Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Millican Produce - A Brazos Locavore Field Trip

Saturday's drenching rain behind us, Sunday provided the perfect weather for a day on the farm. It also marked another successful trip of the Brazos Locavores. With a record 45 people in tow, we carpooled to Millican Produce (about 20 miles south of Bryan-College Station) eager to meet with owners Tanya and Steve and discover how they provide those gorgeous year-round vine ripened tomatoes.

Both Tanya and Steve have a history in large scale agriculture, but wanted to start their own farm and learn to live sustainably off their own land. Everyone said they couldn't do it, but on just 4-1/2 acres, they've not only grown year-round tomatoes, but have built a very successful business in the process. You can now find Millican Produce tomatoes at our local Farmers' Market, at both the Bryan and College Station Krogers, the Farm Patch, and several local restaurants (including  my personal favorite, The Village Cafe). 

Following a warm welcome and introduction to the history of the farm, we received the grand tour of the greenhouse, home to 1,000 tomato plants (and a few eggplant and peppers). The tomatoes are grown hydroponically, in other words, rather than being planted into the ground, they are planted in sacks of cocoanut coir and receive their nutrients through the supplemented water supply. Each plant is hand pollinated by a battery powered wand and kept warmed or cooled (depending on the temps outside) at around 64 degrees with the help of fans and a wood burning stove. Even more fascinating is how each tomato plant is mounted on a reel. When the plant gets too tall, it is lowered by turning the reel and the vine gathers at the base of the plant where it's easy to pick all those vine-ripened tomatoes. Ingenious!

Back outside the greenhouse into cooler temperatures, Steve gave a fascinating demonstration on how they graft both the tomato and watermelon plants. Then the kids had the opportunity to plant their own seeds in take home containers to start their own beautiful gardens, while parents could head back into the greenhouse to pick and take home some of those gorgeous tomatoes. I do believe just about everyone went home with a little something extra.

Success for Millican Produce doesn't stop here. They're talking about leasing an additional 20 acres in an effort to start their own CSA.  With any luck, it'll be up and running this fall. In the meantime, immediate plans include expanding the current greenhouse in both directions and adding 3 more to the South of the current greenhouse. Tanya and Steve, if you grow them, we'll eat them! Thanks for a great day and best wishes for a very productive future!

For more information on the Brazos Locavores, visit our website. Or receive announcements on future trips by email by joining the Brazos Locavores Google Group today. A new Brazos Locavore field trip is only a month away. Hope to see you there!


Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

That sounds like it was a really fun and informative field trip! How exciting that they are doing so well that they are considering expanding - and double wahoo for the CSA possibility. It just goes to show that anyone interested in making a living growing sustainable, healthy food has a chance.

Heather @ SGF said...

Jennifer - It was a neat trip. I loved how they had the tomato plants rigged on that wire and could raise and lower them as they needed. Very creative and it looks like it works well.

I had lunch at the Village Cafe today and there was tomato on my wrap. The cool thing is I knew exactly where that tomato came from. Super cool!

ttammylynn said...

Tanya is pretty amazing. I love when she makes the market, not just because of the tomatoes, either. She brings variety and veggies that you rarely see in a grocery. I missed her Saturday...

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammy - the photo is not there, but she had seedlings in the greenhouse for more of those purple cauliflower. I thought of you when I saw them :)