Food News

After a Rough Year on Farms and Ranches, a Texas Brewery Offers Help

A quick cold snap in April was too much for the tomato crop at Pure Land Farm.
A quick cold snap in April was too much for the tomato crop at Pure Land Farm. Pure Land Farms
Texas farmers and ranchers have had quite a year. Whether they supplied restaurants with local produce or welcomed families to pick their own, even green pastures and rows of blackberries weren’t immune to the pandemic. Add to that the mid-February winter blast that brought days of frigid temperatures and it felt like many just couldn't catch a break. (Earlier this year we spoke to a rancher who had to drag cattle off icy ponds and rescue nearly frozen abandoned calves.)

None of that to be overshadowed, however, by a record-setting cold front that quietly dipped over North Texas on April 21, which most of us city slickers probably didn't even think twice about. The late-season chill pillaged delicate early spring loot on farms north of Dallas.

“Uri was no big deal for us, we only have onions and garlic in the ground at that time and they were covered and ... are pretty hardy,” says Megan Neubauer of Pure Land Farm. “This little snap [on April 21] was a much bigger problem because we had our tender stuff in the ground; tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons. The average last frost date in Collin County is March 16 so this was pretty damn late to get that cold. The hardest part was watching it in slow motion.”

Neubauer’s 28 acres in McKinney always runs a bit colder than “in town,” she explains. So they knew that with a forecast of 32 degrees, they were in trouble.

“There just was nothing we could do about it. The tomatoes, especially, were so big, they weren't really coverable,” she says.

click to enlarge
These blackberry bushes died, but late-season bloomers made it and will be ready to pick in June. Somewhere in here lies a lesson on being a late-bloomer.
Pure Land Farm
They protected the plants as much as possible, but since the plants had already grown a foot away from the warmth of the earth, it was difficult.

“We start tomatoes in January from seed and plant about 400, so this whole journey of babying them in little trays in the garage, then potting them on into bigger pots and shuffling them in and out of the sun so they adjust, then adjusting them to the farm water and full sun, waiting until plenty late to plant, then staking and caging, only to have them maimed by a record late frost is pretty hard emotionally,” Neubauer says.

“The sadder story is a total loss of our earliest blackberry crop. We're looking at opening closer to June 1 than the middle of May," she says.

About the time that Pure Land Farm was assessing the damage, Karbach Brewing in Houston launched their Restoring the Ranch Program aimed at providing two Texas farms or ranches in Texas with $10,000 grants to rebuild or replenish their land.

The program is designed so that farmers can apply or someone can nominate their favorite farmer or rancher either via social media or through their website. The funds will be dispersed in time for summer, the company says.

Social media submissions are handled through Instagram and just need a picture of the nominee, with a caption explaining why they're being nominated and how they could use the grant money with the hashtag #KarbachRanchWaterContest. More particulars can be found on Karbach's submission page.

At Pure Land Farm Neubauer says the best case scenario is they only “lost a little time.” But, just like in the big city, even on the farm, time is money.

If you're interested in visiting the Pure Land Farm, check out their picking guide and sign-up for a visit
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.