After failing in our efforts at suburban gardening, Vagabond Dad and I embraced community-supported agriculture by obtaining our meat, milk, and produce directly from local farmers and ranchers.
However, a new wave of “agritourism” has taken root in Texas and is taking this farm-to-table experience a step further. In order to provide a level of financial stability to a farm’s cyclical earnings, some farmers and ranchers invite visitors to participate in duties such as harvesting vegetables and fruit, feeding pigs, herding cattle, shearing sheep, and corralling goats. Some even offer overnight lodging. For city-dwellers like myself, it’s an opportunity to witness the resilience and dedication of the men and women who nurture the land to put food on our table—and have some fun in the process. Eager to explore this trend, the Vagabonds plotted out a summer of farm-and-ranch getaways.
On 400 acres southwest of Daingerfield, we find the ultimate example of agritourism at Greer Farm, where Sid and Eva Greer produce crops ranging from pine trees to blueberries, raise cattle, offer cooking classes, and welcome visitors year round for day visits and overnight stays.
Forests of pine and mixed hardwoods frame expanses of lush grassland, while manicured cutting gardens provide bursts of color and delicate fragrance. The Greers’ white clapboard farmhouse serves as home base for the Greers’ monthly Farm to Fork cooking classes, where Eva, who trained at the Arts Institute of Houston, offers hands-on instruction in such topics as cooking wild game, holiday celebrations, pasta-making, and baking with berries. Eva tells me that one memorable class consisted of a group of Dallas women who were learning about Julia Child.
With Eva’s encouragement and instruction, they used vegetables and meat raised on the farm to successfully replicate six recipes from Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Next, we drive to the Hill Country in search of Agarita Creek Farms, a ranch on 170 rugged acres just outside of Fredericksburg. The hilly landscape—dotted with mesquite and cedar trees—ascends from the nearby Pedernales River bottom to a peak elevation of 1,700 feet, offering spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding Hill Country.
Here, Tom Carnes works the land in the mornings and evenings—spending workdays at his law office in town. His wife, Beverly, enjoyed a career as a speech pathologist before devoting herself to fulltime ranching, braving the Hill Country elements to raise heirloom sheep breeds, primarily as breeding stock but also for meat and wool.
Piling into Beverly’s truck, we pursue Agarita Creek’s herd of more than 100 sheep. Though the sheep primarily feed on grass, Beverly gives them supplemental treats to encourage socialization and provide a nutrient boost during times of drought. As we feed them from the back of the truck, she calls some animals by name, saying, “They’re very sociable, like pets. We’re especially close to the orphans that we’ve bottlefed.”
Our visit to Sand Creek Farm & Dairy, northwest of Bryan, revealed an unexpected twist: Owners Ben and Alysha Godrey eschew fossil fuels while maintaining a herd of 40 Jersey, Guernsey, and French Normandy cattle, in addition to a wide assortment of heritage livestock.
“We prefer horse-drawn equipment,” says Ben. “It’s a very peaceful way to farm. Not only is it clean and sustainable, but the horses are a pleasure to work with.”
The Godfreys keep busy making cheese, yogurt, and caramel from their cows’ milk, and they also harvest beef, lamb, eggs, chicken, and turkey. But they enjoy sharing their way of life with the public, too, so they open the farm to visitors once or twice a month for Farm Day events. Today, we’re gathered with a group in the milking room to begin the tour. We climb into a horse-drawn wagon to explore the farthest reaches of the farm. Ben drives standing up, gently commanding his horses in Dutch, calling “Links” (left) “Rechts” (right) and “Teug” (pull).
We roll past the 5.5-acre garden and acres of farmland covered in cowpeas, a cover crop that enhances the soil with nitrogen. Here, the Godfreys grow vegetables such as Purple Majesty potatoes and Golden zucchini, as well as familiar crops like lettuce, onions, carrots, and beets. In the distance looms the thicket, tangled with wild grapes and blackberries.