If you want to find a happy man, look no further than David Pitre. His smile tells it all, the love and appreciation that he has for his work, the land, and even, yes, escarole. David and his wife Katie own Tecolote Farm, an organic farm located just outside Austin, Texas. Blue eyes sparkling as he describes their enterprise, David loves seeds, especially heirloom varieties that yield lettuce leaves brushed with burnt-umber that arrive on his farms with names like Marvel of Four Seasons. Lettuce and other vegetables grow at Tecolote Farm (named after the owls that live near their farm), the first farm to have offered a CSA in the Austin area in 1994.
Why are David and Katie so happy? It couldn’t be the Texas drought, the fickle behavior of his favorite seed companies, or the economic downturn that shortened their list of CSA customers. But it might be their view that they make their own decisions about what to grow, their customers, and how they want to live. Working farmer’s hours, adapting to the challenges of weather and persnickety seeds, David and Katie exert their freedom to select and perfect the vegetable varieties for the Texas landscape while experimenting with seeds with odd names and unusual pedigrees. Over 150 vegetable varieties overcome the Texas drought to appear in Austin’s restaurants and on the tables of food lovers in Central Texas.
One area outside of this world of free choice is their chicken yard, Katie’s space where her own preferences are sure to prevail. Tecolote raises a flock of chickens that include Barred Rocks and a rotating list of chickens that suits Katie’s own tastes. David uses his background as an agronomy student during the 1980s to good use, growing oft-ignored crops like escarole, radicchio, chicory, and sorrel. Their CSA customers receive these and other more common vegetables in woven baskets every week, sometimes with recipes that use their Belgian endive or elephant garlic. You get the idea that Tecolote’s customers are more than just the paying kind; they are part of the farm’s urge to explore new ways of eating off the land in Texas.
David grew up in Mexico City with a father who was an artist; Katie comes from Orange County, California, and the two of them raise their three teenage children on the farm along with three canine members of their family. In between growing seasons, they raise cover crops to prepare their soil for the next crops. Using turkey litter and rice hulls, they keep their soil ready to receive the next round of seedlings that emerge from Tecolote’s greenhouse, small, displaying purples, greens, and surprising hues of blue and red. On the day that I visited Tecolote, we walked through the rain-soaked muddy road to a pasture that was filled with garlic and shallots.