On the Porch with Zillmer Farms
Driving out to Zillmer Farms feels like driving into the heart of Texas. A gentle canopy of pine trees shades the roads, and the blue sky stretches on until it is lost in the boughs of an East Texas forest. When I reach the farm, turning down a simple country road, looking out over rolling hills and shimmering ponds, I meet Victor Zillmer: Veteran, Author, Farmer.
Victor is a tall man with kind green eyes and an easy smile. I’ve seen him around the Rose City Farmers Market, but never actually talked with him. His upright posture and trim haircut hint at a military background, while his friendly wave and simple introduction tell me he’s a Southern gentleman.
“I’m Victor,” He says, stretching out a hand as I clamber out of my car, camera equipment in arm.
“Hi, Victor,” I say, draping the camera strap over my neck, “I’m excited to get started! Want to show me the farm?”
He starts off at a brisk pace that my short legs struggle to keep up with. I quickly fall behind because I keep stopping every few steps to snap a photo. The homespun beauty of this farmland has already captivated me.
“So, you like living out on a farm?” I ask, wincing at my obvious shortness of breath.
Victor chuckles, “Well, I don’t like big cities.” he glances back, and, noticing my difficulty, slows to a more meandering stroll. “I’ve just been slowly buying these tracts of land and growing the farm. It’s a pretty simple life. I like it that way, though.”
With a grandfather hailing from the farmlands of Wisconsin, the art of farming runs through Victor’s veins. While walking towards his patch of blackberry bushes, there is a hint of nostalgia in his eye as he recounts the many summers he spent learning the farming trade from his grandparents. Once he was grown, and after nine tours in the army, Victor was done being away from his family. He simply wanted time with his beautiful wife Alice, his children, and grandchildren. After earning a college degree in Forestry, remembering the sunlit summers of childhood on a farm in the fields of Wisconsin, Victor found a piece of his very own East Texas soil and opened Zillmer Farms; the sweetest little farm in Lindale.
It’s not easy to start up a farm!
“When I was in the desert,” Victor muses, “I quickly learned an important lesson: No water, no life.” In the unforgiving summers of East Texas, finding enough water is a real and present challenge for farmers. Faced with such a struggle, Victor decided to dig two wells of his own and irrigate the entire farm so that it would never be without water again. It wasn’t an easy task he set before himself, but it was well worth it. His wells produce forty gallons of fresh water per minute. Weather permitting or not, Zillmer Farms will survive.
Victor is obviously in love with every little plant we pass. He leads me down a path softened by a carpet of pine needles, and past trees that have survived tornadoes and Texas thunderstorms. All at once the trees part and we are looking out over a field of tilled earth and a long line of raised strawberry beds that stretch for what seems like acres. Instead of picking them to sell, he’s saved the reddest, prettiest strawberries specifically for me to see. He gently lifts a strawberry into the golden morning sunlight, and tells me with a smile, “I’ll have fresh strawberries at the market opening.”
“I’ll be first in line,” I say with a laugh, “April first can’t come fast enough!”
Victor begins filling a recycled milk jug with bright red strawberries for me. He uses the recycled jugs to pick and measure quarts and gallons of his produce. He strolls along the beds and reaches in with an expert eye to pick the berries at the absolute perfect moment. Each strawberry he pulls up is ripened to his high standards, and I can’t wait to eat them.
“So do you have any tips for growing the perfect strawberries?” I ask, eyeing a big red one right near my hand.
Victor reaches into the plot we’re standing next to and picks a handful of weeds, “They don’t like neighbors much,” he says, chuckling, “Usually I do the weeding in the morning time.”
“What time does your day usually start?”
“Well, I wake up every day at 4:30 whether I want to or not, you’ll find that out as you get older,” He says with a wry smile, “And I work all morning on the farm. But then in the afternoon it’s too hot to be outside so I take a break in the house.”
The traditional Victorian house rises proudly from a well-kept lawn, and Victor tells me that he built it himself. We walk back over to it, an entire gallon of fresh strawberries in hand.
“Seems like there’s never an end to the Honey-Do list,” He says with a chuckle, gesturing to the various projects he has laid out on the porch.
We sit in the parlor and a book near the corner catches my eye.
Victor is a published author!
“Is this sci-fi!?” I exclaim, glancing up from the back cover to see an abashed smile on Victor’s face, “That’s my favorite genre!”
His science fiction adventure, “Prisoner Seven”, is not the only book he’s written and published, either. “Letters from Iraq” by one Lt. Col. Victor Zillmer is the next book on my reading list.
But I focus again on the point of my visit: Zillmer Farms.
Victor shows me his stock of Strawberry Jam, made with his own home recipe, which he will also have available at the Market. I place a cool jar of jam back on the table and ask, “So, what about the Wic and SNAP programs at the market? Those are a very big part of what the Rose City Farmers Market goal is; to make fresh, healthy food available to everyone. What do you think of those programs?”
He nods and leans back in his chair, “I like them! You know, so many people think that fast food is what food is. But growing the food the way it should be grown really shows you the difference. When you give people an actual fresh vegetable they can taste and see how much better it is! I love that part of it.”
“That’s nice,” I say, jotting down a note of what he’s said, “And what will you have at the market this year?”
“Well,” He says, looking out the window at the distant fields, “I’ve got potatoes and okra, strawberries, blackberries. I don’t grow tomatoes anymore, ‘cause people around here usually want Jacksonville Tomatoes. But I’ll be out at the Rose City Farmers Market for as long as the farm is producing enough for me to have a booth out there.”
We sit there in the house he built, on the land he works, and chat about everything from the proper fertilizer to the quality of water in foreign countries, but all too soon I catch a glimpse of the noon sun rising high in the sky.
It is time for me to leave Zillmer Farms.
I shake Farmer Zillmer’s hand and walk back to my car, resisting the urge to snap yet another photo of the golden farm land.
I drive past the blackberry bushes, raised strawberry beds, and shimmering ponds, knowing that this is the way food should be grown.
When you stop by the Zillmer Farms booth at the Rose City Farmer’s Market, you just might have the privilege of meeting Victor himself, or his wife Alice, who helps as much as her health allows. When you buy from Zillmer Farms you’re helping Victor and Alice continue to grow local produce exactly how they want it: With water from the wells they dug themselves, on their own plot of land down a County road in the heart of Lindale, with their grandchildren running about underfoot. For them, it’s not about money. At Zillmer Farms, it’s all about love.