“Green Acres” revisited
Photography by Danny Fulgencio
“My parents sent me to an expensive private college, outfitted in Nordstrom’s clothes, with the thought that my silly love for horses in high school would be the last they would see of a farm in my life. Neither they nor I would have ever guessed a few short years later, I would marry a farmer, live down a muddy gravel road, call a 50-year-old rodeo team meeting hall my home, permanently have goat poop on my jeans and revolve my social life around my chores.”
So begins the farm girl blog of Sarah Farris. On first read, it sounds like the plot of the 60s TV show, “Green Acres.” Privileged city girl is hauled off to a life of milking goats. But as is often the case, reality—the life Sarah shares with husband Michael on Homestead Farms in Keller— is far more interesting than any sitcom.
Sarah, who grew up in a suburban Southlake neighborhood, may not have been raised on “farm livin’,” as the “Green Acres” song puts it, but she wouldn’t trade what she has now for any other kind of life. Though new to the farming scene, she has long been a passionate advocate for healthy eating. Sarah attended Baylor for two years and then earned her degree in dietetics and institutional administration from Texas Woman’s University. Her experiences on the farm have made her even more committed to teaching others, especially children, about the benefits of good food.
Always a farm boy, her husband Michael earned his degree in ranch management from Texas Christian University. For five generations, his family has been tied to the land the couple now shares. It was Michael’s great-great grandfather, Lawson Stateham, who began a dairy farm on the property in 1889. Homestead Farms was honored in Austin last year with the Texas Century Farm Award, which recognizes farms that have been owned by a single family for more than 100 years. In 2010, it was the only farm in Tarrant County to receive this honor.
But times have not always been easy. In the early 1980s, Michael’s father was forced to shut down the dairy operations due to the rise of large agri-businesses and the downturn in the economy.
Michael’s family managed to hold on to their property, and today, in spite of encroaching suburban development, Michael and Sarah live in Michael’s boyhood home. With the help of two students from Keller High School, they are revitalizing the surrounding 14 acres, raising goats and cattle, growing produce and operating an on-site store. They are confident the farm will succeed, although the idea seemed a bit outrageous to Sarah at the start.
“On our first date Farmer Michael told me that he planned to start a goat dairy, and I thought he was a crazy man (but a cute and charming crazy man, hence date two.) I would have never believed… that same goat dairy would be the basis of our business and that I would be managing people fighting over the ‘white gold.’”
Although Sarah and Michael don’t have children yet, their large family includes 60 kids, with 20 more on the way. These long-eared, soft-coated babies are Nubian goats, a breed selected for the high quality of their milk.
A few days after the kids’ births, they are moved to a separate pen from their mothers and are bottle-fed. “It serves two purposes,” says Michael. “We heat the milk slightly to get rid of some bacteria, and we are also able to see exactly how much each kid is getting. If they were nursing, we wouldn’t be certain.”
I love walking out to the barn and finding little baby goats looking up at me. Not only do the babies tug on my maternal heartstrings, but I also know more babies mean more milk, which means more happy families!
The Farrises are proud of their raw (unpasteurized) goats’ milk, the farm’s main staple. For raw goat’s milk to be sold to consumers in Texas, it must government-certified “Grade A Raw Goat Milk,” which mandates an extensive list of requirements, including licensing and regular inspections. Raw milk can only be purchased on site.
While it’s less convenient than running to a supermarket, Sarah and Michael believe that their product is worth the trip and that customers will gain knowledge (and have fun) when they visit. “With us you get to see where your milk is coming from,” Michael notes. “You can pet the goats that produced it. You certainly can’t do that at a big box store.”
To enhance educational opportunities, the Farrises frequently invite children from the local school district to tour the farm. There is a grassy area behind the store with rabbits in large cages, a few chickens and usually some goats playing nearby.
The couple also raises cattle for butchering and sells the meat at their store. Other products, which change with the season, may include goat cheese. “We thought cheese would be our biggest seller,” says Sarah, “but we got such a strong response to the raw milk that it became our core business. We are planning to make an aged hard goat cheese that will be available this summer.”
Their store also offers eggs, honey, nuts and jams produced by other farmers. “We know everyone whose goods we sell. And we try to use local vendors as much as we can,” shares Sarah. In the coming year, they hope to grow more produce on their farm and increase their herd. They are also actively involved at the Keller Farmer’s Market, where Sarah serves on the board, and Michael helps with setup and teardown, as well as sales.
Like most farming families, they are pragmatic and know that maintaining a successful enterprise won’t be easy. To achieve their long-term goals, they cut expenses where they can. They feel fortunate that they don’t have a mortgage payment. With the help of their friends, they built their own goat barns from mostly salvaged materials.
“To save money and eat more healthfully, probably 70% of our diet comes from the products we sell in our store,” says Sarah. “I have learned to be quite creative in the kitchen, especially in the winter.”
Even their mixed-breed dog Scout is hardworking. Making his home in a goat barn, he keeps one eye open for encroaching coyotes and is always prepared to bark ferociously or even fight, if necessary.
A young couple, clearly in love with each other and the farm they work so diligently to preserve: a story more interesting than any television sitcom—and more beneficial for their scores of faithful customers.
As we celebrated the past 120 years, we couldn’t help but to wonder what our farm will be like when it receives the 150-year award, or even the 200-year award… Although farming is hard and monotonous work, it’s these simple daily farm observations that remind me why I love my farm girl life.
4160 Keller Hicks Road
The Keller Farmer’s Market will be held on Saturdays, April 23 through October 29, from 8 am to noon at the Keller Town Hall Fountain. www.kellerfarmersmarket.com
PENNY RUEKBERG is a professional freelance writer based in Dallas. She has written for numerous local magazines, including Richardson Living and The Texas Jewish Post as well as for numerous regional and national publications. She is also an enthusiastic amateur cook and a fan of good food.