Our Farm Direct program recently went to Mexia, Texas to visit with Mary Lightsey of Lightsey Farms. Lightsey has been selling produce through our Farm to Work program and SFC Farmers' Market Downtown for over ten years. Located west of Waco, Mexia is a small rural town about 2 ½ hours drive from Austin. A bit of a trek for us, perhaps, but between the market and Farm to Work, Mary does this drive multiple times per week with her truck stacked full of sun-ripened peaches, plums, persimmons, and other fresh goodies for sale.
Mary is a born and raised Texan, and farming has always been part of her life. She grew up in Mexia on the farm she now owns - land that has been in her family for over 100 years. Her grandfather initially established the farm to produce cotton, but then made the switch to peaches which are now their primary crop. As we tour the vast orchards, Mary recalls pieces of her childhood and points out several fruit trees older than her. She began her career as a teacher, but returned to run the family farm with her sister in 2009 when their father passed away.
Mary enjoys farming, and talks about agricultural difficulties with an approachable, matter-of-fact attitude. Climate change, for example, is on the forefront of her mind. She explained to us that many varieties of fruit trees need at least a few frosts during winter in order to produce fruit in the spring and summer. This year fruit is booming due to the cold snaps this past winter, but last year was tough. The weather simply didn’t get cold enough. This is a continuing trend, and, although it worries her, she is working with Texas A&M and the Texas Fruit Growers Association to learn about peach varieties and other fruits that are more heat tolerant and don’t require cold snaps to produce. She informed us that all of the new trees she plants going forward will be types like this because she can’t afford to bet on cold winters.
From climate change, to labor shortages, to everyday operations, there’s no lack of challenges large and small in agriculture. But evidence of Mary’s love of her land is in her commitment to it. Mary says she misses teaching, but that deciding to grow food and continue the family business was a no-brainer. Many of the other generational peach farms in her area have closed down because family isn’t interested in taking over, but Lightsey Farms is going strong, and hopes to someday pass down the farm to the next generation.
Lightsey Farms will be at our SFC Farmers' Market Downtown every Saturday from 9am-1pm throughout the summer and fall. Come on down to get some peaches and get to know your farmer!