Boggy Creek Farm: An Urban Farm Paradise

by Sheila Julson

Carol Ann Sayle, who founded Boggy Creek Farm with her late husband, Larry Butler, was born to be a farmer. The San Antonio area native had always loved to play in the dirt. She frequently helped her parents with gardening and even ran a small farm stand at her family’s home.

Sayle became a professional oil painter and opened a studio in Austin, which was near Butler’s television repair business. His large client base included Willie Nelson. Sayle and Butler happened to meet on the sidewalk near their businesses and wed in 1976. They each had children from previous relationships, and together they raised three kids.

Butler, who grew up on a farm, wanted land for his family. In 1981, the couple purchased a 15-acre parcel 80 miles outside of Austin and planted a large garden. They learned to grow vegetables and became certified organic during a time when the organic seal wasn’t on most people’s radars. One of their first customers was the then-emerging Whole Foods.

In 1992, Sayle and Butler discovered the property that would become Boggy Creek Farm. “We frequented some restaurants in East Austin, and we saw this property become available,” Sayle recounts. “The five acres were completely overgrown, and the historic house was in ruins. The property was in foreclosure and sat empty for two years.”

But Sayle and Butler saw a diamond in the rough. They purchased the property and began cleaning it up that autumn. “The chimney had fallen in on the house, and we hauled away 16 trailers of junk. But the soil was good, and by early 1993 we started selling lettuce to Whole Foods and opened a small farm stand. We were the first urban farm.”

She reflects on the growth of their East Austin neighborhood and how urban renewal has brought in an influx of younger residents interested in not just eating locally sourced, responsibly farmed food, but also growing it. “We lead educational tours and programs for school groups and garden clubs, and we partner with Green Corn Project to provide additional educational opportunities,” she notes.

Sayle makes her own compost from leaves and manure from their chickens, which also lay eggs that are sold at the market stand. Sayle says they no longer pay for United States Department of Agriculture’s organic certification because it became expensive and cumbersome. “And our customers don’t care,” she asserts, “because they come out to the farm and see our natural growing methods.”

Boggy Creek Farm is a regenerative farm, Sayle explains, which uses practices that increase biodiversity, enriches the soil, and enhances the overall farm ecosystem. Measures include landscape fabric, which is more durable than disposable plastic cover tarps. The landscape fabric keeps out light and lets in moisture, creating an ideal environment for worms. It’s also an environmentally safe weed control method.

They also do not till or plow, which Sayle says dries out the soil and causes the wind to blow it away. “Over-tilling brought on the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” she notes. At harvest time, instead of pulling an entire vegetable out by its roots, they cut it off at ground level and leave the roots in the ground to decompose, which adds more nutrients and carbon to the soil.

Good soil produces good produce, and Sayle says customers love the Farm’s tomato varieties, chicory, radicchio, endive, dandelion greens, arugula, lettuce and kale. Other popular items are green beans, summer squash and flowers. The early summer harvest brought potatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlic—all available at the farm stand that’s open Wednesday through Saturday. The Boggy Creek Farm stand has the community ambiance of a farmers’ market, with regular customers that enjoy social interaction and a field-to-plate connection. Sayle says area chefs also shop at the farm stand.

Sayle hopes that regenerative farming catches on. “If everybody did this, we would not be having these problems with the climate changing,” she affirms, adding that she shares information about environmentally responsible weed control on her website, and educates people about the value of locally grown, responsibly farmed food, even though it’s slightly more expensive than conventional grocery store food.

“People are getting sick from cheap food grown by large farms planting the same couple of crops and maintaining them with soil-killing chemicals,” says Sayle. “Then their lives are ruined by health problems. We have to change mindsets. Lots of customers tell me their lives have been saved by finding this farm, where they can access nourishing food.”

Boggy Creek Farm is located at 3414 Lyons Rd., Austin. For more information, call 512-926-4650 or visit BoggyCreekFarm.com.

Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.