This past month marked 1 year at Humblebee Farms. Even one year later, I’m pinching myself, asking do we really live here?
If you had told me 10 years ago that I would swap my suburban Seattle life for rural small-town Texas I would have called you crazy. While I always preferred being around animals and nature, I grew up my entire life in the Pacific Northwest – why would I leave? If anything I was convinced I would move back to Vashon Island, a small island located in the puget sound accessible only by means of ferry boat. That move seemed dramatic enough. But move to Texas? That’s just crazy talk!
Yet, piece by piece the different elements fell into place. First, I started traveling to Texas for my job and loved the blend of small-town charm and accessible city life in Austin. At the same time at home, we grew more and more tired of the increasing trash, traffic and crime. Then we searched (unsuccessfully) for years to find suitable property in either Washington or Oregon. It felt like we were constantly battling headwinds. Nothing was coming together. Until all of a sudden things clicked. Why restrict ourselves to just familiar territory? Then we discovered the lost pines area of Texas and instantly knew this was the area we wanted to be. Now, we just need the place! It took three more years. But in the end, we found Humblebee Farms.
Finding Our Place in Texas
In the small town of Paige, about 45 minutes east of Austin, is a unique, isolated ecosystem of loblolly pines – the Lost Pines forest. Nestled in the heart of this forest is Humblebee Farms. A farm just shy of 100 acres made up of equal parts pine and oak trees. While I fell in love with the location because of the pine trees, I’ve come to realize that the oaks are just as special.
The towering oak canopies provide critical shade during the hot summer months. While in the winter their stark, empty limbs twist and turn in remarkable architectural shapes. Post oaks and black jack oaks are the most common. While the occasional water oak and singular live oak also calls the farm home. And a bonus? The birds love them.
We plan to do everything we can to maintain as many of these majestic trees as possible. Our vision of a “farm” isn’t your typical farm. Instead of large swaths of corn fields or other monoculture crops, our vision is rooted in permaculture systems that prizes diversity and ecological soundness. One day, I want to step out the cabin, walk a hundred steps in any given direction, and collect herbs, berries, veggies and nuts. Other than staples, we want the majority of food to come from our land. Eventually – over time – perhaps even staples like rice and einkorn wheat will make it into the system.
The Importance of Good Food
If you can’t tell by now, I think a lot about food. Where it’s from. What’s in it. Who grew it.
One category of food I’ve realized I don’t need to concern myself with as much as I thought I would is animal products. When we moved here I immediately did some research and found a local organic hog farm just a stone’s throw from us – Mockingbird Farm. A little further away in the ZZ Top-famed town of LaGrange, is the Jersey Barnyard. Here I can source raw milk, meat, poultry and even fine cheeses. This discovery of high quality, sustainable animal products right in my “back yard” has allowed us to focus our efforts on filling the gaps. Namely vegetables. And most surprisingly, organic peppers!
The Pepper Problem
Who knew that the hardest crop for me to source organically would be hot peppers!?! Luckily, they grow readily and we are well on our way to growing a variety of jalapeños, habaneros, poblanos and many other varieties to get us started. We are starting to think our farm might expand from selling bee-products to selling pepper products as well!
Given our name is “Humblebee Farms” you’d expect some honey! That is indeed the goal. But before we can raise bees we have a pile of land clearing (selective) to do. Our property is such that the only open area is the septic field and one small, lone clearing about 2/3 back across a creek that is un-passable for half the year. But like everything on the farm, we are slowly working towards that goal. I’ve spent dozens of hours researching online as well as talking with our local bee organization. We also purchased our first of many hives. A lot of effort is being spent restoring native grasses and wildflowers – food for the bees when they come!
For now, we spend most of our time hand-clearing yaupon holly, tending and building a market garden, pruning oaks, establishing a small orchard, building infrastructure and planting as many plants as we can get our hands on. All this manual work has left little time to write about it! I have a backlog of post ideas and photos to share. Yet, every-time I sit down to the computer something pops up in my head that I need to do. I guess in part, that’s life on the farm. But also, I just don’t feel comfortable writing anymore.
Finding My Voice
This past year+ has impacted everyone in some way. Even out here in rural Texas you could not avoid the shock waves of world events. I don’t need to re-iterate them here. But I do want to comment on one thing. I hesitate to even bring it up, for fear that I be labeled yet another crazy person. But perhaps that is why it grows even more important that I do say something. Otherwise, who am I to blame when society becomes a place I no longer want to participate in? What am I babbling about here you ask? Free speech. Plain and simple.
I’m not referring to any one topic here. Because, indeed, free speech isn’t isolated to any one topic. And that’s the point. But more and more it feels like putting out your words into the world invites hate, criticism and stereotypes from bystanders that know little more about you and your opinions other than the few words they read on a single post. Even carefully crafted “I don’t want to offend anyone, but…” sentences turn into incendiary battles. When did this happen?
When did voicing an opinion against the grain become such a grievous offense? When did debate crawl into a hole and die? When did the free and vibrant exchange of thoughts and ideas reduce to its current, blithering state? Isn’t that how we grow and mature? Isn’t that how we topple regimes, shed outdated ideas and speak out against wrong-doings even when it threatens the economic interest of powerful people and politicians?
Today though, any words you place into the eco-sphere of the internet can now be turned against you and threaten your career, your stance in the community and in extreme cases, even your actual life. Now, we must all think twice before carving our thoughts in stone – as it were – when we share anything online.
You would think that writing about farming and homesteading would be exempt from all this madness. But I fear it is not. No one is exempt. Who knew advocating for natural living would all of a sudden place you square in the bulls-eye?
For this reason I’ve shied away from writing. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like social media. So the safe thing, it seemed, was to be silent. But after much contemplation, I realize I was wrong. Effectively, I allowed my own free speech to be muzzled by talking heads and internet trolls. No more.
This blog has always been about advocating for natural living, healthy food and restoring our connection with nature. And it will continue in this vein. But no longer can I shy away from topics that impact these areas simply because I’m afraid of what everyone else will think.
So for this Independence Day I encourage – even plead – that you find your voice and share it, respectively, passionately. How else will we learn and grow?