Farming runs in Katie Kraemer and David Pitre’s blood. Katie’s father was a citrus farmer in California, and she says now, “I used to be so proud to write ‘farmer’ for my parents’ occupation when I had to fill out forms in school or for college,” Katie says, laughing. Katie and David met in college and shared similar dreams of forging a connection to the land. ”David always knew he wanted to be a farmer–he was never interested in anything else but growing food,” she says proudly. The 65 acres in Manor, Texas they have named Tecolote Farm, after the owls that also call the farm home, produce some of the area’s finest produce–heirlooms and the highest-quality hybrid varieties of peppers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, alliums, green beans, herbs, gorgeous leafy greens, and the okra I used in this recipe. Their CSA understandably has a waiting list several years long.
Farming in Central Texas isn’t easy, and it’s been even harder at Tecolote over the last several years–well after well has gone dry on the property, a circumstance never seen before, even through previous years of significant drought. Attempts to discover whether development is the culprit have yielded unsatisfying results, and brought to light inherent inequalities in flawed but long-standing “right of capture” laws and county water regulations that clearly favor development over the production of healthy, local food.
Katie and David work as hard as ever, though, and grow intensely flavorful, highly sought-after vegetables for their own CSA members, a few local groceries, and discriminating chefs throughout Central Texas. When I ask David why he chooses to grow organically, he looks at me like I’m crazy, “I’ve always grown organically. I studied Agro Ecology in college and interned at Green Gulch Farm at the San Francisco Zen Center. I never would have considered chemical agriculture.”
Last summer, I was honored to be invited to the annual basketeer potluck at Tecolote Farm—it was such a privilege to feast on dishes prepared with the farm’s bounty by the folks that support it and make it a continued success, through years of drought, hard work, recession, bad weather, bugs, and all the various perils that beset the growing of food in Central Texas. To those in the county who believe that the highest and best use of our local land is not farming, I say: After seeing Tecolote’s subscribers coming together to eat, talk, and laugh, learning about the farm that feeds their family from the farmer who grows it, after proudly sending out such high-quality produce to the homes and kitchens of Farmhouse Delivery customers, after feeding beautiful food to my own children grown by friends I know and trust, I can say without any doubt that Katie Kraemer and David Pitre’s farm not only enhances our community, but actively creates it.
Okra Fritters with Shrimp & Peach Salsa
4 bacon slices, cooked crisp & chopped (save drippings)
1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped (2/3 cup)
1/2 pound fresh okra, trimmed and chopped
1 large egg
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
About 1 cup vegetable oil for frying
Add onion and okra to drippings in skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in bacon. Whisk egg in a medium bowl, then whisk in buttermilk, cornmeal, sugar, cayenne, and 1 tsp salt until smooth. Stir in okra mixture. Wipe skillet clean. Add enough oil to skillet to measure 1/4 inch and heat over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook rounded tablespoons of batter, turning once, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep warm in oven while making remaining batches. Serve immediately with peach and shrimp salsa.
1 ripe tomato, chopped
1 peach, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
1/4 c. cilantro leaves
Heat a small skillet over high heat. Drop in shrimp and saute quickly. As soon as they are cooked through, add remaining ingredients and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt & pepper.