Rita Foust and Mel Jones make a good pair. She is a self-described perfectionist, which can be tough in the business of growing food. Luckily, Jones is laid-back and happy to go along with her ideas for what and where to plant vegetables on their farm. Together, they are the duo behind Farmer Jones Eco Friendly Plants and Produce.
Foust's journey toward organic farming began in 2001 when she was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor. "At that point, I began cutting all chemicals in my life," she said. "I started avoiding mixes and packaged food, only shopping on the periphery of the grocery store." Up until she met Jones in 2008, her only experience growing plants was on the porch of her apartment. That all changed when she moved out to his three-acre farm and pecan orchard in Poetry, an unincorporated community in Kaufman County. Since then, the farm has been completely organic (though not certified). Now Foust is in charge of seed purchasing, farm planning, and record keeping. Jones covers weeding, pest control, irrigation, equipment and maintenance. Shared responsibilities include planting and general problem solving.
This year's biggest problem is grasshoppers. The farm is being held hostage by springy, hungry insects. Every step we took on the farm produced a multitude of flying grasshoppers. (I swear I only yelped once when one flew into my face.) They have been devouring everything, from herbs and corn to the fruit on their peach trees, leaving only the pit stuck to the branch as proof the fruit ever existed. This has lead to some creative problem solving, such as planting corn starters and covering them in mesh to stop the grasshopper onslaught. So far, it's working.
Despite the grasshopper onslaught, Foust and Jones have produce for sale. You can find them at the White Rock Local Market or at Eden's Organic Farmer's Market in Balch Springs most Saturdays. When the new cottage food laws kick in this fall, Foust will be making and selling breakfast breads, jams, and pickles in addition to produce. Currently, their Facebook page ) is the best way to stay up to date on what they are growing and where they are selling it.
I was lucky enough to visit Foust and Jones along with their chickens and army of miniature poodles (OK, three poodles) not too long ago. There are many wonderful things about their small piece of earth, but here are my top five.
Corn smut. Foust and Jones were excited to find corn smut, also known as huitlacoche, inside a corn husk the day before I visited. This stuff is weird. Like bad acid trip weird. Or Salvador Dali melting clocks weird. Corn smut is a parasitic fungus that invades the normal yellow kernels and transforms them into creepily oversized and distorted gray lumps. The result is visually unsettling to say the least, like a corncob and a brain had a baby. Despite its alarming appearance, it is considered by some to be a coveted find. Huitlacoche is a delicacy in Mexico, often used as a quesadilla filling. Corn smut's admirers love the earthy, woodsy, umami flavors found in fungus combined with a hint of sweet corn. While I was there we inspected the rest of the cornfield, hoping to find more warped and gnarly cobs, but sadly we came up short.
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All the tomatoes. Foust and Jones are growing a lot of tomatoes and have managed to keep the grasshoppers and their greedy little mouths away from them. They have Roma, beefsteak, cherry and several heirloom varieties. The colors range from deep purple to golden yellow and everything in between. Some are sweet and squishy, others tart and bright.
Artichoke blossoms. The part of an artichoke we all know and love (and eat) is essentially a flower bud. Foust and Jones had enough self-control to keep some of the buds on the plant and the result was an enormous indigo flower. Makes me think twice about cutting an artichoke's life short ever again.
Learning how to pick watermelon. During my visit we picked small, round, personal melons (just what everyone needs in their life). When this type watermelon is ready, the shoot closest to the melon dries up. Then you tap the melon, listening for a relatively high-pitched thunk noise. Finally, check to see if the bottom of the watermelon is a yellow color. The watermelon I took home was delicious, the best I have had all season.
Homebrewed beer. Jones brews his own beer and it comes out of an old tap in their shed if you ask nicely. Nothing better than drinking pumpkin ale at 10:30 a.m., in my book. Made the tomatoes we picked in the summer heat go down easy.