Katie Kraemer Pitre and David Pitre are the founders of Tecolote Farm, the longest-running Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the state. David earned his B.S. in Agroecology at U.C. Santa Cruz while working on area farms and growing food for the San Francisco restaurant circuit. Tecolote Farm focuses on growing 150 varieties of heritage and hard to find vegetable varieties, raising pastured pork, and training the next generation of Texas farmers. Katie works to promote local food in the Austin area via GroACT, the Growers Alliance of Central Texas, and through 3 years of service on the Sustainable Food Policy Board for Austin/Travis County. Several of Tecolote’s apprentices have created their own farms and started agriculture-related endeavors.
Why did you become a certified organic producer?
Katie: We were already growing using organic methods when we decided to get certified. It assures consumers that we are 100% legitimate. Consumers have a stamp of approval, especially when they are new and don’t know you yet. We have considered dropping our certification now that our reputation is already built in the community, but continue to renew it because of the importance it retains for building a new customer base.
How has the central Texas food market changed since you began as certified organic producers?
Katie: There’s a lot more competition than there was in the 90s, not necessarily organic but other farmers and also delivery service groups. Some of what is sold as local is coming from really far away. The organic certification process is enough of a headache that it keeps the number of organic producers low. ‘Localwashing’ is our main issue in the market. If shoppers buy what they perceive as ‘local’, they feel like they’ve done their duty and they go on to buy the rest of their food at the supermarkets. Yeah, the food from our competitors may be officially “local” (from Texas) but we see corn from the panhandle or hothouse tomatoes from Fort Davis, and that’s not local to central Texas.
David: There are a lot of terms out there, such as “sustainable” or “natural” that might mean something, or they might not. It’s confusing to consumers, and frequently misleading. Some growers may say, “We only spray when we have to.”
How long have you been a certified organic farm?
Katie: Since 1994, we have always been certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture. We chose them because they were local and a better value. The last 5 years or so they have been losing funding, and thus efficiency and effectiveness too. They have one inspector for 45 counties, plus he does more than just organic inspections. Other certifiers take a percentage of your sales. TDA has a flat rate.
How do you handle the paperwork requirements of the organic certification process?
Katie: We used to do the bulk of the paperwork right before the deadline. We have log books now so we’ve improved that. It’s harder for a CSA like us- our application is 130 pages long.
David: We grow a lot of varieties. It feels like we’re punished because we’re so diverse and buy over 150 types of vegetables seeds. The current documentation for organic seed procurement is kind of silly.
Where do you get most of your technical information from?
David: I have a degree in Agricultural Ecology, so that helps. Primarily from other farmers or our inspector.
Katie: Online web searches of OMRI specifications and through the forum for the Growers Alliance of Central Texas. Farmers post questions up on the forum and we all share our knowledge and experience with each other.
If you knew then what you know now about being an organic producer, what would you have done different at the beginning of your organic business?
Katie: Probably better note-keeping… making folders and logs that could be replicated every year to make the application process faster.
To learn more about Tecolote go to: http://tecolotefarm.net/
You can email Tecolote at: email@example.com
For more information on the Growers Alliance of Central Texas go to: https://sites.google.com/site/growersallianceofcentraltexas/
Growers Alliance Group Forum: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Buratti is currently a board member of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. She was previously a grant project manager for the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality and Education and Outreach Coordinator for Texas State University.