Printed with the permission of The Alpine Avalanche
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of going on a field trip with the Big Bend Photography Club to Sweeney Farm, located deep within the mountains of Sunny Glen in Alpine. We arrived at 7 p.m. when the sun was at its evening best for photographing the many fruits, vegetables, and other farm elements.
Our gracious hosts and organic farmers Dodie and Chris Sweeney gave us tours of their fantastic slice of heaven on West Texas earth. Having moved from Houston to Alpine full-time about three years ago, the Sweeneys have created a remarkable organic farmstead, complete with solar panels, water catchment and windmills.
I’m no stranger to gardening. I know some of the work involved. At our previous home in suburban Boerne, my husband and I turned part of our small backyard into raised beds, using a centuries-old European method called “hugelkultur.” For us, that involved digging holes, burying brush, covering the brush with soil and allowing it to decompose and become boggy, providing nutrient rich and damp soil for gardening. We first grew wheat in our three five-by-eight-foot beds to prepare the soil for future plantings.
Over the course of several years, we successfully grew organic corn, three different types of lettuce, five different peppers, several types of tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, squash, watermelon, broccoli, cauliflower and a kitchen herb garden filled with every herb I would possibly need. None of the beans ever grew, and slugs gobbled up our cabbages. My favorite was the crop of garlic we planted from plants a friend found near the Old No. 9 Railroad tracks in Fredericksburg, that were left by the German settlers riding the trains in the 1800s. Left unattended, the garlic continued to grow for over a century.
Our small gardens took daily nurturing, and were time consuming. The Sweeneys had more large livestock troughs than I could count, filled with lush vines and stalks dripping with vegetables. Fruit trees, berry patches, grapevines and crops in the ground dot the farmstead. Dozens of free-range Jersey Giant chickens that produce fresh organic eggs pecked around the property. They raise Mini-Nubian dairy goats, and pedigreed Maine Coon cats. They plan to breed the Maine Coons to be sold as spayed/neutered barn cats as they are known for their intelligence and rugged gentleness. The 20-year-old cockatoo keeps everyone in line.
While the Sweeneys take their goods to the Alpine Farmers Market and the Marfa Farmers Market, their goal is to open their farm for folks to come pick their own produce. The farmstead they’ve built since they moved to Alpine in 2013 is just wonderful. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Sweeney Farm.
For more information about the organic farm tucked in the mountains, visit www.sweeneyfarmalpinetx.com and look for them at the Farmers Markets.
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 stick of butter
2 cups sliced fresh peaches, berries, or pitted cherries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in a 9×9-inch baking dish. While the butter is melting, blend flour, baking powder, sugar, and milk together.
Pour batter in baking dish over the butter. Sprinkle the fruit on top of the batter, and do not stir. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown.