By Ernie Williamson
What would you do if you were tired of your job and wanted a new challenge?
My guess is that buying a farm would not be the first thing that came to mind, particularly if you had no farming experience.
But that is exactly what Travis Vowell did two years ago when he purchased 22 acres in Alvin.
Vowell, who grew up in Pearland, had been a successful personal trainer working in gyms in Austin, Houston and New York City. He even opened his own studio in Friendswood.
But he wanted more time with his wife Shauna and three kids. He also wanted to toil outside, getting his hands dirty doing something of value to society.
He had seen podcasts and read articles by Joel Salatin, an advocate for sustainable farming.
Sustainable agriculture is farming that meets society’s food needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Wanting something new and influenced by Salatin, Vowell started Ample Acres Farm, a venture into sustainable agriculture.
Asked what his friends thought about the move, Vowell said, “a lot of them wish they could do that. Others were surprised.”
Two years into the venture, Vowell is selling eggs and chicken meat from the store on the property and also raises pigs and goats. He dreams of someday “doing a little of everything” from vegetables to dairy.
I learned about Vowell from my wife who came home one day with three dozen eggs she had purchased at Vowell’s store for $17. Talk about fresh! The eggs had been collected that very day.
It has been on-the-farm training for Vowell … with some bumps in the road.
For example: As they age, chickens produce fewer and fewer eggs so farmers need to keep stocking their flock with young chickens. Because he didn’t do this, Vowell’s flock is producing fewer eggs than last year, giving him fewer eggs to sell in his store.
But lesson learned. He is scheduled to get more chickens in March.
Vowell says he is “blessed” because, unlike many farmers, he has a financial safety net.
He says he will be “embarrassed” but not broke if his venture fails.
The farm is a family affair. The Vowells still live in Pearland, but the kids go to the farm on weekends. He says he won’t push them to become farmers, but says they will definitely have chores as they get older.
At the moment, he gets help from members of his extended family but hopes someday to have a right-hand man to help.
The main objectives of sustainable agriculture are a healthy environment, economic profitability and social and economic equity.
Sustainable chicken farming means farmers must be excellent stewards of the land, water and feed. They must also raise birds humanely and justly.
On Ample Acres Farm, for instance, chickens are in mobile coops. Vowell, who doesn’t yet consider himself an expert in sustainability, explains that the coops can be moved so the chickens get fresh pasture. And the manure is left behind.
Agriculture experts have long worried about the dwindling farm workforce. The average age of a farmer in Texas is 58 and their children largely haven’t been willing to continue farming.
It is hoped that the drive to sustainability will attract more people like Vowell.
Asked if he had any regrets about his career change, Vowell jokes: “Sometimes, when the temperature is 100 degrees and there is 100 percent humidity.”
(Contact Ernie at email@example.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)