Angel Valley Organic Farm: Central Texas Gardener


>>THESE DAYS PET CHICKENS ENTERTAIN JO AND
JOHN DWYER WHEN THEY’RE NOT AT WORK. AND SINCE THEY STARTED ANGEL VALLEY ORGANIC
FARM, THE ONLY CLOCK THEY WATCH IS THE ULTIMATE TIME KEEPER, THE WEATHER, TO GET THEIR HAND
GROWN ORGANIC FOOD TO EAGER CUSTOMERS ON TIME FOR THEIR WEDNESDAY AND SATURDAY MARKETS.
IN 1995 THEY DIDN’T LIVE ON A FARM, BUT IN A HOUSE IN JONESTOWN, UP THE HILL FROM A DREAM
YET TO HAPPEN. THEN IN 1996, JOHN DECIDED IT WAS TIME TO
TAKE HIS BUSINESS EXPERIENCE AND THEIR LOVE OF ORGANIC FOOD BEYOND THEIR BACKYARD.
>>THAT’S HOW WE’VE ALWAYS EATEN PROBABLY SINCE COLLEGE DAYS.
ONE OF OUR WE WERE ART MAJORS, AND ONE OF OUR ART PROFESSORS DRILLED THAT INTO THE STUDENTS,
WHICH WE APPRECIATE. I MEAN, YOU KNOW, AT THE YOUNG AGE OF 18 WE
WERE HEARING ABOUT THIS, AND AS SOON AS YOU START GARDENING, IT WAS ALWAYS ORGANIC, ALWAYS
ORGANIC. IT STARTED AT THE AUSTIN COMMUNITY GARDENS.>>AND SO IN ’95 I WAS THINKING WHAT WE COULD
DO. I’D ALREADY BEEN AN ORGANIC GARDENER FOR ALMOST
20 YEARS, WHAT I COULD DO, WHAT COULD WE DO TOGETHER, AND I THOUGHT, YOU KNOW, MAYBE WE
COULD RUN AN ORGANIC FARM. SO WE STARTED LOOKING FOR PROPERTY AND THOUGHT
WE’D HAVE TO GO EAST TO GRANGER.>>INSTEAD THEY FOUND THE IDEAL SPOT JUST
DOWN THE LIMESTONE AND CALICHE HILL, A SECRET VALLEY RICH WITH ALLUVIAL SOIL, A LEGACY OF
WHAT IS NOW JUST A BORDERING CREEK.>>AND TO SEE DIRT A MILE AWAY FROM WHERE
WE LIVED WAS JUST UNBELIEVABLE.>>THE 15 ACRES IS THEIR BIRDWATCHER’S DREAM
TOO. BUT TO KEEP DEER FROM THEIR CROPS, INCLUDING
THE APPLE ORCHARD, JOHN’S FIRST JOB WAS PUTTING UP FENCES.
THEY BUILT THEIR NEW HOUSE AND ITS RAINWATER COLLECTION SYSTEM, BOUGHT A TRACTOR AND IN
’98 PLANTED THEIR FIRST COVER CROPS.>>IN ’99 WE SOLD OUR FIRST VEGETABLE.
>>BUT SINCE A FARM ISN’T A HOBBY, THEY APPLIED THEIR BUSINESS EXPERIENCE TO A NEW WORKFLOW.
NO LONGER COULD IT BE A BACKYARD HIT OR MISS ADVENTURE.
THIS TIME THEIR SEEDS HAD TO GET TO MARKET ON TIME.
AND NOW ORGANIC GARDENING MEANT OFFICIAL CERTIFICATION AND ALL ITS RULES.
>>IT WAS DEFINITELY A GROWING THING. WE DIDN’T KNOW THE FIRST THING ABOUT FARMING
WHEN WE WENT INTO BUSINESS.>>AND IT STARTED SMALLER. WE JUST HAD THESE 400 FOOT ROWS AND THEN THE
200 FOOT ROWS BACK THERE. THAT’S LIKE THREE ACRES.
THREE ACRES, YEAH, AND NOW IT’S BEEN EXPANDED TO SIX.
>>IT’S LIKE GOING FROM HARVESTING A BASKETFUL OF
MULTIVEGETABLES TO BASKETS FULL OF SINGLE CROPS.
>>THESE DAYS THEY SHARE THE LOAD WITH FOUR OTHER PASSIONATE GARDENERS.
THE DAYS ARE STILL LONG, BUT AS WISE BUSINESS MANAGERS, THEY KNEW THEY COULDN’T SUSTAIN
80 HOUR WORK WEEKS FOREVER. SO NOW THEY HARVEST BY THE
WHEELBARROW LOAD, THEIR EXPERIENCE WORKS FOR THE HOME GARDENER.
>>YOU WANT TO KEEP LAND SUSTAINABLE. AND I THINK IT’S DIFFICULT TO CROP AFTER CROP
AFTER CROP, AND THIS IS WHAT I OFTEN SEE WHAT HAPPENS IN HOME GARDENS IS THAT WHAT PEOPLE
DO IS THEY PLANT A SPRING GARDEN, THEY FOLLOW IT UP WITH A FALL GARDEN, THEY GO BACK IN
WITH A SPRING GARDEN, THEY GO BACK WITH A A FALL GARDEN, AND YOU KNOW, I
JUST DON’T THINK YOU CAN CONTINUE, ESPECIALLY IN THE TEXAS ENVIRONMENT, WHERE YOU HAVE SUCH
EXTREMES OF THE HEAT AND BREAKING DOWN ORGANIC MATTER AND EVERYTHING ELSE, YOU JUST CAN’T
DO IT SUSTAINABLY FOR A LONG TIME. YOU’VE GOT TO GIVE IT A REST.
YOU’VE GOT TO GET SOME DIVERSITY IN THERE, GET A LITTLE COVER CROP
AND SOME MANURE COMPOST IN THERE AND LET IT GO FOR A SEASON.
>>WE USED TO PLANT DIRECT SEED A LOT MORE THAN WHAT WE DIRECT SEED NOW.
YEAH, WE DIRECT SEED VERY LITTLE. GREEN BEANS, CARROTS, TURNIPS, BEETS AND RADISHES
IS ABOUT IT. EVERYTHING ELSE GETS STARTED IN THE GREENHOUSE.
SO WE DO SOIL BLOCKS. IT’S KIND OF A EUROPEAN METHOD WHERE YOU MIX
YOUR SOIL AND YOU WET IT UP AND YOU MAKE THESE BLOCKS THAT WE PUT IN PLASTIC FLATS THAT WE
USE OVER AND OVER. THAT’S OPPOSED TO USING THOSE CELLS, THOSE
TRAYS WITH THE LITTLE CELLS. WE DO THIS INSTEAD.
>>OTHER PLANTS, LIKE SQUASH, GET STARTED IN LARGER POTS BEFORE THEY GO TO THE FIELD.
>>IF WE COME OUT AND TRY TO DIRECT SEED, THERE’S ALWAYS PATCHES AND SPOTS, AND THEN
YOU’LL GET A THREE INCH RAIN THAT WASHES SEED OUT.
I MEAN, YOU JUST END UP WITH PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS.>>ONCE IN THE FIELDS, ROWCOVER PROTECTS CROPS
AGAINST COLD SPELLS FROM FALL TO LATE SPRING.>>WHAT WE’RE DOING IS WE’RE PUSHING SEASONS.
THAT’S ALL WE DO IS PUSH SEASONS. WE TRY TO HAVE THE EARLIEST AND THE LATEST
OF EVERY VARIETY THAT WE POSSIBLY CAN.>>IT ALSO SHIELDS THEM FROM WIND DAMAGE AND
ESPECIALLY INSECTS.>>YOU SHARE.
THERE’S DEFINITELY SHARING. BUT IT DOES HELP.
WE HAVE ALL OUR BROCCOLI, ALL OUR BRASSICAS AND MUSTARDS UNDER COVER RIGHT NOW BECAUSE
OF HARLEQUIN BUGS. IN THE SPRING IT SAVES THEM. A FEW SNEAK UP UNDER THERE, BUT IF WE DIDN’T
HAVE THEM COVERED, THEY WOULD JUST BE MUTILATED. THE SQUASH, YOU CAN ONLY LEAVE IT ON UNTIL
IT’S FLOWERING, SO THEN OF COURSE IT CAN BE POLLINATED AND IT WILL KEEP THE CUCUMBER BEETLES
OFF FOR THE MOST PART WHILE THE COVER’S ON. OF COURSE, AS SOON AS IT’S UNCOVERED, THEY
FIND IT IMMEDIATELY, BUT AT LEAST YOU’RE PROTECTING IT FOR AWHILE.
SO YOU GET A HEAD START AND AT LEAST YOU’LL HAVE
A CROP FOR AWHILE. AND IN THE MEANTIME, YOU’RE PLANTING ANOTHER
CROP AND IT’S COVERED, AND BY THE TIME THEY RUIN THAT ONE, THIS ONE SHOULD BE COMING ON,
IF YOU TIME IT PERFECTLY, WHICH WE TRY TO DO, BUT DON’T ALWAYS.
>>OUR LETTUCE NEVER SEES THE FULL LIGHT OF THE DAY UNTIL WE UNCOVER IT TO PICK IT, AND
THE ROWCOVER GOES BACK ON. WE’VE GOT THIS ROWCOVER DOWN TO WHERE WE PROTECT
THINGS.>>HE’S THE MASTER OF THE ROWCOVER.
>>ESPECIALLY HEAD LETTUCES. AND WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS YOU’RE MAKING SURE
THAT WHEN YOU GO TO MARKET WITH THE HEAD LETTUCE, IT’S BEAUTIFUL, IT’S BIG, IT HASN’T BEEN BEAT
DOWN BY THE WIND, IT HASN’T BEEN BEAT DOWN BY THE RAIN.
IT’S BEEN UNDER THIS ROWCOVER THE ENTIRE TIME.>>PROTECTED FROM CUCUMBER
BEETLES AND ALL THE NASTY STUFF THAT MAKES THEM UGLY.
A HOME GARDENER WOULDN’T CARE SO MUCH, BUT WE’RE TAKING THEM TO MARKET, SO WE WANT THEM
TO BE STUNNING.>>ALONG WITH APPEARANCE, THINGS HAVE TO TASTE
GOOD. JO AND JOHN CONSTANTLY EXPERIMENT, BECAUSE
A GOOD PERFORMER STILL GETS THE BOOT IF IT DOESN’T TASTE GOOD.
ASIDE FROM THE TRACTOR FOR TILLING, LIKE HOME GARDENERS, NO MACHINE DOES THE WORK.
>>IT’S ALL BY HAND. IT’S ALL INTENSIVE.
IT ALL TAKES MUCH MORE TIME. AND LET ME SPIN IT.
>>THEY ALSO NURTURE BEE HIVES TO KEEP THESE EMPLOYEES AROUND WHEN DROUGHT HINDERS THE
NATURAL FOOD SUPPLY. AND WHEN THE SUN SETS, THEY’RE STILL AT WORK,
INCLUDING ONLINE, UPDATING WHAT’S COMING UP AT THIS WEEK’S MARKETS AND JO’S STORIES ABOUT
LIFE ON A FARM. THEY’RE STORIES OF RESILIENCE AND OPTIMISM
AND THE LOVE OF IT ALL THAT KEEPS ALL GARDENERS SINKING THEIR HANDS INTO THE EARTH.
>>I THINK TIME HAS HELPED. I SHED A LOT MORE TEARS AT THE BEGINNING OF
THE FARM THAN I DO NOW. I MEAN,
I REMEMBER THE FIRST HAILSTORM WE GOT HIT BY, IT WAS OUR FIRST YEAR AND EVERYTHING WAS
LOOKING GREAT. WE’D MADE THE MISTAKE OF WALKING AROUND SAYING,
EVERYTHING LOOKS GREAT, AND THAT NIGHT WE GOT HIT BY HAIL.
NOTHING WAS COVERED BECAUSE THIS WAS BEFORE WE DID ALL THIS STUFF, AND IT WAS JUST RUINED.
AND OF COURSE, I WAS DEVASTATED. WE WERE BOTH DEVASTATED AND SUNK INTO DEPRESSION
FOR AWHILE. AND THEN LEARNED THAT THEY DO COME BACK AND
THINGS ARE OKAY AND THAT YOU KEEP GOING AND YOU KEEP PLANTING.
SO NOW WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, WE THINK, WELL, OKAY, WE’LL JUST MOVE ON, AND
WHAT’S NEXT, AND WE’RE FINE. AND YOU CAN’T LET IT DRIVE YOU CRAZY.
IT’S OUT OF YOUR CONTROL, SO YOU CAN’T LET IT DRIVE YOU CRAZY.
>>FARMING IS A 12 MONTH A YEAR VENTURE, SO EVERY MONTH THERE’S SOMETHING GOING ON, SO
IF YOU GET A SETBACK LIKE THAT, THINGS DON’T STOP.
>>OKEY DOKEY, SHOPPING TIME.

10 thoughts on “Angel Valley Organic Farm: Central Texas Gardener

  1. The produce from Angel Valley Farm is amazing! Thank you, Jo and John, for providing my family with healthy, delicious food!

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