of big events can get muddled with time, yet small, seemingly insignificant ones will stick with you. When I think back to 1996, shortly after we’d purchased this property with the plan to one day farm it, there are details I remember as if they happened yesterday. Like one afternoon when John and I were sitting at the picnic table we kept up along the hillside — we made a point to visit our future home at least once every weekend — and as we stared out over the open field I said, “Imagine seeing rows of broccoli out there.”
Turns out I was kind of clairvoyant in choosing broccoli out of all the vegetables we would eventually grow. As we got to know our farm better, we discovered there are some crops perennially difficult for us — legumes, in particular, because of our soil’s high alkalinity — and others that almost always do well. Broccoli is one of those crops.
Other memories remain vivid, as well. Our first experience at the old Westlake Farmers Market will always be etched in my mind. In the spring of 1999, when John discovered we had new potatoes ready to dig and green onions large enough to bunch, he declared it was time to start selling them. I freaked out at the thought. Farmers markets weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are now, and not only had I never sold at one, I’d only visited a market like that maybe once. Or heck, I’m not positive I’d ever been to one at all, really. (I mean, I can’t be expected to remember everything now, can I?)
John was still working at his “real” job and wasn’t able to make the first market, so I — reluctantly — went alone.
My first sale was one of those green onion bunches. I made the mistake of charging only 75 cents for it (a grievous error of undervaluation, pointed out quickly by an experienced farmer in a booth near mine) and lamented to John later that day that because of it, we couldn’t frame the money like small businesses do with their proverbial first dollar bill.
With time, we learned.
And we had a whole lot of fun at that market getting to know other area farmers and, most importantly, customers who eventually became “regulars.” What a new and unique adventure it all was. Neither of us had ever been in a profession like this one, where the customers were overwhelmingly pleasant. Never once did we make disparaging remarks about “dealing with the public.” The folks who go to farmers markets and farm stands are special. It was a rare, rare occasion when someone was rude to us, and those people never came back anyway. We discovered a wonderful sense of community in those early days at the farmers market, and eventually at the first location of our Jonestown farm stand.
That sense of community holds to this day. Still, there is one memory — one feeling, actually — I do wish I could recapture from our early market experiences, and that’s the wonderment of imagining these customers I’d never before met making meals in their homes using the food we grew. John gardened almost as long as we’d been married, but those vegetables were for us, with only the occasional giveaways when we’d find ourselves overrun with squash or cucumbers. And even in those cases, friends and workmates were the recipients. Not complete strangers.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened that I no longer marveled over that part of selling our produce, yet I do distinctly recall trying to get that feeling back. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve continued to love the thought of people feeding their families with the vegetables that come from our farm. It’s just that a person grows used to things, you know. It doesn’t mean they’re taken for granted.
Something John and I certainly don’t take for granted is how much all of you mean to us. From the customers who’ve stuck with us ever since we set up that first booth at the Westlake Farmers Market,
to those who might have discovered our farm stands only recently — and everyone in between — we owe you a world of gratitude. It’s because of you that our farm has always been successful.
We aren’t shutting down the stands because our business failed, which makes the closures all the more bittersweet. As I’ve explained already, we’ve simply reached a point where we need to start enjoying other things in life — things we couldn’t squeeze into a schedule already full ten times over with the amount of work necessary to keep two farm stands up and running.
Farming can be hard, yet we have no regrets and will always treasure the memory of these past fourteen years. Although I don’t exactly recall the feeling of awe I used to experience about people cooking our food in their homes, I know Farmer John and I will never forget the joy of growing that food and getting to know, at least a little bit, all the wonderful people who crossed our paths.
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Okay, before I start blubbering like a little baby (there’s plenty of time for that coming soon!) I need to let you know what we’ll have for our last farm stand this Wednesday. We’ll only be there a couple hours or so — 10 a.m. until around noonish — so please come early. **Continue reading past the produce list, as well, for some suggestions as to other farmers and farmers markets, as well as some other tidbits.** Here’s what we’re harvesting:
OODLES of broccoli, head lettuces (red butter head, green butter head, red leaf and crisp head), lettuce mix, Euro salad mix, two types of green cabbage, purple cabbage, bulk watermelon radishes, bunches of purple beets, bags of small chard, bags of small dinosaur kale, brussels greens, and escarole.
**Many people have asked if I’m going to continue blogging — which I appreciate very much! I have indeed set up a new blog called Furthermore and So Forth and plan to write about life after farming (with a good deal of gardening talk included, I’m sure). If you’d like to follow along, please click here and follow the instructions about signing up. It’s easy.
***John and I will keep growing vegetables ourselves even after the stands are closed, but on a smaller scale. While most of the farm will be planted in cover crops to enrich the soil for (hopefully) the next farmer who moves in, we’ll designate areas for vegetable growing to supply the two great restaurants who’ve bought from us for many years: Wink and Texas French Bread. Please go visit them. You won’t be sorry!
**** Because we haven’t sold at farmers markets for such a long time we’re not personally familiar with a lot of the newer farmers in the area, but we do know enough great, experienced farmers we wholeheartedly recommend:
If you’re looking for a farm stand situation, you can’t beat Boggy Creek Farm. They sell at their East Austin farm year-round, plus they now set up a booth at the Sunday morning Mueller Farmers Markets during times of abundance.
Or maybe you’re interested in joining a CSA? Tecolote Farm has been running an outstanding CSA longer than anyone else in the area. You’ll love them. They also sell at the Downtown Austin Farmers Market on Saturdays. Green Gate Farms has an excellent CSA program, as well as an on-site farm stand that’s great for bringing the kids (and the kid in you) to see their wide variety of farm animals; and Hairston Creek Farm’s CSA is year-round, plus they sell their delicious produce at the Saturday morning Cedar Park Farmers Market. All these CSA’s are signing up members for spring right now.
If you visit the various farmers markets around town, our advice is to look closely at the produce, ask questions of the grower. Don’t automatically go to the biggest booth. Often, the smaller farms (like ours) pay the most attention to quality.
We’ll be bidding a fond farewell (but not goodbye!) to Dana and Mary at the end of the month. Dana has been working with us for half of the farm’s existence, with Mary not far behind. Both of them have been a huge part of the farm’s success. We were very lucky to have them here.
We wish you all the best. Thank you for everything.
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)