All food has a story, whether it’s the idyllic story of a happy farm buzzing with life or an industrial mono-crop tended by machines with not a butterfly or ladybug in sight. Whose dreams begat your dinner? Whose hands tended what’s on your plate? In our busy, sometimes impersonal world, it’s not always easy to know, but at Farmhouse, knowing where our food comes from is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Here is the story of late July figs from Rain Lily Farm, brought to you by farmer David Burk—read on for a little taste of what gets him out of bed (hint: it crows and quacks), and why he spends his days tending food to feed you well. Scroll down for one of our favorite ways to enjoy fresh Celeste Figs—savory Fig Pizza!
Tell us about the journey that led you to Rain Lily Farm.
Melody (now Farmhouse Delivery’s buyer) and I were out in Wimberley running a ten acre organic farm called Montesino. We had a 100-person CSA, and were selling at five different farmers’ markets, as well as wholesaling to a local grocery. When Farmhouse Delivery opened, we began talking with Stephanie about selling to her new business. Farmhouse shared our values about the importance of organic food: trust, quality and community. Stephanie was especially impressed with the quality of produce Melody and I were growing, and soon we were sitting down with her creating spring and fall growing predictions. She told us, “If y’all grow it, Farmhouse will buy it.” And she was true to her word. We eventually began growing almost exclusively for Farmhouse. I was typically the one who, after harvest and packaging, drove the produce in to Farmhouse at the end of the day (which at the time was located on the Rain Lily Farm property). I always allowed myself some time to walk the rows while sipping on a cold Fireman’s 4. It was an oasis for me. I would walk down the 100′ rows and dream about the pleasures of working such an intimate and manicured piece of land. Stephanie would catch me slowly swaying on the porch swing looking out over her little farm; she would come join me and we would talk and talk. By the end of our second or third beer, she would try and get me to come work for her. I would smile and give her a hug and say, “Someday, Stephanie, someday.” Five years later, Melody and I were living in Oregon and Melody saw that Rain Lily was looking for a farmer. She encouraged me to call Stephanie just to check it out. Five days later Melody was hired as the buyer at Farmhouse Delivery and I was the new farmer at Rain Lily. Two weeks after that, we were driving across the country, heading home to Texas. We arrived on New Year’s Eve and the rest is history….
Can you describe the farm for us?
Rain Lily sits on four acres in Austin, on a long, thin piece of land that runs along Boggy Creek. There are three main components of the land: the farmhouse, which sits at the front of the property, shaded by towering elms, pecans and cypress trees; the farm and orchard; and the back property, which houses Rain Lily Design (a landscape company). The farm is tiny in comparison to other farms—less than an acre—and a third of it is an orchard with Celeste fig, peach, apple, plum, persimmon and pear trees. The area that runs along Boggy Creek is lined with 12-foot olive trees, which fruited for the first time this summer. The orchard is in the back of the farm and is home to a variety of chickens and ducks who enjoy the shade and protection of the trees as well as the insects and grasses that grow there. The farm itself consists of 20 100′ rows which produce a variety of organic and heirloom goodies throughout the year.
Why raise food for a living?
Raising organic food is my passion—I am excited to go to work. I get to work outside, I am my own boss, I get to be a part of the seasons and hang with the animals, birds and insects and be a part of their growth. I get to help. I believe the desire to be in nature, to work with and to preserve, is inherent in every human. The same is true with cooking over a fire and dancing and loving one another. On the other hand, farming is a gamble. Every season is like stepping into the unknown. I don’t care how many times you’ve grown corn, or asparagus, or apples, it doesn’t matter how well your crops grew last year. Every year is new opportunity for success or failure. Conventional farming is like turning on your computer or using your oven: it rarely fails. With organics, so much depends on Mother Nature and timing. If there is a plague of harlequin beetles, or the rains never come, or the rains come too early or too late, it can destroy your chances of production completely. Most organic farms are run with a minimum of machinery. Rain Lily doesn’t even have a tractor. We don’t have any implements that seed or cultivate or harvest. We have a wheelbarrow. And a hoe. And lots of heart. We are okay not having these tools though. We are happy to use our backs and hands because we know we are taking care of the land. We know screech owls and tiny frogs and black swallowtail pupae can live here. We encourage them. If they are happy we are happy.
What is special about the food you grow?
The footprint of the food we grow is as small as it gets.
What inspires you?
Give us a little overview of a day in the life of Farmer Dave at Rain Lily Farm.
My alarm always goes off thirty minutes before the sun begins to rise, no matter what time of the year. Right now, that means 5:30. In January, it’s 7:30. I am guilty of pressing snooze sometimes for sure. The coffee. I must have it. Most often, I rise bleary-eyed, stumble around for my teapot, light the stovetop, and fall back into bed until I hear the water boiling. Once I fill my mug with coffee and cream, I step outside and head towards the birds. “Good morning, birds!” I always say. Once they are fed and watered, I wander back through the rows and plan my day. If I have an order, I start with harvesting. I don’t harvest every day. I need work days too. I love the work days, probably because they are less frequent and a change of pace. If it’s a work day I take a few extra minutes to make a plan. Those days I have an extra cup of coffee and spend ten or fifteen minutes just looking at the farm. I make a list. Rarely am I able to complete the list, and if I do, I just add to it until the sun goes down and I say, “Good night, birds!”
What would we be surprised to hear is part of your job description?
Scrambling to sell an amazing, just-harvested, organic product. Having too many tomatoes, too many figs, and nowhere to sell them because the market is saturated. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
Tell us about the fig trees at Rain Lily.
There are three huge fig trees at Rain Lily, about seven or eight years old, and two young ones planted last year. The big ones, our only real producers so far, are Celeste figs. They do great in Texas and produce medium-sized figs that last for several days after picking. They’re delicious—super sweet, with a juicy red center. The chickens that live near the trees don’t have much of an appetite for figs, which we are both bewildered by and thankful for. However EVERY SINGLE OTHER BIRD that lives within 100 miles seems to LOVE them. Figs must be picked ripe and become ripe within a few hours. When it’s fig season, it’s not uncommon to need to harvest in the morning and evening. Lucky for us, (and the other birds), there’s plenty to go around. Plus, we don’t mind feeding the neighborhood just as long as they leave some for the rest of us. And they always do.
Pizza crust for large pizza (here’s [link: http://www.marthastewart.com/332275/basic-pizza-dough] a great basic recipe)
1 pint figs, stemmed and halved lengthwise
5 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
¼ c grated pecorino romano
¼ c olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 small bunch basil, coarsely chopped
8 thin slices prosciutto (optional)
Preheat oven to 500. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out pizza crust dough to fit baking sheet and place on top of parchment paper. Place figs on dough, cut side up, then top with mozzarella and grated pecorino. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter sliced garlic on top. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden, then switch oven to broil and cook for an additional 5 minutes until top is bubbled and deeply browned or slightly scorched in spots. Remove from the oven, cool briefly, then top with prosciutto if using and basil. Cut and serve—great hot or at room temperature.