Farmer John and I were avid sailors in our former lives (pre-1998). Every weekend the weather permitted, we were out on our boat. It was never a question of if we planned to sail. We knew we’d sail. The only discussion we had about an upcoming Saturday concerned which of our friends we wanted to invite along.

We knew next to nothing about sailing when we bought our first little boat. We launched the 14-footer at the Jonestown ramp one fateful summer afternoon, hoisted the sails and immediately began twirling in circles. Repeatedly. Lucky for us, someone on shore shouted out instructions and we were able to move, shakily, in a direction somewhat resembling forward. We made it all the way to the main body of the lake that day, and back to the Jonestown shore in one piece. Well, almost one piece, and only after some emergency repair to the rudder…but that’s a story for another day.

See, John and I aren’t real keen on doing research before we jump into something. We know we should. We just don’t.

After years sailing on Lake Travis in progressively larger boats, we met a former Austinite when we were vacationing in Trinidad who’d since become an experienced seaworthy sailor. Once he found out where we kept our boat, he said, “If you can sail Lake Travis, you can sail anywhere.” It’s the narrowness of this lake combined with the surrounding hills that make it challenging — crazy gusts of wind come out of seemingly nowhere, and you have to stay on your toes.

By that time, of course, we were well aware of the lake’s vagaries. However, had we done our research — or even just asked around a little bit — we might have begun our boating “career” with a tad more preparation. (Sailing lessons perhaps?)

As painful as it is to admit, we started our farming career in much the same way. Although John had been gardening for nearly 20 years by the time we purchased the property designated as our future farm, we didn’t bother to look closer at the merits (or lack thereof) of this particular chunk of land other than to dig a hole to confirm the soil was indeed deep. We had no soil analyses done before we signed on the dotted line, no water tests. We knew how extreme the Central Texas weather is, yet never fully considered its impact on what would soon become our livelihood.

As it went with sailing on Lake Travis, over time we learned our farm’s idiosyncrasies as we also learned to anticipate inevitable weather-related disasters. Still, we admire folks who do their homework — like some new up-and-coming farmers we met this year, one located in Central Texas and another in the Waco area. Both have taken time to educate themselves and have made informed decisions while slowly enlarging their farms, despite the inherent difficulties.

To be fair, it takes a certain amount of tenacity to decide to farm no matter where you are. Even if that place happens to be paradise.

During our recent trip to the San Juan Islands above Washington State, John and I visited a farm very similar in size to ours. It wasn’t certified organic, but the owners follow organic practices so we were eager to compare their farming experiences with ours. After our question and answer session regarding their soil and water quality (both excellent), we got down to the nitty gritty: bugs.

“Do you have problems with cucumber beetles?” Farmer John asked.

“Nope. We don’t have any here.”

I cringed. “How about squash bugs?”

“None.”

The farmer realized where John and I were going with this and volunteered, “We did have a few aphids in spots this year, which is unusual,” then quickly added (to make us feel better, I presume) “and we always wind up with aphids in our greenhouses.”

The moment we began to breathe a sigh of relief that the farmer’s life wasn’t too cushy, he explained, “We just squirt them once with that Safer Soap stuff, and that seems to take care of it.”

Drat.

This is the aphid situation on our fall eggplant after having sprayed them twice with various organic insecticides these past few weeks.

The undersides of the leaves on the majority of the plants are covered with the tiny life-sucking monsters. As they kill the upper foliage, they drop their “honeydew” (a term that’s entirely too precious) on the underlying branches, turning leaves that should look like this:

into this.

We’ll continue to battle the creatures, you can be sure of that. In the meantime, I think of the farmer in paradise and wonder what he might be doing with his spare time…

Toward the end of our vacation, after a bike ride on one of the islands, John and I wandered into a nearby establishment to reward ourselves with a glass of adult beverage. While there, we chatted with some of the locals and told them what we do for a living. One of them, a man who farmed for a short while himself, exclaimed, “If you can farm in Texas, you can farm anywhere!”

My, that sounded familiar.

Could you do us a big favor please? The next time we decide to try something new — like lion taming, maybe, or bungee jumping into active volcanoes — would you remind us to read up on it a little bit first?

* * *

Many thanks to everyone who made our first day back at market such a success last week! We’ll have lots of goodies for you again this Wednesday, and hope to see you. Here’s what we’ll be bringing:

Oodles of summer squashes (yellow, Zephyr and zucchini), lots of chard, Dinosaur kale, bunches of Raab, bags of arugula, yellow bell peppers, sweet Corno di Toro peppers, Cubanelle peppers (perfect for stir-fry and stuffing), Asian cucumbers, Nubia and Beatrice eggplant, butternut squash, Kabocha squash and some spaghetti squash.

Thanks!

Jo Dwyer

Angel Valley Organic Farm

Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and

Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

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