Please Be Fresh With Me

“She was surprised the first time she tasted it, and said she couldn’t believe the difference,” Cecil Woods, owner and “chief farmer” at L’cajn Farms in Rhome, said. He was referring to the first time his wife, Ann, bit into a piece of fresh, picked-on-the-farm produce. “She was amazed that it didn’t even resemble what she’d always purchased in grocery stores.”

Sadly, most people are not like Ann. They’ve never reached up and snapped a beautiful red and gold peach off the tree, bit into it, licked their lips, and scrubbed their skin after the juice left their chin sticky. Bite into a store-bought peach next, and you’ll swear it’s painted cardboard.

There’s no painted cardboard at L’cajn Farms. Nothing is forced to ripen, and not one squash or strawberry is harvested before its naturally occurring time.

Feeling the soil on his hands and watching a seed turn into something delicious is in Woods’ genetic makeup.

“I’m the fourth generation of truck farmers,” he acknowledged. “There’s no denying it’s tough, physical labor and it’s hard to get help – especially during Texas summers. The thing is, when produce is ready to harvest, it’s ready! You can’t decide to take off for a few days. You get out in that field and you harvest.”

Farming is not recommended for the physically or mentally weak. The physical part is self-explanatory, and, if you happen to be a control freak, don’t bother dropping the first seed.

“The weather can’t be controlled,” Woods said. “There’s nothing I can do about too much, or too little, rain. I can’t prevent a hailstorm from beating my crops to death. It’s all at nature’s mercy.

“Farming of any kind was a new experience for Ann. We went to high school together in Sweetwater, graduated, and lost touch. I moved to Louisiana, where I farmed citrus and vegetables until 1999. I sold mostly to grocery store buyers in the Greater New Orleans area.

“I decided to go to a high school reunion, and Ann was there. I hadn’t seen her since 1982, but a lot of things clicked into place.” There was enough “clicking” that the two of them wound up at an altar – together. Woods and his bride moved to Texas and bought land so Cecil could (what else?) farm.

“One day, after about three years, Ann looked at me and said, ‘You’re telling me you make a living doing this?!’

“We made some big changes four years ago when we became a ‘box farm.’ Farming in Texas was far different from Louisiana, and I needed to think about other possibilities. I had to play around with products and varieties to put together a workable plan. Now, during the summer, we grow about 36 different crops.”

That’s more than enough to fill a lot of boxes, which was fortunate since, before and during COVID, L’cajn was known to sell 100 boxes in two hours.

Woods also teamed up with a handful of small farms in the area to help them sell their surplus.

Boxes within 35 miles of the farm are delivered for $7. They may also be picked up at the farm or at seven free community sites. L’cajn is the only farm in the area to belong to the Certified Food Safety Modernization Act, with only two people handling the food boxes.

Lists of available products are posted each Thursday, and orders must be placed by midnight on Monday – boxes are ready Wednesday.

“We use heirloom, O.P., and hybrid seeds,” Woods said, “and we’re strictly on the non-GMO list. We use only organic fertilizer on the crops and organic microbes on the soil. Everybody’s invited to visit and, if you want, work a couple hours!”

Elderberry syrup, Bread and Butter pickles, Sweet Fire pickles, and tamales are available at certain times. There are tree pruning classes, and “Farmer Cecil” writes a pretty good blog on his website.

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