What happened? We are not sure, but we know that this years crops were nothing like last year. Last year we grew beautiful heirloom tomatoes, greens, okra, peppers, melons,squash, tomatillos to name a few. This year we have been lucky to coax a few tomatoes and squash off our vines, and our okra although plentiful, is nothing like last years bounty. We believe it had to due with a number of factors : late winter, dry spring and summer, early heat wave, unbalanced soil...farmer error (our timing), the list goes on and on.
In our quest to take care of this bird's nest on the ground ,we now know that there will be many trials and tribulations along the way. We know too, that this way of life is a grand experiment and that flexibility and resilience must be two virtues that farmers and land stewards must possess in order to survive. Our ancestors had to possess these amazing qualities, and we too, need to embrace these two little words.
There is a tremendous learning curve and we have found ourselves at the very bottom, and now know that there is much to learn and from many different sources. We have also learned that diversifying the risk means we must open our eyes to more options, but where to start?
I decided to keep the article and knew that one day, maybe Andy's and Moon's paths would cross, and if not, maybe I could hasten the process. It took four years but that day finally came. I knew from the article that Moon's family owned one of the oldest operating old fashioned basket companies in the United States and it was less than 60 miles from here in Jacksonville. I also knew that Moon's farm was even closer, in a little township called Neches just outside of Palestine.
We decided to take a day trip with Andy's mom to purchase some vegetable harvesting baskets and some display baskets for our vegetable cart (at the time, we still had high hopes to be selling our bounty at a farmer's market this year). On a hunch, I asked the woman behind the counter if Moon was there. She replied no, I explained that I really wanted to meet him. A few minutes later, she came out of the back office with Moon's cell number.
I called it and left a message, a few minutes later I got a return call. I explained to Moon that we had just moved back to the family farm and ranch and really loved the old article that had highlighted his methods and the next thing you know, we were on the way to his place.
We passed through the gates of the Diamond B Ranch and knew that we were looking at our future. What a serene, picturesque setting, even more amazing, this garden of Eden was feeding many locavores in Jacksonville and Tyler at their weekly farmers markets. Moon, his father Martin and their families have done an outstanding job blending traditional methods with modern conveniences (drip irrigation systems, decorative but functional arbors and hoop houses, even a beautiful old fashioned chicken coop surrounded by a modern predator fence system). He assured us that this was a long and ongoing process and that he was lucky enough to have his father's guidance and some additional help.
Thanks to the Swanson's, we have a renewed outlook and a vision. We do not have the additional help so we know now, that this will not be as easy as picking low fruit from a tree. We are going to have to stretch ourselves and learn to grow in more ways than one. But we need to consider how lucky we truly are to have this bird's nest on the ground!
* besides our empty farmers market trailer, all of these photographs were taken at the Texas Basket Company & The Diamond B Ranch*