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Moon Dog Farms: Flowers, Produce and Children All Naturally

Moon Dog Farms sign at farmers market in Texas.

Moon Dog Farms, in Santa Fe, Texas, is more than just a small, family-operated farm with a delicious assortment of naturally certified grown vegetables and flowers —it’s become a big way of life for co-owners Casey McAuliffe and Alex McPhail.

ArcGIS Storymap and article compiled by Melissa Blair, Public Affairs Specialist, Corpus Christi, Texas.

A special thank you to Moon Dog Farms owners, Casey and Paul and Danny Staley for the video and photos.

Moon Dog Farms: Flowers, Produce and Children All Naturally ArcGIS Storymap

Moon Dog Farms, in Santa Fe, Texas, is more than just a small, family-operated farm with a delicious assortment of naturally certified grown vegetables and flowers —it’s become a big way of life for co-owners Casey McAuliffe and Alex McPhail. A way to be able to work outdoors. A way to ensure their young daughter, Hazel, can develop a relationship with nature. And a way to give back to the community they care so much about.

After they both graduated from Southwestern University, Alex studied sustainable agriculture in North Carolina, and both Casey and Alex worked for several different farmers around the country, before moving to Texas in 2012. As they each realized their passion for working the land and being outdoors, they were lucky enough to have family land in Galveston County available to them.

“We hit the ground running growing radishes,” recalls Casey, who explains that in addition to some existing citrus trees on the property, they soon began to sell small-scale crops at the area’s farmers markets in 2013.

“We’ve grown a little bit each year ever since,” she says.

In addition to the good, healthy eats, Moon Dog Farms also grows a lot of flower crops.

“We’ve developed quite a substantial cut flower following here at our local markets and so more and more of our land gets used for our flowers,” explains Casey.

Moon Dog Farms offers offer home delivery to their customers in La Marque, Texas City, Hitchcock, and Santa Fe.

Trial and Error + Helping Hands Leads to Expansion from the Ground Up

Through a lot of trial and error, the couple says they have figured out what works well for them on the land and what works well for them financially.

“We’ve winnowed down the crops that we grow quite a bit,” Casey says, explaining that it took them a few years to get the lay of the land and figure out how to grow in the area.

Today, they grow their crops year-round, tending to all kinds of lettuces, greens, carrots, and other root crops. Summer crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, as well as squash okra, eggplant, and peppers.

They are able to keep Moon Dog operational all year thanks to some help from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who has helped with conservation planning and financial assistance on the high tunnels.

“We had done most of our farming experience in completely different environments,” explains Casey, who says they’d spent their longest seasons in New York.

“When we got down here, it was quite the rude awakening to find that those seasons do not apply.”

She explains that one of the biggest obstacles facing Moon Dog has been rain fall.

“There’s this conception about Texas agriculture that it’s always dry and that it’s always in drought— that’s never been the problem for us since we’ve been growing.”

Determined to get some measure of control over the land, Casey and Alex did their research, and hearing from farmers in the north who had high tunnels, they learned about the opportunities that NRCS could provide.

“We thought ‘why not us?’ and ‘Why not here?’”

They reached out to NRCS, Brazoria County district conservationist, Chris Morgan, came out to assess their needs, and the rest is history.

Chris Morgan started as the local district conservationist in Brazoria and Galveston counties in 2016. Moon Dog Farms was one of the first producers he worked with when he moved to the area, having previously worked in the Panhandle and further south.

“I got to see them pretty much from ground zero. It was a good and interesting introduction,” says Morgan.

“We looked at high tunnels, which is what they originally came in looking to improve their plant productivity and health,” Morgan explains. “We started off with just one high tunnel and moved on with three new ones in 2018 and 2019.”

“It was really kind of a dream,” recalls Casey who says that NRCS took care of everything. “They walked us through and held our hands and now we have four tunnels,” Casey says.

Alex agrees that the tunnels have helped them to claim back the “shoulders of the seasons” that tend to be the more productive seasons.

“Without the tunnels, we were really doing the bulk of our production in maybe two and a half months. The tunnels have allowed us to extend that out so that we can grow things over winter and keep things a little more protected in the summer from the big rainy seasons that we get here,” says Alex.

“Like Casey said, [the tunnels] give us just a little bit of control over how much water things get and give us a little bit of control over the temperature in the wintertime,” he says.

Helping Hands

Without the NRCS, Casey is certain that Moon Dog Farms would not be where it is today.

“We’ve grown so much since our early days. Without the NRCS we wouldn’t be where we are. We’d be in a different place,” says Casey.

“The high tunnels just would not have been an option for us for a long time without the support of the NRCS. Not just the financial support through the high tunnel assistance, but it’s a network. We’ve really felt supported, and we’ve had so many questions answered.”

Since their first meeting and with the incorporation of the high tunnels to the Moon Dog property, Morgan adds that it’ been a changing operation ever since. “I provide advice and technical assistance here and there,” he says. “What’s really helped is they’ve also taken the initiative to learn and adapt to the soil and to the plants that produce best for their operation.”

Casey is thankful for the help they have found in NRCS. “Because we’re a small organic farm in an area where there’s not a whole lot of that going on, every ally that we have is very meaningful and the NRCS has been an ally from the very beginning and we appreciate that more than we can say,” says Casey.

Giving Back to the Community

Moon Dog Farms is committed to connecting to their local community and giving back. The operation is dedicated to stewardship of the land, reinforcing a healthy community, and producing great food.

The farming duo continue to expand their farm, not just within the confines of the soil, but by looking for ways to connect with their community as well. As the Executive Director for Galveston's Own Farmers Market (GOFM), a non-profit organization that connects local community members to local foods.

GOFM offers a lot of diverse ways for agricultural producers, particularly farmers, but all other vendors at the market to get their food into the hands of folks who otherwise might not get it.

“One of the programs that arose over the pandemic was FreshBox, where GOFM worked with different partners like the Boys and Girls Club in Galveston and Housing Authority agents to identify families with kids who were really suffering from food insecurity that had heightened during the pandemic,” Casey explains.

She says that while they were unable to help everybody, they were able to supply for 30 families for about 25 weeks a box of vegetables, meats, breads, and other locally produced goods that would get delivered straight to their door.

Casey is heavily involved with initiatives to increase food education and access to local families, such as with GOFM's Young Gardeners Program

The local GOFM Young Gardeners Program teaches students and their families about growing their own vegetables as well as how to use those vegetables. NRCS helped with grant funds for the Young Gardeners Program under a former program called Texas NRCS Urban and Rural Conservation Project (TURCP).

“Moon Dog Farms has been a part of that since Day 1. It’s doing that kind of stuff that – how could we not?” Casey questions. “We’re very aware of how much privilege we have to grow here and we’re also aware of how many customers shop with us, but you have to work to make sure that a food access point is actually accessible to everybody and not just people with means. Not just people who look a certain way.”

“I think every opportunity that we can dream up, we should be pursuing when it comes to making things more accessible and more equitable,” she says.

“They have actually made a connection with the community, and they’ve made a connection outside the community,” says Morgan. “They’ve been featured in multiple spots that a lot of people need to see. That’s the kind of stuff that actually drives people into wanting to do more and be more involved.” Morgan sees the fruits of their dedication and commitment paying off in a sustainable way.

“This is a great opportunity for people to see that people like this can actually make an impact and actually have a good take on the way things will come around.”

“Certainly, in my capacity as the Executive Director for GOFM, our Young Gardeners Program has been about this since Day 1,” says Casey. “I think everywhere in agriculture there’s an opportunity to get kids out and just enjoy things. It’s not just about an educational opportunity. Being outside is fun. It’s good for you in all the ways.”

Spreading the Moon Dog Mission to the Next Generation

“I believe that children…kids need to be outside,” says Casey. “Kids need to have a relationship with nature.”

She points to so many studies that show health benefits of having a relationship with nature at an early age citing the mental health benefits, physiological health benefits, and the value of knowing what hard work is like.

As a parent, she says she appreciates being outdoors in a new way. “I’ve always valued it, but now I value it a lot more.”

“I can’t imagine a better way to occupy my toddler than just going outside,” she says. “It’s the best medicine for anything.”

Casey shares that they love having kids come out to the farm. They love watching kids’ minds being blown when they show them how a flower will turn into a bell pepper or watching them stumble across a praying mantis egg sack and talking about what it is, how it was laid, and what a praying mantis does.

“There’s endless opportunity for learning everything about life outdoors,” she says.

Moon Dog Farms continues to be open to learning what it needs, to provide fresh produce and flowers while leaving the land in better shape than Casey and Alex first found it.

“One of the big things about Moon Dog Farms is that it’s been able to adapt. As the market changes, they are able to change with it,” says Morgan. “They have adapted their soils and their resources to those types of situations. That’s a big perpetuate in this day and age is that you’ve gotta be able to manipulate and be able to adapt to the ever-changing markets. That’s a huge thing.”

On their property or within their community, Casey and Alex are always looking out for what’s best to promote agriculture, working together, and being outdoors.