Agri-newal in Brenham

by Nicole Lessin
Photography by Nuri Vallbona

In spring, when Mother Nature rolls out her indigo-and-orange-hued coverlet of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, visitors flock to Brenham-area bed-and-breakfasts for a weekend of winery visits, Blue Bell ice cream and Texas history. But Brad and Jenny Stufflebeam, founders of the organic Home Sweet Farm and a new retail market in Brenham’s historic district, where most growers and producers are limited to those within a 50-mile radius of Brenham, are working tirelessly with area chefs, growers and food artisans to put the city on the map for yet another reason.

“The vision I have for this place is that Brenham starts to be known again as a local food destination,” says Brad. “We’re literally on the local food front lines, here where it’s actually being grown.”

While the Stufflebeams’ farm and nine-year-old community-supported agriculture program were initially geared more toward selling to the Houston metroplex, the focus of Home Sweet Farm has expanded in recent years to include their local community as well. “We’ve got food deserts right here in rural areas where food is being grown,” Brad says. “And we’re trying to put value back into local food in these rural areas and trying to prove to folks that by doing it, you can start to make a living through farming again.”

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Located in a late-1800s railroad warehouse with exposed-brick walls, Home Sweet Farm Market features a large assortment of the family’s organic fruits and vegetables grown just outside Brenham, as well as those from Finca Pura Vida in Fayetteville, Yellow Prairie Farm in Caldwell and even backyard growers. “We have got a lot of old-timers out here that have some big gardens, and we can supplement their income,” Brad says. The year-round market, which the Stufflebeams have been offering on Wednesdays and Sundays since they opened last April, also features meats and eggs from pastured animals, handmade local bath and body products and cut flowers. In addition, the family sells an array of artisanal foods, such as Redneck Cheddar soaked in Texas beer from Veldhuizen Family Farm in Dublin and pickled wild grapes from Dai Due. On Wednesday evenings from 5 to 6 p.m., the market hosts a free get-together featuring samples of cheeses and wines from such local purveyors as Saddlehorn Winery and Pleasant Hill Winery, or craft beers from area microbreweries. Currently, the Stufflebeams are working on expanding to another building downtown where they will offer weekly workshops on everything from home canning to raising cattle for grassfed beef. They are also planning to host monthly farm-to-table dinners prepared by local chefs tasked with using only products from the market in Brenham.

Just around the corner, in an elegantly restored 1870s-era home with shiplap walls and vintage light fixtures, Kay Briscoe, owner of Kay’s Cuisine for the Soul, has been more than happy to incorporate fresh, seasonal ingredients from the market into her Asian-fusion cooking. “I smell like garlic, basil and tomatoes right now,” she says with a laugh from her sunlit kitchen. “I bought [Home Sweet Farm’s] heirloom tomatoes, and I roasted them and made a torte this morning. Right now, I’m rolling them in some fresh mozzarella and some basil, and oh, it’s going to be beautiful.” Briscoe says it has been amazing to be able to work with the Stufflebeams, who even deliver fresh produce to her door and then brainstorm with her about possible menus. “Brad and his family are just beautiful,” she says. “They give me a lot to play with and a lot of ideas.”

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In a historic former blacksmith shop in the heart of the city’s downtown, Chef Elizabeth McColgin recently began offering weekly farm-to-plate specials at Funky Art Café, a popular tourist spot. On a recent Wednesday, her market-inspired menu featured a lemon and summer squash bisque with lavender crème frâiche, pattypan squash stuffed with grassfed ground beef and a roasted heirloom tomato gazpacho she topped with feta from Blue Heron Farm. “This has been fantastic,” says McColgin, who honed her craft at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. She also uses seasonally available fruits to prepare handmade sorbets that are for sale at the café and the market.

Nearby, at Mobius Coffeehouse, owner Patty Dalrymple has utilized the local market as well, and is now offering a new organic juice bar featuring Home Sweet Farm carrots, greens and strawberries. Brad notes that Dalrymple’s business has expanded because she was able to get the produce needed for the juice bar. “That’s what I want to prove,” says Brad “That supporting local agriculture has this whole ripple effect across the local economy.”

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While much remains to be done, Stufflebeam says the small businesses of this town will continue to work together to make Brenham and the Brazos Valley region—historically considered to be the birthplace and breadbasket of Texas—a food destination once more. “That’s why our whole vision is local people supporting local agriculture,” he says. “Because we really want to celebrate our agricultural heritage.”