INTERVIEWEE: Carol Ann Sayle (CAS)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: June 17, 1999
LOCATION: Boggy Creek Farm; Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson
REELS: 2001 and 2002
Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversations or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DW: You could tell us maybe where we’re going?
00:01:24 – 2001
DW: You could talk to the camera, if you’d like.
00:01:25 – 2001
CS: Well, here’s—David is asking about a marketing tool, we have a very low-key marketing tool. Our sign, Vegetables Today, and that alerts people when they come down the driveway that, yes, it is market day and we do have vegetables. And when it’s turned around to the back, they know it’s—we don’t. But most of them just pass right by that and ignore it anyway, so. We get a lot of people that come up when it’s not market day and they don’t notice that the sign saying, “Vegetables Today”, is turned around, so. Anyway, but that’s one of our little tiny marketing tools. We don’t put it…
DT: You need something on the back of the sign that says, Go Away.
00:01:57 – 2001
CS: Well, I need to. I need to have one that just says Market Hours, and then they get the message because they’ll come up and we don’t have any vegetables because we don’t harvest but twice a week, generally, for the main stuff. But we don’t have it on the front because we were afraid the city would come and get us for having a store. We—we kind of farm by fear, too, you know, prices and fear. And then out front here, we have the orchard peach trees that some—we hope some day will have fruit. They didn’t this year because we didn’t have enough chilling hours. And then we have heirloom beans
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here, the Alabama Nile Family beans. And they’re a good—real good flavored old-fashioned bean, you have to string them, though, because they have strings. They’re old-fashioned. So, when we sell them to people we have to warn them about this because if they just eat them, they’ll wind up with a mouthful of strings. Green, of course, but it will be unpleasant anyway.
DT: It would be like dental floss.
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CS: Right. There are not many beans on it right down because we harvested yesterday for market so they’re about all gone, but they have a superior flavor to some of the hybrid varieties that you can get now. And when they’re this large, you can shell them and get the peas out of them. Throw that into the mix. And then here we have our
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early tomatoes that Dave is going to be fertilizing today, and they are an indeterminate variety called Early Girl Bush. And they put on a huge flush of tomatoes earlier and had spider mites and got to looking really awful and we thought we were going to lose them, but they went ahead and bore their tomatoes and now they’re coming back with new foliage and new flowers and they’re setting fruit. So we’re going to fertilize them and give them a shot. And they’ve had a lot of good rain and we’re hoping they will come on and set some tomatoes and make a nice crop for later on in the summer when it’s usually
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difficult to get tomatoes because of the heat. These are some heirloom watermelons here called Moon and Stars, and the leaves are speckled with little stars, little yellow stars, and then the fruit, when it comes out, will be about this size and it’ll have patches of yellow on it that are the moons and little speckles that are the stars.
DT: Can you explain what you mean by heirloom and why that’s important?
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CS: Well, heirloom is just basically an old variety that people have grown for a long time, hopefully back—at least before 1900, but sometimes it’ll be 1930 or 1920 or something like that, but it’s an old variety and typically it’s a variety that is open pollinated. Which means that—two things. It will generally come true, you can save the seed off of it and grow that same crop again and it’ll look just like the parent plant. Or if it’s a—a little how—how to—flirtatious, shall we say, it will cross with other varieties of
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the same thing and you’ll get hybrids. And that’s how they get hybrids, of course, is cross-pollination. And so you may get something wonderful or something really awful, you just don’t know, you take a gamble. But this—this watermelon is a—is a heirloom, open pollinated version, so we save seeds off of it. And this is from last year’s crop and the—it is coming true so far. It is doing the stars, at least, moons will be when—on the watermelon. And…
00:05:13 – 2001
CS: Well, this is not that. But this is even better at—I mean, that’s another situation.
DT: We’ll just talk about the soil.
00:05:18 – 2001
CS: Just the compost in general, yeah.
00:05:21 – 2001
CS: Okay. One thing that we are concerned about in all of this is the biotechnology that’s becoming rampant in development and not—not so that we want to stop all development and ideas and forward progress and, I mean, hy—that’s where hybrids came from and we grow a lot of hybrid seeds because they are good varieties and taste good and come true, you know, when we get the seed and they’re reliable. So hybrids aren’t necessarily bad, but hybrid—hybridization is something that can occur naturally in nature, like the two heirloom tomatoes can get together and cross-pollinate and come up with something entirely different. So that’s a natural thing. But, a lot of the folks that
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are—seem to be more interested in money are trying to put a corner on the seed market apparently. Now we don’t know too much about this, but just what we’ve heard leads us to believe that they would like it for us not to be able to save our own seeds, to always have to buy seeds from the seed companies. And to that end, they have come up with something that’s called the terminator gene. I don’t know that they call it that, but popularly, it’s known now as the terminator gene. And what that means is that the seed we buy, even if it’s heirloom open-pollinated, will have a gene spliced into it that will prohibit it from bearing seed that will be either viable or come true. So that you may have a corn plant, for instance, that bears corns, bears supposedly kernels that you could
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use for seed, and you could save them, but when you plant them again, they’re not—they’re either dead or sterile or they’re not going to make a true—the true corn that you thought they would make. And so that’s—that’s something that we fear because seed could become very expensive, not only for us, but for the Third World countries who rely primarily on heirloom seeds. And so if this, if this—if all these seeds that they originally
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get have the terminator gene in it, that’ll be the end of the heirloom, open-pollinated seeds. Another consideration is that if you’re a farm out in the countryside, you’re growing all heirloom open-pollinated seeds and you think you’re safe because you don’t have—you never bought any seeds, the farmer next to you could be using this genetically engineered seed, it could cross-pollinate with your seeds, your plants, and then you suddenly have the terminator gene in your new crop. So, that’s—it’s pretty scary actually. Now, a lot of times things that we dramatize and—and find so scary don’t actually come true, or they—they’re watered down but quite often it’s because people
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have put pressure and—and said, hey, we don’t want this, come up with something else, please, you know. And so we’ll just have to see what the market does to—to bring this about or—or to nip it in the bud.
DT: You look great, too.
00:08:08 – 2001
CS: Oh, thank you, David.
DT: Some people have got this very winning way, and some natural salesman and…
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CS: Well, I never considered myself a salesman, you know. I always thought, like everybody that, oh, I wouldn’t want to be a salesman when I grow up, you know, that’s the worst thing in the world because you have this image of salesmen that come after you and just won’t let you up, you know. And anything that you say, oh, I don’t think I want that, well, they’ve got a reason why you should want it and it’s so—so violent almost, it’s such an intrusion, so nobody wants to be a salesman.
DT: Well, you’re a good advocate.
00:08:42 – 2001
CS: But, I think, well, I think you become a salesman just—if your enthusiasm for something—if you can make it infectious, or if it is infectious, not—you can’t really make it infectious, then people will want to be a part of it.
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CS: And they’ll—they’re curious and they’ll say, well, if she thinks that’s so good, maybe I should try it.
DT: Maybe it’ll rub off.
00:09:00 – 2001
CS: Yeah. I mean it’s a…
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CS: Yeah, we’re going to go look at the arugula now, which is another…
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CS: Several years ago, in ’93 actually, the first one. Oh, man. You know, it was costing him all these dollars per shot and the ice cream trucks and the bus—city bus going by and then the train came by one day and the airplanes. I mean, they really had a problem. But they hung in there and they got their film did—done.
DT: We’re okay now.
00:09:36 – 2001
CS: Okay. The arugula’s another heirloom plant that we save seed on and it grows again, comes true. And it would be another one that could possibly be affected by the terminator gene, cross-pollination from other plants, but it’s a—so far, so good. We do rely on a lot of insects for pollination, virtually anything that touches a flower and then
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moves to another flower is a pollinator, and will—and will achieve pollination for you. It takes repeated visits to the flower, though, to get good pollination. For instance, you’ve probably seen a cucumber that is nice and full then goes to a little twisted, turned up, narrow end. And that’s usually the result of low pollination. The—the good part of the cucumber will have lots of seeds and lots of flesh to support it, but at the end where the pollination didn’t quite get, didn’t make very many seeds and so there’s no reason to—for the cucumber to make the flesh to support the—the life of the seeds. So I just learned that this year, I never could understand why you’d have a cucumber plant and some of
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the cucumbers would be just great and full and even and some of them have that little twisted, turned up snout on them, and that’s what it is. It’s lack of sufficient pollination. They say that on a cucumber or squash plant that something has to visit the flower about 45 times before it can be sufficiently pollinated to make a good fruit. So, with that in mind, it’s very important that we have a lot of visitors to the flowers. And we used to maintain beehives here but several years ago, the varroa mite came through and wiped out all the hives. And that has been largely unchecked. I’m sure some day it will right itself, something will come along and parasitize the mite, but the mite goes in and lays its
00:11:20 – 2001
eggs in the honeycomb and the little—where—where the little bees are—are laid. And then when the mite hatches, when the larvae hatches, it eats the baby bee. And so that ends the hive, the—the next generation’s dead, and so it’s all over for that hive. And it also affects wild hives out in tree trunks and things like that, so there is a—a serious
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problem with lack of pollinators today. And—but not only the honeybee is a pollinator, there are moths that pollinate, in the course of their laying eggs, there are little flies and little gnats and other bugs like cucumber beetles, anything like that that drinks nectar from a flower is a pollinator. And so in order to have a good source, a good population of pollinators, it’s best not to spray anything that would harm them. And so, if we have, for instance, if we have an infestation of some bug or another, if we can’t get rid of it or control it by hand, typically, we don’t spray because you—we might kill that thing that’s attacking our crops but by the same token, we’re killing everything that’s helping our
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crops even if it’s organic sprays, and they’re still deadly. So we try not to spray. Now one—one thing that we do use that doesn’t affect most bugs is BT, bacillus thuringiensis. And that’s a—a bacteria that is specific to worms and it will kill worms. What we do with that is we spray the—the plant with the BT, with some mixture of that and water and then the worm comes along and eats the leaf and gets sick and within a couple hours, stops feeding and soon dies. But a ladybug can walk right over that and not be affected. A wasp, a bee, nothing is affected by it. So that’s a good—good one, which leads us
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back to genetic engineering, they—Monsanto and some of these folks want to engineer certain crops with this BT, like BT ready corn, that’s already got the BT in it. And the reason they want to put it in the corn is that the corn earworm is one of the most dangerous preys on the corn. The moth will come and lay its egg right at the—right at the silk and it’ll hatch out and the worm will crawl down and start eating the kernels.
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And it can eat the whole cob up if—if you’re not careful. And the remedy for this is to go and—and spray BT on all those silks, every ear of corn. Or alternately—alternatively, you can put a drop of mineral oil in on the silks of every ear of corn. And we don’t do any of that because that’s terrifically laborious and the folks that buy our corn can take a worm or two. We just clip them off for them and get them out of there and give it to the chickens. And the chickens are happy, and everybody’s happy, and the corn tastes great and we didn’t have to spray anything. So, but that is a—a concern to major corn growers that want to be able to use BT and not have the corn already resistant to it, or the corn—
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earworm, rather already resistant to the BT. If you’ve got BT out there all the time, it’s like antibiotics in the food. If you’re always ingesting antibiotics, then some big strain, some virulent strain of some virus comes along and you’re body is so saturated with antibiotics that it’s all immune. I mean, the virus is going to get you and that’s it. You’ve used all your weapons already. And if BT is in every crop, sooner or later, the worms are going to become immune to it and then you have no defense, because there’s nothing that gets worms like BT, especially for the organic gardener. Now for the
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chemical gardener, lots of things that’ll kill worms, but BT is our—is really our most important biological defense against devastation of the farm.
DT: Can you talk a little bit more about the ways you try and fight back?
DT: Carol Ann, I see you’re leaning up against one of the tools of your trade. Can you tell a little bit about how mechanized you are and how much you rely on people power?
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CS: Well, of course, you know, I have a partner in this farm, and he’s male and males can’t farm without big beasts of mechanization. So, of course, we have a tractor. We also have a lot of less intrusive, less—less heavy methods of cultivation and—and so forth on the farm. But we do use a tractor. Some beds cry for the heavy-duty cultivation of a tractor and the plow or a tiller and things like that. But we also have a walk-behind tiller that’s a little more human friendly. And we also use a lot of hoes and shovels and spading forks and—and any kind of digging tool. And the best tool of all, of course, the one we use the most is our hand. We pull a lot of weeds by hand, and that’s probably the
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most efficient tool that we use. But the tractor, the one we have, has a front-end loader on it and that leads us to the subject of compost. It’d be pretty difficult to turn the huge pile of compost that we make every year by hand, I mean, we’d spend all our time, we’d be worn out totally. So with the front-end loader, Larry, my husband, is able to get in there and scoop it up and toss it in the air and toss it back down while somebody is holding the water hose on it and we get a good aeration in it and get it turned and it makes compost a lot faster. And the compost we use to feed the soil, that’s our main goal in organic farming is to nurture the soil. And if we forget about the plants, we forget
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about plant diseases, forget about bugs, forget about harvest, any of that, and concentrate on the soil, which is the foundation, then all that other stuff falls into place. And it—it will surely come unless there is some climatic horror that inter—intercedes. But we try to nourish the soil, not only with soil amendments like fertilizers, but with—mainly with organic matter. And to make our organic matter available to the soil, we like to compost it. We gather leaves, grass clippings, the stuff that we cut out of the fields and pile it in a big pile and turn it up—up and down with the front end loader of the tractor, and over a period of time, usually about six months, it makes a nice, either a leaf mold, or a nice
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compost that’s almost looks like dirt. And this—this material is full of life, it’s full of microorganisms that are chewing up the leaves and the grass clippings. And then—then their poop, their by-product, will be humus, and the stuff that the plant, then, can take up. And after this compost is made then we shovel it into wheelbarrows, or take it with the front-end loader and dump it next to the beds and there it’s put on the beds by hand, with shovels or pitchforks, around the plants that are already growing there. And typically, we will use more of a leaf mold stage of it, and this also serves as a mulch, to protect the soil and keep it moist, keep it cooler in the summer or warmer in the winter. But mainly, soil
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temperature and moisture is what we’re concerned about. And so, we’ll put this around the plants and then as the plant grows up and begins to be able to shade the ground itself, then the mulch becomes a little less important. But it’s breaking down all that time and soon, all those nutrients have become one with the soil and the plant is taking it up
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through the roots. At the end of that crop, we take the fruit out and the—and the spent plants out and till all that under and then the soil in enriched by that and put—put kind of a, oh, a homogenized level of about five or six inches. And then the next crop that comes in is really going to get the benefit of that—that stuff. So, by feeding the soil all that stuff, the earthworms eat it, the little tiny millions of billions of plant—or animal life that’s in the soil that we can’t see, eats it all up, poops it out, it becomes soluble with rainwater or irrigation water. The plants can suck it up through the roots, use it, make the fruit, and it’s just a cycle, over and over again. Another…
DT: Forget about those garbage trucks, we need to know where the compost starts from.
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CS: On our farm, it’s just five acres here, and the tree…
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CS: Our farm is five acres here and we’ve got—we’re blessed with huge pecan trees and one gigantic oak tree, but to keep them healthy, we don’t utilize their leaves. Those leaves drop on the ground, become one with the soil and nurture the next growth, the next year. What we do is try to bring stuff off the farm, and there are a lot of theories about whether it’s good to bring off the farm resources to nurture the farm, or whether everything should be made at the farm. If we had fifty acres of pecan trees and oak trees then we could utilize some of that stuff for our growing fields, but since we are trying to conserve and protect the health of the trees here, we would rather have other people’s
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leaves. So, in the early days, we couldn’t get the city or anybody to bring us clippings, so we would go around behind the garbage man, or—or in conjunction with the garbage man with the—with a trailer and the pickup truck, and Larry would bring back 400 bags of leaves that the people had carefully raked up and put in bags, and bring them back and we’d compost them. And that worked great. The garbage men loved it because they would say, okay, you down that street first and we’ll follow after you and we’ll get what you don’t get. And they loved it because they got off early, they could go home. And the landfill was spared a few hundred bags of leaves that—at that time, there was no composting at the landfill and so it was just going to be dumped, plastic bag and all, right
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into the big groaning maul of debris. And so we felt pretty good about that and it made great compost. Then we talked to a, kind of a earth-friendly landscaping company about getting their bags of leaves and grass clippings because they, too, were hauling it to the landfill and it was going into the pit. And they said, well, you have to come get it, but that entailed a drive down IH-35, and our trailer was kind of—everything we drive is
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usually pretty sus—suspicious, so we didn’t want to do that. So a year went by, we kept begging them, finally, we forgot about them and one day they called up and said, hey, what about us bringing leaves to—to your farm, it’s closer than the landfill and we’ll save a lot of money from delivering it to the landfill and we’ll get off earlier. We said, good idea, let’s do that. So now they bring all these leaves and—and grass clippings from the—all the yards they maintain all over Austin. And we pile it up here in these humongous mounds and turn it a few times and water it down and in six months or a year, it’s fine stuff. And that’s what we put out on the fields. And that’s probably the
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most important thing we do, as far as nurturing the soil. A lot of farms that are organic use organic fertilizers and organic bug controls, but they don’t use compost. Now some of them use cover crops, which is just as good, and in some ways, even better. But a lot of them don’t use anything. Especially the bigger enterprises, and that’s kind of worrisome because it’s—I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist but it’s—the compost gives so many different minerals and micronutrients, that I believe goes into the vegetables and makes a fuller—fuller round of components in that vegetable than if you’re just putting
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NPK on the—on the foliar feeding or on the ground. So the more things that you can put into the dirt, the better, I think, the vegetable’s going to taste and the more nutrition it’ll have because it’s just got a lot more minerals and vitamins. They’re available, primarily, in compost or in a good organic matter, manure crop. We do use some cover crops, at our other farm, we cover crop all winter. We usually use wheat, or elbon rye, which puts
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a lot of mass into the ground when it’s tilled in, a lot of organic matter. And that soil there is sandier there than here, so it really eats up the organic matter. Rains hit it and things are just driven down through and they’re abraded and cut by all those little tiny rocks and silica and—and so organic matter is eaten up rapidly. Here, we’re more like a sandy loan, and we have a little bit more clay so things last a little longer in the soil. But—but still, I mean, it—it all needs organic matter. The cover crops up there are easy because we don’t grow in the winter there. So we just s—sow wheat or whatever and let
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it go, and then in early spring we till it under. Now here, we don’t have the luxury of fallow ground often except in the summer and at that time, it’s really difficult to get things to germinate. They—artificial things, artificial cover crops like the rye or wheat or something. It’s hard to get them to germinate and grow because they’re really not—they really want to be sown in the spring. And that’s when we got our bro—brassicas, our broccolis, our tomatoes, and all that going. So what we’ll do is kind of, because on one side, because we’re so busy, but on the other side because nature wants it this way, we allow the weeds to grow. And the weeds, that’s—they want to be there. That’s—they’re
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there, they—some of their seeds last forty years in the dirt, so you’re never going to get rid of them so you might as well say, hey, okay, we’ll leave you alone, you do your job and we know you’re going to help us out in the long run. And so we have some terrific weed fields right now because it’s—it’s June and we’ve had a lot of rain, so everything is just magnificent. The weeds are blooming, the pigweed amaranth is just going crazy, it’s
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bigger than it’s ever been. The Johnson grass is blooming, everything’s happy. Now when those hit August, they’ll start dying back and then at that time, we can mow them down and till them under and then we’ll be ready for fall planting. The weed is getting—they’re getting so tall that they have a lot of organic matter, lot of—lot of structure, lot of leaves, lot of—lot of things that will break down. Also, they have real deep roots, and those roots are going deep into the soil and they are dragging the minerals that are lodged way deep down and bringing them up to feed themselves. Well, once all that’s cut off, once all that’s plowed under, those roots, too, are going to be there loaded with this stuff.
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So that brings minerals like calcium and magnesium, things that are deep down in soil, brings them up more into the area where the next plants can use them. So that’s—that’s a bonus, we get that, we don’t have to spend a dime on any amendments, anything. All we’ll have to put in later is nitrogen, basically.
DT: So I guess there is some good that comes from weeds.
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DT: I suppose whether weed is good or bad is sort of a matter of perspective and I was wondering if you could talk about trash trees and weeds and how do you decide which is which?
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CS: Well, a weed—someone said that a weed is only a plant out of place. It’s just in the wrong area. A weed—a lot of the weeds we have here are edible. The pigweed amaranth, in it’s early stage, is edible. The lamb’s quarter, which most people consider a weed, is a dynamite vegetable. Really good in stews and stir-fry’s, mainly cooked—as a cooked greens, and it’s something that grows naturally in the summer. All of these weeds are—are natural here, they’re indigenous, so to speak. And, so even Poke Salad, which is—a lot of country folks know that you can eat Poke Salad when it first comes up in the spring. It’s a little toxic, so you’re supposed to boil it a couple of times and throw
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the water off before you eat the greens, but it—it has a lot of nutrition and it’s good for you. But all of this stuff, not only feeding you but feeding the soil is also good to shade the soil. Nature doesn’t want the ground to be uncovered. That’s really bad because you got sun baking it out, drying it up, sun is real hard on nitrogen in the soil, it just evaporates, almost. And earthworms and all the life of the soil is driven way deep down or to some other area because it can’t take the heat in the dryness. So nature will attempt to put a cover crop on, even if the farmer’s too lazy or doesn’t have time or whatever. So nature puts a cover crop on which shades, protects the moisture and then will feed the soil again, replenish. What it takes out, it will replenish. When you plant a crop like broccoli and you cut the head off and you take it away and sell it at market or eat it, you’re taking something out of the land. You’ve got to right that equation now because you’ve
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subtracted from the land and what it can do. So you’ve got to put back equal or greater than that head of broccoli. And usually we do that with the compost, but a cover crop of weeds will do the same thing. The weed will grow up six feet tall and it’s going to put all of that stuff right back into the soil because generally, we’re not going to harvest the weed. Except in the case of Lambs quarters or—it’s too late for amaranth, so we’re just working on Lambs quarters right now.
DT: You know, I’m curious when you write these e-mails, do you edit those because they have a wonderful flow to them.
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CS: I just—I just sit down and—in fact, I don’t want to edit it because that disturbs the flow. I just sit down, I—sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to write. And just one little—little seed will come into play and I just start out. And sometimes the very first of it’s kind of a little boring, you know, because I’ve got to get warmed up. And then it just starts and then it just leads one—it just kind of leads. I will go back and edit for – yeah, I did painting the same way. I’d sit at a blank canvas.
DT: You didn’t overwork things too much.
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CS: No, I went right through them and didn’t ever go back.
DT: Are you on well water or are you on city water?
00:29:03 – 2001
CS: Well, we have well water but we don’t drink it because, you know, you just never know if there’s an E. coli in it. We irrigate with it, which sounds bad now that I just told you we don’t drink it. But you know, by the time it gets down there, it’s—it’s cool.
DT: One thing I wanted to ask you about, my family’s in the cattle business in Colorado and Fayette County and we recently learned…
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CS: In Fayette County?
DT: Yeah, near Ammansville. We’re south of La Grange.
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CS: Right—it’s beautiful over there.
DT: It is nice.
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CS: I love that. If there was any other place in Texas, I’d like to live in that Columbus-La Grange area.
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CS: I think it’s beautiful.
DT: Well I’m glad. Well, we equally enjoy it. I hope sometime you can come out and see it what we’re doing. We’re trying to go the sustainable route.
DT: And it’s—it’s slow.
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CS: It’s tough.
DT: But one of the things we’ve been thinking about is that Columbus has been hauling all the municipal sludge to a landfill. And the landfill is closing in two years and we’re about two miles from Columbus in one place and we’re sort of thinking, would it be a good idea? Some people say yes, some people say no. It’s not classified sludge, so you know, I don’t know.
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CS: Does it have heavy metals in it?
DT: Well, it’s such a small town and there’s no industry there, you know, it would probably be just…
00:30:21 – 2001
CS: If some way you could have it analyzed first, a general analysis, that would be good because you just never know. I mean, a lot of things that are in it will dissipate or, you know, that are bad, will dissipate and. I mean, it’s like, people always ask us, oh, you know, these tree leaves, what about pesticides, you know they get really worked up. But the thing is that most people don’t—like the grass clippings, there—there may be some, you know, the homeowner can get out there and spray diazinon on it or something like that, malathion or whatever, and it may come here with it—with vestiges of—on it. But when it’s exposed to air and light, the sun and the water and the cooking and the heating and all that, it all goes away. Now, if we’re—if we’re talking about heavy
00:31:02 – 2001
metals, they’re not going to go away or arsenic, heavy doses of arsenic, that’s not going to go away. And so, I mean, there are—there are things and, of course, they worry about manure. The big worry now is that—and that’s one way they’re trying to bash organic farmers is saying, oh, well, they use…
00:31:29 – 2001
CS: We’ll be seeing some cucumbers that we planted on bare soil probably about three weeks ago and we waited till the plants were up a little ways, and then we came in with the leaf mold and that’s right over here and we’ve blanketed all the growing beds with this. And this will—we’re moving into summer now and so it will protect the land, protect the moisture that we have in the soil and keep the ground from being too hot and keep the leaves clean. Rainwater splashing on the—on bare ground sometimes will bring up pathogens and diseases onto the leaves and if the rainwater’s hitting mulch, then it’ll tend to go down instead of splashing up. And even if it did splash up, it’s going to be fairly clean. So all of these cucumbers now have got their bedding and this will stay with
00:32:14 – 2001
them and be broken down by the time the fruit all comes out. And they’re going to be very happy, I hope. This is our next cucumber crop, we’re urging it on.
DT: I think it’s interesting that you have crops throughout the year. Could you talk a little bit about the seasons and crops and how they vary?
00:32:31 – 2001
CS: Yes, well, we have them…
00:32:48 – 2001
CS: Okay, this one is baby amaranth, the pigweed amaranth, and it’s edible at this stage. This is bindweed, it’s also called Wild Morning Glory, and letting this grow, this will get to be six feet tall and the bindweed will wrap all around the cucumbers and just practically put a stranglehold on, so we try to get—this is the proper size to get rid of weeds but occasionally, of course, in your growing field, I mean. And, occasionally, though they’re much larger when we finally get to them so. But pulling up a weed is good for the soil, it kind of aerates the soil and then we usually just throw it down into the walking path and it becomes more compost after a while. The cucumbers, we grow
00:33:28 – 2001
several crops of cucumbers through the growing season from April—we plant them in April and usually by fall, they’re done. And then we move on to the cool weather crops which are typified by salads, spinach, anything that you—you would eat in the south in the winter, like broccoli and carrots and, oh, all kinds of greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, we do a lot of specialty greens like broccoli raab, also called rapini or broccoli rabe and mizuna. A lot of—lot of things that are supposedly good for people, a lot of things full of vitamins. There’s a theory that you should eat greens in the winter because
00:34:07 – 2001
they have a lot of Vitamin K, and Vitamin K is a blood thickener. Now people come out here in July and they want salads, they want greens, but you know, you really don’t want your blood thick, I wouldn’t think, in the summer because you’d get overheated. So, greens are for the winter in the south, and lighter things, full of water, like tomatoes and cucumbers and squashes and watermelon and other types of melons are good for the summer, to kind of cool you because of their high water content. We—we grow probably—probably about seventy-five crops during the year. All different varieties of
00:34:40 – 2001
different things, like we have several varieties of eggplant and usually several varieties of tomatoes and squashes, everything multiple varieties because they come in every shape and color and—and people want—some people want more varieties of one vegetable and so we try to give them what they want. But everything is—is predicated by the season, we don’t try to grow the brassicas, the broccolis and the cabbages in the summer because they’re not going to be happy. In fact, sometimes even in the late spring, if we’re kind of late in getting our brassica crop, the bugs will tell us that we’re a little late. This spring, for instance, we didn’t get our broccoli out when we should have, so by the time it was
00:35:21 – 2001
making its broccoli, we had a serious infestation of harlequin bugs. And this is a bug that feasts on the leaves and turns them gray, sucking the juices out of them and pretty soon they shrivel up and then they start on the heads and they—they make the little buds of the broccoli turn brown and—and so that—that head’s lost. But when you have an infestation like that, it—it usually tells you that you’ve waited too long, or you planted
00:35:46 – 2001
too early perhaps. So it’s really important to—to have good timing in farming, timing is everything. It means the difference between a good crop and a bad crop, actually. And of course, then there’s the weather, too. The weather can make the difference between a good crop or a bad crop. So.
(Speaking Spanish – 00:38:05 – 00:38:31)
00:38:37 – 2001
CS: You can see here all the organic matter that’s in this soil. Now this, I’ve forgotten now what grew here before, oh it was broccoli, we had broccoli here. We harvested the broccoli out and didn’t plant anything in it, so the weeds—as you can see the weeds are very tall. And so what—we need this bed though now, we’re going to plant, I’m not sure what, probably melons or something. But when we had the broccoli in, we mulched it with all that leaf mold and you can kind of see it, it’s a dark color and then our natural river bottom soil is the lighter brown. And so we’re trying to get the—most of the weeds.
00:39:14 – 2001
Now this is a root from Johnson grass. You leave any part of that root in there and you’re going to have Johnson grass again, but, you know, it’s impossible to get them all out. But by shoveling it up or forking it up, we’re kind of incorporating this organic matter into the dirt. Then we’ll come along with a rake and just kind of smooth it off and then we’ll plant seeds of something here, later to be determined.
DT: Carol Ann, I notice Andrea’s here and I was curious if that might be an intro to talk about some of the other people that work here and that you’ve taught about farming here. Don Socorro and, of course, your husband, Larry, and other people.
00:40:02 – 2001
CS: Right. Well, of course, we’re all learning. Larry and I are the primary workers on the farm. We put in probably at least a six—six-day week, usually ten hours a day and we learn the entire time. Our motto—our personal motto is if it works this year, don’t dare try it again next year, try something else. Because we’re—learning is part of the excitement of farming, it’s—it’s—Larry says it’s addictive because you just—you keep hoping that next time you do it a little different way, it’ll be a little better. And so you just—you do keep learning all the time. When we first started off, we had our daughter to help us, Tracy, she was still living at home here and we had just moved in and the
00:40:42 – 2001
place was head high weeds. And now, it’s kind of funny because it’s full circle, it’s head high weeds now, but it’s just because the year is different and we’ve had a lot of rain. But she helped us at first, she planted, helped us clear the fields and we planted a lot of tomatoes and things like that and she was our first helper. And then, we kept doing it ourselves, she moved out and went on to her life and we kept doing it ourselves, for
00:41:04 – 2001
probably about a year. And then our neighbor leaned across the fence and said, you know, this lady here, she used to work in the orange fields in Florida and she picked strawberries and she tended strawberries and she did all that and she’s—she has experience and she’d like to work for you. And, so Andrea came over the fence and I said, well, you know, it’s really hard work. It was May 31st is when we first met, and I said, it’s really hard work. And she said, (Spanish), doesn’t matter to her, she’s worked hard all her life. So I said, oh, well, okay, well come on. And we worried about whether we could pay her or not, but she said she’d work cheap. So she worked cheap for a
00:41:42 – 2001
couple of months, then I raised her, raised her wages because she was a Godsend. She was just always there, always on time, and willing to do whatever it took, like right now she’s back here digging up a bed that was choked with weeds and we’re going to be planting something new in it real soon. And so she works like a man but also works like a woman. We do salads together in the winter and she’s a—she’s my main harvester on the greens, she does all the bunches of greens that we display in the market and just everything. We clean the salad shed together, we—we do whatever, we sort tomatoes, anything. And she—she was our first employee and she’s been with us five years now. And then we had a—a couple of men that would come and cycle in and out from another family that lived across the street, Mexican folks. And they—one guy we had was real good but he got a job in Fort Worth driving trucks and so who could—who could blame him. A man driving trucks, that’s—how could we—how could we compete with that lure? So he left, and we thought, oh, what are you going to do now because you get used
00:42:44 – 2001
to these—this help, you build up to it. You have the help, you expand. So we thought, well, we’re—we’re sunk now. And then, the very next morning this little old man shows up, tiny little fellow, weighs maybe ninety pounds, skinny, short, dyes his hair black, and I thought, who is this? Well, his name was Don Socorro Panne Agua. Which means in English, Joe Help Bread and Water. We thought, well, can you—can you do this kind of work? He says, senora, I’ve been doing this work for 55 years, I mean, I’ve been doing it all my life. I’ve chopped cotton, I’ve done grapevines, I’ve done it all. Yes, I can do it.
00:43:23 – 2001
And so we said, well, okay, show up tomorrow and so, he came and he’s been with us now 3 ½ years. And the thing that we see about these folks is they’re not real fast, but they’re real steady. They start early, early in the morning and they just chip away all day long. Just chip, chip, chip. None of this burst of energy, burst of strength and get it done fast, because those types of people usually play out. But they just keep going at it, just steady pace all the time. And they do great work and they—they have a work ethic and it—they’re just fabulous. So they’ve been with us for a long time and we hope that they’ll continue, of course. And Don Socorro, he gets—he’s 75 now, so in the heat of the
00:44:06 – 2001
summer, he goes back to Mexico and in the cool of the winter, when it’s really cold, he goes back. And he’s got his own little rancho in Guanajuato, and lives a life of luxury down there, I guess. And then when we’ve—when we’re really out of control with the weeds over our heads, he’s back. His specialty is cleaning out beds. What—and Andrea and I joke about it that when he’s gone, we have to do it, as she’s doing now. We really
00:44:27 – 2001
prefer for Don Socorro to do it. And so then also through the years, we’ve—we’ve—I mean, two help—two helpers is not enough. So—but their families are large, and so rather than hire people that we don’t know anything about, we hire out of their families because they’re all—they’ve all done agricultural work and they all have that same work ethic. So that’s where we get our extra help that’s paid labor. And right now, we have a fellow named Lupe, who—he and his wife, Maria Luisa, are up with Larry at the other farm. They’re smoke drying tomatoes and harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers and hard squash and putting in long grueling hours everyday there. And he’s an excellent worker,
00:45:08 – 2001
he’s about 62 years old, and kind of walks with a limp so we joke that we only—we only hire the infirm and the ancient here. As we are, so it’s a happy family of people like that. But occasionally—and this was always—this was a real surprise to us in the early days, people would call us on the phone or come out to farm stand and—and ask us, very timidly sometimes, do you ever take volunteers? And after we got over our shock, of course, we said, yes, naturally. And they said—we said, why do you want to volunteer? And they said, well, we just want to learn, we want to learn how to grow organically or how to grow something, period. And some of them would say, I just need to get my
00:45:49 – 2001
hands in the dirt, I just need that contact. I work in an office all day long or I’m a student and I’m under florescent lights all the time and everything’s clean and it’s—everything’s antiseptic and I just need to get dirty, I need to sweat. And we—well, we’ve got it, come on. So they—people come out. Now typically it’s in the nicer, more temperate
00:46:10 – 2001
times of the year, it’s in spring or—or fall. We get very few requests for that in July or August, February’s a slow month, too, on volunteer help. But they come out and we’re congratulated all the time about having all this free labor. And, of course, nothing is really truly free, and we try to make it an—an even exchange, we—we give them vegetables, of course. They can go out and harvest what they want, or we have things left over from market they can really score a big haul that way. And then they, of course, they get the lessons, they get the education. And it’s a—it’s a curious thing that we
00:46:45 – 2001
found that the ones who stay the longest really learn the most because some of the lessons take an entire season. You know, they may get in on the point of planting the seed in the—in the pots and—and watching the transcran—transplants grow and watering them and fertilizing them and then planting them out in the field. But if they leave then, they’ve missed a lot of the lesson. They’ve missed the mid-season fertilization, they’ve missed the mulching, they’ve missed the harvest, they’ve missed the pulling the plants out or tilling them under and starting the—getting the bed ready for the next—next generation of plants. So it’s better if an intern or a volunteer can stay for at least a
00:47:20 – 2001
season, but usually summer intrudes or—or winter comes around and it kind of cuts short the lessons. But as far as—as far as us teaching them, it’s—it does cost us something to teach. Because we’re—generally, we’re not chiefs, we don’t just walk around ordering people to do things, we’re Indians also, and we—we’re right in there with the—the—the fork or the shovel or the planting or whatever, we’re right in there with them. And so,
00:47:50 – 2001
sometimes we’ll be doing a project that’s really intense or maybe we haven’t done it before and we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do. And somebody will come up and say, okay, I’ve finished that, now what do I do. Oh, okay, well, we don’t want them standing idly, so we have to stop what we’re doing and go show them something else to do, whatever. By that time, we’ve forgotten what we were doing, and so by the time we get back, I mean, we may have noticed a crisis along the way and we never get back to what we were doing. So it—it does—it is an intensive type of situation where you’ve got to have something for your interns to do and you have to have the time and
00:48:20 – 2001
the dedication to teach them something, because that’s part of the bargain, they’re wanting that knowledge. So, and we take it seriously because they do do a lot of labor for us and we’re grateful.
DT: Do you think that they take home any lessons beyond how to farm and maybe more, larger picture about natural cycles and natural systems?
00:48:45 – 2001
CS: Well, a lot of things and…
00:49:50 – 2001
CS: Let’s see, where were we?
DT: Just talking about larger lessons.
00:49:52 – 2001
CS: Oh the, oh—well, one thing we do and Larry told me—he remembered—he grew up in kind of farming, ranching type situation in a little town near our other farm, and he said that, and I can’t remember her name, but some lady there that used to hire seasonal workers. She’d always feed them a big meal at—at lunch, big, giant harvest table full of food, all kinds of stuff, she’d spend all morning cooking. And that’s one of the perks that we do here for our interns, every lunch we put on the feed. And I’ll come in about 11:30 or so and start cooking and it’s everything out of the field and homemade bread and so we all sit around and eat. And a lot of them are young students and this is probably the
00:50:32 – 2001
best meal they’re—they’re going to have all week. And some of them, I think, probably come partially, or maybe majorly for the meal because they’re living alone and, you know, when you live alone, you don’t tend to do that much cooking. So we talk about everything at those lunches, all the business of farming, the larger social issues, the—eating seasonally, the—just everything about it. And—and I think they—you know, in addition to the fertilization techniques and cultivation techniques, I think they pick up some information on how it is to be almost 55 years old and doing this ridiculous labor and—and—but the joy that can be found in that. And I think they pick up that we really love what we’re doing, and most of them are in their 20’s and so I think it’s nice for them to see that maybe there is some joy to be found in—in a profession that is close to the
00:51:24 – 2001
earth and is kind of looked down upon by much of the world. Because dirt farmers are manual labor or whatever. And, but I think they can see that even though we’re tired, and we’re sweaty and we’re hot or whatever, we’re still ready to—to go back out there after lunch. And, I mean, it’s got to be done, and so they see a dedication to it and they see the work ethic and they see these other folks working and I think it’s good for them to see that. So, they may not realize they’re getting that little extra training, but they are. And one—one fellow that comes out here three days a week, he said, you know, since I’ve
00:51:59 – 2001
been coming out here and eating and working and since October, he says, my complexion’s cleared up, I feel stronger and—and, you know, so there’s byproducts to this type of experience that they get. And here comes a plane.
DT: The difference between a commercial farmer and yourselves or between a small gardener and yourselves. It seems like you’re in that in-between.
00:52:23 – 2001
CS: We’re in that in-between, yes, definitely. You know, it’s kind of like we’re a—in a way using small gardener methods, I mean, let’s—you can’t get any more small gardener than what she’s doing right there. And…
DT: Why don’t you use a rototiller here?
00:52:39 – 2001
CS: Well, we’re trying to get—now she’s—she really needs to be doing the fork, but people get set in their ways. If she was using the pitchfork, the—or the spading fork, she could get in and loosen the ground and she’d get up the whole roots. (Spanish) She says because this way she gets the roots.
DT: Roots, too.
00:53:06 – 2001
CS: But that’s what we’re trying—most of that’s nut grass in there and it has that nut underground and then it sends over a root that way and sends up another spire.
DT: Nut grass and Johnson grass.
00:53:18 – 2001
CS: I’m really glad she’s on the film because usually everybody wants to film Don Socorro. Because he’s really picturesque. In any—any newspaper thing or something, they always want a picture of him. There’s a few closet professors over there, though.
DT: They have to be quiet, I guess.
00:55:31 – 2001
(Female) These are cucumbers over here?
00:55:32 – 2001
(Female) So they’re just there for the end of the crop, not worth the effort?
00:55:36 – 2001
CS: Well, this is—this was very new ground right here and we had that—they were planted during that heat wave so they really never did perform well and they never did grow big and so it was just kind of a bad use of the land and it was hard to keep it weeded and whatnot. And we picked a little bit off of it, but we had such a tremendous crop coming in from the other farm on cucumbers that it was not worth the effort. So now we’re just letting it…
00:56:00 – 2001
CS: The hibiscus bloom of the okra. It’s in the hibiscus family. I think it’s one of the most beautiful plants that we grow, okra. I don’t p—personally like okra, I don’t eat it, I’ll eat it raw sometimes, and it’s good raw but I’m not a big fan of okra but I love to grow okra because it’s visually so stunning in the field. Th—the leaves are, I mean, they’re the size of tractor seats and so it’s—it’s beautiful to grow, it’s in the hibiscus family so the flowers are beautiful and the people who love okra, they are true lovers, they just go nuts for it. So it’s something that’s real easy to sell and you feel real good selling it.
DT: Well, I know you painted artworks for twenty-odd years. Can you talk a little bit about the connection you have between your love of beauty and farming?
00:56:59 – 2001
CS: Well, if I was painting right now.
DW: I’d love to hear about the (?)
DW: Actually, if you want to talk about okra.
00:57:24 – 2001
00:57:47 – 2001
CS: Okay. This is all okra here and I love okra because of the beauty. It’s in the hibiscus family so the flowers, when they come out, are extremely gorgeous. Pale yellow petals with a kind of a magenta throat and they’re—they’re gorgeous, the bees love them, and of course, the bees are needed to pollinate them so that we get the okra pods.
00:58:26 – 2001
CS: Well the flowers are beautiful and…
DW: Well, let’s start from scratch. We’re in the okra.
00:58:32 – 2001
CS: We’re in the okra patch right now and the thing I love about okra is its beauty. The flowers, of course—the okra’s in the hibiscus family so the flowers are much like a hibiscus with the pale yellow flowers, very delicate, it’s very soft and magenta throats. And then, of course, the okra pod itself is a—is a thing of beauty. This happens to be a spineless variety that a lot of people favor because it’s not so itchy. But the main thing I like about okra is the large leafs, they’re as large as tractor seats when they’re young and vigorously growing. And they—they cover the soil real well, they protect it from drying out, they protect it from weed invasion just—just because they’re so impermeable,
00:59:12 – 2001
they’re just everywhere. We do have to kind of trim they up because we plant our okra real close because this is a real intensively planted farm, so we have to get in here and cut some of these leaves off just to be able to get through it to pick the okra. And also that allows more sunlight to come in to give us the beautiful blossoms and the lovely fruit. Okra’s down side is that it itches a lot. If you come in here with bare arms, bare legs, or whatever, you’ll be running for the water and soap pretty fast. So we always suit up, long sleeve shirts, gloves, long pants, anything, just to—just to keep our contact with the plant itself to a minimum. But, you know, if you do happen to get out here and pull a few pods
00:59:52 – 2001
and get a little itchy, you can—you can get it all—all to itch off with soap and water, it’s not something that’s going to hang around like poison ivy or anything. But we grow a lot of okra in the summer. People who hate it aren’t happy about that, but people who love it are deliriously happy. And a true okra lover will do—drive anywhere, go…
01:00:19 – 2001
CS: A true okra lover will drive any distance and pay any price to get fresh okra. Because in the grocery store, usually the okra’s been hanging around, kind of resting disconsolately for quite a few days, and exposure to air and the dryness of a grocery store will typically turn it black. So to get really fresh okra, grow it yourself or buy it from a farm stand or farmer’s market because there’s nothing like fresh okra picked that morning from the field.
01:01:48 – 2001
CS: And so see this is Thursday, we’ll probably go through it again Friday afternoon, maybe even Saturday morning one more time, but get them anywhere from here to about here. You’ll see ones on the ground that are too big. Come in that and tie them up and put them in the cooler, if I’m not around. I probably will be around by then, I’ll probably be out there picking okra with you.
01:02:20 – 2001
CS: You know, we didn’t talk about the interns that actually get college credit, we also—like David. We also have those. There’s a Geography Professor at UT that we’ve had…
End of Reel 2001
DT: We’re filming now in a farmhouse that was built in the 1840’s, I believe. I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about the tradition of farming and what you might have learned to do from the Franklin’s and the Smith’s and the people who were here in the past and how farming has changed over the years.
DT: We’re filming right now inside a farmhouse that was built during the 1840’s. Could you tell us a little bit about what we’ve learned from how farmers cultivated the land 150 years ago and what we’ve done differently over the years and where things stand now?
01:45 – 2002
CAS: Well in our research, we have learned a little bit about what they did for their—even for their reasons to come to Texas. The family, the James and Elizabeth Smith family, came here in 1838 from North Carolina. They were tobacco, cotton, corn and wheat farmers there. And they saw the opportunity with many hundreds of other farmers to come to new territory, new land. And one of the reasons they wanted to come was because the
02:10 – 2002
CAS: land in North Carolina and Georgia and Tennessee was technically worn out. The farmers didn’t practice much in the way of crop rotation there. At—at the time when they started farming, land was plentiful. And you—you exhausted the land, you just moved to another patch. So they saw Texas as a great big new opportunity for new fertile ground that had not ever been farmed. So they came here and in 1839 they bought this—this out lot, this property, along with three others and that comprised a 50 acre farm. We’re just—where we’re sitting right now, we’re one mile north of the Colorado River and so we’re actually in the Colorado River bottom, the valley. And a few blocks north, the hills begin and you lose this great topsoil. But down here, we have true sandy loam soil and, of course, it was constructed over the millennium by the flooding of the Boggy Creek which is across the street from us and the Colorado River itself. And it’s true sandy loam, it’s a pH of about 7. And it’s wonderful soil. They came here and they grew the same crops that they grew in North Carolina, tobacco, wheat, cotton and corn, basically. And they kept cattle and hogs and did—did some of that, little—little bit of ranching. They also had hundreds of acres to the east. We’re not sure yet what they did with that land but we know that they did farm this pretty intensively. Newspapers at the time remarked upon the great yields they were getting here, like 29 bushels of wheat per acre which was—back then without hybridization, without—without powerful fertilizers, was good but this was new ground. So we have learned from reading old letters from John Franklin Smith, the son, to trying to get his cousin to come here and find a good man, that one of the reasons that the people came was because the soil was worn out in the south. And so we thought well, that means that we’ve got to do things differently.
04:08 – 2002
CAS: We don’t have another amount of land to move onto. We’ve got to take care of this land. We’ve got to nurture it, nurture the soil as well as the crops because we can’t just flip over to the next 50 acres. We’ve got 5 acres here and that’s it. So, for that reason, we practice a lot of crop rotation. We won’t plant the same crop succeeding that crop for at least a year, sometimes longer. We—we grow a lot of different varieties here so it’s rather complex but we always remember somehow that we did—we had broccoli or brassica, like collards—collards or cabbage or brussels sprouts in one place and we don’t plant that the next season there. We always move over a little bit.
DT: What’s the point of rotating crops?
04:50 – 2002
CAS: Well, the point of…
DT: If you could tell a little bit more about crop rotation…
05:13 – 2002
CAS: Okay. Well, a certain crop has different requirements, from the soil, from the season, and everything, certain diseases that are pertinent to it and nutrient necessities. So if you grow broccoli in one spot and you turn around and put broccoli right back in there, if
05:29 – 2002
CAS: there was a disease beginning with the first broccoli crop, it’s really going to be thrilled that you planted broccoli again and it’ll take hold and really run wild. Same thing for insect pests. If the harlequin bugs were just beginning to get your first broccoli crop and you turn around and put another broccoli crop right in behind it, they’re going to eat it up before it even has a chance to—to grow. So for—for that reason, you would want to rotate. You would want to put something that is very dissimilar to broccoli, like lettuce. Lettuce is a great one because it has very few pests. The harlequin bugs don’t care for lettuce so you would follow broccoli with a lettuce perhaps. The roots aren’t as deep. It needs different things. It takes less room, or whatever, many reasons but you always want to follow an unlike crop—follow with an unlike crop. If we’ve got okra in one spot, we’re not going to put okra there the next season. But mainly it’s because of diseases and pests that you want to rotate, and nutrients. Certain plants take certain things from the soil. If you follow with the same crop, it’s going to deplete that nutrient but if you have something else that’s totally different, it will use different things from the soil so that you don’t tire your soil out. It’s more of a balanced—you’re going to deplete it but it’s more balanced. And then you’ll feed it with compost or a cover crop after those and then everything will be restored, hopefully, to the harmony that the next crop needs. But the—the early settler, I don’t think they quite understood that. They—they were there to get the most out the soil they could. Now—now they—they may have used manure. We don’t really too much about what they used. They—they had cattle so they may have put the cattle manure back on the fields. And they did—they were growing different types of crop. Tobacco and corn have different requirements. Wheat and cotton and so forth,
07:14 – 2002
CAS: have different requirements. So there was a certain rotation but they did have the luxury of having a lot of land so they could still move onto the next piece when things were looking bad. But they came here and they flourished. They were wealthy people by any standard. This house is built of cypress. It’s a Greek revival house. The siding outside is cypress. Of course, it’s square nails. The roof was shingles. They were hand—hand-made on the spot. We found part of an old shingle shaping tool that would cut the shingles from the—from a log. They had an outdoor kitchen because, in Texas, it’s hot in the summer and so you don’t want a fireplace stove or a fireplace used as a stove to heat up the house. And there’s the danger of fire. If you have an open fire burning all the time, you have more danger of fire in the house. So they built this house, it’s—by Austin standards at the time, it was very luxurious. Most of the houses in the Austin area in the 1840’s were log cabins or single—single walled plank construction. And this house is double walled. It was lath and plaster inside. Had—had two chimneys, has two chimneys, four fireplaces. Wide boards for the floor boards and an outside kitchen. The—they also had a house in Bastrop. They were people of means. Had a house in Bastrop, two lots there and he was a founder of Montopolis which is a community just right across the river from here. And his partners and he wanted it to be the capitol of Texas but the favor swung to Austin. Austin itself, the city, was just 2 ½ miles to the west of—up the river, up the Colorado from here. And so everything was perking along great for the Smith’s in 1840’s. They had 19 slaves and did a big business selling their goods in the city. There were about 400 farmers in Austin in that time. Very few lawyers, incidentally, just a few, but a lot of farmers. That was the main occ—
09:16 – 2002
CAS: occupation. There were printers. There were doctors. The person who bought the French legation in the early ‘40’s was Dr. Joseph Robertson. He was the family doctor for this—for the Smith family. They did have slaves. We’re not sure exactly where the slave cabins were. We do know the names of the slaves and, ironically, what their economic value was from old papers that we’ve researched. But in 1845, Mr. Smith was mortally wounded from a gunshot wound probably in the stomach, delivered to him by his overseer. We don’t know anything more about that except that the family had to pay to have Mr. Baker prosecuted and we don’t anything more about him at that point. But James Smith died after 4 days and he left no written will. So he had a deathbed will. It was witnessed by Ann Burleson and C.L. Wing and the Dr. Robertson. And in this will, this deathbed will, he gave 400 acres to his eldest son who was his son by a prior marriage and this caused a great deal of concern because the widow said that he shouldn’t have gotten that 400 acres and a couple of slaves, incidentally also. So they had a little bit of a lawsuit going on for the next few years. And because there was no written will, they had to have estate sales out here. And so all of that stuff is in the files. We researched and found his original—original probate package and it was—he was the death—the 78th death to be probated in Travis County. So all of that’s in the archives with the Austin History Center and the Austin—the Barker Center at UT. And when we were researching at the Barker Center, we discovered the letters written by John Franklin Smith and a daughter, Elizabeth Smith—not Elizabeth—oh Mary Elizabeth, Mary Elizabeth Smith, yes. And they were writing to this cousin that lived in Tennessee begging her to come. And they were begging her to leave the worn out states and come
11:15 – 2002
CAS: find a good man here because all the good men were here because of the good farmland. So all of this is there and they told about their life here. About how James told—John Franklin told about riding behind his dad going to Austin and they were surprised by Indians. Cause it’s 2 ½ miles to Austin and the Indians were still kind of angry that the settlers had taken Barton Springs and taken over the Colorado River and taken over the big hill where the French legation is and all these other places that they used to frequent. And so they were attacking and James and John Franklin made it home and he—he said that the house here was like a fortress. It had a barricade built around it of cedar posts for Indian attack. But he said they never lost any animals and they didn’t ever—were never injured themselves. But he wrote about this in a letter to his cousin trying to encourage her to come. And one would think, why in the world would she want to. It sounded like a dangerous place. But after the death of James, things changed for the family. They still farmed here but they had to move into the town because she had—she had just—she just delivered a baby eight months after his death. And so they moved into town and ironically stayed in the same house that the French Ambassador, (French name?), had stayed. And that was where they had the famous pig war in downtown Austin which—which is one of the famous pieces of early Austin history. There was a man named Bullock who had a hotel at 6th and Congress and he was upset but he was—he kept pigs and (French name?) was upset because he had a dog trap—dog trot house, a log cabin type and the pigs were just running through it all the time. And a pig was killed and Bullock was upset and so they were trying to get the French Ambassador thrown out of Austin and letters were written to the Secretary of State about it and all this. And
13:06 – 2002
CAS: Elizabeth happened to live in this house after all this happened. She also owned a complete city block near the capitol, block 119. So she—she inherited a lot of stuff and—and she had three daughters, one son and then James by the prior marriage had a—two sons. One of which went on to become a judge. And after that, the various children tried to farm here. Of course, the civil war interrupted and John Franklin served in the army. He was stationed in Galveston and he wrote letters to the—to the cousin from Galveston describing how it was in Galveston during those times. And then after the war, he came back and tried to farm here and wrote about how hard it was because he had now no laborers. He had—he didn’t have enough equipment, he didn’t have enough mules. And so we—we hear a little bit about how it was during the hard times following the war when the—the money was worthless and foreign power was in the office and so forth. But then finally, Elizabeth was nearing the—the end of her life. She died at about the age of 65. And she gave the property—this—this homestead to her daughter, Mary Elizabeth who had married James Matthews’ son and then she passed it to her son, Eric Matthews, in about 1885. And then he sold it to somebody else shortly afterwards. I guess he didn’t want to farm. And it went through a couple of owners until the Spence family bought it. And they bought it in 1902 and they farmed it or else rented it out until about 1935 or so and the daughter, Bertha Spence Linscomb(?) bought it. She and her husband and they ran cattle. We have an old photo of them out to the side of the house with—with their cows. And they kept it pretty much intact and probably it—it started being reduced in size in about the 1850—1950’s. And then it was different parcels were sold—sold off. The Gold Valley Elementary School sits on part of the land. The railroad track cuts across part of the land. And now subdivision is all around it and there’s house lots and houses and paving and concrete everywhere and no more farming. But during the century, especially in the—up to about the ‘50’s, this was all truck farming over here. There are little wells all over the place, little 25 foot hand dug wells tapping into the aquifer or the river bottom water that’s right under ground about 20 feet. So it’s perfect, good soil, deep soil, perfect acidity and plenty of water. And they say that the first commercial spinach came out of this area and was shipped northward. They washed it in the springs up at Oak Springs. Now, of course, those springs don’t run anymore but, at that time, it was good, cool water and they washed the spinach and packed it into railroad cars and sent it out north. And, even today, we grow excellent spinach here. It’s one of our premiere crops. The flavor is nutty and just full of life and unlike any spinach you’ll ever find in a grocery store.
DT: Can you talk about how your role as farmers have diverged from the conventional farming?
16:36 – 2002
CAS: Well the Smiths, of course, farmed with mules. And they had plenty of labor. It was costly labor, in a sense, because all—everything costs. But they—we farm more like them I’d say except—and Larry has threatened to get a mule because he’s—he’s driven mules before and he’s—they know right where to step. They’re just excellent for plowing and such. But it’s—it’s difficult being a small farmer because the—the economy scale is not there. You can’t have the giant tractors. You don’t have the giant piece of land. A
17:07 – 2002
CAS: conventional farmer generally is not going to make it in this day and age unless he’s got about 500 acres or more because then he can’t compete either. A lot of the agriculture is sifting to—shifting to other countries where labor is very cheap. For instance, the minimum wage in Mexico is about $5.00 a day. And we pay our folks more than that per hour. And so it’s hard even for the conventional farmers in the—in the United States to compete with that because their labor is very costly. But tend—they tend to be more—not necessarily farmers, more manufacturers or they’re driving big machines and they’re growing two or three crops at the most and hundreds and hundreds of acres for—of those crops. And the image is rarely that they ever step onto the land. Their shadow is not cast on the land unless they had to get down to fix the tractor for some reason. They’re high above it in air conditioned cabs with CD’s playing and—and all that and—and so they say that the best fertilizer for a garden is a farmer’s shadow and that’s—that—all you’re getting there is a big machine shadow. But they’re having to worry about commodity markets and the price of—wholesale price for things and it’s cents per bushel and it’s—it’s tough. And they’ve got such a heavy equipment load. These tractors can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the big ones. And all of the machinery they use. Nothing is by hand. All the cultivation is by machine, the transplanting, the harvesting, the culling, the disking, everything’s by machine. And, of course, if you’re using machines, if you can afford the interest payments and all that, it is cheaper than labor—the hand labor to do that on such a large scale. So that’s one reason the food is so cheap in the market place for the—for the retail customer because they are using machinery instead of people. And they—the—the problem is though that they are farming on credit.
18:57 – 2002
CAS: They’re going and making the big bank loan and they’re bearing all that—the risk of paying that back if things don’t work, of course, they also have crop insurance if things don’t work that they can collect on. But it—it really never gets them totally out of the hole. They’re still going from year to year and hoping that next year they’ll make a killing and pay all that back and everything will be right with the world. Our—our answer to that is we can’t afford those big machines and they would be ridiculous on this small plot anyway and the big machines are not good for the land. They’re very—extremely heavy. They compact the soil. They destroy the soil life and that’s contrary to our whole philosophy of protecting the soil. So instead of taking out big bank loans we—we bought our little tractor that we use infrequently. We bought it for cash cause our philosophy is, to be a small farmer, you better not have any debt, none at all. We don’t ever go to the bank and borrow money. We may not be able to pay it back. Our answer though to our—our—our safety net is to grow so many different varieties of crops that if some of them fail, some of them will make. The big farmer, if he farms only corn and he loses the crop to hail or whatever, that’s it. That’s it. Crop insurance is going to cover his cost but that’s it. He’ll have to borrow money the next year and—and do it again. But we grow so many things that this way if we lose our endive, well, we don’t have endive this season, you know, that’s just the way it is. Everybody will get over it and we’ll have radicchio instead. Or escarole or lettuce or something else like that. And it seems like it all just kind of evens out. I mean, we wouldn’t know what to do if everything made. You know, we would just be—it would be too much. So we do—we have the diversity. That’s our—our safety net. And we tend the crops and we don’t get
20:45 – 2002
CAS: in debt. We tend the crops by hand mostly with hoes and small tillers and—and shovels and pitchforks and stuff like that and no debt. Everything’s—when we got into this, when we found this land in 1992, we thought well, we can farm here. We already had our other farm but it was 75 miles away, not close to markets and we thought well, this is near the market. Maybe the market will come to us or we can go quickly to the grocery store to deliver the goods without it wilting on the way. And so we—we thought well, we’ve got probably enough savings to live very simply for two years without earning a dime. And we’ll just do this. It’ll be an experiment. If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to go get a job. We’ll have a nice place to live but we’ll have to get a job. So that’s what we did. And within six months, the farm was paying its own way. Now we weren’t making any money but the farm, all of the seed costs, all the machinery repair, everything that we needed to do what we were doing was paying its own way. And we started very small. We started with probably an area about 200 feet long by probably 100 feet wide, very small. And the first—the first spring that we had a crop was the spring of ’93 and we grew a lot of lettuce and we were selling it to Whole Foods. Heads of lettuce, beautiful lettuce. We would rush it down there real fast. Within an hour of picking it, it would be washed and we’d rush it down there and then we’d—we’d go back, they’d put it in the cooler, we’d go back the next day and it wouldn’t be out. And we’d go back the next day, it wouldn’t be out. And finally we said to one of the produce guys, hey—hey, you know, we—we killed ourselves to get this lettuce down to the store within an hour of picking and three days later it’s not out on the floor. What’s the deal? Did you sell it in five minutes or is it—what happened? He said, well hey, I tell you what, you know, we
22:34 – 2002
CAS: got all this California lettuce here that’s traveled many a mile and it’s several weeks old and if we put your lettuce out next to this lettuce, we’ll have to throw this California lettuce away because the comparison is too intense. It’s too great a contrast. So we got to wait till yours gets a little age on it and we got to wait until we’ve gotten rid of a lot of that stuff and then we’ll put yours out. And so they did and it didn’t look quite as good as when we brought it in. But we learned a big lesson that that’s—that’s the kind of delay even local produce can have when it goes wholesale into a grocery store. And it was—it was kind of a—a sobering thought to us. We picked a little bit less quickly after that.
DT: Austin has been incredible for alternative grocery stores. Your experience has been with the growth of these alternative grocery stores?
23:38 – 2002
CAS: Sure, well we started selling to Whole Foods in 1993 when they had their first little store over on Lamar and we’ve had generally wonderful experience selling to them because they are a—a big proponent of local agriculture and especially organic. So, by and large, the experience has been very good. There are several angles to that. I mean, we’ve had some problems like the lettuce and one—one time a few years back, I was taking Japanese eggplant and now I realize that this produce guy really didn’t know too much about what he was doing but he—he would go through my box of Japanese eggplant and feel every one as if he was searching for one that was soft or something. I was getting a
24:21 – 2002
CAS: little annoyed, you know, he was just standing there, not saying anything, feeling every eggplant. And I’m thinking well this is my integrity on the line here. You know, this stuff has just been picked. I don’t know what you’re searching for but it’s not rotten. But, I mean, I got over that, you know, but it kind of insulted me a little bit. But everything generally is very good. They’re—they’re very responsive. They’ll call us up when they need something which is—which is nice because you—it’s hard to just guess. Of course, they’re so close to us, they’re just a six or seven minute drive that we’re in there all the time checking on our stuff and maybe pulling something that doesn’t look too good after a few days or whatever. But, as they’ve grown, we’ve grown and we’ve sold a lot of produce to them over the years. Wheatsville [Co-op] we sold to for about one year but there was another farmer in Dripping Springs that we were good friends with and they were selling a lot to Wheatsville and we were selling mainly to Whole Foods and another little grocery store called Fresh Plus, over on West Lynn. And Fresh Plus and Wheatsville were about the same type of market as far as what volume they could handle. So we kind of made a gentleman agreement between the—between us two farmers that they would handle Wheatsville and we would handle Fresh Plus because we were growing the same stuff. We were growing what grows here. And so it would be butting our heads together unnecessarily. So that’s kind of what we did and then when Central Market came online, they said well we’ll take Central Market, y’all stay with Whole Foods. We said, that sounds great to us because we’re kind—we’re the kind that once we’ve been brought to the dance, we’ll leave with the same partner, you know. We just wanted to stick with what we already knew. We already made our relationships and they were ready to go and
25:52 – 2002
CAS: forge a new one with Central Market. So we—we’ve done that through the years and we’ve—we’ve pretty well stayed with Fresh Plus and Whole Foods on the grocery stores. There is, however, for a small farmer, the situation or the question of whether to sell retail or wholesale. The big farmers all sell wholesale, less than wholesale. I mean, you hear them—hear them getting thirteen cents a bushel for something in the grocery store that’s going to be two dollars a pound and you just can’t imagine, how can they even make it. And, of course, it’s because it’s such great volume. Well a little farmer can’t do that, can’t play that game. And a little farmer, especially a little organic farmer, where the labor is so expensive because so much of it is manual labor, to weed and so forth, really can’t afford to sell wholesale. Only when we have great depth in something like right now we have tons of tomatoes so we’re selling tomatoes wholesale to—to Whole Foods. And we have a lot of potatoes so the potatoes are going there but if we just have a little bit of something, we always save that for our farm stand, our customers that come here to the farm, who make the trek over here to the east side of town. We save the best for them or anything that’s in short supply is saved for them and only if we have a great depth or great quantity do we take it wholesale. Because, at some point, growing and selling wholesale, you’re breaking even. I mean, it’s just a way to get rid of the produce and, of course, we consider also a form of promotion because Whole Foods will put our name on the sign and people want our produce in there because they’ve been out the farm but maybe they can’t come out here so they want the—the convenience of picking it up in the grocery store. So Whole Foods will put that it’s grown by us and maybe even have a few photos of the farm there and—and even, at times, will have maps to the farm so
27:36 – 2002
CAS: people can come out and see the—see the farm and buy it really fresh. And they’re willing to do that because it’s—it’s good for them, it’s good PR for them. It shows very physically that they support local agriculture and it’s good for us because then people will eventually come out here and buy from us at a higher price than what we would get from the store. And that makes it all possible. The customers that come out here, over and over they tell us, thank you for growing this food for them. And it really touches us. But our—we feel equally grateful to them that they come out and get it and pay a big price for us and never complain about the price, incidentally. I think that the people that come out here realize, they’re educated types, they realize that it’s fresh and it’s organic and it really shouldn’t be the same price that produce in any grocery store is, even produce in Whole Foods which is known to have high prices.
(couldn’t hear question because of plane)
DT: What does local agriculture mean to sustainable agriculture?
29:21 – 2002
CAS: Well, you know, you can easily go to grocery store and buy all the food that you ever would want. It’s available year ‘round. If you want figs, I mean, they’re year around. If you want cherries, if you want squash year ‘round, it’s there. Now it may have come two thousand miles or it may have come six thousand miles. I mean, they’re getting apples from New Zealand. Even Central Market had eggs from New Zealand. They were seven dollars and something per six but it was the idea of eating eggs that were laid in New Zealand, I guess. I don’t know how old they were but, you know, they couldn’t have been that fresh. But so much of our food does come, especially from Mexico and further south and it’s cheap because, as we said, the wages there are real cheap, the land is cheap and everything just cheap. The point of eating this food or the—the bad thing about eating this food is you don’t know what’s been sprayed on it. Even—even so-called organic agriculture in another country, may or may not be what you’re used to or what you think organic agriculture should be. It’s hard for—for the over—oversight people to monitor that. They do have inspections but it’s usually just once a year. Lot—a lot can happen that other 364 days of the year to that land. A lot of the people in foreign countries can’t read English. All the fertilizers and—and amendments are coming generally from up here and they’re in English and they can’t read English and sometimes can’t read Spanish. So—and they’re the ones putting it on. So we don’t know what’s happening on the crops down there. But aside from incidental poisoning of the food supply, there’s the problem that the food is—is aged. They harvest it one week and it spends time in a warehouse down there, it gets on a train or a—or a truck and spends a week in transport. It goes to a distributor. It—it languishes there for maybe two or three
31:12 – 2002
CAS: days until the distributor sells it to the store. It goes to the grocery store. Maybe it stays overnight at least in the cooler, maybe two or three days because they’ve got to move some other produce out first. And then finally, it’s on the shelf. And Mrs. Jones comes along and thinks that this wilted chard is the way it should be. This is the way it looks. So she buys it, takes it home and feeds it to her family and everybody thinks oh, we’re getting our five vegetables a day. Well why are we so tired? Why don’t we have any energy? Well, we need some supplements then and so we have this great, huge, burgeoning market of supplements, vitamins, power drinks, all kinds of potions and liquids and pills to take to give us the vim and vigor that we should be getting from our food. And why is that? It’s organic produce that she bought. Why isn’t she getting it? Because it’s old, it’s dead and it should have been buried a long time ago. But instead it’s in the grocery store and everybody’s eating it. Now the remedy for that is to buy locally, to buy from farmers that live in your environment, that grow the produce in land that is near you and maybe it only travels a mile or two at most to get to the store. Lot of the stores will permit farmers to come directly to the store and sell it to the back door instead of selling it to a distributor first where it will languish. And so, generally, produce in the grocery store, if you’re lucky you can get there on the day it was delivered and if you’re lucky that they had time to put it out, that’s going to be the freshest a lot of people will get. Of course, better than that, would be to go to a farmer’s market where the produce was probably picked within 24 hours and taken care of or to a farm stand where it may have been picked that morning or the day before. And that way you’re getting food that still has nutrition in it and some life in it, some life force. And I think
32:58 – 2002
CAS: that you’ll find that people that eat totally local, take very few vitamins. We haven’t—I’ve had maybe 15 vitamin pills in my life and, knock on wood, I’m feeling okay. We have lots of energy and are very rarely sick. So I don’t know if that’s a testament or not but, of course, we eat stuff right out of the field and it may be an hour from the field at the most. So maybe there’s a jump there too. But I think that it’s good to have producing farms in an area for many reasons. There’s the conservation of the land, especially if they’re organic farmers and have their—their head pointed right where they want to nurture the soil. That’s—that’s only good for future generations because no one can read the future. No one knows what’s going to happen to the food supply in the future. All this Y2K stuff, they say it may shut down the trucks and whatnot and the—the old produce may not be able to—to get here so without a good local produce system, then what are—what are people going to eat? Of course, it’s very important to have a backyard garden too. That’s—that’s even the best. But most people are in concrete buildings all the time and not able to tend a garden which in—and it does require a lot of time to grow food. Lot of time, lot of energy and lot of dealing with the insects and heat and discomfort. So most people won’t do that and maybe they’ll grow tomatoes, that’ll be ‘bout it. But it’s very important, I think, to nurture a—an agricultural community around every city. Just—just in case—just in case some big thing happens or the food supply coming in is tainted for some reason. It’s just important to have that back up and plus it takes care of the land. In—in Texas, we have kind of a different mindset, historically. The—the land—most of the land in Texas is used for the cattle industry. About 70% of it, in some estimates, is devoted to either grazing or raising feed for cattle
34:51 – 2002
CAS: or feed lots. And when this happens, you have a—a huge degradation of the soil because the hooves of the cattle are small and their body weight is pretty heavy and—and you have a lot of compaction of the soil and—and typically over grazing and stuff like that that depletes the soil. It would be nice if we could get a little more variety in Texas, a little more vegetable, little bit more vegetables. I mean, if we just got away with devoting 10% of that 70% of the land to vegetables, we could practically feed the entire United States, just out of that amount of land because you can grow a lot of vegetables in the acre that it would take to support a cow. So, you know, it would be nice to kind of change the trend from cattle so much to vegetables in Texas especially. Cause we do have a year ‘round growing season.
DT: Can you talk about where trends are going?
25:52 – 2002
CAS: Well I think as more and more people are being educated, that the demand will be there. We have folks coming up all the time wanting to do “what we’re doing”. Well they only see us on market day usually and they think we’re standing around talking to people and having a great time which is true. Maybe patting an eggplant or something. But it’s interesting when they come out when we’re all hot and sweaty and they tell us we want to do what you’re doing. And we think, oh, you’re serious then. And—but there is a lot of interest. Different organizations like Texas Organic Grower’s Association are putting the word out, trying to educate people and trying to encourage people who—who want to
36:28 – 2002
CAS: farm. The Texas Department of Agriculture is under new leadership this year, Susan Cohn’s and she has met with organic growers and everyone so far has been pretty impressed. She’s bringing us in under the umbrella of Texas agriculture. Whereas for the last few years, we’ve been kind of stuck in a closet and ignored. Which was good, we thought that was good because at least our program wasn’t axed. Cause all of our certification here in Texas goes through the Department of Agriculture. We have a coordinator and inspectors who come out at least once a year and walk the land and sample the soil and sample the tissues of the plants and run through labs and see if we’ve got anything bad on it. It’s not so much an adversary role that they play. If they turn up something in our tissue sample then we work together to try to find out what it is. What is the problem? Where did it come from? Is it some—some—something off the farm or whatever it might be. So far, we’ve been clean every year. No problem but, you know, it’s always possible that something can come in even from something falling out of the sky. You just don’t know. Air pollution, water pollution, a big flood or something brings a bunch of oil in on your farm. Who knows. So but their—their main deal is to try to foster organic agriculture and to help the farmers to do it because it’s not an easy type of farming to—to do. But if there was a serious problem, they would shut down our certification. If there was something that exceeded their, basically kind of their 5% rule, because they realize there’s air pollution, there’s exhaust and whatnot around farms, but if something does violate that, then that produce is no longer certified and so we would have to sell it as transitional which is a lower premium but at least it lets the people, the customer, know that it’s not certified organic anymore. And it’s—it’s not a hard process
38:20 – 2002
CAS: to become certified organic. But your—your land has to be clean and generally they like a history of—of the land of what’s been done to it in the past, past 8 or 10 years. And then they do the testing. And if your history shows that there was nothing, no chemical farming on it, and if the tests come up clean, then it’s pretty much automatic that you’ll—you’re certified organic. So it’s not a—it’s not impossible to—to do. If the land’s been fallow for twenty years, well then you’re probably a shoe in unless you yourself have been using chemicals.
DT: Maybe you can talk a little bit about the scale of farming and what that means to the gardener or commercial farmer.
39:06 – 2002
CAS: Right. Well we are a niche farmer. Some people call us a fresh produce garden, fresh market gardener or a market gardener and a airplane gardener.
DT: We were talking about the scale of agriculture.
39:32 – 2002
CAS: Well, you know, a lot of gardeners come up here to the farm—farm stand and ask us about problems with this and that. They’ve all got gardens and—and one thing we’ve noticed is they’ll come up and say, well what you do about vine bores on your squash? And we say, well we don’t do anything about it. Oh you don’t. Well, you know, when you’ve got 500 squash plants, if you get 6 of them eaten up with vine bores, you just don’t worry about it. You just kick them off to the side and go on. But they’ve got six squash plants and so if they’ve got 6 vine bores, they don’t have any squash. And so there’s the—that’s the clearest difference in what we’re doing and what they’re doing. They only have a few plants and, of course, they have, you know, if they’re really tending it, they have no weeds. Everything is just perfect because there’s not much to do once you’ve done a 10 x 10 garden, it’s pretty quick work. Of course, the same things goes to the huge commercial grower. They’ve got maybe 5000 squash plants so if they’ve got six vine bores, they worry even less than we do. But it’s just—the same things are involved in a sense, starting the seed and the transplanting and the mulching and the care and the watering and all that. It’s all the same no matter what size you’re growing on. It’s just when you have devastation enter I think is the biggest difference because what—what would really wipe them out doesn’t affect us too much and it’s just nothing to a big giant grower. See what else would there be?
DT: I understand that y’all grow upwards of 70 crops during the year and that’s different from the typical conventional farmer who might raise 3 to 4 during the year. Why do you do that and…
42:13 – 2002
CAS: Well, first of all, it’s—it’s kind of difficult to grow such diversity because every plant has a different requirement. And so, I mean, if you’re just putting in 500 acres of corn, you clean it all off, you get the seed drill hooked up to the tractor and you go. And you plant the same seed on all 500 acres and that’s it. Then you go home, put your feet up and watch the satellite TV and worry about your bank loan. But here, we’re putting in—generally in a—any given market, we have maybe 15 different crops that we’re harvesting. So we’re—we’re talking about 15 different treatments at any given time during the year and this may change every couple of months. So it’s a little more difficult in the planning and just organizing the seeds and ordering the seeds and just planning the—the season is more difficult because it’s complex. But we do feel like it gives us protection. Like, for instance, last year, if all we had was tomatoes in the ground last year, we wouldn’t be here this year or else we’d have to go get a bank loan because the heat was such. It was a record heat wave last summer and the hottest summer in 150 years, they say. Even the Smith’s hadn’t had a—as hot a summer as we’d had. And the tomato—it was too hot for the tomatoes to set fruit. Whenever you get temperatures in the 80’s at night, a tomato will not set fruit. We had 1500 plants in at the other farm for our fall crop and they bloomed three times, luxuriant blooms, covered with yellow flowers and not one tomato off of 1500 plants. So we had no tomatoes for the fall farm
43:46 – 2002
CAS: stand. And people were saying, no tomatoes. Oh I came over here, I wanted tomatoes. You usually have tomatoes in September and October, no tomatoes. At the same time, all the gardeners were coming up and saying, I can’t get any tomatoes. Well, we’d say it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. It’s the weather. It’s the heat. They won’t set. So you’re blameless. This year, by contrast, of course, is a bumper crop year. Tons of tomatoes. The gardeners are bragging about their tomatoes. They’re delirious they’re so happy they’ve got tomatoes. But it’s nothing they did differently. They did not do one thing better this year than last year. It’s just simply the weather. So we don’t grow just tomatoes because you can’t count on that. We grow as many things as we can for that reason and also partly selfishly because we eat totally out of the farm. And we want variety in our diet. We don’t want to just eat tomatoes. We want the sorrel and the basil to go with them. We want the onions and the potatoes, the squash and the eggplant. The cucumbers, the lambs quarters, the herbs. We want all that stuff along with the tomatoes. And the people who come to the farm to buy their produce, they want variety too. Not necessarily do they demand to have broccoli when there’s—when it shouldn’t be any broccoli. But they want the variety, the bounty of—of each season. They want to stuff themselves with that, huge volumes of it. And then when it’s over and they’re sick of it, the new palate comes out, the new crops, the brascos, the greens, all that stuff of fall that they’re looking for. And so over the year, they will get a true variety in their diet. They’re not just eating bell peppers all year long and they’re not just eating cardboard tomatoes when they shouldn’t be eating tomatoes. So that’s why we grow such a diverse amount of—of produce, is for ourselves and for the people who come here and to ward off disaster. And there’s chickens.
DT: Can you look in your crystal ball and think of this as a message for the future and give some sort of comment about what you think is important coming up?
46:07 – 2002
CAS: I think that personally I—I believe strongly that people should be independent. That, I mean, we’ve been self employed most of our life and I guess that’s part of that. But I don’t think people should rely on bank loans to get over the hard spots, I mean, unless it’s absolutely necessary, a mortgage or something but I think people should be independent and independence begins with the food. That is the one thing that we all have to have, food. We don’t even really need water if we’re growing enough watery vegetables. We can drink our water through our food. So I think that everyone should know how to grow a plant. Everyone should know how to grow a tomato or head of lettuce. And if they know that, not that they have to do it, but if they know that and can pass it on to their children and to their grandchildren, we have a security there that is not possible any other way. I mean, you see starving people all over the place, you see Africa where the—the land has turned to desert. I don’t know if that’s just nature or if it’s something man did or whatever. You see crops being introduced into a place like Africa that—that should have existed on amaranth which used to grow wild there and it was used as—they would grind it into flour, they would use the leaves in their soups and then the—the Western world introduced corn because they could sell corn seed over there. And now they’re relying on
47:27 – 2002
CAS: corn. Then we get the drought. Amaranth will do very well in a drought, corn won’t. Now people are starving. So I think that if we’d let people learn how to grow food and grow the foods that are appropriate to their environment and appropriate to the season and give them that knowledge, that they’ll have the protection they need to exist as a species. And if we teach them the organic method of conserving the soil, of loving the soil and thinking strictly of the health of the soil and not worrying about anything else, then we will conserve the soil for future generations. And take care of the land so that they too can grow their own food and survive as a species.
DT: You painted for years, oils and you produced prints that you sold and now you’re a farmer. Can you talk about the connection that you see between art and farming and nature?
48:36 – 2002
CAS: Well I painted—I painted for about twenty years. I’ve always drawn every since I was a child. I filled notebooks full of horses and—and people and di—just anything I would see, I would draw it. And I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be a commercial artist because I really didn’t understand what real artists did, not that commercial artists aren’t
48:56 – 2002
CAS: but that’s what I thought you did to make a living. And my father who worked in the Air Force and had—they had commercial artists on staff, knew how poorly paid they were and he told me that no, they’re a dime a dozen. Just—you can’t do that. So I got a degree in English and Spanish and taught school for three years. And then I quit to have my second child and started painting because I’m kind of active person. I just didn’t want to sit around being pregnant. So I began painting and soon I was teaching painting and I was in galleries and did limited edition prints and had a really wonderful career going in art. And then I kind of got bored. After twenty years, I was really kind of bored. I always painted natures scenes though, animals or birds or landscapes and even the still life’s I did usually had a flower in them or something alive or something that used to be alive, even like a butterfly. Sounds kind of morbid but dead butterflies feature—were featured in a lot of my still life paintings.
50:16 – 2002
CAS: Well anyway, I painted for—for twenty years and—and basically painted nature and oddly a lot of it was out of my imagination because it was kind of difficult to go out on site and paint in the way I did. I did oils and they’re hard to transport and flies will get into them and dust and everything. So I would take a few pictures but generally I would sit in front of a blank canvas and conjure up a landscape and so it was slightly romanticized. And, you know, figurative or whatever and then I got into birds. I did
50:46 – 2002
CAS: some traveling in Guatemala and did a series on the Guatemalan Indians. They had beautiful Huipils, the embroidered clothes they wore. And I was fairly successful, thank goodness, selling all this stuff but then just kind of got tired of doing the same thing. And when—when you’re in art, if you paint a certain way and you suddenly change radically, your customers get very upset because generally they liked what you did and they’re not going to like what you’re about to do. So I thought well, you know, we had this opportunity to start farming because we’d always wanted to do that and so we started doing that. And farming is all encompassing. So was art. I mean, when I painted, I painted all day long, every day. It was total immersion and farming is the same way. Total immersion, there’s always something to do and the—the best similarity though, I think, between the two—well there’s several, one is just the sheer beauty of everything that you’re working with. The flowers and the—the leaves of the plants themselves. Like the okra leaves, I mean, if I were painting now, I would paint okra. The leaves are just fabulous. If I were painting now, I would paint the flowers. I would paint baskets of tomatoes, all of that stuff. It would just—it would just be—there’s so much out there to paint. In fact, we have art schools that come out here periodically and we—we let them sit around the farm and they paint and they do the chickens and everything and I paint pictures of Tubby, the cat. I mean, there’s just so much. He’s had his picture painted by some of the artists. And so there’s—there’s the beauty of—in art that you’re trying to find and convey and the beauty at a farm that you’re trying to encourage because a beautiful plant is a healthy plant. And if it’s healthy, it’s nutritious. So we want our vegetables to be beautiful. And then the other thing about art and farming is the—the
52:39 – 2002
CAS: customer. The customer, the person who bought my paintings or merely looked at them shared such a—a gratitude almost with me that they appreciated that I was doing this and that was kind of novel because I had never had that. Not too many people came up when I was a school teacher and told me they appreciated me teaching. Now they do twenty years later but not at the time. They’re kind of sick, they have to go. But, in art, they—they would show me so much love in the process of buying a painting or commissioning it or whatever. And on the farm, at the farm stand, it’s the same thing. They come out and they pet Tubby first and then they tell me things like, thank you for growing this food. And it’s just such a refreshing thing. Larry says when he was doing real estate, he said nobody ever thanked him for selling them a house. I mean, they just thought, well how much money is he making on this, you know, golly. We spent money. He made money. But here they don’t—they don’t talk about crass things like that. It’s just thank you for growing this food and thank you for nurturing us. And that’s just, I mean, this is not about money. We want enough money from the produce to be able to continue doing this because we love it but it’s really about nourishing people and feeling good about what we do and hoping that we are making strong bodies so that they can deal with the demons in their life and go on to do great things. And that’s—that’s basically our purpose.
DT: Thank you. And I can say that we’re very grateful for you spending this time with us.
End of reel 2002
End of interview with Carol Ann Sayle