Armenia Meets the Hill Country

Just 102 miles west of Austin in Fredonia, Texas, Texas Food Ranch farmers Rick and Alik are successfully growing heritage Armenian crops on Hill Country ranch land that’s been in Rick’s family since 1858. The area is steeped in the tradition and culture of raising cattle, and Rick says if his grandpa were alive today, he would skeptically ask, “Why are you growing food out there?”

Turns out the high alkaline soil composition is similar to the soil in Armenia, where Rick lived for 23 years before recently returning to his Texas roots with his partner, Alik. Having been raised on a small farm in Armenia, Alik immediately began harvesting wild mushrooms, herbs and spices, and saw the potential for food production on a small section of the sweeping 200-acre property. They decided to cultivate the land using sustainable growing methods characteristic of Armenian agriculture: non-mechanized, high-density production on smaller plots with a reliance on companion planting. In determining which crops to grow, they continually ask what grows well with the ecosystem and climate.

Texas Food Ranch boasts an abundance of common Texas varieties interspersed with heritage Armenian diversity, and their green tunnels yield bountiful year-round harvests of exquisite lettuce mixes, greens and herbs. Old-world varieties include Armenian basil, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, savory and aveluk (wild sorrel). They recently planted a field of pomegranate trees with more than 100 seeds from Armenia, where the pomegranate is a cultural icon and revered as a life force. Also coming soon will be the ranch’s first Texas-Armenian areni—a red-wine grape varietal.

Dried fruit is a cornerstone of Armenian cuisine and has historically provided nourishing sustenance through the cold winter months. Many of the prepared foods Rick and Alik bring to market each holiday season feature dried fruits, which delight the palate with earthy, sweet richness. One of Rick’s favorite seasonal recipes is creamy Armenian pumpkin stuffed with dried fruit and baked in a tonir (clay oven) submerged in the ground. Unwilling to relinquish this special holiday delicacy, he and Alik created a Western-oven version that you can find online at edibleaustin.com.

By Adrienne Haschke

Visit Rick and Alik at the SFC Farmers’ Market–Downtown Saturday mornings, and find out more at honeysucklenaturals.com