Moon Dog Farms

Certified Naturally Grown family farm growing fruits, vegetables & flowers in the Texas Gulf Coast

MoonDog Farms is dedicated to stewardship of the land, reinforcing a healthy community and producing great food.  

Kids, meet the chickens. Weeds, meets the kids.

It's July. It's sweltering. It's  weedy. It's time for vanloads of teenagers to visit the farm and do their best to make our sweaty hardscrabble patch of coastal prairie look dreamy and abundant.  And boy, they just keep doing it every time. 

(C) Alex Thompson 2015

This is now the 3rd summer to have a visit from Robert Mihovil and his photography campers from Texas A &M SeaCamp, and as with the past two summers I'm grateful for our unique relationship. We have a ritual that we perform right before they come; Alex and I scan the farm, taking in the scant shade, the weedy eggplants, the disarray of the washstand (which results in a more naggy kind of knowing glance from me to the McFarmer, poor fella) and the numerous tasks which are yet to be done and think,

"Jeez. What were we thinking?"  

This year, that feeling was compounded from the aftermath of the 8 Month Rains. There's so many things that we're so far behind on that they've gone from "To do" to "Never mind."

But then the kids come, and they take beautiful photos, and we have the chance to talk about why we love farming, our farm and this hard, crazy path.  It all makes sense again, for a lovely half hour.

Plus this year, we got to see kids go gaga over chickens. 

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as Alex and I do, and if you were one of the talented individuals who visited our farm over the last 2 weeks, we thank you. I want you to know Alex and I are grateful to you for putting up with our dad jokes, being troopers about the blazing heat, and for leaving us with lasting gifts that show the singular beauty of nature and hard work. 

(C) Madison Peerenboom 2015

(c) Destiny Cosman 2015

(C) Macey Tannos 2015

Photo credits above, left to right:  Kirsten Covington, Brenna Hale, Sarah Paige Stanfield, Kirsten Covington,  Sarah Paige Stanfield, Brenna Hale

(c) Madeline Ryan 2015

(c) Joei Bailey 2015

(C) Mayra Yundt- Pacheco 2015

(c) Ben Sanderson 2015

Photo Credits above, left to right: James Ray, Anna Murphy, Mason Henicke,  Kaitlyn O'Leary, Sarah Rogers, Chuck Bowlin

Huge thanks to Robert Mihovil, Texas A&M SeaCamp and all the campers who trekked out to our farm over the past 2 weeks. It was our pleasure to have you, we thank you for these images, and we wish you the best in your adventures to come, wherever they take you! 


The Casita de Pollitos and El Hombre Magnifico

At our house, there are no chickens to be found anywhere. Not a single feather.

Walk into the garage, and your nose will tell you a deceiving story. As the former home of over 100 squawking baby dinosaurs--er, chickens-- one would expect this humble abode to carry at least  a  trace of our former guests. But no. Not even the faintest whiff of ammonia.

Don't thank me. I had nothing to do with the Vanishing of Chick Residue.

The chicks were moved in batches of 20 to a box, a la moving Christmas ornaments to the attic.

That darn old McFarmer, he's been at it again. We moved the chicks on Tuesday morning in what was a shockingly easy maneuver, and by dinnertime Wednesday evening our garage was spic and span. I think Alex did this as a gift for me, as it had become nearly impossible for me to stop commenting on how..."chicken-y" everything had become lately. Pine shavings in the upstairs bathroom. Pine shavings in the laundry room. Pine shavings in the kitchen. Motes of chicken-produced dust greeting you at the front door. Poo smudged on every farm-grade pair of shoes (and a few non farm-grade, unfortunately).  The smell.  

The commenting might have turned into complaining. Just maybe. 

Thus it follows that, when you have an absolutely lovely partner who values your happiness above all else and wishes to hear your whining cease, they clean up the aftermath of 100 + chickens living in your garage for a month and they explicitly warn you not to help because they don't need your pithy commentary, thank-you-very-much.

The point: our house is clean, our garage is newly functional as a garage once again, the young chickens are in their slick new mobile coop (did I mention McFarmer also finished  the camper-renovations single-handedly?),  we've gone through a year's supply of cleaning vinegar, this gal is extremely happy and not only do we have a finished Casita de Pollitos but this farm boasts one very talented & fantastic El Hombre Magnifico.

As for how the chickens feel about their new arrangement, I think it's safe to say they are wholly content and enjoying their new location as much as we are. 

Now, we're on to worrying about how coyote/raccoon/possum/snake proof the Casita turns out to be. And a week or so after that, we'll turn our eyes to the sky and worry over the goshawks, owls, falcons, and oh-so-many more birds of prey that will delight in our plump little raptors. 

The Casita de Pollitos was our most economical option; by utilizing the bones of this old camper, we saved over $1,000 in construction costs.  It  rests under cover for now, but in a few short days the mobile coop will be moved to the fields, and the girls allowed out to explore.

I worked on a farm for a time managing their egg operation, with around 250 laying chickens in production. Alex worked on a different farm at the same time, helping with their layers and broilers (meat birds). However, as with our vegetable crops, we're unsure how our experience with chickens in northern climes will correspond with the reality of raising chickens in this  consistently muggy and hot landscape. Not to mention our bouts of boneheadedness, often displayed when we tackle a new project for the first time. 

It's sure to be an adventure, and we welcome the insight of those who have done it longer than us.  We're bound to have missteps; we just hope to avoid catastrophe. After the seasons we've experienced in 2015 so far, sidestepping tragedy and avoiding wasted efforts are  high priorities. 

But for now, we delight in watching the ladies explore their new home, feel the breeze and cluck reassurances to one another.

"This ain't so bad, girls. This ain't so bad."

And as I come home from the farm and look in my garage, nary a pine shaving to be seen, I have to say--I agree.

Spring has sprung in the fluffiest way.

There's not too much time in my schedule this week for me to tell you about how things have gotten better over the past 2 weeks. Our attitudes, our plants, and most definitely our garage. 

Wait, what's in our garage?

Our newest addition to Moon Dog Farms, my friends-- our first jump into livestock, in the form of 100 baby chicks. As our house property is separate from the farm property, it made sense to keep them close to us for proper mothering until they're ready for their camper--er, their mobile coop. And if there was ever a method for lowering your blood pressure, I assure you it lies in holding baby chicks.

Once the Casita de Pollitos is ready, they'll be destined to travel the farm, free to cluck and scratch, poop and eat, and help our farm organism grow more into the dynamic and multi-faceted living thing we dream it to be.

But, as I said, many other good things have happened in recent days. Things are looking up--we've managed to forge ahead, look a little closer at what's positive, embrace and breathe through the unplanned-for obstacles, and eat a few farm fruits along the way.

Y'all, I'm telling you-- fresh strawberries and baby chicks are the key to stress relief and a sunny outlook.

Sabrina the Shadowcat, aka the farm kitty that found us, has become an addict for love. She follows us around constantly, ensuring we acknowledge her beauty at all times and provide ample belly rubs. I was particularly impressed at her ability to look so sophisticated amidst the weedy snapdragons I was tending, but as you can see she mastered it with no lack of panache.

Just don't tell her I ever had any doubt.

Some of our fall-planted flowers actually made it through the wet season, and one of my favorites--Statice-- has come out in her full royal regalia over the last 2 weeks.

The fruits of our labors-- also known as strawberries, blackberries and muscadine grapes--are making themselves known in a most exciting debut. We had decided not to replant strawberries as a market crop this year due to their heavy labor, so-so yields and inability to last through our hot summers, but enough of last year's planting has renewed itself & proved us wrong and surprised us with oodles of ripe, jewel-colored berries. These little darlings have proved to be instant happiness, and perhaps we'll reconsider replanting for next season. Perhaps. :)

The blackberry trials planted our first winter here are coming along nicely; each of the 60 we installed are in full bloom and covered in green unripe fruits. I'm standing by with clipboard in hand, ready to document yields, color, taste, stability and of course--juiciness factor.

After considerable hand-wringing and constant peeking through the winter, our muscadine vines (half planted this year, half last year) are all leafed out and looking sturdy! It'll still be a while before we're harvesting any bunches, but we're excited about the diversification of our orchard, and signs of life!

And finally, what we're all here for. Or at least, what I've made into my world for the past 4 days.

I'm besotted with ournew chicks, and am so thankful for every ounce of their goodness. Not only do they provide endless entertainment, but we McFarmers are thrilled to finally add this desperately-needed animal component to our farm. These chickens' ability to scratch, peck and poop contribute myriad benefits to our farm dynamic in addition to the immeasurable benefit of their renewable buttfruits. And yes, I said buttfruits. After hearing the term from other farmers in the past, I've been waiting over 2 years to say buttfruits in a purposeful and not necessarily egregious way, and so you'll have to excuse me.

I'm excited about eggs.

And goodness knows we could handle a bit more nitrogen and a few less stinkbugs.

I hope you find our little fluffkins as darling as I do, but if you don't--then I hope you at least chuckle at the idea of "buttfruit." 

And if you don't, well...then you really do need to hold a chick.

Mud that stinks and a tough reality: A story of hope

Many a wreck has been the result of taking the family to the country, and afterwards having part or all of it become thoroughly dissatisfied. There are so many rough realities in a life of this kind that it takes the poetry out of the visions of joy, peace, contentment and success that arise in the minds of many.
— H.W. Wiley, 'The Lure of the Land'

It's been a rough go these days.

We've drawn eye-to-eye with the kind of deflating experience we hoped might skip us  but innately knew (because, how could we avoid it?) would eventually hurdle us as beginning farmers.

This time last year, we felt on top of the world, like we were really doing this thing-- and doing it well. Sure, tons of stuff was messy and so much was still to be figured out, but we were making smart choices, growing sustainably and seeing success. 

We arranged to double our Spring production, the most profitable season of the year, into over 2  acres of crops. We were gonna rock in 2015. 

Instead, what we've done is find ourselves poring over a grimness that's left both Alex and I bewildered, and without answers. The murky, smelly grimness reflected in the standing water covering most of our farm  has left us feeling stagnant and stuck along with the soil.

 What do we do when everything is soaked through, for months on end? What do we do, when it's not just plan after plan that is delayed then dashed, but also our hopes for making enough money to keep it going? Our farm library nor our intuition had a compass that gave us solace.  Every instance where we thought we'd devised a creative solution to a problem or advised patience and faith to one another, another 10 inches registered in our rain gauge.

And so. There's been some gnashing. In fact, a lot of gnashing--turns out I can be quite the jaw grinder when stress dreams abound--and there's been some heads held in hands. I've cried, Alex has scowled. Then we switched.

You may have noticed, a blog post has been conspicuously absent here for weeks. Self-absorption and concentration on stanching damage aren't the only reasons, but they're high up there. I didn't want to share nothing but despair here. I started this blog to increase awareness of our farm, help myself process our beginning years and discuss both triumphs and travails. But it just didn't sit right with me to speak only of how discouraged we felt, and it also felt disingenuous to speak around how discouraged we felt. 

So, let's be clear. We're still grappling with discouragement. Although we know our situation could be so much worse, in endless amounts of ways, it hurts to feel that our rug was pulled from underneath us and we could only watch it float away. 

I have always confessed to having that teacher's pet problem, you know. 

But here's why I can write about this now and feel at ease: when the rains started back in October and we saw flooding in our fields, we said, "Not good.  But we still have the rest of fall. There's time." And essentially, we haven't stopped saying that, about each new field that needs tilling and prepping, each new crop and every thwarted plan. "We still have the rest of fall/winter/spring."

But it hasn't dried out, and time has run short. And I don't think you'll ever hear a Texas farmer say, "Well, there's always summer."

So now, we just deal.

We don't have to push hopes further on down the road, crossing fingers for more sun or a really, really large straw. 2015 hasn't gone the way we wanted. At all. We ended up planting most of our summer one crops on an empty orchard bed, 10 feet wide and a quarter-mile long, which makes us felt like absolute nincompoops.  I've read selections from 5 Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management that made me feel like I've been prancing around in high-heels expecting money to bud out on the pear trees and earthworms to answer my call, all the while leading my future to ruin. (Okay book, but 'tough love' is putting it lightly.)  We've wondered what will become of us, if this is how it's to be from now on.

We've  worried that our bad agricultural luck might be a harbinger of environmental tides and inevitable trends to come. Maybe. 

But what's more likely is that it's a clap in the face and the biggest reminder to date that what we're trying to do is so much more than throwing seeds in the ground and smiling at Sunday markets. We've got to take these past 6 months and figure out how to shape ourselves around it. What does Moon Dog Farms do when nothing goes our way? That's our task for the rest of this year, as far as I'm concerned. So much has gone in our favor, and we won't fall apart now.

Well, to be fair, we'll fall apart in private (a little bit, very tastefully) and then get back to rubbing sticks together until we make fire.

It's still hard to walk out in our fields right now and look out at thick, smelly mud and yellowing leaves. I don't like that this same week last year we had over 40 bouquets to sell, and this year all the flowers are no higher than 5 inches tall. We're now tasked with researching and creating better drainage for our fields, reorganizing the farm layout, revising  growing techniques and undertaking reconsideration of a whole lot of things. 

But that means we're growing. And people still support us--even the ones not related to us! (thank you, thank you, thank you). We can move forward, and I know we can still find the poetry in this life of 'rough realities.'

Besides, there's always summer.

Oranges, Machetes and Grant Applications.

I get that it's fairly lame for me to just share a poem and call it a day.  "What kind of blog entry is that?" you exclaim, filled with well-deserved indignation. 

But here's the thing. 

On my desk, there has been a mountain of paperwork like never before, and more tabs open on my computer than I dare give away. It's grant-application season. All I want to do is eat carrots and cuddle our farm cat who's FINALLY deigned to be the affectionate cuddle bunny I've wanted all along, but I can't. Grants need a lot of attention.

And if you know about this, then...well, you know. And if you don't, then you're like me. And you're in for a gnarly surprise.  Tackling multiple grants for both our farm and our farmers' market has proved quite the task, and so today, I want to share a poem that makes me happy.

This poem has been a favorite of mine since I first read it in 6th grade, and it still resonates with me today. Incidentally, our Nicaraguan friend Oscar and his family have been with us much of this past week, and the man cannot stop eating oranges. He peels them with his machete.

Yeah, it's as cool as it looks.  Not only that, but his family is beautiful and his children love fresh vegetables. As in, they stuff them in their mouths.  As we walked through the farm during a break, both Bella and Celeste helped themselves to the Winter buffet (as well as the last few stragglers still fighting the good fight in the summer fields).  It made me so happy. Words don't do these kids justice, so you'll just have to see some photos of them as well. :) 

Enjoy, and may this winter poem give you the same warm pleasure it does for me. And I hope you get to eat citrus afterward. 


by Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

How Things Can Be.

To complain of an excess of something when that something is a precious resource is typically a no-no. It's considered even poorer taste when the something is historically in scant supply for lots of the people you know (and, perhaps, maybe, your whole state). 

Which is why I haven't mentioned the rain. 

Well, until now. 

One of the fields to be planted for Spring crops. It'll have to wait a while.

Oh, the rain. It feels like it hasn't stopped, since before Thanksgiving.  It's funny actually, how Alex and I have been settled here for just over 2 years, yet we'd already formed notions of "the way things are" at this time of year. Of course, I don't see why we wouldn't, considering our status as 10th generation farmers born and raised on these coastal prairies, emerging from the womb with a pelican and pitchfork in each hand. However, our notion about Winter didn't include incessant precipitation. Because, it like totally didn't rain like this last year. But it totally has this year.

I guess it was time for Mother Nature to mix it up. And time for us to deal.

  It rained cats and dogs like this when we first arrived in 2013,--that I'm sure of,  because I complained about it then in one of our early blogs. But this Winter's rainfall has aimed to beat the band. And perhaps, McFarmer's spirit. 

Now, of course my dear partner's spirit hasn't been broken. He's stronger than that, and far too level-headed. He has, however, had quite a few choice words with puddles and stormclouds in the back of the orchard, safe from listening ears. We'll just say it hasn't been visitor-friendly. 

The problem is, when it rains every week and rains several inches every week ( sometimes upwards of 6 inches at a time), your field doesn't have time to dry out in between downpours. Add to this Winter's habitual grey skies and cutback on sunshine hours and you've got a very, very wet situation.

On our farm, plans for direct seeding most of the Spring crops were pushed further and further back, either because we can't get into the fields (does you no good to seed in the driving rain) or if we did, the damage we'd do to our soil quality would be too great. It's lucky we made the beds during the last semi-dry spell, but that's only done so much good as we haven't dared to work in them.

Major rivers impede our movement in the aisles, and no seed appreciates a new home of mud. The poor beets, scallions, radishes, peas and many more have just had to sit tight. 

Meanwhile, the plants already established back in the Fall have braved weeks of holding their own as their beds become less and less rows in a field and more and more islands in a mired gulf laden with funk and crawfish. There's been at least 3 inches of water in every aisle for 2 months. Cabbage leaves yellow from saturation and the lettuce's growth is stunted to the point of paralysis. I've found myself more than once in the peculiar situation of harvesting kale only to find that while busy and my back turned, my tub of harvested leaves has floated 15 feet away from me down our canal of an aisle. Woof.

It's a bummer of a time, to be sure. But also, it's impossible to see it as anything but a timely reminder that we, as ever, are not in control. The sun will return for good eventually, and our fields will dry. In the meantime, we might lose several hundred feet of crops and miss a few planting windows that will hurt down the line. But we've also learned so much already. 

Now we know what its like when it rains heavily for 3 months at Moon Dog Farms.  It's a painful lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. When everything seems amiss, there's always something else to consider. I'm incredibly thankful that during all this rain, we had working greenhouses to protect the thousands of plantbabies on whose petals and cotyledons now shoulder even more value. We've had better germination than ever in our greenhouses this season, even with the more tetchy flower varieties we're trying out for the first time. Compared to January 2013, when all we had was an old door and a shipping box, things are looking good. 

We've had secret talk of building a bio-dome-esque structure to shield us from all unwanted weather, but we'll probably settle on rebuilding the drainage ditches leading to the back canal, work to create even better flow and drainage of water in the aisles and investigate the use of high tunnels and higher beds.

And we'll make a note of "how things can be" during the Winter season.  Of course, that means it'll probably never happen like this again, but we'll have some other unexpected phenom to adapt to.  

We'll give it our best.

Plus, there's always the back of the orchard for our less mature moments. 

A Noble Pair, a Huge Radish.

I don't find the farming life necessarily noble.

There are farmers who are noble, yes. And there are also farmers who are not noble.  Noble plumbers and dental hygienists abound as well.  Possibly the virtue lies in the person, not the profession.  

Yet it seems that most of the articles and internet blurbs that enter my awareness lately tout this nobility of the farmer--lauding their sacred duty and whispering of their monk-like reverence to land and beast. The more skeptical potshots I've read take this view too, only adding more italicized irony. Providing the good public with club-sized daikon radishes--although organic! and fresh!--might not be the preferred face of nobility.

So I just gotta say, "Y'all, farming isn't noble."

I mean, yes--of course it can be noble. But there's more to it than that. 

There are lots of ways to grow food, own land and breed animals that fly in the face of goodness, decency and integrity. There's close to a bajillion documentaries that can tell you so, and besides--have you ever heard of every single person within a global profession doing things exactly the same, in the same blameless manner?

I worry that because young liberal-arts grads (ahem) are entering agriculture (good thing) armed with a penchant for starry-eyed writing ( double ahem) and a desire to change our food culture (still a good thing), we might be dusting farming with a bit more mensch-dust than is good for it (a debatable thing). 

What I do believe to be true is that many of the folks whose attraction to said ideas of integrity and goodness are the same ones who find them working outside, raising animals and planning harvests. Whether they do it on 3 acres or 3,000 these people usually have at least that in common.  

That, and the same sun-in-your-eyes squint.

Our farm happens to fall in the 3 acres category (although this year we clock-in at around 9, thank-you-very-much) and we believe in growing without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, growing diversified crops and in being a farm that aims for more than just reaping a successful crop. Although I really, really want that.

Do any of those beliefs make me more noble than another farmer, or more so than a teacher, truck driver or real-estate agent? Nah. Does it make me more noble than a farmer who doesn't hold to those same beliefs? I don't think so--it means we value different things, and see different ends. 

However, farming does take balls.

For farmers of all beliefs, geographies and genders, it takes balls. It takes wells of courage, for when your fields are flooded or your ewes are ill. Or worse, when the harvests fail, your plans go horribly wonky and the sky won't take your calls. 

For me, I'll admit-- I do need that belief in the noble. Most of the time, my work instills it for me.  Some days it's all spreadsheets and cursing, but other days I'm given a sideways glance into the positive impact our farm truly does have on others and our environment. We hold dearly to those days when we've done our job most right and see the goodness we're always after.  I believe it is good to grow food in tandem with nature as much as I can, and to work to provide real foods to people in my community.

It isn't noble to farm, but I do think it's the perfect goal.

So go on, have the balls to try that giant daikon radish--it could just be the noblest thing you do all day.