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Small-scale Farming Offers Opportunity

By CLAY COPPEDGE, Country World Staff Writer

April 23, 2009 - When Brad Stufflebeam returned to the World Hunger Relief Farm near Elm Mott earlier this month to speak at the 2009 Spring Farm Day, it was like returning to his graduate school of agriculture education.

Stufflebeam went to work managing the farm after running one of the state's first organic nurseries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a dozen years. He and his wife Jennifer had always dreamed of owning and operating a small farm, but the couple knew that the gap between horticulture and agriculture can be wide when earning a living is at stake.

"I'd run the nursery for all those years, but I still didn't have any actual farming experience," he said before making a presentation on the importance of "eating locally." "Here, I pretty soon found myself neck-deep in crop rotations, a Grade A dairy operation and all kinds of other things I hadn't done before."

Stufflebeam has done pretty well for himself since leaving Elm Mott to start his own farm, Home Sweet Farm, a 12-acre Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation near Brenham. After three years, the Stufflebeams have capped CSA membership at 125 after starting out with 26 subscribers three years ago. He also served a stint as president of the board of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA), and has long been an advocate of the small vegetable farmer and the practice of eating locally grown food.

"Rather than try to grow the farm any bigger or try to grow more than we can, we want to extend a local food network to include other small farmers, especially produce farmers, who promote one another," he said. "Farmers don't have to 'get big or get out.' You can run a small farm and be profitable.

"We're not in competition with other farmers. The next generation of small farmers might have to worry about that, but we don't because we need more produce farmers. The network is based on relationships within the community, where people tend to think of it as 'their' farm."

Jenny said the couple is sometimes told that their way of doing things will never feed the world, which she acknowledges. "We're not trying to feed the whole world, just 125 people in our community," she said.

"I believe this type of agriculture can take its place alongside the bigger and more commercial farms," Brad said. "I'd like to see it the way it used to be on the Farm to Market roads, when there were farms on the road every five miles or so, and people bought their food at the farm or at the market in town. That's why they're called Farm to Market roads in the first place."

He believes that locally grown food will become more important to consumers than purely organic food.

"The big organic farms still ship their stuff 2,000 miles," he said. "There's no way you can know where the food was grown, not like you know if it's grown at a farm five miles from where you live."

While acknowledging the need for more farmers to fill an ever-growing niche in the ag market, Stufflebeam realizes that a stumbling block for many would-be small farmers is a lack of practical knowledge. As president of TOFGA, he helped organize a series of workshops for vegetable growers, along with Texas A&M horticulturist Dr. Joe Novak.

"You can have all the enthusiasm in the world, but you still have to know what to plant and when to plant it and how to take care of it and how to operate the equipment," he said.

The field day at World Hunger Relief Farm featured tours, along with live music, hay rides, animal painting and other activities. The farm is part of the non-profit World Hunger Relief, Inc (WHRI), a Christian organization committed to alleviating hunger around the world through sustainable farming techniques.

Waco real estate developers Bob and Jan Salley founded WHRI in 1976 and established the farm, which now produces organic fruits and vegetables, grass fed beef, dairy products and specialty items. Ten percent of what the farm produces is donated to Caritas of Waco.

Stufflebeam helped steer the farm toward offering CSA memberships, though donations from the community continue to help fund the operation. Volunteers and interns supply the bulk of the farm's labor, which produces food for about 60 local families through its CSA memberships.

"This is the way we always wanted to farm," Stufflebeam said of the World Hunger farm. "And this is where we learned an awful lot about doing it that way."

 

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