"We don’t get television reception. That’s a choice. We watch things on Netflix. But at the end of the day we sit outside, we have one gin-and-tonic or one glass of red wine, open the windows, and we listen to music that runs the whole gamut."
Last weekend, Farmgrass went to see Jane Levan. She and her husband Terry of Dewberry Hills Farm were happy to show us around their chicken farm, even in the middle of a work day. We saw their chicks of varying ages, fully grown hens in spacious, shaded tents rigged with cooling misters, and their beautiful farm grounds just outside of Elgin, TX. In 2012, Jane tripped over a tractor that had been disconnected, breaking her arm. Without health insurance, she waited two days with only a sling before driving herself 45 minutes to seek medical attention, leaving Terry to keep the farm running. "I cannot convey how scary it is to realize that...you can’t work. You’re putting the entire burden on your partner to keep things running. At the same time you don’t know where (well I did because people did this for me) but you don’t know how you’re gonna possibly pay for [the medical expenses]. You don’t know if you’ve just thrown away your future."
Farmgrass: What brought you into farming?
Jane: Before we started farming, Terry had a computer business and I worked with him back in Austin. Before that I was a travel agent, because I really like to travel, and I like to sell things, but I can’t sell things I don’t believe in. In 1999, we decided to dramatically change our lives, and by 2003 we started raise and sell chickens ourselves. By 2008 we went full time. It's been a really intense learning experience.
FG: What's your greatest struggle?
Jane: "…here is my conflict, a really big conflict for me; I have to sell my chickens whole for $4 a pound at the farmers market. I can’t go any lower than that. And it’s not much off wholesale. I really can’t, but I don’t want to have chicken that the people I most want to feed cant afford it. That kills me. We had someone whose family moved from Louisiana last year and he came out to see us. He managed a warehouse in Austin, she was a barista at Whole Foods, two kids, they're really great people. He said that buying a chicken from us every other week was hard on their budget.
John McCain and some other idiot in the Senate said that Farmers Market food is for the wealthy people. It's not. I’ve gotten to know the people that shop at the farmers market and they are people that are committed to doing without things that other people consider a necessity…I respect people who make choices to change their lives in order to eat responsibly.
How do we bridge this gap? How do we make really quality organic food, or non-organic but raised right, affordable for the majority of Americans? And then how do we convince some that they want it?"
FG: What's the oddest thing that's happened at your farm?
Jane: "In 2011, when we had that drought, we had a freak hailstorm. Terry looked like he had ringworm. It blew his hat off trying to hold down these tents. We had two tents of our newest [chickens] blown over and those birds were all completely lifeless. We scooped them up into crates. Stuck them under heat lamps, and I started blow-drying them. Every time I picked up a bird, I said ‘this ones dead,’ but they all came back. It was phenomenal."
FG: Tell us something fun or peculiar about you.
Jane: "Of course you saw that picture [of Terry and I] in the Statesman right? Once upon a time, I would have been in absolute ‘Oh my god, I have no makeup on.’ I had just killed 80 birds that day, it's one of those things that as you get old you just don’t give a sh%$ about. I’m gonna be seen, but I’m working and I don’t really care. "
FG: Do you have a favorite band? What do you listen to while you're working?
Jane: "What I can say is this: we don’t listen to music while we’re working because the machines are loud and we couldn’t hear it. We could get one of those things that you put in your ear or your pocket, but we don’t do it when we’re out in the fields because we have to communicate with each other. The guys listen to music in their Gator…But what music really does, is that after the day is over it’s really my go to. We don’t get television reception. That’s a choice. We watch things on Netflix. But what we do at the end of the day is we sit outside, we have one gin-and-tonic or one glass of red wine, we open the windows, and we listen to music and it runs the whole gamut. I mean it runs from we’re old hippies so the grateful dead, to Yo-Yo Ma, we were listening to Phantom of The Opera last night, to David Grisman on a bluegrass compilation…The only things I don’t really listen to are rap and metal."
FG: We're thinking of turning Farmgrass Fest into a rap and metal festival.
Jane: [Laughs] "Excellent."