Texas Siblings Want to Trade the Nine-to-Five for Animals and Hives

First-timers discover the joys—and difficulties—of starting a small commercial farm.

(Photo: Steve Holt)

Jun 12, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

Carol Watson meets me at the front gate of her farm with a handshake and a warm smile that is characteristic of rural Texas. Watson has an especially warm glow about her, though.

After 21 years working for the Odessa School District in West Texas, the 65-year-old Watson has ditched her prior profession to become a farmer, and several family members want to follow suit. But unlike many would-be farmers, both rural and urban, Watson and her relatives aren’t pretending they know everything. In fact, they admit: All told and added up, they didn’t have a day's worth of farming experience among them.

“We’re really just weekenders,” she says. For the basic farm tricks and hacks, she says, “we Google a lot.”

Watson’s evolution from educator to farmer began with her brother, Dennis Anderson, who came up with the idea to buy some land as a family. Anderson, 51, says he sought to do something more enjoyable with the time he’s not working for a large financial services corporation.

“I work for the man, and I hate the man,” he says. “So I was thinking, What is it that I like to do? I’ve always liked messing in the yard and the garden. I like orchids, and I’m interested in carnivorous plants. I like animals.

“I said, I wonder if we could maybe get goats and make goat cheese, and sell at the farmer’s market? And kind of make that a go-to spot where people can come hang out and look at things and unwind—and buy stuff.”

Soon, Anderson had convinced Watson; his partner, Lemuel Cartegena; and his brother-in-law to help him turn the dream into reality. As Anderson educated himself in how to farm (he was already an armchair horticulturist), the family looked for a parcel of land suitable for starting a farm and nursery.

In March 2013, they found 15 acres just east of Lake Travis in Lago Vista, where both couples live, which is full of native plants and wildlife. After purchasing the land, Anderson and Cartegena purchased the chickens—several kinds of roosters and egg-laying hens—and goats, while Watson purchased the farm's three miniature horses.

“We like cute, unusual,” she says.

Cartegena, 50, took special interest in the chickens—a surprising revelation for an artist who works at Pottery Barn. As Watson shows us the small vegetable garden—a cluster of raised-bed “keyhole” gardens, an ancient African method—Cartegena shows up. He points out the free-range, organically fed chickens, identifying them by their breeds, the names he gave them, and kinds of eggs they produce—from large brown or tan ones to smaller blue ones. Demand for the eggs is high, with the 15 or so he collects every day being sold to friends and family before they’re laid.

“The colors, the variety, is one of the reasons people like these eggs,” Cartegena says. “That and they taste so great.”

The family will soon purchase more hens to increase egg production and begin selling at Lago Vista's monthly farmers market. They say they’ll never kill any of their birds for meat. Locals will also soon be able to buy goat milk and goat cheese—once the two pregnant goats have their babies.

Local honey is on its way as well: Friends of the family, a couple who recently moved back to Texas from New York, have agreed to raise bees on the farm. Anderson would love to build cottages on the property to add an agricultural spin to local tourism, and possibly even add a restaurant “that serves our goat cheesecake.”

It may sound like everyone is living and going to heaven. But they’re all finding out, of course, that the day-to-day responsibilities of farm ownership—let alone expansion—involves being there more than just on the weekend. Watson says she’s at the farm several times a day, including the morning feeding, while Anderson and Cartegena share evening duties and spend weekends at the farm.

Though far from being built out to its full potential, Lazy Day Farm is, increasingly, a natural oasis surrounded by the tidal wave of development making its way north and west from Austin. In this fast-growing region of Texas, Travis County and neighboring Williamson County are booming and populations have doubled and tripled in recent decades. Land—much of it pastureland and agriculture-related—is cheap and plentiful in the formerly sleepy towns within Williamson County and the northwest part of Travis County, resulting in a housing construction boom and its accompanying explosion of retail construction.

Watson says she has been brought to tears looking across the ever-developing landscape from her family’s hill at Lazy Day Farm. Anderson adds that he hopes the farm will preserve a little piece of the Texas Hill Country landscape and offer residents and visitors alike an escape from putting greens and parking lots.

“We have to keep some kind of natural environment around us,” Anderson says. “That was one of my thoughts with all of those developments around us, that maybe people will want to come out to a piece of land that’s back to nature and unwind from their daily commute to their job, maybe bring the kids out so they can pet the animals and see where their food comes from.”