While family farms are quickly disappearing in Texas, small-scale agriculture is still alive and well in some immigrant communities in North Texas.
Alfonso Rodriguez tries hard to stay awake and engaged during his afternoon classes at Grady Spruce High School in East Dallas. But the animals at home get up bright and early.
“Someone’s gotta feed the animals, someone’s gotta take care of them,” he said.
Many of his classmates live around animals, too. Alondra Medina described a typical weekend.
“You gotta make sure every horse is washed, cleaned, fed, all day. Then from there you have to go pick out the chickens, because we have snakes and scorpions over there,” she said. Then, she said, she goes over to take care of the sheep.
Anna DeLeon remembers her first time milking a cow, at 10 years old.
“My grandma told me to grab a bucket and just sit down right next to it, and just made sure that the cow was distracted while I was milking him,” she said. “It felt squishy.”
Grady Spruce is hardly in an idyllic rural setting. It’s in a rough neighborhood in East Dallas where more than 90 percent of the students are poor. Police regularly break up fights after school with pepper spray.
A New Face Of Small Family Farms
Texas leads the nation in converting its farming land into urban land, according to the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. Among other things, it means that fewer young people are growing up on small and midsize family farms in Texas than a generation ago.
What's different about Grady Spruce High School? For one thing, 70 percent of the students are Latino. Many students were born in cultures where chickens are common in urban areas.
These kids are a new twist in the story of small family farms in Texas.
“I’ve seen a definite growth of the Latino community within our program,” said Derrick Bruton, a youth program Specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in North Texas.
Bruton says most kids in North Texas don’t get exposure to farms and animals now.
“They may have access to a little bit of green space, but for the most part it’s usually manicured playgrounds,” he said.
Bruton finds that kids are still drawn to farms and animals, just like he and his friends were when he was growing up on a farm near Tyler.
At Grady Spruce, Jesus Jasso knows this feeling. He wants to stay in agriculture after he graduates.
“I like nature, and I would like to live on the farm," he said.
He loves the taste of fresh eggs and milk, and finds the work of caring for his animals relaxing.
He may have to hurry if he wants a farm that’s bigger than a suburban yard, however. A&M estimates that we’ll lose a million more acres of agricultural land by 2020.