Sustainable Producer Spotlight Series ~ Past Submissions:
Pure Land Organic Farm
|View Past Sustainable Producer Spotlight Submissions|
Gumbo is great for supper but not so great for describing soil, but we'll get to that later.
Megan Neubauer, a scientist managing a Pediatric Oncology research laboratory, and her father Jack, a retired petroleum engineer, noticed a huge demand for locally grown produce, and a relative shortage of supply, in their McKinney, Texas, neighborhood about 30 miles north of Dallas. Encouraged by a shared love of food, the outdoors, and supportive family members, Megan and Jack took the leap from corporate life to full-time farmers in 2011. The father-daughter duo dug in (pun intended) by purchasing a tractor and farmland and pursued the dream of becoming organic farmers — Pure Land Organic Farm was born.
Pure Land Organic Farm encompasses 28 sloping acres, three of which are used for production. To maximize productivity and retain soil, three terraces were cut, containing 10 rows measuring about 400 feet long.
"The land slopes down to Honey Creek, where we hope to pasture some cows down there one day," Megan says.
While they're still well within the "learning curve," the farm's second year in production continues to employ a bit of trial and error.
"We are trying to produce as wide a variety of fruits and vegetables as we can, mainly to see what grows well and what doesn't, at which point we'll fine tune," Megan explains.
Pure Land Organic Farm is mostly a family affair, enlisting the help of Megan's husband, Allan, and her mom, Sarah, as well as other family members and friends willing to volunteer during the busy season. While both Megan and Jack generally do a bit of everything, Megan focuses more on marketing, building relationships with customers and local chefs, and choosing what varieties of plants to grow. Meanwhile, Jack works more with operating farm equipment and managing the land for long-term production, paying special attention to increasing soil biology.
"Growing in Texas has a whole lot of disadvantages!" Megan admits. She notes that the farm's biggest challenge is their lack of experience, but fortunately they have made plenty of farmer friends who are eager to share their knowledge and experiences with the Neubauers.
As the farm's "Dirt Doctor," Jack has had his work cut out for him finding ways to increasing nitrogen and organic matter in the black gumbo clay, which is sticky mud when it's wet and like concrete when it's dry. In an effort to increase the presence of microbe colonies in the soil, Jack applies molasses, Texas Worm Ranch Castings, and compost on a regular basis.
"Working on getting more organic matter into the soil is a constant effort. We just spread a pile of rotten wood chips the size of a house over everything this week. That ought to help!" Megan laughs.
The farm uses cover crops, "But we really haven't gotten them to thrive yet," Megan says.
The farm also uses Agribon, a strong polypropylene floating row cover that helps protect plants from pests and frost and is especially beneficial during transplanting because it reduces shock from the sun.
"It is a pain in the butt but has been the most helpful thing so far!" Megan says."
In addition to soil challenges, the farm has experienced some significant pest and disease troubles: cucumber beetles and fungal issues being the most problematic. Megan has found the use of worm and compost tea to be the most effective solution for curing fungal issues in her plants. In regards to the cucumber beetles, she admits they are still struggling.
"I've heard the last two years have been 'the worst they've ever been' from a couple other farmers in the area, so I hope we get a break this year!" Megan said.
The farm has discovered one biological control method, the fungus called beauvaria bassiana, which seems to work well as long as they stay on top of it. The fungus infects the cucumber beetles on contact and attacks their digestive systems, killing them in a few days.
"I hope to stay on top of them a bit better this year!" Megan says.
Although not certified organic by the USDA, the farm follows organic cultivation practices and does not use chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or other additives.
"We believe in creating a healthy, living system. When we first started growing and having issues with disease and pests, over and over again we read the single best defense is a strong, healthy plant, and those only grow in a high quality soil," Megan says.
Among the advantages the farm offers is the reliable natural spring-fed pond on the property, which has faithfully supplied water to the farm despite the hot dry Texas summers. Additionally, the farm's close proximity to Dallas makes it easy for Megan and Jack to deliver vegetables to customers on a regular basis.
Pure Land Organic Farm currently markets through farmers markets, local restaurants, and small grocery stores, but the Neubauers hope to start a CSA in the near future when they are growing produce more consistently. Once the farm builds a commercial kitchen, or has access to one, Megan hopes to incorporate value-added items to the farm's available products.
"We keep a pretty active Facebook page that is working well for us to stay connected with customers," Megan explains. "As far as marketing, we just talk to absolutely everyone!"
Many aspects have factored into the success of Pure Land Organics Farm: maintaining a realistic and flexible approach to the learning curve, learning sustainable methods and techniques from experienced producers, and having the gumption to take the plunge and follow a dream.
In addition to reading everything they can lay hands on and talking to everyone who is willing to talk to you, Megan suggests new farmers join their local organic growers' group.
"Joining the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) has been extremely useful for us. Soak up all the experience you can from folks that have been doing it for years. Don't waste your efforts reinventing the wheel and banging your head against the wall when you have a wealth of knowledge at your disposal."
Megan has learned quite a bit by reading dozens of ATTRA publications on specific pest and crop topics.
"I love ATTRA! It's a wonderful resource!"
Robert Maggiani, Agriculture Specialist in NCAT's Texas office, has also regularly supplied Megan with helpful information.
"After sitting next to Robert at the TOFGA banquet last year, I have spoken with him on many occasions on all kinds of topics, most recently on how to get all my carrot seeds to germinate, and I can proudly say I certainly hope people are in the mood for carrots!"
To learn more about Pure Land Organic Farm, visit purelandorganic.com.
The Sustainable Producer Spotlight is offered as a celebration of those who practice sustainable and organic agriculture and is not intended as an endorsement of the featured operations or products.
This page was last updated on: December 15, 2014