While working on Jennifer Babisak’s story on agritourism for the June issue, Senior Editor Lori Moffatt learned more about the challenges and rewards of small-scale ranching and farming—and of opening your land to the public—from Sid Greer of Greer Farm near Daingerfield from Tom Carnes at Agarita Creek Farms in Fredericksburg.
“We were gifted this land by the parents of my wife, Beverly. Her dad became very ill soon after the gift, and we relocated here earlier than planned due to his illness. It was great for Bev to be here for her dad's last months, and it has been wonderful to live one farm over from her mom. Their farm has been in her mom's family since the 1800s, and her dad's family has been here that long as well. The Altdorf Biergarten and Restaurant in Fredericksburg, in fact, was built by her great-grandfather as his home and shop.
Even before we moved here, we decided that we were going to raise heritage animals. We joined the American Livestock Breeds Association and devoted ourselves into learning about rare, threatened breeds. We decided to focus on sheep for two reasons. As the drought evidenced, this is not proper cattle country. It is, however, great sheep and goat country. We might have focused on goats, but our cattle barbed wire fences, originally designed for cattle, would not contain them properly. Sheep it was.
We had a hard time choosing a breed of sheep. I was partial to the Navajo-Churro, sheep brought over by the Spanish explorers and the sheep of the Navajos. The US Cavalry, during the Indian Wars, killed almost all of the Churros. Those that survived were hidden in caves. They were long thought to be extinct. Then, in the early 1970s, a herd was discovered at a reservation in the west. All Churros in the United States today come from this herd. They have a double layer, hair over wool, and their hair and their wool come in an array of colors. Their hair and wool are usually different colors, which makes it fun to identify them after shearing. Both males and females are horned, with either two or four horns (and sometimes five or six in a ram).
Jacobs are spotted sheep, with two or four horns, that are rumored to be descendants of the spotted sheep given to Jacob in Genesis. They used to be plentiful in England, and were introduced into the U.S. in the 1850s. Ironically, the breed was bred up in England to its ruin, and English breeders now start their flocks with Jacobs from the U.S. or Canada. They generally have white wool with black spots; their spots show up brown on their surface hair coat.
Beverly loved the Jacobs, I loved the Churros. We got both. They have in common their horns, their relatively coarse naturally colored wool, and their triple purpose: meat, milk, and wool. They are perfect sheep for homesteaders. They are also well adapted, live well on our natural vegetation, and are much easier to manage and maintain than sheep. I cannot recommend them enough. Our grass feeding, combined with their size, produces small, lean cuts of delicious lamb. It is the best I have eaten, bar none.
We do raise Dexter cattle, another threatened breed, but only in small numbers. This idea came from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Dexters are small and a delight. They came to the U.S. from Ireland. They are dual purpose, milk and meat. Their dual purpose, their small size, and their efficiency in eating make them ideal for homesteaders. They are the perfect cow.
Tourism was always an integral part of the plan. We wanted to have a place where families could come and enjoy the ranch and one another. There are TVs for videos, but they are not hooked up for TV reception. There are board games, cards, etc. It is a place to escape. We have families who come here two or more times every year.
We think it important for kids to know what a farm or ranch is, and where food comes from.”
Sid Greer, who runs Greer Farm near Daingerfield, notes,
“How do I define agritourism? Well, it’s where agriculture and tourism intersect, where owners of farms and ranches bring the public onto their property to experience the outdoors and the so-called leisurely pace of a farm.
I think that the idea of a farm-stay is a fun alternative to a typical getaway. When we ask visitors what they liked about the experience, they tell us that they wanted (and got!) a new experience, or to escape from the stress of the city. Parents want their kids to how things grow, and that milk doesn’t come from a carton; it comes from a cow.
Some places offer a total farm experience, others provide an experience where you don’t have to rough it: You can collect some hay, feed the horses, but you don’t have to shovel manure. Usually, it’s your choice.
A common element on our end is that we have a keen interest in sharing what we do with others. We tend to be self-sufficient types, and when we invite guests into our lives, what we do is on display. So we have to enjoy the aspect of sharing. In some ways, that’s more important than the extra revenue. We really enjoy having people come out and say, ‘Wow!’
Before we started our farm-stay program, we had all the elements here except the tourism. While we had a good cash income from the family farm, a farm’s earnings are always cyclical. Agritourism has provided us with a level of financial stability.
Some of the challenges are obvious: You lose your privacy, and it takes away part of your time from your farm job. But for us, it has been worth it.”