Thomas Locke, 35, hopped around to different jobs until finally finding his calling. It’s not a high-paying corporate job or a gig bringing him fame, but he gets to hang around cows.
“I went to Austin College up in Sherman,” he says. “I just had no idea I was going to be a farmer.”
Today, Locke and his uncle are operating the more than 200 acres that make up Bois d’Arc Meat Co., raising cows, pigs and chickens.
“I worked on an environmental campaign in Massachusetts. … From there, it was a series of jobs that didn’t really bring out the Thomas in the Thomas, so to speak,” he says. “I didn’t feel called to do any of it. I needed a job; I thought I needed a career because I thought that's what people did.”
He found his calling when he and his now-wife, Gillian, were living in Durham, N.C.
“I could see myself as [a farmer], and it occurred to me that we have land in North Texas that’s not being utilized, really,” he says. “I truly admired what these folks were doing by raising animals the right way, improving the land, taking care of the environment, cutting down on the carbon footprint for people to be able to get food on their table … and the lifestyle of living on the farm was very attractive to me.”
So he left his job — complete with salary and benefits — to work as an intern at farms in North Carolina. In 2014, the Lockes moved to Windom, about 80 miles northeast of Dallas, where his family had owned farmland since the 1850s. In that process, perhaps unknowingly, Locke joined the growing ranks of educated young Americans leaving their desk jobs behind to take on a new generation of farming.
His uncle ran the farm, selling calves when they were about 6 months old for $600 to $1,000. Today, they’re selling 3-year-old cows for about $2,500 each.
They own 190 acres and lease 140. Locke suspects the leased acreage will increase as his cattle operation grows.
“Personally, it’s the best choice I’ve ever made besides getting married,” he says. “I feel like I was called to do this, and I think that everyone has a calling one way or another, and if you listen to it, you’ll follow it, and it will be a good thing.”
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Financially, it’s a bit of a different story.
“It’s taken about four years to really get it off the ground,” Locke says. “The first year, we paid everything out of pocket. The second year, we paid for everything out of the business, but no profit. But this year, we’ll be able to make a profit. And next year, we’ll probably be able to take an actual salary.”
Part of that is made from selling their product at a market in Paris, Texas, and at the Dallas Farmers Market. But the slow start is probably why Locke doesn't know other farmers in the area who are his age or younger.
“I honestly want that to be a big part of my work for the rest of my life, to encourage people to consider farming and farming this way as a lifestyle,” he says. “A lot of folks are doing that in North Carolina and the East Coast. … There are a lot of very educated, young, smart, passionate people who see a need for changing the way we feed ourselves in this country. In Texas, not as much.”