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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunshine Farms, a bright spot in organic, sustainable gardening in Texas.


Did you know donkeys can keep deer away?  

It’s true.  We just visited Sunshine Farms out on Jackson Road in Montgomery and let me tell you that was a very interesting place.  It’s run by a sweet older couple, Jim and Lisa Jenkins.

It was what I THINK I want for our family, at least on a smaller scale.  They didn’t need any fences for their gardens because apparently the donkeys keep the deer away!  And raccoons and other pesky animals who like to eat our plants.  I turned to Bill and said PEEERFECT.  All we need is goats to eat the weeds and brush, donkeys to keep the deer away and chickens to give us fresh eggs!  Easy Peasy.  Maybe not cheaper than an eight foot high fence but…waaaaay more fun.

We talked mainly to Jim who showed us around the farm from the organic herbs (did you know Rosemary gets BIG.  Like, good for a hedge big?!) to his compost and water conservation techniques to his new project, the fish-fed aquaponics shed.  

Um, RIDICULOUS cool.  

He uses rainwater collected and filtered through rocks in large bins with CATFISH INSIDE who eat the bacteria and flotsam etc that get filtered through the rocks.  Then the catfish oblige by pooping a lot.  Ewwww.  But no, poop is GOOD in this case.  He filters it through and pumps it up to the shed and it will feed the plants he has suspended in a rock mesh cage above the water.  The roots just lap up that nitrate and nitrite rich water and because they don’t have soil to have to push through they grow about 30% faster.  Very cool.  He had romaine lettuce growing there and basil and different kinds of cabbage.  We can try that with a fish tank and some cabbage, easy peasy.  

Ellie chased chickens, goats, the dog, a kitten (Who I SOOO wanted to take home but Bill went all logical-reasoning argument on me and as usual I lost).  Apparently cuddling the kitten and appealing to his emotional side by saying ‘but she’s sooo cuuute….’ doesn’t win any arguments with this guy.  The real argument was over the who-poo question.  I said I’d do it but if we get lucky and have a Yeh #2 sometime soon, I won’t be able to empty the litter box.  Boooooo.  Anyhoo…

His wife Lisa has a whole shop on the farm full of artisan skin care and home care products made from the organic herbs they have growing outside.  We bought organic soaps and loofahs (yes she grows her OWN loofah!)  I KNOW I also thought loofah’s grew in Walmart bins.  Who knew they were A PLANT!!?  

So I’m trying that loofah-soap blend she created herself (out of her very own BRAIN!) and I bought the all natural dryer spray.  Side note - I stopped using fabric softener and bounce about 4 months ago because of all the chemicals in it.  

Did you know dyer sheets COAT your clothing in a chemical barrier, that’s what keeps them soft!? 

Do I want Ellie’s clothes coated in a  chemical so that they feel softer?  No.  Baby can rough it out.  And, it isn’t even rough.  I’ve got two dryer balls and now with the spray I bought from Lisa I can have them sell nice again too.  Instead of just awesome and clean, which is what they smell like with no softener and no bounce.  Terrible right?  I digress.

Anyway, I was SUPER excited to find this place.  They grow peppers and kale and onions and garlic and tons of different kinds of lettuce and just about every herb you can imagine.  And all organically using sustainable methods for compost and irrigation.  Amazing.  And all this just minutes from our house.  

To be perfectly honest I’m shocked to find something like this south of Virginia.  I mean, to find people FROM TEXAS who not only knew what Kale was but were GROWING it.  And organically!  I’m dumbfounded.  I’m flabbergasted.  I’m relieved.  

I may be in the meat eating, gun packing, yoga-what-what capital of the universe but that doesn’t mean there aren’t like-minded people about.  And sweet ‘ole Lisa and Jim MAY BE exclusively meat-eating, gun packing, yoga what-what people but if they’re working hard to be self-sustained and environmentally clean - we’re at least speaking the same language.  

To be honest what they’re doing out there is so impressive even if Jim had met us out in the yard with a sawed off shot-gun, a piece of goat foot hanging from his mouth and a picture of a yoga mat with a big red line through it, I still would have appreciated what they’ve accomplished.    

It takes a special person to run a farm.  And to run it without the ease of pesticides and big-business irrigation, that’s commendable.  I hope to find more families and places like what we found today here in Texas - but I have a feeling Sunshine Farms is a progressive bright spot in an otherwise dim farm-scape.

Anyway, so donkeys chase deer away.  The real question is…who’s cleaning the donkey poo?  (Not it, not it, not it!)