Comanche Greenhorns

posted July 31, 2009

Our friend Chandler Briggs, a greenhorn at Island Meadow Farm on Vashon Island, sent us this great article on some rad young farmers in Texas at Windy Hill Organics.

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Organic Veggies Grown in Area, Sold in Abilene
By Celinda Emison (Contact)
Saturday, June 27, 2009

COMANCHE, Tx — Ty Wolosin loves Mother Earth, which is why he is cultivating a piece of her with tender loving care on his small organic farm near Comanche.

The fruits and vegetables of his labor are all organic and are available each week at the Abilene Farmers Market.

Wolosin is among a growing number of organic farmers who sell organically grown produce at the Abilene Farmers Market. Produce from Slow Poke Farm in Cross Plains and David Sutton, of Abilene, is also available. He touts the advantages of organically grown food and urges his customers to save the seeds from his produce to plant themselves.

“If I don’t have business because people are farming, then I would be OK,” Wolosin said. “It is all about sharing the knowledge and paying it forward.”

Several restaurants such as the Turtle and Steves’ Market and Deli in Brownwood and Brennan Vineyards and Starbeaux’s in Comanche, purchase his produce regularly.

His farm, Windy Hills Organics, is on 100 acres nestled in the rolling hills off FM 590 near Comanche and is home to a lush 3,000-square-foot garden, one the 25-year-old developed and planted himself when he moved to the farm a year ago.

It is also home to some free-range chickens that lay eggs, several head of Red Brangus cattle and about 50 goats, including the kids.

Every morning, Wolosin dons his straw hat and begins his day watering and weeding and feeding the livestock. There is no wasted space in the garden, which is home to all types of exotic varieties of fruits and vegetables. It is only a few yards from the back door of the log cabin to the garden area, which is fenced and lined on the outside with sunflowers, geraniums and a patch of chamomile for his tea.

He waters and tends to the garden each day, keeping the pests at bay without using any chemicals. He has several organic pesticides he uses only in emergencies.

Once inside the garden, there are rows of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit, bursting from the raised beds. He strategically plants the different herbs with vegetables for pest control.

“Some herbs, like basil and parsley, and flowers, like marigolds, keep the pests away from the tomatoes and carrots and vice versa,” he said. “It is a symbiotic relationship.”

He uses heirloom seeds only, which means they have been the same variety for at least 60 years with no cross-pollination. He buys the seeds from cooperatives and selects hearty varieties that grow well in this climate. While Windy Hills is not a certified organic farm, Wolosin cultivates his crop using organic standards. Everything is seasonally planted, and currently those who visit him at the Farmers Market will find fresh tomatoes, herbs, sweet and hot peppers, squash, egg plants, garlic and onions for sale.

Rows of Italian and French summer squash flourish, while a large patch of tomatillos ripen. Wolosin picks the tiny ones to give his brown free-range chickens just beyond the fence, a treat.

“They love them,” he laughed.

A patch of ground cherries, the tiny tart, yellow sweet relative of the tomatillo, sits on the end of the row.

Wolosin checks the patches of mustard and Asian greens and Chinese cabbage and plucks a leaf of the Malaba spinach for a taste.

“This will be supper tonight,” he announces.

Meanwhile, rows of exotic Italian eggplants line one side of the garden and are getting huge.

“We should have some of these for the market this week,” he said.

Two 4-foot high wooden containers hold his Fingerling potatoes. Just below the containers, he has a round watermelon variety from Tanzania.

He kneels down to check the melons which are a lush green color and almost perfectly round. When they are done, some will have red flesh, others will be bright yellow.

“I’m not too good with thumping yet, but I think these will be ready soon,” he said.

As he makes his way around to the back of the garden, he tests out the Scarlet Runner peas, which are a relative of the black-eyed pea. He checks them by opening a pea pod and popping a few of the fuchsia colored beans in his mouth.

“These are sweet and good, they are just about done,” he said.

The rows between his organic crops are piled with mulch, which Wolofin gets for free from the Brownwood landfill.

But along with his organic garden, Wolosin is also raising organically fed cattle and meat goats. He hopes one day for the market for goats to explode.

“I get requests for the goat meat in Abilene from the customers at the Farmers Market,” Wolosin said.

He gets his chickens from Iowa, and they have their own “Chicken Chateau” just beyond the garden. The chateau is a repurposed child’s playhouse, Wolosin explained.

“We got a good deal on that,” he said.

As a child growing up in Taos, N.M., Wolosin and his family shared in a community garden with family friends. He worked in the garden as a kid, but only for an allowance.

“I did not appreciate it like I should have,” Wolosin admits.

Wolosin was a soccer playing native of New Mexico until he moved to Goldthwaite his senior year in high school, when his mom, and stepfather, James and Janice Williams, bought a 500-acre ranch there. It was primarily a livestock operation, with goats and Brangus cattle.

Four years ago, they sold the farm and bought what is now the Windy Hills farm. Meanwhile, Wolosin went to Texas State in San Marcos and earned a degree in geography and then to the University of Montana where he earned his master’s in geography. After backpacking across Europe and Africa and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Wolosin settled for a while in Spain, where he did his master’s thesis on organic gardening. He knew then that he wanted to come home to Texas to start the organic farm.

“It was the perfect place,” he said.

He believes in sharing everything he knows about gardening with customers, friends and even offers internships at the farm, where people can come live and work the farm. A woman from Barcelona, stayed and worked the entire month of April, Wolosin said. He’s expecting another intern at the end of the month.

He also offers shares of his garden to others, and currently has two families who, for a flat fee, receive the cream of his crop each month. This year, he’s hoping to expand the garden so he can rotate more crops.