Stewards of the Land: Interview with Bryan Bickham of Springfield Farms

The changing of the seasons brings new crops and with them, some of our long-time farmer friends are back. Bryan Bickham works the land in Moulton with his family on Springfield Farm, growing gorgeous greens, sweet potatoes, and more for customers at SFC Farmers' Market downtown. Bryan sees farming as both creative endeavor and spiritual imperative: nurturing our community and tending the earth is work of the deepest significance. This week, he shares with us what led the family to a life of growing good food and what keeps them coming back to the market.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Springfield Farm.

Our farming adventures began about 15 years ago when we realized we were having a hard time finding and affording organic food for our growing family. So we began to have a family garden that, over time, got bigger and bigger...eventually leading us to want to find a place where we could have more land and the ability to raise as much of our own food as possible. We ended up in Moulton, TX on 10 acres of bald prairie and deep clay top soil. About five years of experimentation with large vegetable plots led to us consider selling commercially. With the help of some farmer friends nearby, who were already members of SFC markets, we started coming to Austin with our produce in 2009.

Why raise food?

Raising food makes more sense to us all the time because the more we learn about the corporate food system, the less we trust it. In our minds, growing food is a virtual necessity to insure the food we have for ourselves is safe and nutritious. Getting to share the harvest with our customers and help them escape the big box stores is equally important to us.

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

Being a minister before a farmer gave me an understanding that we are stewards of the land and responsible for "bringing forth fruit." We consider it a ministry to make wholesome food available to meet people's most basic need. It is truly a great privilege to be a part of the creative process that brings food into existence.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

To us, sustainable means farming in such a way that the delicate balance of nature is undisturbed, and even safeguarded. This means no manmade chemicals can be used ever. Period. Growing practices must include proper soil management. We use cover crops so as to minimize our dependence upon trucking in organic fertilizers and composts. Leaving the land in a better natural state than you found it is simply the right thing to do.

What does a “day in the life” look like at Springfield Farm?

On days we don't go to markets, life begins slowly and, I might add, not at the crack of dawn. We do not subscribe to super early mornings at Springfield Farm. We like to wait for the morning haze and dew to burn off before we get into field work, and even then we pace ourselves and work around the weather. Things get hectic around harvest time--on Fridays--which sometimes last well into late evening. After weekend markets, we usually take a day off....and limit our work to keeping plants and animals watered.

How many people work on your farm?

As a family of eight, just about everybody has some chores to do on the farm. But it is mom and dad, and three young adult children that get the bulk of things done. Working at our own pace is a real blessing, because it has never seemed like a job. Definitely hard work at times....but never any stress.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

Because we are so far from a real supermarket, I usually end up doing all the grocery shopping when I am running errands for the farm. Happily though, we find ourselves needing less and less from the stores all the time since we buy everything we can at the farmers markets!

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

Hands down the most rewarding thing about farming is getting to work together as a family.....and build our business for the next generation. We also enjoy great freedom in what we do since we are self employed . Our friends and fellow farmers we have met at the market have also truly enriched out lives.

What do you find most challenging?

Dealing with the elements is by far the most challenging aspect of farming. It is insane how many calamities we have had in the field over the last 5 years. Flood, hail, drought, bugs, freezes, biblical insect swarms, weed infestations, high winds, stray bullets, loose cows....and more drought. It is always something.

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

The mega-corporate food system is by far the biggest threat to sustainable farming. Educating people to understand why local and sustainable is better still has a long way to go. Mass marketers are competing against us now with their own claims of "local" and "organic" and even setting up areas of their stores to look like farmer's markets. As long as we have any customers at all, they will not be happy.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

Farmers should play a key part in society. They should be at the forefront of protecting the environment. They should also be the people who sound the alarm about the mad scientists who are out to destroy the world with their franken-foods. Farmers ought to set an example of how we can live in harmony with nature.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

We should all shop at farmers markets so we don't die! As far as I am concerned, it is the only truly safe place to shop. We really don't know what goes into the food at the grocery stores. We don't know where it is coming from. We don't know who grew it. We don't know what chemicals were used to produce it. We don't know how long it has been stored. We don't know if it was grown by exploiting workers in third world countries. At a farmer's market there are very few unknowns. A community cannot be healthy without a vibrant local farmer's market.

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

The best news in food lately has been the growing awareness and opposition to GMO's.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

I wish more people knew that real food is not always pretty. The stores only sell the pretty stuff. Real food comes in all shapes and sizes and has blemishes and bumps and bruises and sunspots and bug bites. Some people stare at produce that is real and just can't compute why it is not picture perfect like it is at the store. I believe more food gets thrown away for this reason more than any other.

What inspires you?

People standing for truth inspire me as well as those who work tirelessly on behalf of the poor with little or no recognition. Several years ago two young ladies with the Austin Food Bank made a valiant effort to start a food rescue/donation program at our markets. These are the kinds of efforts I admire.

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

Support farmer's markets! Nothing else comes close! By supporting the local markets people are re-building a sustainable food system.

What are you cooking this week?

Fresh pasture raised poultry from our friends at the market!

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

Roast chicken cut in pieces rubbed in coconut oil...seasoned with salt, lemon pepper, garlic and paprika ---one hour at 450!

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: organic fried eggs with beet kvass and fresh goat's milk.

Favorite comfort food: peanut butter and bananas.

Favorite book/film about food: a 1920's documentary called "Grass"...a tribe's epic search for better pastures.

Favorite cookbook: not exactly a cookbook, but "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon

Favorite fall fruit/veggie: carrots

Favorite food indulgence: fresh shrimp