This morning I lingered on a creekbed tucked into a shady cove near the ancient granite outcroppings of Burnet. Farmers and friends sang “Amazing Grace,” then listened to Sarah Rowland’s Methodist preacher lead her memorial service. A white wooden rowboat moored under the trees drifted ever so slightly in the heavy August air. The preacher dabbed her forehead, talked of God’s plan, how suffering was not what he had in mind for Sarah, which was why she had been released from her four-year battle with breast cancer. Clearly, Sarah’s faith, and this magical place on her organic farm, buoyed her spirits as her health failed.
A butterfly danced among the bowed heads as if pollinating a hundred plus mourners who sat and stood surrounded by large trees. Her husband Gary, who cofounded Hairston Creek Farm with her in 1990, sat facing the water with their children, the youngest of which is 14-year-old Henry.
The preacher reminded us that Sarah’s life continues when her memory is shared. With that I could hear Sarah’s slight British lilt giving me the lay of the land at one of our farmer socials. She never minced words and I liked that. After farming for more than 20 years, she was confident in her opinions, her skin. Sarah seemed a world away from me when we started our farm 8 years ago, nevertheless she welcomed us into Austin’s small, organic farming community.
Over the years, Sarah was quick to give advice and knowing glances as we revealed our latest farming disaster. Her demeanor helped me understand, though farming is so often associated with the man of the farm — the one dripping sweat, plowing up the fields — it’s women like Sarah, who enable the family and business to persevere through every setback. As one accomplished farmer said, “She was our go-to person whenever we had an accounting or organizational question.” That ability to keep funds flowing despite little or no production in the field, the ability to create, launch and maintain products — Sarah’s jellies are legendary — and to maintain a happy home life are no small achievement. Just keeping up with Gary’s dry wit had to be a full-time job, albeit a pleasurable one.
During the gathering, we also remembered Jean McKemie, cofounder of McKemie HomeGrown Farm in Dale, Texas. Though we never met, she was a farmer (and accomplished mathematician) in her 50s, who died of breast cancer last week.
As we embark on the eighth year of our farming adventure at Green Gate Farms, these pioneers will be on our minds. They paved the way for us and for you. And we are grateful.