Coast Monthly features people who keep the Texas Gulf Coast interesting.
Casey McAuliffe and Alex McPhail like to call themselves “McFarmers.” They own Moon Dog Farms in Santa Fe, where they cultivate flowers, fruits, vegetables and pastured eggs. Their hen house resides in a vintage travel trailer that can be moved about the farm. Their faithful sidekick is a three-legged rescue dog named Petey.
The fruits of their labor can be found at area farmers markets, including Galveston’s Own Farmers Market, which McAuliffe manages, and Nassau Bay Farmers Market.
Were either of you raised in a farming environment?
McAuliffe: No. Both of us were suburbia through and through. I grew up with a mother that was a backyard farmer. I wasn’t really engaged with it other than living with and eating it.
McPhail: I grew a famously prized watermelon as a kid, if you ask my parents.
Do you have family members who farm?
McPhail: The farm we own today belonged to my grandfather by marriage. He planted the orchard and really wanted to have a farm here, but started late in life and it just never took off.
Was farming either of your first career choice?
McPhail: After college, I was certain I would work in film and was running a screenplay competition at a film festival and Casey was teaching preschool. We decided a change of scenery was needed. We put a camper on our truck and ended up in upstate New York, where we worked on an organic farm, then moved on to North Carolina where I got an associate degree in Sustainable Agriculture. We worked on various small farms, finally reaching our destination where Moon Dog Farms resides today.
Are there any unusual farming rituals?
McAuliffe: Many people don’t realize how much we work by hand. Having a small operation, it’s important to us that we weed and plant by hand. During these hours of labor, Alex probably consumes the most journalism media than any other person I know, from podcast to BBC. I call it his “media crack hour.” He believes these sessions of information ingestion produce a faster working speed of at least time and a half. I get my dose of podcast and music as well, but do enjoy moments of the beautiful silence.
As organic farmers, how do you safeguard against diseases, weeds and destructive insects?
McPhail: Among other methods, we use a product called Neem. It’s derived from organic Neem oil and can be found at your local garden supply.
McAuliffe: When you hear organic, it sounds like a whole classification of something different. All it takes, really, is two generations of natural earth-based things going into the soil. Being a small farm, we can’t afford to be unaware.
We have learned to be proactive. Past situations have shown us as little as one day can make the difference between saving or losing a crop. We have learned to be patient, you can purchase products that will make your plants huge and gorgeous while causing a multitude of damage to things around it. Living in a coastal community, it’s an important element to consider.
You’re not doing the environment any favors by taking the fast route. There are ways to achieve those same results with determination, hard work and patience.
What grows well in this area?
McPhail: Okra, eggplant and peppers are a sure bet and produce a lengthy amount of time in the summer season. They love the heat and the coastal moisture.
When it comes to overalls, what’s your brand?
McAuliffe: I have had a pair for years that I found at the local Goodwill. They may or may not be maternity overalls — I probably should have known by the enormous amount of elastic, but they are so comfortable, I’m not giving them up.
One brand I do love is Rosies. It’s a woman-owned company and I’m all about supporting women in business.
Alex wears Carhartt and suspenders. Farming is hard on clothes, so the suspender thing often fails to do its job. I’m working on convincing him to let that choice go by posting random pictures of such events on social media.