by Bernadette Noll
When asked her favorite aspect of life on Boggy Creek Farm, Carol Ann Sayle answers without hesitation, "The beauty of the light at dawn and sunset when the sun is low over the fields and the flowers, and the way the light and shadows play off each other; the light is just like stained glass."
In Carol Ann is the soul of an artist, and it's this soul that pervades all she sees and touches here on this East Austin urban organic farm she owns and operates with husband, Larry.
An Austinite since 1964, Carol Ann has raised three children here. Prior to the birth of her second child, Carol Ann was a high school teacher. She left that profession while pregnant with number-two child, at a time when pregnancy and school teaching was not encouraged as a joint venture. In January of this same pregnancy she took her first art lesson and fell in love with painting. So natural was her talent that by April of that same year she had her first art show and went on to show and sell her work in Houston galleries and all around the panhandle. By May she was already teaching her first art class.
In 1981, she and her husband took the first step in their "back-to-the-farm" movement by buying a farm in Gause, Texas -- about an hour and a half outside of Austin. They bought it as a hobby farm -- a weekend project -- and as a way of sometimes escaping city life. In 1991, when art prices had bottomed out and the real estate bust had turned Larry into a house remodeler, they decided to follow their dream full-time. Carol Ann knew nothing about farming when they started and she emphasizes NOTHING, but her will, her desire and her spirit were strong -- a necessity, she says, for anyone considering such a life.
In 1992, they rented-out their Austin home, worked a little creative financing and bought the five acres and historic house in East Austin, which they turned into Boggy Creek Farm -- one of only a few truly urban farms in the nation. Since then they have been running this organic farm, and just recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of their two-day-a-week farm stand.
Little did they know when they started out -- selling primarily wholesale produce to Whole Foods and Fresh Plus -- that their way of life, their farm itself, would be such a haven for so many adults and children alike. Now, with over 90% of their produce being sold retail, people come to the farm stand on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and with them come their children. Years ago, after a project ended with a load of extra sand, Carol Ann suggested just dumping it near the chicken coop as a sand pile for the grandkids. The children of the customers found it and have played in it ever since. Now, the children chasing chickens and rolling in the sand, and the chatting moms are as much a part of market day as the fresh produce and flowers themselves. "Sometimes itís the moms that keep us going. They come even in the off-season and buy what little produce we might have. Those five or ten dollar purchases might just be the difference between meeting payroll or not. Itís all cyclical." And besides this philosophical reasoning, Carol Ann just likes to see kids experiencing farm life and getting dirty, "Itís good for them, good for their immune systems, good for their souls."
Because they cultivate both the urban farm and the country farm, Carol Ann spends much of the time working and living solo at Boggy Creek while Larry works the farm at Gause. Carol Ann admits this is perhaps the toughest part of the whole arrangement - this and the Bermuda grass. But to this, as with seemingly most things in her life, she sees an upside, "Itís hard sometimes to be apart so much but working and living together everyday -- all hours of the day -- might be a little too much togetherness for any couple." As far as the never-ending Bermuda grass battle is concerned, however, there is absolutely no upside.
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In addition to the crops, there are the chickens. These are Carol Annís task -- a world with which she is so intimate that it inspired her to write the Teddy award winning childrenís book, STORIES FROM THE HEN HOUSE, chronicling the lives and antics of several of the main chicken characters: Willie, Wild Mommy, Miss Ethel and the Harriets. After watching them for so many years Carol Ann says, "Hen House society is a lot like human society: loyalty, bossiness, fighting, raising babies, unfortunate occurrences and joyful momentsÖ"
Carol Annís outlook on life and organic farming are positive, inspirational, heartening and humorous too. You can meet her for yourself on market days or catch a sense of it in her writings: EATING IN SEASON, a cookbook and a guide to eating fresh through Texasí two main seasons: hot and cold, and her weekly e-newsletter available at www.boggycreekfarm.com. Imagine such productivity, such inspiration, such artistry, all the while knee deep in chicken poop.
Here's more from Carol Ann:
Who inspired you when you were growing up and why?
Of course, my parents. They taught me to work hard and finish a job.
You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?
What is the biggest contradiction you see mothers being faced with today?
Searching for the cheapest food, to fit the "budget." This leads to the purchase of "old produce" which may look "ok," but which has lost its nutritional content. Avoid all fast food and most processed foods. Saving "preparation time" will eventually lead to all sorts of problems resulting from poor diet (behavior, obesity, health). Spending inappropriately on "toys" and other unnecessary things unbalances the priority list and leads to shorting the family on nutrition. The priority should be to feed children well, even if they won't eat it!
What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?
Being kinder and more generous of spirit, especially to people who appear to cross me.
What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?
Farm stand customers who tell me how special the farm is to their lives. I didn't expect this to happen when we started farming.
What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?
How about any of the "world leaders"? Perhaps President Bush and Saddam Hussein for starters. Or the head of Monsanto and Alice Waters (Sustainable Agriculture Advocate.)
What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?
Patience and the ability to see the future. Usually all will be ok, so just relax a bit.
Thanks Carol Ann!
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