Home Sweet Farm

By Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Andy Sams

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington: “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.” Brad Stufflebeam is a man who knows his history and shares Jefferson’s values. His 22-acre Home Sweet Farm in Washington County, near Brenham, is not only a model of sustainability, but proof of the rewards available to those who are willing to do things the old-fashioned way while chasing the “wisest pursuit.”

The core of Home Sweet Farm is a family who values togetherness, community and self-sufficiency. “We love working together,” Stufflebeam says of the family that includes his wife, Jenny, and daughters, Carina (age 14) and Brooke (age 12). Jenny and Brad met in high school and married young, at 21 and 22. “We always shared the same values,” he says. “Both of us wanted to leave suburbia.”


HSF-Montage

Stufflebeam became interested in horticulture, and the young couple opened a landscape business in McKinney. Soon, the two-lane highway on which the property sat had expanded to six lanes, and the landscape business was suddenly across the highway from a Home Depot. When Stufflebeam had the opportunity to sell the business and the property, he seized it—allowing the couple to move farther out of town. “I’ve been chased by the growth of suburbia since I was a child in Richardson, Texas!” he says with a rueful laugh. “When we closed on this property in 2004, a Home Depot, a Lowe’s and a Starbucks opened in Brenham.”

The encroachment of urbanization on rich farmland is a big motivating factor for Stufflebeam. “We need more growers out here. We began farming to build the life we wanted as a family, but part of my original dream was to be a small-farm resource—a sort of laboratory for showing people what can work, what can be achieved. We want our farm to be proof that it can be done, that a family can sustain itself with a comfortable living on a small piece of land. I feel like it’s our duty to continue that tradition, to pass the torch to the next generation of people with a dream.”

To share his vision and further the grassroots education of the next generation of farmers, Stufflebeam organized an annual Market Growers Symposium—a two-day event where participants attend technical discussions led by experienced growers and horticultural experts, network with other farmers, buyers and market managers and attend a technical farm tour at Home Sweet Farm. Stufflebeam is also involved with the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA), having served as regional director in 2005, then as president from 2006 to 2008. He also has plans to begin posting online farming tutorials on the Home Sweet Farm website. The tutorials will offer online workshops for homesteaders and market growers of any size, and join the Home Sweet Farm Radio podcasts, which spotlight topics such as “Grass Farming and Holistic Livestock Management,” “Amending the New Farm” and “The War on Bugs.”


Stufflebeams

Stufflebeam’s success lies in the very things that make his farm sustainable: smart planting and grazing, structures that do part of the work and community effort. Carina and Brooke oversee all the farm’s animals—including four Haflinger draft horses that plow the fields; three dairy cows that supply the family with milk and will, one day soon, support the farm’s commercial cheesemaking operation; about 100 laying hens; and various dogs, rabbits and cats. Farm buildings include a barn that serves as crop storage and provides space for regular market days, and will soon house a commercial kitchen to create value-added products that will supplement the bottom line. A well house recently built by a Home Sweet Farm community-supported agriculture (CSA) program member is a personal favorite. “This is the well house of my dreams,” Stufflebeam says, smiling. “The guys who designed it are brilliant. The water is stored up top, so that it can be pumped to the house or the fields with gravity, and it creates a cool cellar underneath for storing root vegetables and storage crops. And all it cost me was materials and some cucumbers.”

The community effort is paramount to Stufflebeam. “We came up with a volunteer work-share program,” he says. “We ask people to commit for a month, and now we have fifteen to eighteen people every week who have gotten very close to us. The work—weeding, harvesting, planting—is rewarding to them, but it encourages us, as well.” And instead of relying on borrowed money, Stufflebeam uses a model of community investment. “I’ve never been to the bank,” he says. “This business was funded exclusively by customers.”

Stufflebeam looks out over the rolling green acres and considers the fertile countryside of Central Texas. “Here we are in the birthplace of Texas—every acre in Washington County was under cultivation at one point,” he says. “It was feeding Texas.”