Sustainability key for local farms

It’s not uncommon for Javier and Joanna Gonzalez to wake up at the crack of dawn to perform routine checks on their livestock.
As the owners of Blue Earth Farm, situated on 10-plus acres near Buda, Javier’s and Joanna’s morning routine goes a long way toward preparing for the selling season.
In today’s day and age, the lifestyle of a local farmer or rancher seems unconventional. While challenges exist, those who adhere to farm life find the profession can provide sustainability, as well as a way to help educate the community on improved practices.

With five pigs, 150 chickens and around five bee hives during any given season, the Gonzalezes work around the clock to raise animals before sending them to Lexington for processing.
But raising livestock also means finding suitable feed for their animals. Javier said he travels to Elgin, Smithville, Austin and Lexington throughout an eight-week period to obtain organic feed.

He also travels throughout the area to find new chickens and pigs to raise as well. All told, Javier can travel more than 200 miles in any given eight-week farming cycle.
“When we first wanted to be famers, we made spreadsheets and read a lot of books about how we can do this right,” Joanna said. “Half of farming is marketing and selling. You’re not just a farmer, but you’re a salesman.”

But they also built their farm with a philosophy to help and provide education on sustainable and healthy livestock practices.
A turning point for the couple came when they watched the documentary “Food, Inc.,” which showed harsh conditions of livestock for the mass production of food.
While the couple wanted to be farmers, they didn’t want the stigma surrounding livestock maltreatment. Their model centered on water conservation and sustainability, but also improved treatment for the animals.

“Our open spaces really improve the quality of life for our chickens and pigs,” Javier said. “They always have fresh grass and space.”
But there are challenges always present when operating a farm or raising livestock.
Jonas Jones, farm manager at Gray Gardens in Buda, said one of the primary challenges is evaluating how much to plant and harvest and how much will actually sell at a farmers market.
As a result, Jones said every local farmer is “in the red every day.” Competing against larger grocery stores can also be a challenge, as well as adjusting for the unpredictability of Mother Nature.

“The irony is, we provide a service that people need to survive, yet we face challenges every single day that make or break our operation. It’s the hardest business to get into, and the hardest one to get out of,” Jones said.

To combat this issue, many local farms work to be as sustainable and efficient as possible.
Jones said Gray Gardens’ staff works around the clock and plans up to six months in advance to plant for the upcoming seasons. In peak planting time, Gray Gardens can operate with five to seven acres of vegetables under the sun.

In the midst of planning for the upcoming season, the team works to prepare for five farmers markets throughout the weekend in Buda and Austin.

The team looks at sales throughout the different markets to determine how much produce needs to be cleaned, sorted and packaged for each market.

“We are up at four in the morning and work into the afternoon during our peak preparation times,” Jones said. “It’s a science when you get down to it. You have to pick at the right time, clean the vegetables and store them at the right temperatures to ensure they are fresh to sale.”

While the product may be different at both farms, all focus on sustainability with the intent to provide for a community that cares where food comes from.

“At the end of the day I do this because I love educating and farming,” Jones said. “Every day is different. Mother nature can come and wipe out your harvest in five minutes. It’s a hard industry but we love serving our community to people who really care about what they put into their bodies.”

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