June 18, 2010

Sexy Radish Farm!

Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches…

(John Prine song)

I spent a few days at the Sexy Radish Farm.

This little gem is located in the Texas hill country just a few miles outside San Antonio. Listen to this favorite song of mine while you join me on a tour of the farm…

Sexy Radish Farm is one of the newest entrants in the move back to a simpler life. It’s a working farm, nestled in deep in the heart of some of the prettiest country in Texas. It’s also on the WWOOFer trail, so if you’re into work exchange, then you might consider a visit. What should you expect there?

For starters, it’s all organic. No pesticides, no nothing in the way of harmful chemicals. Proprietors Stuart Campbell and Ashley Williams mentioned that they are not “certified organic”, but that they do everything they can to approach that.

I found the farm because my friends Nick Dorman and Erin Huffman suggested I drop by while I was in Texas a couple of weeks ago. After a few days of big city running around in Houston, I was definitely ready for a change of pace.

Ashley explained that the farm has been in her family for a long time. It had been abandoned for about 8 years before she and Stuart took it over last year. It’s 17 acres, contiguous to about 140 acres also owned by her family.

So, let me tell you a little about my visit. Promise me you’ll click on the links I put in this story. I promise you I won’t waste your time. I drove west from Houston to the hill country. The farm is located just outside San Antonio in Spring Branch. I noticed the urban sprawl diminishing as I left the perimeter of Alamo city. I thought back on visions of road rage in the city. Faces like bulldogs licking piss off a thistle. People actually drive friendlier in the country. Why? Maybe it’s because there’s a good chance they know each other. Possibly they have less stress, fewer pressing obligations and there’s definitely less traffic. It’s pretty in the hill country.

I drove down the highway, following Google maps directions to the Sexy Radish Farm. I turned off onto their road, an expanded version of a suburban street. There, houses sit on tracts instead lots. When I arrives at the end of the road, I called Stu to make sure I was in the right place. He said he saw my car. He instructed me to open the gate in a voice that I knew contained a good manager’s demeanor. Voila’! Journey over. I felt the stress of the big city dripping away like sweat from a pot off a hot burner as I drove up the shale road to the farm.

I parked my car and took a look around. The entrance of the house had two huge metal tubes filled with plants in front I later found out were repurposed torpedo launchers. Nice!

You’ve maybe heard of Guerilla Gardening? I love the concept. I recall that famous photo of a flower a hippie placed in a gun barrel. Know which one I’m talking about? Personally, I think defused grenades make great paperweights. But, I digress…

That wasn’t all the salvage I saw. A huge metal sprocket adorned the gate to the farm. I saw beds of vegetables. And, there was Stu to greet me. I got out of the car, felt the sunshine and the wind blew the way it blows when it has lots of room to play.

Immediately, I heard a moaning, musical sound. I asked myself “What do you think, homeboy? Is this cool, or what?” Stu had fashioned a wind chime out of wood and guitar strings. When the wind blew, it resonated with the strings singing out their own, wind driven tune. I felt myself becoming infatuated with the farm already. But, it was only beginning.

Stu and Ashley walked out to greet me. They helped me with my bag. Southern hospitality is one thing. “No place but Texas” personified! By the way, I rented a Prius and got over 50 MPG in a car with less than 300 miles on it. Gotta love that.

I parked it next to their Ford truck, which reminded me of the first thing I ever drove at camp Echo Hill, where I spent many a summer in Kerrville, TX. Richard Friedman was my bunk counselor. You may recognize him as Kinky Friedman. He and a bunch of his friends had just returned from a stint in the Peace Corps working in Borneo. It was 1968. The whole camp rocked to “Good Day, Sunshine” and “Bobby McGee” in those days. I claim the honor of helping write such wildly popular hits as “Fried Chicken and a Bug Juice Jar” during bunk song night. Kinky taught us how to light farts, play a kazoo and live like kids should live, far from the urban blight many of us had to tolerate in our real lives. This may explain a lot. We used to sneak cigarettes, thinking nobody noticed. Somehow, a rumor leaked that Marlboro would give anyone a $10 who found an “L” in the secret serial number imprinted on the inside of the cigarette paper near the filter. Actually, cigarette butts posed a fire hazard. Everyone shredded their butts looking for that “L”. Management by objectives? Whatever. It was the first experience I’d had of a passive approach to controlling behavior. We found brachiopods. We wrote our names on them and drew designs. Then, we shellacked them and fired them in the kiln. They became treasured souvenirs. Stu mentioned there were loads of fossils and arrowheads on the farm. One of the Echo Hill counselors, a ravishing redhead named Copper there used to let me drive the old work truck.

Sexy Radish’s pickup brought me back. I liked that. In fact, I like anything that reminds me of bunk song night and ravishing redheads.

I walked up to the porch, what a porch, and felt the worn, soft steps under my bare feet. Steps that kids had played on, steps that farmers had climbed after a long days work in the field. Steps that had just been painted, in fact. I made a mental note that the hammock might be just the place to kick back as soon as it was appropriate to take a few minutes…

I turned around and looked at the gate. Took a second look at the pickup truck off to the left. For some reason, I had the song “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mothers” stuck in my mind. “M is for mudflaps, O is for the oil I put in my hair, T is for T-Bird, H is for Haggard, E is for egg and R is for RED-NECK!” I saw carefully placed river rocks and stones surrounding one of many patches of garden. I loved it. Loved it. I felt that feeling people get when they’re eating and not sure when their next meal will come, so they stuff themselves. I was taking it all in.

I looked back and Ashley flashed a smile that told all. This was it! It was working. I felt goosebumps, just like I do right now as I write this. Blogging is cool. Takes you back. Yep, we’re armchair travelers in this rocketship we’re riding called life. The trick is to get off and enjoy it like every day is your only day. I was definitely enjoying the day. Yeah, buddy!

Ashley looked down and pointed to the bucket of flowers at the stairs. She said she got ’em by the dozen back in Austin for cheap. That they made great planters. No need to convince me. Inspiring.

The blackboard foretold lots of possibilities. Erin had a wistful look in her eye as she described the farm to me when she encouraged me to visit. I was glad she reminded me about it as I stressed out in the city. She said, “You remember that farm I told you about? That’s where you ought to be…” And, all I can say is “Thank you, thank you…Thank you very much!”

Nichole showed me to my room. She had just painted it a sky blue. It was the upstairs loft. There were fresh sheets and pillows on the comfy bed. She explained that the stuff in the wicker basket was for me. Shampoo, soap, dental floss, toothpaste and conditioner. She carefully explained that the deodorant was unisex even though it looked kind of feminine. She turned on the fan because you could smell paint a little. This was kind of a big deal, because the paint *did* smell pretty fresh. She said if it got too hot, I could climb out the window and sit on the roof. That the stars were amazing at night.

We went downstairs and Stu said there were several sleeping choices. The barn was another possibility. We walked out to the barn, which Stu explained was very old. We climbed up to the top floor. There were holes in it where Stu explained you fed the livestock hay. I had visions of tipsy nights and how high the holes were from the dirt floor and considered the painted loft a strong possibility.

Once I’d settled into my room, I walked down the stairs. Stu asked me to follow him outside. We picked some cedar branches. He explained that essential oils sold for a lot. That we were going to extract some oils. I had just gone to an ethnobotany intensive weekend at the Hostel in the Forest with Mycol Stevens and Marc Williams. They taught us about hydrophobic and hydrophilic plants. How you could extract oils with water or alcohol. I flashed back to stories the patients proudly told me about their meth labs when I worked in a psychiatric ward. They should have been working with lavender was all I could think.

Stu decided to ramp it up and move the extractor outside. We wound up with some cedar oil. It was real science. Stu told me he was studying nutrition in college. This was just the beginning.

Stu asked me if I’d ever heard of agarita. I thought he asked me if I wanted a margarita. I said “Hell, yeah!” He said “Really?” and picked a berry, handing it to me. He said “Taste this”. It tasted sweet, astringent and … good. We walked over to the shed with a bunch of agarita berries.

Stu proudly showed me his newest acquisition: a press. He worked it and I held a bucket to catch the juice. Delicious. That’s what you see in the photo a few back in the shot glass. Who’d a thunk it.

Then, we walked out into the woods. Stu showed me a huge cattle car. We went inside.

He explained that the ranch workers sometimes lived in these. They stored their tools there, too.

The cattle car was part of a life most people in the country knew well long ago. Only some know it now. These days, mega farms raise livestock. We don’t get much chance to see that living in the city. Where does your meat come from?

Then, Stu proudly showed me the bee hive he made. I thought about the mead making class Marc Williams and Mycol Stevens taught at the ethnobotany intensive weekend at the Hostel in the Forest, in Brunswick, GA I’d just attended.

Bee keeping is becoming more and more popular in the city.

I rode by a couple of bee hives just around the corner from my favorite bike shop in Gainesville, 8th Ave Bikes and Coffee.

I saw a few in Portland during the PedalPalooza. And, I saw more at the Citizen’s Coop Organic Farm bike ride a little while ago.

Then, we checked out the psychedelic chicken coop. Ashley and Stu have quail, too. More and more people are raising chickens these days.

The Sexy Radish Farm is a working farm. I was their first guest, they explained. So, after showing me some exquisite artichokes and other delicious veg, we got to work.

Ashley and Stu have rigged up irrigation, tilled fields, planted peach trees and so much you wouldn’t believe they’ve only been there a little while. Like, a year if I remember correctly. I thought to myself they probably had a lot of good things to talk about at dinner.

There are the little peach trees, and what’s that in the background? Yep, those big containers collect rain water. Permaculture, sustainability, self sufficiency. The place is teeming with it in a very compelling way.

We took a coffee break. The coffee maker was a little different than your traditional Mr Coffee. Good stuff. I was having fun. And, it was just the first day!

We walked around picking bits of fruit and veg, tasting, admiring, enjoying. We planted a few dozen tomato sprouts.

Stu held up a gigantic zucchini and explained how old highway guardrails were used to make the planter beds.

That evening, Stu and Ashley pointed out how big and full of stars the sky was. They brought out a massive telescope and we looked at the moon. We sorted through various envelopes of seeds, admired clay sculpture remnants from someone whose name I can’t recall, but I remember Ashley saying the artist was famous and a local school was named after her. Carlton the cat was delightful in just the way cats do best. We walked the fields, caught beautiful, big sky sunsets and I got literally hooked. I found myself thinking about how I liked life in the country better than city life. Especially knowing the city was not that far away. The bonus is New Braunfels, a German town with historic buildings and lots of personality, is the next nearest community. Then…only then you have San Antonio in one direction and Austin in the other. Oh, and we watched a indie film called The Garden about an urban community garden in Los Angeles and how the community banded together to fight its closure. That was the only time the TV went on. It was a laptop, by the way.

There’s more. The other parts of the story include market day in New Braunfels. Sexy Radish Farm takes their produce to market so the community can enjoy it. And, they are in the process of starting 2 Tarts Bakery and Catering.

(photo from Sexy Radish Farm)

Stu and Ashley are making it happen. It’s a good time. I say go for it. Forget the TV. Stay out of the mall. Avoid the headaches. Next chance you get, learn something. Spend some time breathing fresh air. Get your hands dirty. Feel like a prince or princess. Sleep in the barn. Drink an agarita. Have a time. Go to Sexy Radish Farm. Ask yourself how living on a farm in the country became an alternative lifestyle. Farming is totally hip and seriously sexy. Tell ’em you read about it in Elephant Journal.

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