A Growing Business

1119

Stephanie Scherzer and Farmhouse Delivery Keep Austin Local

Even on a cold and wet December Saturday morning just east of downtown Austin, Rain Lily Farm  is somehow lustrous and bewitching, like it’s lit, subtly, from below. Clover, a big, boisterous and unlikely mix of poodle and English bull dog, diligently roams the yard next to a welcoming house with his accomplice, red, who appears to have a bit of pit bull in his blood. Django looks more sleek than the other two dogs, with signs of basenji or maybe whippet stock.

The rainfall is steady but light, and it gently glosses the greenhouse, the observing tree branches and the cleverly constructed mobile chicken coop. some of the chickens roam the yard. They’re not like TV-commercial chickens, small and similar and bright white. These are real chickens; thick, plump, black, gray, red, brown. They’re each doing their own thing, pecking at a bush, clucking and crowing, or investigating a patch of scratchy ground. Some are nervous. Some seem serious. Some seem relaxed in a wound-up, chicken sort of way. No, these aren’t TV-commercial chickens. They’re more than simple, mindless products. Each bird has, for lack of a better term, his or her own personality.

Deeper on the property, rows of dirt showcase similarly unique vegetables. Wrinkles, bumps and all, the produce at Rain Lily Farm  isn’t manufactured product, either. It’s real food, just begging to be cultivated, cared for, romanced and loved for what it is.

Openly warm and quietly industrious, Stephanie Scherzer is the real thing, too. Originally from Dallas, Scherzer attended College in Mississippi, where she studied psychology. With her responsive, communicative manner, it’s easy to see she has a finger on the pulse of what makes people tick, but the knowledge doesn’t end there. Rain Lily Farm , the home and parcel of land she shares with her partner, Kim Beal, is proof that Scherzer understands how a lot of things work.

1Upon completing school and moving to Austin, Scherzer took a job at John Dromgoole’s Natural Gardener garden shop, nursery and teaching facility. The job laid a lot of the ground- work in knowledge for what would eventually become Rain Lily Farm .

“John has been a big influence and mentor,” Scherzer says.

But knowledge and experience weren’t the only treasures Scherzer was lucky to find at the Natural Gardener. It was there, while working as general manager, that she met the San Antonio native Beal, who was managing the nursery. The two began a romance that has grown in to a lifelong commitment.

“After four years, we finally moved in together the day we bought our first house,” Beal says.

But it wasn’t just a house. The charming home sits on 4.5 acres of land located central enough to provide a clear view of the University of Texas Tower. Scherzer and Beal figured it would benefit their existing business.

“We ran a landscape company called Rain Lily Design and landscaping, and were happy to have the space to run and grow our business. And once we looked past the garbage, car parts, mattresses and 40-ounce bottles galore, we realized we had a lot of sunny, fertile land on which to grow some- thing,” Beal says.

Scherzer decided, since there was so much land available on the farm, to try her hand at growing some edible crops. The couple settled on growing a row of blackberries and a row of raspberries. Scherzer became obsessed with the project, and before long, any extra money or time was spent expanding the garden and the variety of edibles growing in it. As her interest in the garden grew, she found herself becoming less interested in landscaping. After growing a bumper crop of Anaheim peppers, they took them to their favorite restaurant, Vespaio. The restaurant bought the peppers, increasing Scherzer’s and Beal’s enthusiasm for growing. A close friend who worked as a chef started an underground supper club, and the couple began hosting huge dinners at the farm. Vespaio began to offer a dinner called “The Quarter-Acre Meal,” sourced totally from the little farm, which inspired Scherzer to dig in further for even more planting.

The planting continued, the vegetables thrived and, eventually, Scherzer decided that food was her true passion. And her passion is evident; the farm practically showcases it. While she continues to grow decorative plants, the land has expanded to include rows and rows of produce that put forth everything from kale and cauliflower to broccoli and carrots of every color.

“Things want to grow,” Scherzer says. “I just found a tomato seedling growing out of my table. Most things want to grow. You just have to give them some encouragement.”

Scherzer’s encouragement has expanded beyond rows of vegetables, though, and the farm now also boasts three goats, 40 “egg birds,” and a new business that is redefining what buying local means.

The couple fell in to the local-food movement headfirst, but, according to Beal, Scherzer began to live and breathe it. As the farm expanded, they began to sell their produce to more local chefs, but the next step wasn’t yet evident. Then they met Elizabeth Winslow. The three, and Winslow’s husband, Thomas, became fast friends. Winslow’s culinary back- ground, including running restaurants and the Dishalicious meal-delivery service, meshed with Scherzer’s keen interest in building the farm in to a sustainable (and sustaining) business. Scherzer committed to a career in food full time. She engaged Winslow in some non-stop brainstorming, and the idea for Farmhouse Delivery, a web-based food-ordering business, was born.

Organic food isn’t a passing trend. During the past few decades, demand for pesticide-free nutrition has indisputably grown. Increasingly, though, there is a shifting focus toward the benefits of eating locally grown and locally raised food as well. In response to this growing trend, Scherzer and Winslow conceived of Farmhouse Delivery as a purveyor of the highest- quality local food, equipped to share their offerings directly with families in the community. Their agreed-upon goal was simply to make the nutritious bounty of the Austin area available to people without the time or resources to seek it out.

“People wanted to commit,” Scherzer says. “They wanted to do it. We just offered a chance to join the eating revolution.”

At its heart, Farmhouse Delivery provides the link between farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers, bakers and the individual families who eat the items they produce. According to Scherzer and Winslow, the operation is unique as the only all-local grocery service in the community.

“Being ‘all-local’ communicates the message that it is possible to feed ourselves – and feed ourselves well – as a community without relying on foods shipped in from long distances,” Beal says. This no-compromise commitment to local farmers is integral to the Farmhouse Delivery business model. “Our customers are people with a commitment to healthy life- styles, our local economy and farmers, to the health of the environment and people who like really good food.”

Farmhouse Delivery builds their service around fresh, seasonal produce, and adds complimentary products, including dairy; grass-fed, pastured lamb and beef; pastured poultry and eggs; humanely raised pork and bison; even kombucha tea. Scherzer cans preserves, makes pickles and sweet-talks local foodies in to contributing their specialties to the weekly deliveries. But the delivery is just the beginning of the experience, according to Scherzer. Each delivery box includes a description of the items, including product origin, as well as recipes and weekly menu planners. And while they pride themselves in providing amazingly good food, Scherzer and Winslow also provide ideas and direction in the form of recipes and blog updates on their website.

In addition to good nutrition and increased food knowledge, Beal shares another Farmhouse Delivery advantage.

“There are so many things people think they don’t like,” she says, “but it’s because they’ve had the cardboard versions, and they shop with their eyes.”

And while most people care more about what they eat the older they get, Scherzer shares a story of an e-mail received from a family whose 3-year-old waits for the weekly delivery, practically with the same excitement most kids exhibit waiting for Santa Claus.

Scherzer is the first to admit that people who were built to dig in the dirt and play with animals all day are a special breed, comfortable with a career that keeps them moving, interacting and discovering.

“Gardening has kept me sane,” she says. “You see amazing things hourly.”

And she revels in the varied lifestyles of both her customers and the other producers with whom she works.

“It’s a diverse set of people,” she says, “from Mennonites to Alex Jones fanatics.”

And sure, in a modern society where most consumers aren’t connected with what they buy before they grab it from the shelf, some people might see a house with chickens, goats and greenhouses as being a bit on the fringe. But even on a cold and wet Saturday morning in December just east of downtown Austin, spending a few minutes with Stephanie Scherzer makes it easy to see, Rain Lily Farm  isn’t on the fringe of anything. It’s the heart of something important.

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