My Brother, My Hero

So many friends ask why we are doing what we do. Where did this strange urge come from? Is it contagious or just a phase of some sort? What does your family think of all this agriculture? What started out as a simple retirement weekend place in the country has turned into a farm. How?

When we were dreaming of a place in the country, Ernest wanted some kind of water (stream, lake or pond) and I wanted an alley of trees and a place to have a vegetable garden again. We happened on to this small place north of Edna on the Lavaca River on the first day of our 5 year plan to locate and acquire rural property. We recognized it immediately as our place, is the best way I can describe the decision making process to buy it.

That first year we didn’t do much but visit and meet with well diggers and barn contractors and road makers and fence builders and got acquainted with our good neighbors. We test drove a lot of tractors and had a lot of picnics. The second year we got more serious and started planting trees and staking out home sites, and we tilled up a patch with the tractor to get ready for a garden.

We had sent away a soil sample for analysis and were somewhat daunted to find out the dismal news with the results. No life in our soil to speak of but at least there was nothing there to kill. And, we learned how to deal with sandy soil (our only experience had been with the heavy clays of Houston). I carted many pick-up truck loads of leaves and mulch to our small patch of garden and dreamt of fruit trees. When I told my husband and children over dinner one night that I was going to grow enough to feed us and then sell the surplus at a farmer’s market, they all laughed. They laughed a lot. It was discouraging.

I made a visit to see parents in New Orleans and told the family about our new place and what our plans were. They thought it was funny too, but didn’t laugh as much as my children did. And my brother, the merchant seaman, didn’t laugh at all.

I always thought of Tom, the world traveler, as a modern day Ulysses. When Ulysses left the sea he carried an oar. He walked inland until he found a place where people didn’t recognize what an oar was and there he called home. Tom became a licensed grower and started a nursery when he left the sea. He was always puttering around and trying new things. His cultivated mushroom spore ended up on a Space Shuttle mission and at one point he was testing a variety of sweet corn for the State of Hawaii Agriculture Department. All this on a plot of land in the middle of the New Orleans warehouse district. Tom took me seriously and presented me with a 20 lb. bag of seed potatoes. Red ones. Talk to the locals and plant when they plant, was his very simple advice. He made it seem possible. And so I did. And they grew. A chance meeting at a mutual friends’ daughters’ wedding informed us of Urban Harvest. And that April we dug potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes. In fact, enough for family and friends and enough to take to market. And after that first day of market with cash in hand, my husband and sons said “Grow more.” And that is what we do. This is our third potato harvest and this year we have seven different varieties. This year we know their names: Rose Gold, Red Dale, All Blue, King Harry, Elba, Russian Fingerlings and Caribe.

The urge just gets stronger.
Donna – May, 2008

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