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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.”

brassica rows

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.

First Westlake

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.

early Jonestown

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,

John and Elise

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.

* * *

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:

broccoli

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.
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**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.
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stand:
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)

Here we go again! Since the weather forecast is for frigid cold, windy and a possibility of sleet (!) this Wednesday, we’ve made an Executive Decision (on which all four Executives present at the farm today agree) to hold this week’s farm stand on Thursday instead. Hey, it worked last week, so why not? We’ll all be more comfortable.

So on THURSDAY, beginning at 10 a.m., we’ll have:

broc sinks

LOTS of broccoli! Plus many head lettuces (red butter head, green butter head, red leaf and crisp head), lettuce mix, Euro salad mix, bulk watermelon radishes, two types of green cabbage, purple cabbage, bulk sweet white turnips, purple beets, chard, dinosaur kale, brussels greens, small frond-less fennel, small heads of escarole, and perhaps some this’s and thats.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stand:
Wednesdays 10:00-1:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

So sorry to do this, but after receiving over 3-1/2″ of rain so far, our low water crossing is dangerously high. If we try to make it to the farm stand (already a questionable endeavor, with rain still coming down as I’m typing this at 7:30 a.m.) and it continues raining while we’re there, we won’t be able to get home later this afternoon.

low water crossing

We’ll keep all the vegetables nice and cozy in our walk-in cooler, and will bring them to the stand tomorrow (Thursday) instead. We’ll be there at 10 a.m. — same time, same place!

Our apologies for any inconvenience — and for having to pester you with an additional email.
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm

I used to love going to the landfill with my dad — though we didn’t call it “the landfill” when I was a kid. Back then, it was “the dump.” That was before there were any issues with throwing away electronics (other than the occasional television — the kind with tubes — or transistor radio) and no one had ever heard of recycling. Nor did we have special curbside pick-up days for large items like old bed frames or rusted patio furniture. If it was too big to fit in the metal trash can sitting in the corner of the garage, any item no longer of use was piled into the trunk of the car and taken to the dump.

I don’t fully understand why a trip to the dump so delighted me. I distinctly remember the smell, which one would think would be a deterrent, but maybe it was the bizarreness of the whole experience — the idea of adding to a massive pile of stuff out in the middle of nowhere — that made it thrilling enough to overlook the stench. And I’ll never forget the day I saw a kid probably my own age happily rummaging through the things my father had just tossed into the pit. This was long, long before the advent of Craigslist, after all. Back then, with the exception of the occasional garage sale, other people’s junk was always free.

It’s kind of amazing how often my dad went to the dump (or at least how often I seem to remember he did). It’s not like my parents were farmers. Had they been, I’d more clearly understand the need for dump trips — they come with the territory when you own a farm.

While John and I eschewed the use of plastic “mulch” even as it became more and more commonly used on other farms, conventional or organic, farming does tend to generate its fair share of waste: old drip tape too riddled with holes to continue patching, frayed row cover, balls of shade cloth with far more rips than shade. We originally purchased our big trailer to haul feather meal and manure. Once we stopped using either of those for soil amendments, it became primarily a vessel for trash.

Perhaps it was due to my parents being such neatniks that dump trips were such a big part of my childhood. Mom and Dad both abhorred disorder. I, for the most part, inherited that trait, yet there’s no question the tidy gene was somehow altered before it really dug itself into my psyche. See, while it’s impossible for me to be completely comfortable unless my personal surroundings are uncluttered,

living room

I’m firmly of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind school of thought. The closet in my computer room is a perfect example.

closet

Not only have we shoved an old dresser into the middle of it (into which I stuff my office files) but were it not for the fact we’re working on moving, it wouldn’t be much longer before I filled the remainder to the brim. The beauty of it, however? I can close the closet doors and the mess magically disappears.

John is the opposite. He’s “in charge” of washing and putting away dishes and although our kitchen cabinets are wooden with no glass through which to see what’s hidden inside, he’s a stickler about the arrangement of our yellow and pink plates.

dishes

They must be stacked yellow, pink, yellow, pink, yellow, pink, etc. Any other combination would be mayhem. No pink, pink, pink, yellow, yellow in this house! When John and I were on vacation last September, Dana, Mary and Stephen mixed them all up and emailed us a photo. I was a little surprised John didn’t hop on the next plane to come home and remedy it.

Yet here’s his tool bench, out in the open for the world to see:

workbench

Well, we all have our quirks, right? And now that we’re preparing our farm to be put on the real estate market, over the last couple weeks when John wasn’t busy protecting our remaining crops from freezes, he began the arduous process of sorting what needs to stay and what needs to go, with no regard for personal idiosyncrasies.

trash

Already, there’s a good deal of junk. Add to it John’s workbench and my closets, and I’d wager a guess we’ll be looking at a few trips to the dump in the very near future. I can’t wait.

* * *

We’ll sneak lots of harvesting into the next two or three weeks as well! We’re reopening the farm stand this Wednesday, Jan. 9th, at 10 a.m. as usual (and will probably close at 1 p.m.). There’s a good chance of rain but you’ll find us there, regardless, with this:

broc

Loads of broccoli! Plus many head lettuces (red butter head, green butter head, romaine, red leaf and crisp head), lettuce mix, the last of the Romanesco cauliflower, bunches of watermelon radishes, pink & purple radishes, bulk sweet white turnips, topless beets, chard, dinosaur kale, brussels greens, frond-less fennel (the freezes were too much for those tender fronds!), and anything else we find ready for harvest.

red butterhead

**Know anybody looking for a farm to call their own? We’ve enlisted the help of an excellent and highly experienced real estate broker, Bob Easter, who would be happy to talk with potential buyers. Bob is a dedicated organic gardener himself, and understands perfectly the intricacies of purchasing farm land. He can be contacted at beaster1@austin.rr.com.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stand:
Wednesdays 10:00-1:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

The sky was a crime scene.

That is what is called a “hook.” I was reminded of the term by Mary’s 9-year-old son when we were all gathered near the salad sinks at the close of a recent work day. As I’m sure most of you know, a hook is a leading sentence designed to intrigue the reader into wanting to continue on.

That isn’t where our grammar lesson began. It started with a question to the young boy, specifically asking him to describe a simile. He knew immediately that a simile is a figure of speech in which two essentially different things are compared using the words “like” or “as.” Pretty impressive for a 9-year-old, yes? This little guy is a smart one. He did, however, get a bit flummoxed when asked how a simile differs from a metaphor — volunteering the meaning of “hook” instead — yet he was no more confounded than Farmer John.

No offense to my dear husband, of course. While grammar isn’t his strong suit, he’s one heck of a vegetable grower (and honestly, I’ll take that over a linguistics expert any day). Which made it all the more remarkable that after a brief explanation of metaphor versus simile, and after the rest of us tried to think of metaphorical sentences to illustrate its definition — each of our attempts fairly lame — it was John who blurted out:

“The sky was a crime scene.”

We all fell silent for a moment. I jotted it down on a piece of paper. When asked what made him consider such an interesting analogy, John admitted it was because of the weather forecast (once a vegetable grower, always a vegetable grower). There was a 40% chance of rain in the near future, supposedly coming with the passage of the latest cold front, and his metaphor was in actuality wishful thinking.

Fortunately, we have a deep well and have never wanted for irrigation water. We know other local farmers whose wells went dry during the drought of 2011, a dire situation if there ever was one, particularly for those of us who depend on irrigation water for our livelihoods. Still, even though we’ve never had to go without it, well water doesn’t compare to water from the sky.

Since our well is deep and the pump rate is somewhat low, we can only irrigate small sections of the farm at any one time. Plus, we have only so much drip tape (though plenty enough if only it would occasionally rain) and almost all of it is busy quenching the thirst of our vegetable crops. The problem lies on the acreage not currently dedicated to vegetables, where we grow cover crops — oats and oilseed radish, to name a couple we’ve used this season — in order to maintain soil health. We plant these covers with the hope of rain to keep them alive. When rain eludes us like it did the entire month of November, emergency action is required.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday Farmer John spent many hours dragging our last available lengths of drip tape to parched cover crops. The oilseed radish was especially in need.

oilseed radish

It appears oats can handle drought somewhat better, although there’s a marked difference between oats planted in late September (the two rows on the right in the following picture) that received at least one good downpour shortly after they were seeded, as compared to cover crop planted in October (on the left).

oats

John will now include this 200-foot long section in his weekly irrigation schedule. The 400-foot cover cropped beds aren’t so lucky.

400 foot cover crop

Only a couple of these oilseed radish rows are equipped with drip tape right now, as we don’t have enough to stretch along the remainder. I don’t know whether John plans to move the tape from row-to-row-to-row to try to keep them going or not. I don’t want to ask.

All we can do, really, drip tape or no drip tape, is hope for a crime scene in the sky — one filled with dark, menacing clouds punctuated by blinding flashes of lightning and crashing, house-rattling thunder. We came so close to experiencing that very thing soon after John coined his impressive metaphor. He and I watched radar anxiously as a blob of yellow and red moved closer and closer to our area…only to drift north just as the storm was poised to hit.

Afterwards, we felt as blue as the November sky.

blue sky

For anyone keeping score, that’s a simile. And truthfully, we weren’t quite that blue. Disappointed, sure, but we’ve come to expect as much, and do at least have a source of water to take the place of the magical moisture that sometimes falls from above. (We’ve heard rumors of such occurrences, anyway.)

It’ll rain again one day, probably violently with water gushing down in bucketfuls. Storms like those usually scare the bejeebers out of me, but I’d welcome that kind of criminal activity right about now.

* * *

For the farm stand this Wednesday, we’ll have:

romanesco

Romanesco cauliflower, orange “Cheddar” cauliflower and white cauliflower, along with lots of broccoli, lettuce mix, Euro salad mix, spinach, sweet white turnips, bulk purple and golden beets, bunches of chard, Dinosaur kale, Brussels greens, bags of arugula, purple and green kohlrabi, watermelon radishes, cilantro, Cubanelle peppers, maybe savoy cabbages (if they’re ready!), and some of this and that.

watermelon radishes

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)

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! I’ll have another farm story for you next week, but for now let’s just get right to the point. For Wednesday’s farm stand we’ll be bringing:

“Cheddar” cauliflower, fall tomatoes (fewer than last week, yet still quite a lot!), the first of this succession’s broccoli, spinach, green and purple kohlrabi, fennel, bunches of chard, Dinosaur kale, Brussels greens, bags of arugula, bulk purple and golden beets, radishes, bunches of sweet white turnips, red & yellow bell peppers, cilantro, some lettuce mix and green butterhead lettuces (we’re in a bit of a “lettuce lull” right now, but more coming soon!), and anything else we find ready for harvest.

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)

Just a quick reminder that we’re reopening the Jollyville Road farm stand this Wednesday, September 26th, at 10 a.m.! The selection always starts out a little slim at the beginning of a season, yet we certainly have enough to get started. And hey, it’s all yummy! Here’s what we’ll bring for you:

Greens! Lots of chard, bulk mixed Asian greens, bunches of Raab, bags of arugula, plus yellow bell peppers, sweet Corno di Toro peppers, Cubanelle peppers (perfect for stir-fry and stuffing), green bell peppers, beautiful Nubia eggplant, the first of the zucchini, yellow and Zephyr squash, Texas hard pears (we don’t have oodles), butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and bags of frozen summer tomatoes**.

**Run warm water over frozen tomatoes to remove the skin, let them thaw in the sink for a few minutes then chop to use in sauces and other cooked dishes. Two cups chopped frozen tomatoes equal one store-bought can (and tastes a WHOLE lot better!)

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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