Farm to Market
Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas
Review by Christopher Dow
Small-scale farming and ranching may seem like an anachronism in this day of huge agribusinesses, but niche agriculture is making a comeback—as you can readily see in the pages of Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas: Profiles of Organic Farmers and Ranchers Across the State (Texas A&M University Press, 2009) by Pamela Walker, former assistant director of the Center for the Study of Cultures at Rice University.
In the book, Walker profiles ten Texas farms and ranches specializing in organic food products. From South Texas Organics in the Rio Grande Valley to Animal Farm in the Brenham area to Boggy Creek Farm, an urban farm in east Austin, the output of these operations is as diverse as the management styles of the men and women who run them.
Walker devotes sections to two categories of agricultural products we don’t normally think of in terms of organic: dairy and meat. One of the two dairy farms she profiles is located in the Hill Country and the other in Northeast Texas, and their characters are as different as their locations. In the category of meat, ranches with a typical array of chicken and beef predominate, but more curious is Permian Sea Organics, home to a miniature ocean ecosystem pooled beneath the West Texas sun. This “ranch” harvests shrimp fed on plankton grown without chemicals or preservatives.
The large-format book, which is filled with photos by landscape and documentary photographer Linda Walsh, amply demonstrates how organic farming and ranching operations can provide fulfilling lives for the people who own and run them. It also chronicles the trials and tribulations some of these operations have faced not only in delivering products that are certifiably organic, but also in dealing with the failures of federal and state agricultural agencies to provide technical and regulatory assistance.
Reprinted from Rice Magazine, #5, 2010.