Young Farmer Profile #2: Lorig Hawkins at Tecolote Farm
The land east of Austin is a monochrome pallete in the off-yellows of dying plants. Nowhere was it more stark than when I rounded the curve of pasture that separates Tecolote Farm from Highway 969. Tecolote is east of downtown Austin, not too far from the fires ravaging Bastrop. It was obvious; I felt that if I just scuffed my shoes on the grass it might throw off a spark. At my apartment in the city, we got an hour of rain on Saturday. As I approached Tecolote’s conjoined fields I called out to Lorig Hawkins, who was pushing a wheel hoe down a bed of newly-seeded beets, asking if they saw any of it. Not a drop.
Lorig, 27, is the new farm manager at Tecolote Farm, the oldest running CSA farm in Austin. David Pitre and Katie Kraemer have been farming there since 1994–currently about 10 acres. Lorig came on as a seasonal employee in March of 2011 with a lot of enthusiasm, but little more than a few months of farm volunteer experience. By April, David was ready to make her his manager. Despite being green, Lorig is convinced she was built for farming. And given the rate at which she’s excelling, it looks like she’s right.
Since graduating from the University of Texas with a double major in RTF and kenesiology, Lorig knew she needed to be working outdoors. She bounced through a few random jobs–washing windows, working in a coffee shop, dog sitting–until she landed at The Expedition School, where she was charged with guiding hikes through rural Costa Rica a few times a year. In the spring of 2010, Lorig took a permaculture class in Austin with Dick Pierce, a notable figure in Austin. During one class they visited several farms in and around Austin, and there Lorig thought she had found her calling. In proper millenial generation style, she decided to go back to school for agriculture.
Lorig doesn’t stop working as she relates her history to me, even though the temperature is approaching triple digits and she is struggling to cut through clay soil with a dull hoe with a wheel attached to it. “The more I read about it the more I realized that apprenticing on a farm was probably the better way to go. School is based in research, so I could be researching how this cover crop is better than that one, or how effective CSAs are as a business model, but then you’re not actually farming.”
So while she submitted her applications to graduate schools, she began volunteering at farms and taking some plant biology courses at The University of Texas. It didn’t take her long to realize that she was learning more outside of the classroom than in, and so she began looking for work on a farm in town. That was when she found Tecolote.
Her first season of farm work was everything she wanted. She sold top-quality vegetables at the downtown farmers market, she learned methods for CSA management, she felt connected to a community with food at the center, and she had work. Lots of hard, hard work. “Just doing the work is so rewarding for me. I really like to push myself and get tired. Like really, truly, slobbering and falling over kind of tired.”
Finally pausing to take a drink of water and say hello to her dog, Theo, Lorig quickly picks up a stirrup hoe and begins weeding again. Having just landed her first fulltime farming job, purchasing her own farm is still a distant dream. Lorig tells me she’s comfortable staying with Tecalote for as long as she can. As for where or when she might begin looking for land, she has a hard time saying. “Farm loans are intimidating, because what if you can’t make it work? Let’s say you got a loan and started farming this year, during the worst drought in a century!” She shrugs, smiling, “It’s like you’re either all in, or you have nothing. There’s no one to catch you in that middle part.” In spite of the inherent risks, though, Lorig is convinced that determination, hard work, and positive thinking will see her through. “Okay,” she starts, “so I’m not a normal 20-something with a steady job. And I don’t have a lot of stamina for other pursuits. And if I ever lose a farming job, I’m not going to be super employable in the normal workforce. But this is the life I’ve chosen, I love it, and I’m going to find a way to see it through.”That’s not to say that Lorig would mind seeing the path made a little easier. At the moment, her biggest challenge is the wide gap she sees between those growing food and those purchasing and consuming it. Most people don’t know about farms, she says as she turns on water for some thirsty seedlings. At the same time, farmers are usually too busy and tired to do a lot of education. One frustration in particular for Lorig is the lack of proper agricultural land available for farmers, especially beginning farmers. “There’s so much energy put into community gardens and urban green space,” she says, “which are great. But that’s not food production, not enough to feed a city. For food production, you need a lot of land. Right now new farmers have to look for land far outside city limits, but close to the city is the best place for these things to start. That’swhere you really can breed a farming community. I’d like to see Austin putting some thought into that.”
She pauses for a moment, then continues, as if summing up her feelings, “Farming is often seen as a fad for young people. Like we’re just riding out a bad economy until we can get a real job. But this is what I really want to do. The systems involved in farming, the organization, the constant thinking ahead, how I work physically … there is nothing better for me than farming.”
Lorig’s excitement as she said this was a lush contrast to the scorched and miserable pasture in which she was standing. Fully aware of the obstacles in her future and facing a desolating Texas drought in her first year of farming, Lorig stays positively exuberant about her future. As I walk beside her and talk, she rarely lifts her head as she responds. She just keeps working. Even with her physical capacity and intellectual aptitude for agriculture, it’s this determination that may prove to be Lorig’s biggest asset in her new career.
Neysa King has been farming with her husband, Travis Czerw for three years. Read more at Dissertation to Dirt