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Beginning Farmers Tap into USDA Programs for Organic Urban Farm in Bexar County

By Melissa Blair, Public Affairs Specialist, Corpus Christi

San Antonio, Texas - Jan. 6, 2020 - The future is bright for husband and wife team of Cody and Natalie Scott, owners of Green Bexar Farm, in the small community of Saint Hedwig, Texas, near San Antonio.

The demand continues to rise by chefs and food connoisseurs for their brightly colored peppers, fresh greens and herbs, heirloom tomatoes and microgreens, as well as other assorted quality produce, which are sought after at the Pearl Farmers Market, New Braunfels Farmers Market, and at local restaurants. They are part of the growing trend of those seeking healthier organic options, and the chefs and restaurants who have embraced the Farm to Table movement, which is bringing fresh produce to cities and restaurants across the area.

"We began this journey wanting to grow the best possible food for our family," said Cody, who is also a military veteran. "We wanted our kids to know where food comes from and the get the optimal nutrition from it."

What began as a hobby for Cody turned into a full-time career of passion for the couple when they acquired their 10-acre pecan grove in 2017. They started planting in Spring 2018 and in less than two years, they have grown from a quarter acre growing area to one acre. The increase in space is due to three seasonal high tunnels installed with the technical and financial conservation assistance of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

"The high tunnels I was granted by the NRCS were huge in taking our small farm operation into a viable business," said Cody, who estimates he would have had to be in business 10 years to be in a place to purchase those tunnels. "The NRCS assistance helped take my part-time farm to a full-time successful business in my second year."

Cody said other benefits to having the high tunnels include "lettuce days to maturity in the winter speeds up to almost as fast as summer. It's also protected from frost damage, as well as from rain, giving me a cleaner product that saves time in post-harvest."

By incorporating shade cloth around the bottom half of the high tunnels, Cody can keep moths and other pests out, eliminating the need to spray. The larger tunnel of the three is used to grow fall through spring tomatoes and is equipped with heat in the winter months. This technique has allowed him to take produce to market that otherwise he would not be able to and eliminates most of his competition. He can also utilize the structure to lower and lean his tomatoes at a super dense planting and has more than 1,300 plants in one high tunnel.

Cody said future work with NRCS includes "focusing on rainwater catchment and introducing cover crops into our vegetable production and orchard."

This summer, Cody and Natalie, along with Texas NRCS hosted a college tour group of students and faculty from Texas A&M University Kingsville (TAMUK) and University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM). The students were participants of the Natural Resources Career Development Program (NRCDP), between NRCS, TAMUK and UPRM.

"Cody and Natalie, who are beginning farmers, were able to share their experiences with the group and how they have grown their organic farming operation," said Samantha Salinas, NRCS district conservationist in Bexar County. "They also provided ideas on how to improve their farm’s soil health, water quality, reduce erosion and increase their year-round production with our conservation assistance in order to be an environmentally regenerative business."

The Scott’s partnered in November with Chef Cooperatives, a nonprofit comprised of well-known San Antonio chefs, who have been instrumental in raising funds to support the health and prosperity of South Central Texas farmers and ranchers, as well as addressing the food deserts in local communities in Bexar County. Profits raised are going toward building a learning center, store, and wash and pack station on Green Bexar Farms that will allow them to sell directly to the local community.

"Even near a city the size of San Antonio, thousands of residents that include many families with children, still live in food deserts miles away from grocery stores," said Cody. "That leaves unhealthy fast-food options that can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems that can contribute to poverty."

The Scott’s also have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) salad box where anyone can support the farm by buying shares of the farm’s produce before the planting season begins. When harvest starts, CSA supporters receive a weekly supply of their freshest, most nutrient-dense organic produce. The Scott’s provide pickup for the CSA boxes at the farm and other locations such as the New Braunfels Farmers Market and the Pearl Farmers Market on set days for their customers. They also share with their members how to prepare the foods with recipes and ideas.

Cody also works with fellow veterans and other beginning farmers and ranchers and offers words of wisdom for those seeking to start their own farm or ranch. "I would recommend working on another farm and learning on someone else's dime. There is a lot to learn, and like anything done right, it takes time," said Cody. "I would also recommend looking into all of the services offered to veterans such as USDA programs, grants, Battleground to Breaking Ground workshops and training, loans, etc. Also, taking a small business and/or marketing class."

Cody knows all too well that farming is more than growing crops. "You need to wear multiple hats. Running a business, bookkeeping, marketing, and sales are arguably more important than growing."

Cody hopes the students who toured the farm and others who visit see the passion and love of the land he and Natalie have as well as "seeing that small farms can be successful and grow healthy crops and soils without the need for harsh chemicals or tilling."