Family Filling Demand For Fresh, Local Organic Food
By COSHANDRA DILLARD
Each Wednesday, the McKinney family and fellow farmers stock boxes with home-grown produce and fresh-cut flowers among the backdrop of rural East Texas country.
The powerful fragrances of fresh dill and basil flow from baskets, crates and boxes, lining family patios that are also filled with vibrant-colored squash, kale, cucumbers, onions, peaches and other produce.
They work from 8 a.m. until about noon, stocking more than 40 boxes with crops farmed and harvested on the family-operated Flower Hill Farm. They then take the produce to Flint where 45 families have arranged to pick up their boxes as part of a co-op. Each small box costs $30 and the larger boxes, $40.
Matthew McKinney is up by 5:30 a.m. on most busy mornings, and soon after, the rest of the family, including wife Janet and their five children -- ranging from age 6 to 15 -- help with the irrigation and harvest in an organized fashion.
The oldest son, Phillip, grows cherry tomatoes while 10-year-old Luke grows peas. They both sell their products at a growers-only farmers' market in Longview.
On some Wednesdays, food that goes into the boxes is plucked that morning.
The McKinneys have lived in Laneville for about 11 years after relocating from Louisiana. Agriculture always has been a part of their lives. They once owned a blueberry farm, McKinney is a former gourmet chef and the family's venture into agriculture in Texas grew from Mrs. McKinney's fresh-cut flower sales. Today, their fragrant and tall blooms are sold at FRESH by Brookshire's.
The family became involved in community-supported agriculture after learning about the demand for fresh, local food cultivated using organic practices.
"I just love the term community-supported agriculture," Mrs. McKinney said. "My husband and I love agriculture. It is something we're both passionate about.
Her husband later added, "There's a new wave of Americans who want to know where their food comes from."
McKinney said life experiences and a long tradition of gardening within his family is at the root of that passion.
"It seems like we gravitated toward that type of people," McKinney said. "We're around farmers a lot because we were around farmers' markets. We enjoyed going to produce stands and getting fresh vegetables."
Today they work with farmers in the area who may not have the means or the know-how to market their crops. The family, nor either of the farmers they work with, buys goods at wholesale markets.
"We give customers our word," Mrs. McKinney said. "We're providing something that there's a need for and an outlet for farmers to market their produce."
The McKinneys say they'd like to expand their business next year but supplying a growing demand may be tricky. There are already people on the waiting list for the co-op.
In fact, providing a community with fresh food is a difficult task that takes years to perfect. McKinney cautions other families before jumping into it.
"We see it as a service and also a ministry," he said. "I don't think you can jump into it. It would take a whole bunch of money. We're really into learning from other people. It took years for us to build up to a point where we were confident."
Eating mostly whole foods is part of a healthy lifestyle. With many items being canned and boxed with added salt and sugar, some people have not become familiar with the tastes of unadulterated food.
McKinney said locally grown produce's benefits include a better taste and freshness since it's not being shipped across the country.
"The flavor of fresh vegetables is a lot more prevalent than the flavor you'd get from a mass-produced vegetable," he said. "They're picked more when they're getting close to ripeness. That puts our window of delivering it shorter but it brings a better, flavorful product to the customer."
East Texas Community supported agriculture
Painted Pony Ranch, Tyler
Hinds Feet Farm, Sulphur Springs: www.hindsfeetfarm.com
Caddo Grange, Lindale
Bill's Organic Gardens, Longview:
Flower Hill Farm, Laneville: www.flowerhillfarmtx.com
East Texas Homestead Farms, Mineola
Good Roots Garden, Rusk: www.goodrootsgarden.com
Just Peachy Farms, Palestine: www.justpeachyfarms.webs.com
Texas Daily Harvest, Yantis: www.texasdailyharvest.com
For more information about these CSAs, visit www.localharvest.org/csa
or their respective websites, where available.