Brad and Katherine Posing by Tractor

Grown With Love: An Interview with Hat and Heart Farm

Commitment to caring for our land and feeding our community is what drives Katherine Tanner and Bradley Ottmers, farmers of Hat and Heart Farm. A 6th generation farming family, this pair each have deep roots to Fredericksburg, TX. Bradley was raised on the farm that is now Hat and Heart and strives to apply the lessons he learned from his father and the wisdom passed down from the generations before to steward his family land.

After taking over the family farm, Katherine and Bradley have begun to build on his family legacy and turn it into something even more. More sustainable, modern, and just plain inspiring. Farming is hard work, especially for a small-scale operation like theirs, but every week they come to the SFC Farmers’ Markets with genuine smiles and energy like no other. When asked about what it’s like to be a new farmer, Katherine replied that she’s never found more satisfying work.

Read our interview below with Katherine to learn more about Hat and Heart Farm and their passion for growing food. We think you’ll come away with respect for the resilience of this young couple who are striving to build a thriving, regenerative farm on a foundation of love.

Katherine in Chicken Coop

What does a day in the life look like at Hat and Heart Farm?

There is nothing quite like a screen door flapping behind you in the early morning air as the dawn breaks just above the horizon and hungry livestock eagerly await your approach. The chickens range free from their safe overnight coop, goats race for the first nibbles and cattle mosey and eventually trot to the sound of an eagerly anticipated pellet treat.

Once everyone is fed, we then feed ourselves. It is the kind of breakfast that sticks with you, fueling the long hard day ahead. Harvest happens every day in the summer. Sometimes multiple times a day. There are eggs to be gathered, stock to be fed, vegetables to be picked, weeds to be pulled, seeds to be started, produce to be washed, and markets to journey to.

This is an age-old tradition passed from parent to child for generations in the Ottmers family. As time marches on, the crop may change, the stock may come and go, portions of land may be bought and sold, but ultimately, it is the tradition of growing food for one’s self and community that is the heart and soul of local sustainable family-owned farms like ours.

Brad with Chickens

Why are you passionate about raising food?

Bradley famously answers this question like this: “Someone’s gotta do it.” Food is a basic human need. We are passionate about playing our role in feeding the world. Healthy, nutritious, and grown without chemicals. Food is not a luxury and it’s not a “want to have”. We want to grow food that feeds real people. People in our world.

What is most challenging about farming?

Mother nature. She’s amazing. She’s powerful. And she can be very unpredictable. Early and late freezes. Months without rain. Weeks without sun. Flash flooding. 100+ degree days. Cold temperatures freezing the livestock’s water. Drought. Hail. High winds. Downed trees. Lightning strikes. Brush fires. Small tornados. A family of armadillos digging in the beets. A raccoon that fingers it’s way into a sleepy chicken coop. A swarm of grasshoppers eating an entire crop of cauliflower. Fungus in the soil (that’s been there for decades but no one knew until the okra failed that year) that kills the crop. A team of deer (or your own livestock) get through the fence or an open gate and graze on your almost ripe cucumbers.

Katherine with Goat

What does “sustainable” mean to you, and why is it important to you to grow your food this way?

Sustainability is a way of life for us and many small farms. We want to ensure the future of our farm and the ability to grow food (in other words sustain it). To do this, we get creative with ways to use what we have, recycle and repurpose what we’ve used, and rebuild/enrich our land so -- in giving to the land, it gives us bounty back, year after year.

Sustainability is the circle of life unbroken. It’s giving as much as you have received and not taking more than the land can give. It’s making a home for the good bugs, that will combat the bad bugs (nature’s pesticide is the circle of life).

It’s feeding the microbes in the soil that create a positive nutrient-rich foundation so the plants grow stronger, healthier, and more nutrient-rich (healthier soil = healthier plants = healthier vegetables = healthier customers). It’s using used oil to run the heaters to heat the greenhouse to grow the vegetables in the winter (the fry oil used to fry our produce and others, is the fuel that heats the greenhouse to grow more vegetables).

It’s preserving the harvest to lengthen the time we can sell things (preserving our profitability and our produce) by canning what doesn’t sell each week. And what can’t be preserved, gets fed to the chickens or composted.

Brad and Katherine Picking Produce

What do you wish more people knew about raising food?

We wish people knew how hard it is. Farming is hard work, especially when you farm largely by hand like we do. We don’t grow on a large enough scale to bring giant harvesters in to mechanize our process like large scale commercial farms do. When you buy something from us, it was planted by hand, weeded by hand, harvest by hand, washed by hand, packed by hand, and displayed at the market by hand. Farming is seven days a week and starts before dawn and goes till after dusk. It’s constant problem-solving in a constantly changing environment.

If you summed up our profession in a college track it would need to be a multidisciplinary degree including soil science, horticulture, entomology, biology, animal health, pasture management, water conservation, wildlife management, food handling, post-harvest logistics, and meteorology with electives in carpentry, welding, electrical engineering, plumbing, mechanics (diesel preferred), and emergency preparedness.

Then add a second major in sales, marketing, public relations, social media management, statistics, accounting, business strategy, and finance, with more minors in product placement, public speaking, media relations, photography, and merchandising. And it’s also pretty handy if you can write grants and drive a stick shift.

Hat and Heart Farm Booth

You are a consistent presence at the SFC Farmers’ Market. What is your experience like at the market, and how has it benefited your business?

We love attending SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown. It’s one of the highlights of our week. We enjoy seeing our customers and meeting new people and we love catching up with fellow vendors. Out of the four markets we attend, SFC is our consistently top-performing market and very much the reason our farm can exist the way it does today.

How has accepting SNAP, WIC, and Double Up benefits at the market impacted your sales?

We LOVE seeing those SNAP, WIC, and Double Dollars in our customers' hands. Accepting these benefits helps our sales numbers but as always we would love to see MORE of these in our stall at the market.

Katherine in Field

What would you tell someone when they ask, “Why should I shop at a farmers’ market?”

It’s the right thing to do. For you and your community. Health wise, it’s the best place to get the most nutritious food. We picked our produce the day before or day of the market which means those peppers on the table have retained way more nutrients than the produce at the grocery store that was in a shipping container or semi at some point.

It’s the closest thing to picking vegetables out fo your own garden you can get without growing it yourself. It’s also the best way to support local growers, who also shop and support the local economy. Keeping our local businesses alive supports and stronger local economy and more resilient food systems.

Also, the markets are fun! You meet the producers, you can ask gardening questions, people make new friends, and have coffee and brunch.

Hands Holding Eggs

What’s your favorite farm-raised, holiday dish?

When we don’t grow or raise something ourselves we source it from farmers and ranchers we know. We love a good ham during the holidays and we always find one from a good pork raiser friend. Deviled eggs are also a crows favorite (with farm fresh eggs of course!).

You can also never go wrong with a good charcuterie board with all local ingredients: local cheeses, locally raised and cured meats, our pickled peppers and beets, slices of in-season vegetables, and locally baked breads and crackers. We make our own butter and spreads.

Thank you for reading about Hat and Heart Farm. This farming family has been connected with Sustainable Food Center and our SFC Farmers' Markets for many years, and we are honored to share a piece of their story with you.

But we need your help to support more farms like Hat and Heart Farm. At SFC, we have a bold new vision to make Central Texas one of the most sustainable, equitable food systems in the nation. A region where regenerative farms will flourish, protecting our health and our environment for generations to come.

We need your support to make this vision a reality today. Your tax-deductible donation will help us launch new programs to provide the support our local, sustainable farmers need to thrive. Please, donate now!