Lasting Legacy: A Q&A with Ricardo Cruz from El Cruz Ranch

Ricardo Cruz has been raising food his whole life. After the birth of his son, he's more convinced than ever of the imperative to do it right. His growing practices are a legacy for his family, but, like all wise growers, he knows it's about more than himself. At El Cruz Ranch, he raises a variety of vegetables and specialty crops (try the hoja santa, a licorice-y flavored leaf that can be used to wrap meat in for grilling) as well as heritage breed goats and poultry. Future plans include a dairy and cheese-making operation and a commercial kitchen for value-added products. His turkeys will be gracing many tables this holiday season--for the care he puts into humane treatment of animals and stewardship of the land, we are immensely thankful.

Read on to hear why Rick feels the hard work of farming is the most important work he can do. If you're interested in ordering a Thanksgiving turkey, email rick@elcruzranch.com.

Why raise food?

We raise all kinds of food! To be self-sustaining, after we had our first son Ricardo Raymond, I added to what we were already doing. So now I can offer our goods to other families.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

I have a Bachelors degree in Agriculture Science with a Teaching Endorsement. Before that I was raised on a farm back home in San Juan, Texas where I did lots of field work and ranch work.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Sustainable to me means taking care of my farm, plants, and animals the best way possible, improving on them and the land every chance that I get. I recycle and reuse equipment and supplies, we compost and have future plans to capture rain water for our use on the farm.

What does a “day in the life” look like at El Cruz Ranch?

It depends on the season. Right now, I get up at 5:30 am and get my coffee going and Ricardo's first bottle of the day ready for him for when he wakes up. I go tend to gardens, birds or goats, then come in by 7:30 am to make breakfast. By 9:00 I have fed Ricardo and Dell my partner is off to work. I will get some house work done--laundry, dishes, and other chores while taking care of my son. He will nap soon after that, and off I go back to work till he wakes up. I carry my baby monitor around the farm and come in as soon as he wakes up. Then, I have more baby time till noon, when we have lunch and he has his afternoon nap and more work gets done. Dell gets home from work and takes baby time for me, so off I will go and do more work, afternoon chores, or garden work till I get ready to make dinner. I feed everyone and then go back to work. At 9 pm I put my son to bed, at times I will go do more work before falling into bed.

If it's a market day, everything is the same, but on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 10 am is prep time to get ready to go off to market. We leave home at noon for market. Saturdays, I wake up at 5 am to get ready to leave by 7am for the market. Market days also include lots of picking to harvest fresh greens for the market!

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

The fact that I put in the hard work and get to see results that matter to someone (my clients).

What do you find most challenging?

Time--not having enough time to get it all done.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by people who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

The commitment to the time it takes to see results can be overwhelming at times. You're not going to see quick results on a farm.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

My first role is as an educator--it's instinct to me. After that, my job is to be a provider of quality goods for people to buy.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

To help us continue to break the vertical integration that the large companies have created for our foods. Vertical integration means that one company (ie. Tyson Chicken) owns everything from the genetics of the birds they raise to the food the birds eat, so the one company gets to control everything about the food we buy at the store. The #1 reason that companies can get away with this is cost. Lots of Americans do not want to pay for quality products. Cheap sells in America. So Tyson, and other companies like them, have gained a monopoly over our food system by offering cheap food. They've made it a priority to figure out to the penny what it will cost them to sell food cheap. They make money on volume sales of very young birds that if left another day they will die because they are not bred to live past 6 to 8 weeks of age. Shopping at the market means investing in a different way of doing things.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

My clients love my chickens! I'm raising heritage breed Rainbow Rangers--the next set should be ready around December.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

That you can grow it yourself! Depending on your HOA in Austin, you could raise a goat or chickens in the backyard.

What inspires you?

My son Ricardo.

What is one thing everyone can do (or a few simple things) to create a better, stronger food system?

Have a garden or keep chickens--small changes do add up.

What are you cooking this week?

Braised collard greens and pasties (meat, potato,and gravy-filled empanadas).

What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?

Thanksgiving heirloom turkey is on our minds currently!