Partners: Community Pizza

Community Pizza is a new restaurant in Wimberley, but has become such a fine watering hole and gathering spot that it feels like it’s always been here. With authentic wood-fired pizzas, fresh salads, a sumptuous beer selection, and live music, it has become a welcoming place to find and build community.

Michael and Morgan Mekuly, have worked in food and hospitality all their adult lives, and Community Pizza is the the fruition of their skill and creativity. I first met Morgan at the Wimberley Farmers market where she became a fan of our lettuce mix for their family table. After talking with Michael we agreed that heirloom tomatoes would be a good fit for their fresh garden ingredient pizzas, and they are our largest buyer of fresh basil. Conventional basil available for restaurant wholesale is about 50% stems, so staff has to strip the leaves away before using it. We harvest only the bud tips of our basil, and so it is all tender and ready for processing into fresh pesto.

One of my favorite things to do on delivery days is to drop off our product, and ask them to let me drop back by to pick up the check. When I stop by on my way back to the farm, I can count on taking a brief break with a nice cold, freshly pulled, glass of refreshment.

Partners: Linda Allen and Jobell

Linda Allen is a Wimberley treasure! Although she grew up in California, when she moved to Texas she embraced it with big love and deep affection. Her writing about her adopted home has given poignant lyrical expression to the great care she has for this landscape and its people. Along with her late partner, Jimmy Ashe, Linda has provided a gathering place for music, community, and human connection. And can she ever cook! Linda uses local ingredients to make such home-cooked favorites as her gumbo and King Ranch Chicken. She’s the Queen of Wimberley Comfort Food.

Jobell is a sparkling gem on the outskirts of Wimberley. Jessinia Bober and her husband David are creative and experimental restaurateurs intent on giving their guests a fine dining experience in an intimate and beautiful setting. Jess is a fine gardener too, interested in the dirty details of coaxing good food from the soil. Jess and David, with their two children, are are a family deeply committed to feeding us well.

Linda Allen’s Fine Foods and Jobell Bistro are wonderful partners in helping us bring good locally-produced food to Wimberley.

Partners: The Leaning Pear

We returned to Texas in July of 2017 and started our market garden at Montesino Ranch. The farm had not been in full production for a number of years, and Back to the Garden was not known to anyone. Montesino had a long history and fine reputation for sustainable produce, but we faced a real challenge building our customer base.

That fall I called on Matt Buchanan who with his wife, Rachel, owns The Leaning Pear, Wimberley’s largest fine dining restaurant. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Matt is both a creative and technically proficient chef. He graciously agreed to meet with me.

I told Matt we were working to get the Montesino farm back in production. Heather and I, having farmed in Nova Scotia and Kentucky, felt that we had a good base of experience growing in the cooler seasons. We told Matt that we felt we could supply him with a premium lettuce mix, as well as other cool season produce. I asked him what he was paying for lettuce mix from his restaurant wholesaler. He told me, but quickly added, “But I’m willing to pay more for local organically grown.” I knew we had a partner who could really help get us established.

That first season, like all farming, was full of both accomplishments and disappointments. The biggest challenge was getting our production up to scale to meet the demands of what was to us a big client. The Pear needed up to 70 pounds of lettuce per week (lettuce is kind of like feathers; 70 pounds fills up my little pickup bed!). Some weeks we had it, but some weeks we came up short. The first week we came up short, I texted Matt to let him know, fearing he would say something like, “When you get your production up to meet our needs, let me know.” But instead, he said, “I’ll buy all you have.”

It’s that kind of flexibility that gave us a runway to get our little farming piper aircraft off the ground.

The Leaning Pear is truly a family affair. Last year Rachel helped coordinate a field trip with Jacobs Well Elementary where the kids came out to the farm to learn about how food is grown, and then to The Leaning Pear to learn how it is prepared for eating. And Rachel is my favorite person at the Pear, because she writes the checks.

We are working to grow food that is tastier, more beautiful, and cares for the land, water and air that we depend on to live. The Leaning Pear is our anchor partner, and we love seeing (and eating) our produce so artfully prepared and presented.

Central Texas Summer: The Inferno

Growing vegetables in the Central Texas summer is a little bit like descending into Dante’s realms of hell. We start with all the exquisite colors and flavors of paradise: succulent golden crook-neck squash, crisp crunchy cucumbers, redolent red tomatoes.

But then around the second week of July the squash shrivels, the cucumbers scald, and the tomato plants drop all their blooms and remaining fruit. We are left with the few crops that seem to have asbestos in their DNA: peppers, okra, eggplant, and basil. The dog days of summer challenge both those who want to eat seasonally, and those of us who are trying to produce something fresh to eat.

This year Josh made sure we had some watermelons, cantaloupe, and butternut squash to help us through this trying time. But it’s a tough time.

We appreciate our customers who continue to eat seasonally with us, even though you may have run out of creative recipes for eggplant. We will keep trying our best to grow good, tasty, clean food, despite the 100+ degree temperatures.

More importantly, we all know that nature gives us all things IN SEASON. We’re hard at work planning, preparing beds, and seeding for the coming days when lettuce, kale, broccoli, carrots and beets grace our tables. You may even find yourself wistfully longing for . . . eggplant!

On Domination and Obligation

The dominant food system dominates! It dominates the landscape with machines and chemicals and monocrops. It dominates our choices with patented seeds, hiding its Genetically Modified crops, and putting antibiotics and growth hormones in our meat and milk. Its methods are extractive, polluting and exploitative. It owes nothing to anyone or anywhere but money debt; it seeks to own everything in its reach. Its only obligation is corporate profit.

By contrast, farms like Back to the Garden are rife with obligations:

  • We are under obligation to the land. Wendell Berry tells us, Before you can ask a piece of land, “What can you produce for me?” you must ask the land, “What do you need from us?” We owe the land to keep it covered, to take no more than we put back, to honor its seasons. And in the end, we owe it our bodies. Sir Albert Howard, the grandfather of the organic movement reminds us that we are obligated to return to the earth “her manurial rights.” And so we all shall: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

  • We are under obligation to those who work with us on the land. The Hebrew Bible prescribes our obligation even to the animals who work the land: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” (Deuteronomy 25.4) If you work, you should be able to eat, even if you’re a beast of burden. The New Testament quotes the old saying and explicitly applies it to the worth of human labor, adding “And the laborer is worthy of his reward.” (1 Timothy 5:18) There is worth to a person who works. You don’t pay people what you can get by with, you pay them because they are worth it! And they are worthy of our respect and admiration.

  • Finally, we are under obligation to our customers. When you pony up the cash for local, organically-grown, produce we owe you the highest quality, safest, most nutrient-dense and tasty food we can produce. Local means you have first dibs on what comes out of the field. Organically-grown means that we farm without chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and herbicides. We are under obligation NOT to poison you (sadly, an obligation the dominant food system does not recognize). Nutrient-dense and tasty means we are committed to growing in soil that is healthy and full of biological life, contributing to the health of those who eat our food. We don’t grow empty calories! We grow any number of heirloom varieties of vegetables because they taste good. We love that our food is a delight to the eyes, the olfactory, and the taste buds.

Dominators seek to control. Farms focused on their obligations are obliged to woo.