Worth Its Wheat

With a degree in horticulture and sustainable food systems newly under his belt, 23-year-old licensed irrigator Jeffrey Wylie was looking for the next big idea. It wasn’t long before he’d set his sight on farming the out-of-production family ranch in Mullin, Texas.

“My dad thought I was completely crazy,” says Wylie, “but he let me have 50 acres of bottomland to work with.”

Using his grandfather’s rusty old tractors, Wylie produced and sold his first harvest of organic Winter Red wheat berries, oats, watermelons, cucumbers and flowers just one short year later—quickly garnering the attention and praise of farmers-market goers and local, organic wheat–seeking customers alike.

“It took hours and hours and hours to make those tractors work again,” he says. “My dad had never seen the farm perform this way. Now he’s my biggest supporter and has even promised me a new tractor…though I haven’t seen it yet,” Wylie says with a laugh.

Jeffrey is the only laborer in his endeavor. “I’ve never worked this hard in my entire life,” he says, “but grains and farming are the heart of America, and most grains aren’t organic. The most important thing to me is to surpass the USDA organic requirements.”

Attaining that goal is less challenging in some ways for Wylie because his farmland is, as he puts it, “out in the middle of nowhere, six miles down a dirt road on 3,000 acres—no neighbors, no nothing.”

“Some parts of the country, like California, only require 15 yards between a conventional and an organic farm,” he notes. “We have hundreds of acres surrounding the crops I grow, and that means no one else’s fertilizer or pesticides can leach through the soil into mine. I irrigate with a gravity-flow system from the bottom of our spring-fed lake which is packed with clean nutrients, and I use CO2 to keep the weevils off the wheat. It works better and is cheaper than pesticides.”

His applied methods are paying off as more and more Austinites clamor for his fresh, seasonal produce, oats and especially for the wheat berries, which can be added whole to breads and pastries, dried and ground for whole-wheat flour or enjoyed minimalistic-style by simply soaking overnight for next-day snacking.

You can find Wylie’s winter harvest at the Austin Farmers’  Market downtown and Wheatsville Co-op, and watch for the next crop of sought-after wheat berries coming in the summer and fall.

Jeffrey Wylie, RW Farm & Ranch • 325-985-3557