If you ponder it, we are truly fortunate here in Austin because there is a wealth of options for organic produce and a thriving array of community-supported agriculture operations. But with many options comes the vexing need to make choices. So how do you decide which farm to follow and what happens once you choose one?
As for me…I had a neighbor, Rowan, who subscribed to the CSA and the sight of her weekly basket made me a convert. It has been three years now and I joyfully renew each season. The vegetables are that good and—just as important—it feels to me like there is a real relationship and community when I’m part of this CSA. Plus, I’m a health coach, an Asian bodywork therapist (Chinese tui na-style), and a personal trainer. Of course I’m going to be all about the organic vegetables!
We all have our Tecolote Farm stories, don’t we?
What caught my eye first was the beauty of the basket and its contents each week. What made me stay are the connections I’ve made with Tecolote, with my hub pick-up friends, and with other subscribers. There really is a sense of community that is part and parcel of this particular CSA operation. And recently, I reached out to Katie and asked her some questions about the farm, its history, and her and husband David’s philosophy of practice for the CSA. We had such a good written exchange that I think I’ll break my blog posts into a couple articles rather than just one long essay and for the first round, at least, I’m reprinting the conversation largely verbatim.
Paula: I got hooked on my CSA basket because I had a wonderful neighbor who had a basket and I wanted one too. I’ve chatted with the homeowners at the hubs where I’ve picked up my basket and they are inevitably genuinely nice and warm people. You seem to have lovely customers and you seem to really enjoy cultivating your relationships with people. If you compare the notion of cultivating your relationships to the act of cultivating your vegetables, which are also excellent, what are some commonalities?
Katie: We try to be nice, and treat people with respect, just as we treat our land and plants with respect. Not using chemicals treats the whole growing process with respect.
When we have delivery issues, and a basket goes to the wrong house or apartment, and someone has to put in extra energy to find their baskets, there can be moments of tension. I’ve noticed that I can get an email or a phone call with distress signals at times like these. Once I call our client, however, and talk them through it, there is usually a mutual respect and understanding that diffuses the irritation or inconvenience that person has experienced. Basically, our customer, whether or not we have personally met yet, then realizes that we are growing and delivering with love and enthusiasm, and this is not a corporate or cold relationship. We want their experience to be smooth and once they understand the complexity of delivering 250 baskets of vegetables to homes and hubs all over the metroplex, on top of all the time growing and washing and sorting and packing them, they tend to give a little. Also, nice people tend to want to get their food as directly from the Earth as possible. It just is that way.
Paula: Owl stories and legends differ among cultures. For some, the owl relates to Athena and wisdom. For others, an owl is a representative of death. I know that you named your farm for the birds that lived there, but do you have any metaphorical thoughts on owls and what they mean to your farm’s name? Is the owl your guardian animal there? What does the owl mean to you? Do you still have any on your farm? (I love them and have some great owl stories, so this is a question born of genuine interest and curiosity).
Katie: We also love owls, and love all the stories and how widely their symbolism differs across the globe. The two owls for whom we named the farm always swooped down right over us as we parked and got out of the car and walked under their tree, never flying away from us. Always right over us. I think it was an act of defense, a message to us that they owned the place, we were trespassing. So we told them, “We’ll name it after you, we’ll cultivate respect for you, and grow crops to attract more rodents for you, but we are going to share it with you.” They are still here, just not in that tree. Luckily, there are a lot of trees.
We also love that Tecolote is the Aztec name for owls. Although the Spaniards had names for owls (lechuza, buho), they didn’t call them tecolote. They didn’t have chocolate, or coyote, or aguacates (New World things that the Aztec had names for). David and I both love Mexico and had traveled widely there. David was even born there. Texas was part of Mexico. It’s New World. Most people of Mexican descent believe the owl is a harbinger of death. If the owls are telling about the death of the critters who chew on our sweet peppers, then I’m all for that symbolism! We find them noble and strong, and representative of the beauty of the natural world.
Paula: What are the things that bring you the greatest joy as a farmer? What are three tiny things that bring you great joy and what are three big things that bring you great joy?
Katie: Tiny things: the butterflies and the bees in the field, the seeds first sprouting in the greenhouse (the miracle of that whole process), the look on someone’s face when they taste something at market for the first time that really lights up their taste buds (like sorrel!!!!)**
Big things: the long relationships with people through our CSA, the growth of our team of workers every year as they learn the joy and satisfaction of hard but meaningful work, the big spaces around us and the quiet of the sunrise and sunset, after the day’s work is done.
(**Side note, re sorrel: Katie and I first made contact when I needed to change my pick-up hub the first time. The second time we conversed was when I confessed that I loathe the taste of sorrel and didn’t know what to do…I LOVE vegetables and was quite taken aback by my inability to find some way to enjoy sorrel and wanted to know if she had any suggestions. Katie sent me several recipes and she even remembered me the following year…and I guess the year after that since she mentions it again here. Ah, our sorrel connection…I love it!)
I so treasure the connections that I’m making via my CSA membership. In the next blog post I write on the subject of Tecolote Farm you can look forward to a discussion of the more day-to-day operations and consideration of issues like maintaining organic integrity in a GMO-filled world and how Texas farmers relate to and support one another. It’s going to be a good one! Meantime, I wish you great joy with your baskets and if you want to share a Tecolote story, I certainly will love to hear it!
Note: If you want to join up, here is the link http://tecolotefarm.net/product/csa-vegetable-delivery/
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services. If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.