Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Navarro County Farmer – Rancher Network

Jackie and Don King have farming and ranching in their blood. Don’s father has a cattle ranch near Huntsville, Texas, and Jackie is a Texan who boasts six generations of farmers. But until she and Don started P.O.P. Acres in Corsicana, she was making history as the first generation of her family that wasn’t living on a farm.

P.O.P. Acres has changed all of that. Almost six years ago, she and Don purchased from a retiring rancher 80 acres of grazing land about 15 miles south of Corsicana and west of the Richland Chambers Reservoir. That year they started raising grass-fed cattle of mixed beef heritage (Angus, Limousin and Dexter with a little bit of Holstein thrown in for “good luck”).

Three and a half years ago, she and Don left their urban home in Farmers Branch and moved 15 minutes away from their 80 acres into a 75-year old prairie cottage on 43 acres of ground they purchased from a Pursley quarter-horse breeder who needed more space.

They also settled in to a commute to their jobs at the Texas Office of the State Comptroller and the Texas Office of the Attorney General in Dallas, spending about four hours every day driving back and forth. Jackie admits it’s a long haul, but it does give her and Don time to talk about new ways to market their beef and help their neighbors market their products as well.

In fact one of those conversations earlier this year, led to the formation of the Farmer – Rancher Network, a group that has grown to about 16 members from Navarro County including a poultry and egg producer, a goat’s milk soap producer, several vegetable growers and even a home made bread and cake maker.

“I had talked to a lot of local farmers and ranchers who wanted to be able to sell more of their products, but didn’t quite know how to do it,” Jackie explained. “I thought it would be good if a bunch of us got together to see how we could support each other.”

Apparently once Jackie decides to do something, she moves fast. “We talked about setting up a meeting on a Monday night during our drive home,” Don said. “We had our first meeting the next Saturday. About 16 people showed up.”

The group was able to help some of its members open up booths at the Corsicana Farmer’s Market. “Some produce growers were reluctant to take that step,” Jackie explained, “so we helped them get started there.”

For other members—especially those who sell meat, which can’t be sold at the Corsicana Farmer’s Market—the group has organized “Market Days” where they all gather at a central location to sell their products.

Currently, they are holding their Market Days twice monthly on Saturday morning at Eden’s Organic Garden and Nursery in Balch Springs and plan to continue through the winter. Upcoming Market dates include December 1 and after that monthly meat and bread orders will be taken for pick-up at Eden’s until spring.

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