Marie DeNoon didn’t grow up on a farm, but notes, “All of my ancestors, both European and Mexican, worked the land.” She attended college and took up a farm apprenticeship in Arkansas, saying, “Farming was so fun I couldn’t stop. Once you taste the magic of the good life, you can’t really go back.”
Although her wish is to farm full-time she realizes the need for seasons, rest and pursuing other interests. Most of all, she enjoys working outside, growing flowers, talking with the plants and the community of farmers. “I like learning new things every day. A working farm is the best school!” notes DeNoon.
“In my opinion, using conventional methods adds to the problems, rather than the solutions of our food system. I don’t want to be that kind of farmer, and even some organic methods are questionable,” says DeNoon. “Every year, the farm uses less and less outsourced products. We switch or upgrade our methods every year after assessing all the season’s teachings.”
DeNoon grows microgreens, fruit, herbs, veggies and cut flowers. “The farm maintains wholesale accounts with restaurant and the local grocery, but we are mostly market farmers,” she says. “The farm is informed by biodynamic methods. We follow the cosmic calendar, make our own compost and rely on ducks for insect control. We use a spader and sometimes a walk-behind tiller to work the soil, and we make our own nutritional sprays to combat disease and insects.”
As a woman farmer, DeNoon explains, “Its harder to find tools and clothes to fit my body. There are a few old-timers who think my farming is “cute”, but they are mostly conventional farmers with hundreds of acres, farm subsidies and tractors that drive themselves. It’s a funny world.”
Michelle Neu, owner of Circle N Family Dairy, in Gainesville, grew up in Lindsay, Texas, on the outskirts of town. She states, “I didn’t grow up on a farm but we did have a few animals and I always loved the outdoors and being around nature. I married into the farm life; Tommy and I married in 1980 and that is what he had grown up doing. I loved the idea of raising our family here on the dairy and am thankful that I was able to be a stay at home Mom for our three sons.”
Their morning starts at 2:30 a.m. with milking the cows and eating breakfast. “We then sleep a few hours until around 8 a.m., when our day starts again; there are no set hours when you live on a dairy!” explains Neu.
“We put a lot of time into producing good-quality feed for our cows, and I love seeing a new calf take that first step and just being out in the country away from the fast-paced life so many have to deal with every day,” she says. “It’s peaceful here in the country and you can’t take that away from us!”
She adds, “We have always sold milk to major dairy companies, but in 2010, people were coming to the dairy asking if they could by raw milk from us. They were wanting to know where their food was coming from, wanting to know the source of their food and wanting to get away from processed foods. We decided to check into it and get a raw milk permit which would allow sales here at the dairy directly to the consumer.”
Neu notes, “Our cows are always out on pasture and fed a forage-based diet to ensure the optimum health for our herd. Taking care of them is our utmost important goal. It takes a lot of energy and stamina to work on the dairy, and staying healthy and in shape is definitely a plus.”
Erin Tran, a full-time farmer and owner of Tierra Verde Farm, in Sanger, grew up in the suburbs, and says, “We moved to the farm about two years ago from San Jose, Califormia. After college, I worked as a mediator and contributed to conflict resolution efforts in Burma. I stopped working in war zones when my son was born and did freelance website design and nonprofit consulting work.”
She says, “I love the animals! It’s hard work and it can be frustrating and exhausting, but there’s nothing quite like helping a ewe birth her lambs, giving a kid a bottle or watching ducklings follow their mother around the pond. I also love that farming stretches me, intellectually and physically. Every day I learn something new about the land or the plants and animals that depend on me. Every night, I fall asleep with tired muscles.”
About four months before moving to Texas the couple decided that they wanted the farm to be sustainable. “We’ve made minor adjustments as we’ve learned more about farming and our North Texas environment. For example, we had originally intended to source all of our dairy products from our sheep, but we quickly learned that it would be easier and more productive to raise a few dairy goats. We’ve also changed the way we farm from row crops to raised beds to account for the difficulties of farming in our black clay soil,” explains Tran.
I think being a woman can be helpful when I’m working with the animals,” she notes. “I have an awareness of the animals that comes from being a mother, I think. I can tell when the moms need a break or some extra feed because their little ones are taking a lot out of them. I’m hyper-aware of the moms during lambing and kidding season. It can be hard when things are going badly and I’m flooded with empathy for them, but I know I have to stay calm and work through it with them.”
Courtney Swearingen, a former anthropology student at the University of North Texas, says, “Through some lifestyle changes and classes I was taking in school, I became more interested in where my food came from and wanted to go straight to the source. I found out about the internship at Cardo’s Farm Project and immediately applied. From that very first day on the farm, I never looked back—I knew I had found want I was meant to do.” Although it is a part-time venture now, her goal is to be able to farm full-time.
“I grow all sorts of veggies. I don’t use any chemicals or pesticides and I do everything, minus tilling, by hand,” says Swearingen. She sells her products to the Denton Community Market and several restaurants in Denton; Barley & Board, Chestnut Tree and Hannah’s. She says, “I like to be outside and play in the dirt while doing something that I know is beneficial to the community and to the environment.”
“Farming as a woman has a sense of empowerment and respectability,” says Swearingen, who is also a yoga instructor. “I love how this work utilizes my body and is constantly challenging me, both mentally and physically. I’m constantly growing alongside my crops.