Sunday, May 29, 2022

What's Been Up, Down on the Farm?



I know, it's been a good little while since I've updated the blog. I have added to my numerous previous hats of occupations. As of last summer I ran, and won, a seat on my local community's City Council. That, on top of the farm, which I still run solo, keeps me pretty darn busy. So, I've succumbed to updating mostly on social media – FWIW. I know not all of you follow the FB or IG pages, and I'm sorry to have been absent from here for so long.





But, I'm updating here first, this time, with some pretty exciting and big news!


First, a little look back.

For those unfamiliar, here’s a little history. In 2002 I closed on the purchase of this 14 acres of land. It was, when I bought it, home to a gentleman and a horse boarding facility to owners of about 14 pleasure horses. 

My end goal was that the land would somehow support me in retirement one day. I'd pretty well given up on the “prince charming” folklore that I, like so many others, had fallen for. 

Disclosure, I never saw it as a farm. It was a block off of I20 on a main thoroughfare of a growing community, 15 minutes from downtown Dallas. It seemed like a good investment.

Over the first few years I plodded along leasing out stalls and the guesthouse. I had a family member in the main house at first, but originally intended to turn it into a cool old garden shop. In 2006, I opened a garden shop instead up in northeast Dallas, working with a former professor from hort school. Soon after, however, he relocated and I moved it down here and grand re-opened Eden's Organic Garden Center in Balch Springs the following year. But by then, I was living in the main house and had converted into a shop, instead, the tiny guest house. Talk about downsizing.

Even tho it was a unique shopping experience for the area, due to the stiff price competition of an existing and then an additional newly opened big box store, as well the drive against rush hour traffic during the week to get here for non-locals, it became apparent that my dream organic garden shop was fighting an uphill battle.

As an incentive to visit, I added gardening and nutrition classes, a community garden in the front yard, and a monthly farmer's market with all local and only organically/sustainably grown or produced products. I found however, that at the time, in 2008, local, organic farms in the N. Texas area were rare. 

After some consternation and many long talks with myself and others, I took the plunge, as you all know, into farming, and eventually basically shed the facade of the garden store which was bleeding me dry. It's still a shell of itself. I take special orders each spring, sell onions slips and certified seed potatoes and stock a few items and hand out lots of advice to home gardeners who call. But my full-time hours were dedicated to growing healthy, seasonal food for filling in the market, local chefs and primarily for members of my CSA. (Community Supported Agriculture)

Eventually, after 10 years
, the market died down, though. What with the main source of customers from Dallas suddenly having a weekly local market in Lakewood to which they could ride bikes or walk, natural attrition of farmers, dairy folk and ranchers, and local artisans making it “big” after launching their businesses here, it had become a sort of an incubator market. I’m proud and happy to have helped folks get their start, but I could not grow enough produce on my own to keep it thriving, and as other weekend markets sprouted up all over the metroplex, traffic wasn't enough to keep vendors. No other markets were strictly organic produce, and many had barely any local produce at all. But it didn’t seem to matter.

The nail in the coffin for the market, you could say, was Covid. I tried a come back the next spring with an Easter Egg Hunt to welcome folks back to Market Days. I purchased organic baked goods from one of our previous bakers to re-sell, harvested veggies and pulled out all the Eden's natural insect and pest products, farm's leftover plant starts, etc. I set up a good old fashioned one woman show Market Day.

It was busy! I was super encouraged. But, most everyone came simply to participate in the egg hunt with their kids.  I froze and ate most of the baked goods myself and planted, gave away or composted most of the veggie starts. My CSA and I ate the extra produce we didn't give away. It just wasn't going to happen. I guess all good things come to an end. Even after Edible DFW did a feature story on the farm, my market’s days appeared over.

But thankfully I had dove head first into the farming and it has, by far, been the most gratifying occupation I've ever held! The individuals and families, colleagues, interns, vendors, mentors and almost every person along the way, has been a pleasure and an enhancement to my life and the experience. I hosted long table dinners for chefs and charities, helping launch an ever so successful annual food celebration, mentored countless interns and have grown tons of veggies and fruit. I can’t think of a better block of years.

Now that I’ve put so much time, energy and money into this to create a vegetable farm, my vision for how I saw it supporting me over the years has evolved.

I wanted to continue the tradition of farming here at Eden's while affording others the many unique and wonderful experiences of farm life I've grown to love. A wake up call by a chorus of several roosters crowing in the distance. To be entertained by a flock of guinea fowl squawking and running around, (apparently also called a confusion – just watch a group of them for a while and you’ll understand why). 

To see how amazing it is to walk through a beautiful landscape of native grasses, wildflowers and trees blooming in the late spring and get a waft of the scent of fresh melons ripening in the summer air. 

A chance to relax in the cooler air of the fall and winter watching migratory ducks pass through. Admire the change of seasons all around the farm while watching local wildlife and, yes, even some livestock, graze through their day. 

It’s an experience I sometimes take for granted, until seeing it through the eyes of someone new to the farm. I remember then the wonder of it all and how fortunate I have been to call this place my home for the last 20 years.

In order to do all of this, keep the farm and share it with others, long into the future, for the past 5 years or so, I've wracked my brain. 

What would be the best way to preserve these 14 acres of mostly native land, its historic homestead and the farm to which I've dedicated countless days of blood, sweat and yes, many tears, and still have it support me without ending up an old disabled farmer who could barely stand up straight any more?

The fact that this little urban farm has done just that, supported me, since 2008, in and of itself is a bit of a surprise to many. Not the least of whom is my mom, who exclaimed, “I hope you haven't quit your real job”, when I told her I was going to be a farmer. Now, she tells me, she has a little folder of things she’s printed off and saved about the farm. She’s become my #1 fan and cheerleader.

Granted, I've seen some very lean years and without the extra support of some folks I like to call “farm angels”, I'd have been moonlighting delivering pizzas to get through some of them. But here we are, nearly 15 years after groundbreaking, a full head of gray hair and a body of aging limbs later – and I'm still standing! Most days. Ha Ha

But the truth is, small farming can be successful and I've proven that. When properly capitalized, it can be even better, easier for the farmer, feed more people and even be profitable.

So, here comes the big news;

I've read lots of books and articles, looked at lots of pictures, played around with sketches of my own, (not very good ones), even made a few Google Earth Projects showing how I thought this place could be. 

I networked and had lots of zoom calls, conversations and brain storming sessions with builders, lawyers, developers, architects, urban planners and bankers. 

I'm both stunned and humbled to say that my very own vision is now ready to take the next steps.

I've been working with what I call my “dream team”, two firms who respect and understand my position of honoring the land and its history and have a history themselves of creating projects similar to my vision.

We’re ready now to bring my vision for a mixed use Agrihood into reality!

Soon, I'll be hosting a gathering of my CSA members and folks from the immediate neighborhood here at the farm, with my dream team, to unveil images of the plan, walk the property and hear the details. This will give folks an opportunity to put those drawings and renderings into perspective, and for us to get feedback on the proposed project from them. 

I've always tried to be a good neighbor, taking their quality of life into consideration in whatever I do, or planned to do, with this property. And after all, unless they end up moving to the farm, they'll still be living next door. I do know what it is like to have something pop up next to your home that is undesirable and I don't want to do that to these folks who have collectively been good neighbors to me.  I really do think this project will be a win-win-win for everyone though. For me, the residents who end up living and/or working here and my neighborhood; the greater community of Balch Springs as a whole.


Set back from the farm's growing area, towards the mini forested area and back into the prairie, will be a limited number of cottage style homes in a “pocket neighborhood” style community. No through street like a cul-de-sac, just pathways where folks can stroll, ride their EV bike, cart or cycle around a common court-yard area. An area that is quiet, friendly, beautiful and surrounded by as much naturally preserved vegetation as possible; people can enjoy a semi-rural experience in an urban community, 15 mins from downtown Dallas.

The 2 acres of gardens, growing orchard, and high tunnel will remain a working farm. Finding a way to keep the land in production is very important to me. Aside from the ecological benefit, as we have all seen from time to time, it really comes in handy to be able to walk out your back door and collect the ingredients for meals. Besides it tasting better and being fresher, some days, it's about all that's around.

I’m actively seeking the right person to whom I'll pass the keys to the tractor at some point. My hope is that a new farm team will grow the production back up to and exceed where I was at the peak of things a few years ago. That level of production will enable the farm to continue to support its legacy and new CSA members and, once again, host an organic farmers' market here on the farm!  I'll still be here to help with institutional knowledge, historical info and an extra hand when needed. Nothing would make me happier than to see the revival of Market Day full of smiling neighbors carrying fresh produce home!  As well, with additional hands in the dirt, the farm can re-offer more sales to chefs and continue to help send food to our food pantries, as we grow more produce.

New residents of the farm will also, of course, become CSA members, with the additional responsibility and benefit that comes along with living at the source. Their ongoing support will assure that the land, the farm and its farmer(s) are taken care of, forever. 

In addition to the veggie farm, the 3 horses who currently reside here, will stay here as we've incorporated in the plans sufficient pasture and will relocate a barn for them. After all, they are our primary source of fertilizer!

The flocks of chickens, cats, me and Bear will all still be here, too, to share what I've had the privilege of experiencing these past nearly 20 years I've lived on site.

Bringing healthy food and eating habits to folks here in Balch Springs is what has kept me grounded here for so long. I firmly believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to access fresh, locally grown, organic food, no matter where they live.   

 My local community has changed and grown in the past few years, and it keeps growing.  I really feel like with the right marketing and local support from the City and local Chamber, Market Day can realize a new life here again, even better than before.

And so in addition to the pocket neighborhoods and farm, we're planning, also, to make available commercial spaces for;

    Up and coming cottage-like “makers” buildings, vendors and proprietors, continuing the “incubator” environment for start ups

    Public space for events, like the Market Day, bringing back "Films on the Farm”, nature walks/talks, classes, long table dinners, etc.

    A food truck “park” area under the grove of old oak trees we’ll preserve

    Hopefully a little sit-down coffee shop/wifi cafe, maybe a small deli or general store – could be a garden center – in the restored century old farm house, or a beer garden

    A small community of tiny-homes – which, wow, these days are so elegant, and yet affordable!

    And hopefully, at some point, I can entice a chef/restaurateur who wants to be a pioneer in the area to bring us a truly farm to fork dining experience offering to southeast Dallas County what we now all have to travel to downtown Dallas to find

There are countless possibilities for fun ideas at this stage, once we gain the proper zoning from the city of course. But, based on the city's 2036 Comprehensive Plan, it is exactly the type of zoning they were hoping for, for this property one day, so I think it should be a welcome addition to the City's plans. 

We're hoping to hear from the neighbors and potential residents as to what they'd like to see here and work to make that happen.


I'd gone back and forth in my head as to how to make it affordable for people to buy a house here, and I'm so excited to say that I've found houses, architects and builders that are like-minded!

I can remember when a starter house cost what folks are today paying for a vehicle. And whereas I can't bring back prices from the 1980's, I can build homes that concentrate on the necessities for folks that plan to spend much of their time enjoying Nature, playing in gardens and socializing with their neighbors outside, anyway. 

I've long scratched my head at the expensive mcmansions. This type of housing often straps young couples into dual income situations they regret, with rooms that stand mostly empty for years, especially once the kids grow up and leave, or keep singles of all ages from obtaining home ownership at all due to the expense. Many cities restrict new housing to large, oversized homes, but we hope to change that, with some updated and progressive zoning.

We're proposing to sprinkle in a few townhomes, and even plan for a few cottage-like style rentals, for those who just don't think home ownership is for them.

All these choices should make for an exciting opportunity for those who are like-minded in that they appreciate the value of the land preservation, diversity of unique housing types, the on-site local food concept, a vibrant, walkable retail area and see this as a chance to get in on something very special; and what will hopefully become the neighborhood of the future.

I'm really excited to see this vision of mine come to fruition. I know it'll take awhile, but I hope that you'll take a look at the plans once they become public and join me in that excitement. And perhaps even some of you, will become my neighbor some day!!

Assuming you like it, I may need you to show your support of the project at city meetings, (like you all did for our roosters and the pond, which, by the way, will remain intact and be enhanced!), because as an elected official now, I won't be allowed to speak at meetings on my own project. (They frown on that sort of thing, no matter how excited about it I am. It's the law and I respect it.) I have my dream team to represent me, but community support is important, too.

Well, that's all for now. I know it's a lot to digest, and forgive me for keeping all of this under my hat for so many years. But planning one's future takes years of hours of thinking over the veggie patch as I weeded and seeded and harvested over the past 15 or so years. I'm looking forward to the next steps!

Stay tuned.

Until next time, Eat Your Food - Naturally!