Special Report: “Dirt Rich” at Red Moon Farm

Harvesting for the farmers market at Red Moon Farm
Just as the moon pulls the tide of the sea, it influences the crops of the land. For centuries, people have planted and harvested according to the lunar calendar.
On this morning, after a night’s full moon, leafy greens are most flavorful. They are picked, bundled and prepared for market by the founders of Red Moon Farm in Van, Texas.
Jessica Bullock, Co-Owner Red Moon Farm says, “I think it started as trying to figure out a way to do something that helped other people, that was also fulfilling for us.”
They say agriculture is a blend of science and art, a passion for college sweethearts, Jessica and Justin Bullock.
On their farm, the couple watches their “deep-seeded” passion grow into something meaningful.
“I think that folks are really starting to care a lot about quality in what they’re purchasing and what they’re eating,” says Jessica.
According to the Department of Agriculture, sales from U.S. organic farms have increased 72% since 2008.
Carmen Sosa is the Director of Rose City Farmers Market. 
She says, “When you look at commercial agriculture, and commercial food production in general, it’s scary.”
Scary enough for Jessica’s parents to decide, they needed a lifestyle change. 
Melinda Studinka, Jessica’s mother says, “To be real honest it came from a concern, a health concern. You know, there’s a point where you look at all the people that you know and love who have cancer, who are getting cancer, and Alzheimers and Dementia, and all the devastating diseases.”
While Melinda says aging is the largest contributor to typical health issues, she and her husband also believe environmental toxins might also play a factor.
“We wanted a healthier, cleaner lifestyle, and part of that was going to include growing our own food. Whether it’s from vegetables to meat to eggs, the whole gammit,” says Melinda.
She and her husband Emil made the move from the “city life” of Belton, to a 27 acre farm in Van.
Soon after, they invited their daughter and son-in-law, both of whom have extensive experience in agriculture, to join them.
Emil Studinka, Jessica’s father says, “We were interested in generational living. We wanted to give back to everybody being closer together.”
From there, sprouted their self-sustaining farm, fully embracing the organic seed-to-table experience. 
Emil has his own bee hives.
“I’m not sure I’m technically a “bee keeper”, truly, I’m a bee tender. Right now because I’m still learning and growing,” says Emil.
With the opportunity for the KETK news crew to suit up for a “tender’s” view, we quickly realized it’s not a hobby for everyone.
Emil says, “You’re gonna get stung. You’re gonna get stung some.”
Sure enough, during that day’s assignment, our photo-journalist was stung.
“And some people find that that’s not fun,” Emil joked.
He says, while there really isn’t a monetary reward in hobby beekeeping, “The reward kind of is kind of, seeing what they do. Really kind of getting this really amazing little insect, and what it means to us for our food.”
According to the American Beekeeping Federation, honey bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of world’s food supply, and with the honey bee population dwindling in the U.S., down 40% since 2006, keeping these insects happy and healthy is a priority.
Emil says, “Out of that came the flower business.”
Enticing the bees to stick around, Melinda’s flower beds blossomed into the small business “Meem’s Garden,” offering an organic array of specialty cut flowers.
The fragrant Sweet Pea, Melinda’s favorite, is also the focal point of her business logo.
Then there’s the organic vegetable garden, row after row of produce, nearly 60 types of crops harvested in a single year.
With a farm this size, Jessica and Justin have quite the skill set.
While she also lends a hand in the field, Jessica also uses her business management skills to keep the “paper side” of the farm in order. 
Her husband, Justin says, “Jessica handles all of the bookkeeping, all of the administrative tasks, contacting customers, setting up all of our delivery routes, all of the things I don’t enjoy doing as much,” he laughs.
With agricultural experience abroad in India and Pakistan, Justin is the farmer, applying his knowledge to unique production methods on the farm. 
“It really is a good partnership, especially because I get to do what I like to do,” jokes Justin. 
Jessica agrees, “It’s awesome! It’s wonderful, you know. We are our own bosses, we set our own schedule. We sometimes have to work from sun up to sun down just to get everything done. Different times of the year the work is harder and more plentiful than other times of the year. So, we rest when we can, and we work really hard when there’s work to be done.”
However, this organic lifestyle doesn’t come without its challenges. 
The family must tackle common problems like pests, weeds and diseases, without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
“We do a lot of really natural methods of controlling some of our issues,” explains Jessica. “They’re mostly made from plants or from natural minerals instead of synthetics.”
For erosion control, strategically planted rye and clover, the root systems hold the soil in place. An added bonus, at the end of the season, the plants will be tilled into the ground to enrich the dirt. 
Chickens also have a place on the Red Moon Farm. 
“We’re raising chickens ourselves, so that we not only have a wonderful product of fresh, high quality eggs for our customers, but also so that we can reap the benefits of what else the chickens produce and we can compost it down,” said Jessica.
Harvesting is a family affair. 
Jessica explains, “Whenever it’s time to harvest vegetables, my parents are in the processing barn with us, helping us getting everything into the boxes and ready for delivery. Whenever it’s time to harvest the honey, every june, we all go into the kitchen and spread everything out and get it all done.”
Keeping a sense of humor always helps, jokes Emil,”We have to remind ourselves it’s fun sometimes because it’s a lot of work.”
After the Bullock and Studinka family spends the entire day in the field, harvesting all of their produce and flowers (honey during the summer) they set up a booth at the Rose City Farmers Market in Tyler. They join dozens of other vendors, and see all of their hard work pay off. 
Melinda absolutely loves the atmosphere, “You’ll see hugs and smiles, and people checking out what other people have!”
Jessica says, “We have folks from all walks of life. A wide range of income brackets, shopping for different things for their families.”
The Rose City Farmers Market has become a local destination.
Carmen Sosa says, “It’s a place where you can do your grocery shopping. Where you can grab a cup of coffee that’s locally roasted. And listen to local music while you do your shopping. It’s very kid friendly, we always have games and activities for the kids.”
At the Red Moon Farm booth, there’s little “down time” to be had.
Emil says, “Justin gets bombarded with questions about how to grow this, tell me about this, and what is that?”
And Justin love it! “It’s really fun to see people excited about it. We actually get to see our customers and talk to them face to face. People do get pretty excited about different varieties of lettuce or kale.”
For returning customers, Sosa says the product sells itself. 
“They understand the difference of what a fresh picked tomato tastes like compared to what you may get at a bigger store, yeah, you’ve got a friend for life,” Sosa explains.
Every market day, successful for the entire family. 
“Through Red Moon Farm we are selling my mother’s flowers and my dad’s honey,” Jessica says. “We’re growing as much food as we can, at the moment, and we’re selling out.”
Red Moon Farm also runs a community supported agriculture co-op, or a CSA, delivering fresh produce to families across North Texas and East Texas every week.
Jessica says, “It’s a community approach to experiencing agriculture. They have constant access to fresh vegetables from our farm and they have constant access to us as their farmers, they can come and visit us at the farm.”
However, you don’t have to own a farm to grow your own food. In fact, Jessica believes, the more local gardeners, the better.
“It’s an important thing that people be trying their hand at this and experiencing how rich your food is whenever it’s grown healthfully and whenever it’s harvested fresh, but it also gives you a deeper respect for your farmers and how hard they have to work in order to provide for you,” she explains.
Red Moon Farm has opened up its summer CSA program this week. Click here to sign up or to learn more information.

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