On the Porch with Crawford Farms

Down a sun-baked dirt road a few miles south of Henderson, TX, lies a stretch of land that looks like an untamed wilderness to the untrained eye. But to Lori Crawford, a young woman with sun kissed skin and dark hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, there’s only one word for this land; healthy.

Despite the many farms I’ve interviewed, my eyes remain stubbornly untrained, and so Lori explains, “We let the land alone, let the natural vegetation grow, throughout the year, and rotate our fields and crops. When it’s good and grown up, we mow it down and let it nourish the soil before we till the area for planting.”

“And here I thought farming was just planting seeds.” I say as we stand shoulder to shoulder, surveying the Crawford wilderness together.

Lori chuckles, every bit the long-suffering outdoorswoman, “No, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it. We pay attention to when the Farmer’s Markets start and then plan when and what to plant.”

“I have to say, I’ve bought from the Crawford stall at the market. Y’all have the biggest greens I’ve ever seen!”

She graces me with a smile again, “Yeah, we’re known for our greens. I try to grow things that no one else at the market has, that way the customers have a good variety to shop from. But we’re known for the greens so I keep those going as much as possible.”

This is truly a family farm, I note, as a young man about twelve years old comes out from around the house trailing two farm dogs and a cat. I take a closer look to see that it’s Cody, one of Lori’s two sons who come to sell at the market!

Cody is the younger of the two brothers, but he’s quite the salesman. With a nudge from his big brother, Joel, Cody will smile shyly and recite the greens’ and other veggie prices from memory, his eyes darting to their price-sign only once or twice for help.

“We used to try to hire out people, but…If you don’t love this work, you just won’t stick with it.” Lori comments, keeping a motherly eye on Cody as he flops down on a trampoline in the backyard, “The kids help us out. I tell them, ‘you’ve got two choices, you can either go to college or you can work the farm.’ I think Cody will be one to go to college.”

It truly is a labor of love here at Crawford Farms. Lori tours me throughout the fields, “Over here are the greens, over there are the peppers, we’ve got acorn squash coming up on down the road,” she keeps up a steady commentary, making frequent stops by the fruit trees to pluck me a juicy fig and peach.

“I always liked the idea of having food right outside the door,” She says as I bite into the sweet fig, “When the boys get hungry I tell them to go pick something out of the garden and I’ll make it up for them.”

She points to a small tree growing right near the house, “That’s Joel’s baby tree. He picked it out and planted and really worked on it. We don’t grow it as a crop, but it makes Joel happy to have it right here to pick from when he wants it. It’s a Kumquat tree.”

I laugh at the cute name and snap a photo of the sweet little tree growing kumquats with all its might, standing there like the littlest brother of the farm’s more mature fruit trees.

“We can drive out to the furthest fields in this,” Lori says as she lifts herself easily into a huge pickup truck that seems three stories tall, with no loading-bar. I shoulder my camera strap, straighten my hat, and take a running start to fling myself up, up, and up into the passenger seat. The sweet reward of my efforts is blessed air conditioning, which I savor as we pull away. Lori doesn’t seem bothered by the heat at all.

We bounce along a bumpy little trail until we reach the current field they’re working on. Steve Crawford, Lori’s husband and business partner, is up on the tractor, tilling up a large plot of land.

“This is my favorite part,” Lori confides as she jumps down from the truck and leads me onto the fresh-tilled dirt. She picks up a hand full, “You can smell how rich and healthy it is. I just love that smell.”

I breathe in the fresh scent and Lori shows me the difference between well-worked dirt and dirt that’s just been turned over.

“We picked this place because of the soil,” She tells me, trailing the dirt through her calloused hands, “We almost gave up; we looked at so many places around here. But we finally found this place and the soil was so good we bought it. We don’t have to do anything to our greens to make them grow so big; the soil does all that for us.”

It’s true; their booth is easily identifiable by the huge leafy greens and heads of broccoli and cauliflower as wide as my waist! But Lori tells me that the Crawford’s actually had their start in farming by growing watermelons; a successful venture that set them traversing the wide span East Texas delivering the juicy southern staple to families and business owners. Once they decided to start a family though, Lori and Steve began to widen their farming repertoire to include a more varied selection.

“When you grow a wider variety,” She explains, “You don’t have to travel so much to deliver. You can just set up a booth at a farmer’s market and people will come to you, ‘cause they know they can find what they need.”

Selling at the Rose City Farmer’s Market and other local markets has allowed Lori to stay home, working the farm and raising her children. She hasn’t had to work in town in twenty years!

They’ve been on this farm since 1999, growing everything from apples and peaches to peppers and Brussels sprouts. Lori tells me they have a wide pond in the back of the property, beyond some thick trees and over a small hill. I can only catch a glimmer of it in the distance as Lori explains how they use it to irrigate the farm. She pauses, “I love it best when the plants are watered by the rain though,” she says.

“I love the rain,” She murmurs with a faraway smile, “When it rains I always say, ‘God’s kissing my plants’.”

The Crawford’s plants are definitely blessed, I think, recalling the big and juicy vegetables that line their Farmer’s Market stall. As a frequent customer of Crawford Farms myself, I can vouch for their quality.

With guarantees of future crops including apples, herbs, plums, tomatoes, squash, peas, and some of the famous watermelons that got Crawford Farms started, Lori leads me back to the dirt road to bid me farewell.

We say our goodbyes under a high, hot afternoon sun and promise to see each other next weekend at the Farmers Market. Before I go, Lori gives me a parcel of fresh fruit to eat on my way home, which I accept gratefully. Her generosity is a trademark of East Texas farmers, a quality that seems to be as intrinsic to their robust crops as it is in their families.

I turn northward, headed home back through Henderson, and as I do so I bite into one of Lori’s sun-ripened peaches. The warm juice rolls down my chin and I smile; enjoying the sweet taste of the Crawford’s rich soil and rain-kissed fruit.