COMMENTARY

Utopia right here
Texas farming family drawn to international relief work discovers itself uniquely qualified to help foster sustainable community at home.

April 14, 2005

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For more than 14 years, I have pursued organic horticulture and sustainable agriculture, while my wife has studied nutrition with a vision of serving in Central America. After selling our decade-old nursery business three years ago, I worked as farm operations manager/instructor for World Hunger Relief (www.worldhungerrelief.org) in Elm Mott, Texas. That work, along with an article I read in 1999 by Martin Price of ECHO International (www.echonet.org), entitled “Small Farm Resource Development Center,” defined for our family our vision--to develop a model for sustainable small family farms to do field research, demonstrating and encouraging others in techniques that will support small farms, promoting biological diversity, proper land stewardship, and holistic community development. At that time we thought we would still be working in Central America.

As time progressed at World Hunger Relief, the greatest joy was spent educating interns (who had no agriculture experience); organizing public events and school tours; and seeing people’s eyes open up to understanding where their food comes from, and how small farms are disappearing across America because of urban sprawl, the rise of land prices, and a general disinterest in young people to stay on the farm (the average farmer now being over 86, or so I have heard). Families would come to the farm wanting to learn how to vermicompost, raise chickens, and plant a simple garden (we educated a lot of folks at our organic retail nursery for 10 years on how to backyard garden). Growing one’s own food has become a lost art, with a whole generation or two removed from the farm.

I began to realize that the need was here, domestically, more than I ever realized, and that our family is uniquely qualified to help. Following a two-year search, we have secured 22 acres in the earliest settled part of Texas and are restoring an old farmhouse on the property to be a future farm store/education center. We’re developing a 1/2-acre demonstration garden featuring more than 70 varieties of heirloom, open-pollinated vegetables, we have technically consulted five other local farmers beginning their small farms (and discussing the possibility of starting a small-farm co-op), and we have introduced alpine dairy goats, heritage chickens, ducks and geese to our program this spring.

We are looking to introduce a multi-species grazing system incorporating goats, Katahdin sheep and Dexter cattle in the future. We are depending upon agritourism--our county is no. 2 in the state for tourism--and the farmer’s markets (more than an hour away). This year will be a big trial period for our farm, as we are determined to do it without incurring debt. Our intention is to be a model small-family farm, offering workshops and demonstrations to encourage and educate others to develop a successful family farm enterprise along with providing quality food for our local community, reaching as far as Houston. South central Texas is finally coming along, and we are hope to help educate and encourage others in this local food revolution.

Brad Stufflebeam
Texas