By Anna Caplan
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Turning Texas dirt into rich soil took years. Today, Charlie Blaylock puts the “farm” in the farm-to-table equation.
Off a country road in Azle, on the cusp of Pelican Bay and near the shores of Eagle Mountain Lake, is a small organic farm that’s currently waging a big war against the flea beetle.
The pest has eaten its way through some of Charlie Blaylock’s lettuce, punching holes in the delicate leaves with determined abandon. They have forced the owner of Shine’s Farmstand, a 5-year-old business started by the former Alcon pharmaceutical researcher, to unleash a special tarp to foil the critters.
“I’m trying to beat them,” Charlie says with a smile almost wider than the brim of his trademark floppy sun hat.
Count battling bugs as just one of the challenges in running this farm, which sits on a narrow 1.3-acre tract of land just behind Blaylock and his wife, Laura’s, home on Liberty School Tap Road.
When the couple moved in nearly two decades ago, the acreage was dry and cracked and darn near hostile to growing anything, so Charlie, whose family farmed in Parker County, worked for years to improve the soil.
He hand-dug compost into the beds, ultimately creating an 8,400-square-foot garden with three plots.
“I’m just a digger with a farming problem,” he says, laughing, adding that he has had the predisposition since he was a kid tearing up the backyard of his childhood home.
Laura counters her husband’s modest claim with an answer perhaps closer to the truth.
“He’s really brilliant,” she says. “He’s changed the ecosystem here. Now we have tree frogs and fireflies.”
Take a walk through the farm and you’ll find yourself munching on pungent mizuna leaves and a variety of kale that will change the tune of a naysayer with one bite. A runaway strawberry is so delicious, I feel it has ruined me for any others.
That is, until I visit Charlie and Laura at their stand at the Cowtown Farmers Market (Charlie’s also on the board of directors) along the Benbrook traffic circle. That’s where they sell the berries and a bounty of other crops, including the popular four-leaf salad mix that keeps regulars — not to mention notable restaurateurs — coming back for more .
Molly McCook, chef and owner at Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth, has been a big fan since she discovered the stand at the farmers market.
“Shine’s Farms has quickly become one of my most beloved farms,” McCook says. “The care and enthusiasm that Charlie puts into the vegetables truly shows. From the beautiful assortment of lettuces and greens to his root vegetables, I know that I will be getting a high-quality product.”
When Charlie isn’t turning soil or feeding a flock of gorgeous chickens or harvesting 400 pounds of potatoes, he’s paying forward his own “still a student” knowledge of farming.
He has lent his expertise in the startup of Opal’s Farm, which broke ground this year on the banks of the Trinity River with the hopes of providing vegetable garden space to those with limited access to unprocessed foods. In an effort to vanquish Fort Worth’s food deserts, Charlie also has worked with the Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration and Grow Southeast in their missions to help the community eat better and become more sustainable.
Charlie wakes up in the wee hours every Saturday morning during harvest season to set up and sell at the market. At home, under a handsome cedar-framed portico, a castaway restaurant-grade sink stands by to wash pounds of this summer’s produce. A walk-in commercial refrigerator ensures that each weekend’s harvest will be as fresh as possible.
To say farming is a hard job is putting it mildly. But the rewards are beyond sweet.
“If I see your kid eating my carrots, that fulfills me,” Charlie says.