Ryan Cade of Angleton’s R-C Ranch thinks now, more than ever, people are concerned about where their food comes from and how it impacts the environment.
“People are paying more attention now to what they’re feeding their families and what they’re putting in their bodies, and we’re happy to be part of that,” said Cade, who was one of the farmers featured in Amy Scott’s photography exhibit “The Hands That Feed Houston,” and sat down Monday night at the Flatlands Gallery in Montrose for a special dinner.
They provided the ingredients—from olive oil to goat milk to vegetables—and Evelyn Garcia (Kin at Politan Row) cooked a meal for them and other guests. While eating, the group discussed challenges that come with a life’s work of sourcing food.
Cade raises American wagyu, cattle with DNA traceable to Japanese breeds reputed for its intramuscular marbling, resulting in luscious mouthfeel and fuller flavor. Balancing his supply against large market demands—especially for his wagyu ranch, which is dependent on weed management and rotational grazing—is one of the rancher’s largest challenges in maintaining his business.
“It’s trying to figure out how to scale responsibly,” Cade said. “From the time a calf is conceived until the time its food on someone’s plate is almost three years, so we’re actively trying to make more great calves that can eventually be food for somebody but it’s going to take us three years to get bigger so that we can be more relevant.”
Zay Gamez, another farmer involved in Scott’s series, has had their fair share of challenges feeding the growing city’s population. While they knew farming would be difficult, they weren’t sure what challenges they’d face, or how challenging those struggles would be.
“Farming is just problem solving,” Gamez said. “There’s not a whole lot of money to go around—I think that’s the case for a lot of other farms — and you just have to be really creative in solutions and trying to figure out what works, what will work over time in a sustainable way, in a very low cost way.”
As the farm production manager for Finca Tres Robles, Gamez plants to provide affordable and nutritious produce to the East End community while trying to be creative with what the farm can grow.
This creativity, however, is often dampened by what consumers are willing to buy.
“Nobody might know about that thing—like parsnips. We don’t plant parsnips. Who knows about those?” Gamez wondered. “There’s more we could be planting than what we are. There has to be an educational piece presented with it.”
Jonathan Beitler, a publicist and one of the evening’s guests, agreed that an educational component is needed to drive this conversation towards the front of Houston’s food discourse.
“It’s making an opportunity that’s accessible for people to understand; it’s really showing why it's important to know where your food comes from and who it is that’s growing it,” Beitler said. “It’s really important to celebrate those hard working, often times mom-and-pop, family owned operations like Finca that are really excelling at their craft and producing this high-quality product that’s healthy and delicious.”
"The Hands That Feed Houston" is showing at Flatland Gallery in Montrose through today. It then shows at the Health Museum from Nov. 15-February 2020. Visit thehandsthatfeedhouston.com for more.