By Meredith Bethune
Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo
A pickup truck carrying coolers full of eggs pulls up to a homeless shelter. The driver, Colby Smith, imagines the staff hollering, “Not that egg guy again! Lock the doors, turn out the lights!” As founder of Smith & Smith Farms, he will only sell eggs fewer than three days old, illustrating a firm commitment to providing a superiorly fresh product—something customers can’t buy in grocery stores. But in 2009, as a new farmer represented at only one farmers market, this ethos resulted in so many leftover eggs that the shelter started refusing his donations.
Smith eventually found an enthusiastic customer base for his pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and fresh eggs. Now, at several Austin markets, the farm and its signature cream-and-brown barbed-wire signs stand out in the sea of tents, as does Smith’s warm smile and approachable manner when customers stop by his booth for a chat and to ask questions. As the expert on his farming practices, he welcomes these opportunities to build “a relationship with customers based on honesty,” he says.
Unforeseen circumstances led Smith to farming. Laid off from a job working in a countertop factory, he periodically returned to his former workplace to sell eggs from his backyard chickens. “I couldn’t keep up with the product,” he says, “and I thought maybe there was a demand for it.” A month later, he was farming full-time alongside his identical twin brother, Cory—expanding his flocks to include sheep and more than a thousand chickens.
Smith grew up in the agricultural community of Belton, outside Temple. His grandfather, veteran farmer Daryl Daniel, told him to avoid farming in favor of more stable employment “because you work seven days a week with no benefits, no retirement.” Yet his grandfather is his inspiration—watching him raise cattle and goats in Briggs (in northeastern Burnet County) is “the main reason I got started,” Smith confesses.
Like his grandfather predicted, Smith has faced several setbacks. Predators like coyotes and hawks regularly threaten his livelihood, but his biggest enemy is the weather. The summer of 2011 was particularly burdensome for pasture-based farms like Smith & Smith. “The feed costs went up so high,” Smith recalls. “We pumped our water and drained our tank dry, and then just watched the grass die.” He has since invested in more robust heritage breeds, including Red Wattle hogs—animals that are less vulnerable to weather extremes. “Regardless if it’s snowing or one hundred and six, they’re gonna do their thing,” he says.
The drought unfortunately forced Cory to leave farming full-time, but he still cares for the laying hens and occasionally works at the markets. Other family members also contribute to the farm’s viability: the twins’ mother, Angela, looks after the sheep and works at the Cedar Park Farmers Market on Saturdays. Colby’s wife, Katie, her mother, Lisa, and her grandfather Frank also participate in the markets. Even Colby and Katie’s nine-month-old daughter, Paisley, pitches in. “She loves the market,” says Smith. “She loves seeing the customers.”
Smith’s eyes light up while talking about his daughter, but he insists his dog Ruger, a border collie and black Lab mix, is his firstborn. “No offense, Paisley,” he says with a chuckle. Each morning, Smith, Paisley and Ruger release the laying hens onto the pasture and pen them up at night to keep them safe. Smith says that when Paisley was a bit younger, the roosters would crow and she would shake. “But now she just giggles,” he says. Ruger herds the birds into the chicken tractors—capturing escaped birds and even eggs in his mouth and faithfully returning them, unharmed, to his owner.
From the Great Pyrenees dogs that guard the sheep, to the layers, to the new Red Wattle hogs, there’s a deep respect for animals on the Smith farm. “We couldn’t do anything without our animals,” Smith says. Thus he continues to embrace his grandfather’s words and raise them “the right way, on pasture.” If you take good care of your animals, his grandfather also says, they’ll always take good care of you.
Smith & Smith Farms sells pastured meats and fresh eggs that are hormone- and antibiotic-free at the SFC Farmers’ Markets (Downtown and Triangle), Cedar Park Farmers Market, Barton Creek Farmers Market and Mueller Farmers’ Market.
For more information, visit smithandsmithfarms.webs.com