It was 1994 when Katie and David Pitre began Tecolote Farm— the first Certified Organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Texas. The mid-’90s, you may recall, were about the birth of the dot-com bubble, high-top sneakers, and Walkman CD Players — this was long before local food and farmers became cool. Back in Manor, TX, Katie and David were Texan trailblazers, inspiring food lovers across the Austin region with their heirloom vegetables.
Being the first in any movement is far from easy: Tecolote entered a food landscape dominated by big industrialized farms and homogenous chain stores without much use for local product. (At Bon Appétit, we understand how Katie and David felt: even in 1999, when we started our Farm to Fork program, it was an uphill climb to find small farmers interested in selling to us.)
On a recent visit to Tecolote Farm, Katie showed students from St. Edward’s University that even 20 years later, operating a small, diversified farm is no easy task. However, It’s a job she would not trade for anything else.
Katie explained that organic farming requires managing many moving parts, each of which comes with its own unique challenges. Tecolote Farm still grows vegetables and now raises hogs on its 65 acres. Their heavy clay soil requires intensive management to maintain fertility. Water is a scare resource on the farm, which makes irrigation a continual struggle. The rickety harvest truck drives around the farm with the front door permanently ajar due to old age and heavy use.
Katie says that while their small, organic farm is “not perfect, it is awesome.” They believe in tackling these challenges head-on, finding creative, sustainable solutions, and making it work. They’ve improved their sandy soil with careful crop rotation, green manure (or cover crops) that fix nitrogen back in the soil, and regular amendments of turkey manure from the farm down the road. Tecolote ameliorated their water woes by building a small well on site and purchasing a new parcel of land 14 miles away along the Colorado River. The harvest truck may be battered, but it runs — and it continues to get the job done.
At Bon Appétit, we are proud to partner with Katie and David and prepare their heirloom vegetables and pork in our cafés at St. Edward’s University. Recently Executive Chef Michael Tanner purchased two Tecolote hogs and featured various dishes on the menu to honor the whole animal. From house-cured and smoked ham to even fromage de tête (also known as head cheese), St. Edward’s students experienced Tecolote’s awesomeness from snout to tail.
We understand that operating a sustainable farm is hard work. But it is precisely the challenges and imperfections that make this work so worth supporting.