Harvest of plenty in our back yard
by Kenda Nelson
Nov 21, 2008 | 2073 views | 1 1 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Third generation Tivoli farmer Frank Pagel is among the new wave of farmers across the United States who are providing a more nutritious, high-quality, locally grown produce to local markets, saving energy and preserving the environment.
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Frank Pagel knows every square foot of his 220-acre farm like the back of his hand. This month marks the 101st year since his grandfather settled on the land in November of 1907. He began romping on the place as a boy and continues to nourish it as a man.

Pagel has joined the new wave of local farmers who not only produce locally but ship locally as well. Fuel and shipping costs are kept at a minimum, good for Pagel’s pocketbook and better for the environment. He times his planting and harvesting so that his vegetables are not in the least competition with those trucked in from thousands of miles away.

The local farmer picks his crops at the peak of optimum quality. He has no trouble selling them.

“I sell my vegetables no farther south than Corpus Christi and no farther north than Victoria,” Pagel said.

He opened a fruit stand near the farm to offer his vegetables straight from farm to customer. This stand will be open this Saturday in time for Thanksgiving.

Today, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and zucchini flourish under his care. Winter crops including cabbage, cauliflower and onions are coming along nicely in the field and will be ready to harvest in a few weeks.

“The tomatoes are beginning to ripen now,” Pagel says. “We should have them on the stand on Saturday.”

To combat waste, Pagel and his wife, Marilyn, have developed their own brand of salsa and pickled okra. A quick taste test reveals a salsa that abounds in the fresh taste of ripe-picked tomatoes unlike any others on the grocery-store shelves.

“I didn’t want anything with cumin or chili powder,” Marilyn said. “We tried many recipes until we hit on the one we liked best.”

When the recipe met Marilyn’s and Frank’s taste test, production got underway in a commercially approved kitchen less than 45 minutes away.

“We developed our recipes with David Smith of Taft; they call him ‘Pickle’,” Pagel says. “The recipe was sent to A&M and approved in May 2007.”

The Pagels’ pickled okra is also top notch. The okra is crisp, crunchy and some even have a slice of the Pagles’ fresh-grown jalapeño added for a tinge of bite.

Pagel Farms also produces grapefruit jelly and marmalade.

Through the years, Pagel has also developed a drip irrigation system. He now produces 130 bushels of bell peppers to the acre as compared with 50 in dry land.

The tomatoes in the field are several varieties so that all the uses of the red, succulent fruit are covered, from salad tomatoes to cooking varieties for pasta sauces and salsa.

“We grow mostly pickling cucumbers and a few salad cukes,” he said. “There’s no great market for big seed slicers.”

Texas sweet onions were planted just before the rain last week and are coming along nicely, and should be in markets soon as well.

Scientists are just beginning to understand that vegetables and fruits grown locally provide populations with more nutrition than those shipped green from far-away places. But as much as the quality of his product, Pagel’s priority is keeping the land healthy and vibrant. He says the property was originally owned by a Frenchman in the late 1800s.

“When he drowned in the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, the land around Austwell and Tivoli wound up in the hands of Preston Austin,” Pagel said. “ My grandfather bought the property from him.”

The old home place still lies on the northeast side of the property, near where the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers merge before both empty into San Antonio Bay.

Except for the years he served in the Air Force, Pagel has tended this patch of ground most of his life. After his military service, he owned and ran a crop-dusting business. During those years, he became interested in irrigation and developed a system for his land. His heart has always been into farming.

But like all things, farming has changed since his grandfather put the first seeds into the ground and Pagel has changed with the time.

Unlike previous generations, farmers now compete with commercial farms from around the world. Vegetables are trucked into South Texas from California, Florida and Mexico regularly with the seasons and picked green to withstand travel time. Packages of garlic from China can be seen regularly in stores.

Pagel knows the obstacles of farming like he knows the land. He also says that no man is an owner but, rather, he is a tenant of this earth.

Pagel says his job is to tend the soil and keep it healthy and vibrant for the next generation, like his father and his grandfather before him.

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November 24, 2008