"It's nice to feel connected to something you consume, to know where it really came from," Seth tells me. "It's not easy; you have to really go searching for a lot of the stuff we buy, but it's worth it, especially for our kids."
Wardlow wishes me luck and tells me to call if I have any questions. He suggests I return someday, just to sit on his porch with him and watch the chickens scratch. That sounds nice, I tell him. I decide to not mention my locavorish plans to keep and then cook my own urban-raised chicken.
Not far from where I live in Plano, just off the intersection of Parker and Jupiter roads, stands one of the last remnants of Texas' agrarian past in the metroplex. It's the farm of Todd Moore, a third-generation Texas dairyman. I arrive at his farm, the Lucky Layla dairy, to get the cheese, yogurt and eggs that should hold me over for my weeklong experiment.
The farm sits on 300 acres, completely hidden from the surrounding metropolis by the tall oak and sycamore trees that have been here since his grandfather's time. Driving down the bumpy dirt road that leads to the milking barn brings back memories.
I grew up in the high desert country of Northern Nevada on a small spread built on the banks of a slow-moving river thick with cottonwood trees. I had a Huck Finn kind of childhood: summer afternoons spent on a wooden raft catching bullfrogs or jumping off a rope swing into the muddy river with my brothers and sister. Our pigs wallowed on the river bank, which served as a water source for our garden and livestock. Despite its rock-hard desert soil, we felt tethered to the land. We grew tomatoes and bell peppers and squash and watermelons, and made cheese from our goat's milk. Life could be hard—hauling buckets of water to the sheep on cold winter mornings, waking up at 5 a.m. to milk the cows—but it could also be satisfying. Nothing like sitting on a flatbed trailer on a hot evening, eating cold cantaloupe after a day of clearing a neighbor's hay field.
I find Moore in the cool cinder-block office at the front of his milk barn, where he and his wife sell their products from an old refrigerator decorated with cow-shaped magnets. He's dressed in shorts and sandals and has the easygoing nature of the dairymen I had grown up around.
As we step outside and climb onto a small orange tractor, Moore says he likes giving tours to his customers. His goal is to educate people about where their food comes from and to show them the many ways in which Lucky Layla is different from other dairies.
Most dairies I've seen keep their cows standing in their own manure. Moore doesn't confine his cows to small, fenced-in pens where the animals have little to do but eat and defecate. He lets his herd roam where they want, from the shade of his oak trees to a large pond he's dug for them to use on hot days like this one.
We drive down a little hill and across a wooden bridge that spans a small, tree-lined creek. Moore points to the trash scattered on the shaded banks. "That's from Sam's Club and Tom Thumb and everything else on the other side of the freeway," he says. "I tell the city about it, ask them to clean it up, but they say it's my responsibility." For Moore, it's a constant reminder of how the city is encroaching on his farm and trying to push him out.
Moore says he is trying to stay true to the old ways, but it's not easy. The survival of his farm depends on the success of the high-end cheeses and yogurts he sells under the Lucky Layla brand, which is carried by gourmet grocery stores such as Eatzi's and Market Street. So far, the demand has met expectations, he says, because the eat-local craze is catching on. "I just hope it keeps up."
We drive past some old buildings in various stages of disrepair. He points to the barn his grandfather built, which was necessary for the teams of stock horses he used to plow the fields. At one time the farm was entirely self-sustaining. There were chickens and turkeys to eat the insects in the fields, making the grass safe for cows to graze on. The cows then provided a natural fertilizer to the fields, which in turn provided hay for the winter. The farm was a model of environmental friendliness, seemingly unending cycles of life and death, of waste turning into growth.