By Austin Price
Part of the deal when you work so closely with nature is that things can happen when you least expect it. Take away the heavy machinery of industrial farming and replace it with your own two hands, and that truth becomes even deeper.
That's what Carin Moore of Blackland Prairie Family Farm tells herself when she recalls her run-in with a rattlesnake last summer.
On the first day of summer in 2016, Carin had just sent three of her children into the garden to help harvest when she reached down to pull a carrot from the soil. She felt a thunderclap of pain. “It felt like somebody took a rake and whacked it as hard as he could on my hand.”
She jumped up, with a snake hanging from her hand. It’s tail extended all the way to the ground.
She shook the snake off and immediately went to the hospital, where she received surgery and took time to recuperate. Her right hand, her dominant hand, was paralyzed for three months as she went through physical therapy to regain movement.
In the meantime, her farm was left at the mercy of the elements. “I was so tired, it took so much energy just to recuperate, that I didn’t do much of anything last summer. And I’m a weeny in cold weather, so I didn’t do much in the winter. I’m just now pulling all the stuff in the garden I had left in the garden, replanting it, and trying to carry on as a normal person.”
Through all this ordeal, Carin has had to show a tremendous amount of flexibility and gratitude. “All things considered, I didn’t lose my hand, I’m alive, and it was me and not my kids.”
Farmgrass Fest exists to support the farmers and farms that may not have the same luxury of flexibility that Carin shows. In the small family farm industry, a lack of healthcare can bring an end to a business.
However, for Carin and her husband, their farm is more than a business. It’s the product of her passion for gardening and for produce variety. “I remember seeing in a seed catalogue that you can have thirteen different colors of tomatoes. I had no idea this stuff existed and I remember thinking, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me. How do people not know about this and why isn’t this at the grocery stores?’”
Twelve years ago, her gardening hobby turned into something more: “I had so much fun with our garden in our backyard and it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We went from two 5x10 raised bed to a 16x40 garden to adding another 16x40 by our back fence. And all of our friends were just like, ‘Why don’t you just by a farm?’ And so we did.”
Today, she sells at the Cedar Park Farmers Market and plans to open a farm-stand at their location outside Taylor, which she says is a food desert that could use a good variety of local produce.
Another thing she cultivates is a love for the outdoors — in her children and in herself. Her four kids, Jackson, Cooper, Susan, and Bodhi, help on the farm and at the farmers markets in town. “They are exposed to the complete spectrum of life and people,” says Carin, “and they’re really cool for that.”
But many days, Carin works the farm by herself. She may listen to podcasts, or any type of music on her Amazon playlists.
“But sometimes I listen to the quiet,” she says, pausing to hear a orchestral mixture of wind blowing across the prairie and the springtime chirping of songbirds. “Because it’s not very quiet.”
By Austin Price
Kenny Johnson was a part of the music scene in Austin before he took his creativity to the homestead life. He started out playing grunge — “It was the 90’s” — before managing a restaurant for nine years. Today he runs a pasture-raised egg farm called Happy Chick Farms with his wife Stephanie and two children, Nevin and Emma, ages 8 and 3 respectively. As with any small farmer, the struggles with Mother Nature have been real and arduous. When asked what sort of music describes his life today, Kenny shakes his head and answers with a laugh: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
The farming life doesn’t come easy, particularly to the small family man who wants to do things right for his chickens as well as the consumers.
Kenny tells story after story of his hardships. There’s the time when 1,800 pullets — adolescent hens — didn’t make it back to their coops the night of a rare Central-Texas-snowstorm. Kenny had to get out of bed to single-handedly pick up each bird and put her inside so she wouldn’t freeze to death. Another time, he had to feed his chickens while suffering a stomach bug. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” he says, recalling how he dragged through a hour-and-a-half process made longer by steady vomiting and heavy lifting.
And on top of it all, he threw out his back.
“You lose it, you completely lose it,” says Kenny. “You get beyond your capabilities. I’ve pushed myself way beyond my limits. Mentally, physically, the whole gambit.”
For years, he has worked through his pain. “I couldn’t stop because I have kids, and everything that we had done would have been for naught. I had two retirement accounts and cashed them both in for this place. I was not gonna let my back take it all away. And of course we don’t have healthcare because the government sucks.”
“This is why we need nonprofits like Farmgrass,” he says. Last year, Kenny applied for and received a grant from GroACT’s emergency medical fund to help with his back. This grant was made possible by the proceeds from Farmgrass Fest and the many farm and music lovers that support the work of people like Kenny.
The Johnsons stand as an example of why the small family farm is needed in this part of Texas — where our cities, as well as our farms, are rapidly growing.
“We’re artists, musicians. We’re creative when we need to be, and we really do make it work,” he says. He explains the joy of farming: “I spend a lot of time with my kids. We have breakfast every morning together. We host a market every other week for the community, with about 130 families involved, that come out and get fresh milk, cheeses, honey from other local farms. Grass-fed beef, pork sometimes. It’s a life unlike the one I grew up in, and it’s amazing.”
Visit Happy Chick Farms to Learn More!