Local farming families bring fresh food to Collin County
By Jennifer M. Aguilar
If you’ve watched many cooking shows, or like to frequent the finest restaurants you can afford, then you likely already know what a difference truly fresh food can make. Not only is it a treat for your taste buds but it’s also optimal for your health. When it comes to everything from vegetables to beef, fresh is simply best. Fortunately for Collin County residents, you don’t have to drive far to get some amazing produce or proteins. There are a number of local farmers who have chosen to keep the county’s rich agricultural heritage from becoming history. They represent a new generation of farmers passionate about bring amazing, local food right to your table.
For Chanin Kelly, of Kelly Family Farms in Lucas, farming is truly a family-run business, and a passion-filled one at that. You’d never guess they stumbled into their grass-fed beef business nearly by accident. “We purchased the land that we now use as our farm in 2005. We purchased a few head of cattle at that time and fell in love with them so we grew the herd,” Kelly said. “Our plan to go into the business was not ours at all. We give God all credit for our success in this business. We bought the farm to have a place to take our kids to spend time outdoors in the fresh air. We did not plan on buying cattle. However, once we did, we loved it! Then as the herd grew we realized that we had a ranch full of 100% grass-fed beef so we started selling sides and quarters to friends and family.”
When Chanin says “we,” she’s talking about much of her family. She shares the partnership of the business with her husband, Chris, his brother, Jeff, and Jeff’s wife, Gina. “Each of the four of us has different strengths so it has worked well for us to have a partnership where each of us uses our strengths in different areas,” she said. Of course, the Kelly adults aren’t the only ones helping to keep the farm thriving. “Jeff and Gina have two grown daughters, Kaitlyn and Natalie, who you will occasionally see at the burger stand for special events. This is the same for Chris and their three younger children, Cason, Caline and Chaney,” Kelly said.
Though the farm is still a relatively new venture for the family, that’s not to say they lacked experience when they started. Chris has a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Texas A&M, and Chanin has a background in the restaurant business, “which came in handy,” she said, particularly when they ventured from just selling raw meat to actually serving it up, too, burger-style.
Tuesday through Saturday you can grab a quick bite at the family’s burger stand on Bethany Road in Lucas, one that has loads of rave reviews on sites like Yelp and Grubhub. You can also take home some fresh beef, to prepare at home. Again, though, that wasn’t the plan… it just, sort of, happened. “It wasn’t long before we happened upon someone selling a food trailer. This was yet another step of God’s plan for our business. Again, we did not plan any of it. However, we have enjoyed the journey, which has led us here,” Kelly said.
Impressively, the family members still manage to hold down “day jobs” while also operating the ever-growing farm. Chris runs Kelly Insurance Agency, Jeff is a project manger at BGE, and Gina does bookkeeping for several businesses. Kelly was a stay-at-home mom, and a library assistant at Lovejoy Elementary, before the farm opened.
When it comes to the farm, the brothers tend to work mostly behind-the-scenes, while the women have become the face of the business, helping with customer service at both the farm and the burger stand. “The men love raising the young calves, but Gina and I thrive on the face-to-face interaction with the customers. We also have a great staff who is so much fun to be around!” Chanin said. “It’s been a fun adventure and we look forward to many more years of sharing our passion with our community… One thing that we’ve appreciated about the North Texas food community is just that, it’s a community. We’ve found that others are willing to share their knowledge and help you when needed. We’ve been blessed with wonderful staff and customers, which is what makes our jobs so much fun on a daily basis”
Unlike many businesses, which focus on ever-expanding growth, the Kellys said their focus is simply to keep providing great quality products to their customers. “The fresher the food, the better it will be for your family and the better the flavor,” Chanin said. “Cason has actually spoken about this at the Grass Fed Beef Conference in 2016. As a young person, he feels that it is important for people to know where their food comes from. In preparing for his presentation, he found that most young people think their food ‘comes from the grocery store.’ In reality, it comes from the ground. Whether it’s plants or proteins, it all relies on the land,” she said.
Because of that, Chanin said their biggest challenge as a business has been adapting to varying amounts of rain, and how it can impact the land and subsequently the cattle. “The weather is the hardest thing for us. Weather has so much to do with the quality of grass for the cattle, and since we are an outdoor dining establishment, the weather affects business and the enjoyment of our guests,” she said.
Yet the unpredictability of Texas weather might have actually served as inspiration for the Kelly’s efforts to conserve however possible, and that is definitely what helped them earn the 2011 Outstanding Conservation Award from the Fannin Soil and Water Conservation District!
Beyond sustainability, it’s clear that quality is at the heart of all that Kelly Family Farms is doing. “We strive to provide other families with the healthiest, quality beef possible. Family is important to us, and we pray that our farm will be a small part of bringing other families together around the dinner table.”
With that mission in mind, Chanin was happy to share a few of her family’s personal favorite recipes. She said, Gina’s favorite “is a simple one: marinate your favorite cut of steak (ours is fillet) in 1/2 soy sauce and 1/2 water, before you grill it.” As for Chanin, she said her favorite is, “1/4 pound patties sandwiched around diced jalapenos and shredded cheddar cheese.” Seal the edges and cook on a flat-top griddle, she said.
And Collin County residents should be grateful that the Kelly family isn’t the only one serving up delicious and sustainably-grown foods. Though you might not have heard of Reeves Farm yet, if you fancy yourself a true foodie, chances are good you may have already enjoyed some of their fare. That’s because this family-run Princeton-based farm supplies its produce to some of the hottest eateries in the Metroplex, including Oddfellows, Nobu, Culpeppers Steak House, the Nylo Hotel, Taverna Rossa, Hotel Zaza, and many more.
Aaron Reeves, along with his wife, Stacy, and their three children, serve as the face and namesake of the expanding farm, which now takes up nearly 50 acres. But back in 2006, when they were just starting out, it was a humble 8-acre plot where their farming journey began.
Originally, the family was only going to plant “an acre of okra,” but when they found an 8-acre field, fate intervened. “We leased and planted the whole 8 acres in okra!”
Fortunately for them, the gamble paid off. “That summer was a drought, and we actually had just enough rain to make a decent crop when other local farms didn’t have any okra,” Reeves said. Though he’d originally planned to sell his crop directly at the Dallas Farmers Market, he actually ended up selling to a fellow farmer whose crop hadn’t been as expected. “I guess you could say it was a good start despite a drought season.”
Though Aaron didn’t have a background in farming before this venture began, and he was actually working as a rural mail carrier for the Postal Service at the time, he does have fond memories of spending time gardening as a child. “I can remember spending hours in my great grandfather’s garden in Amarillo, Texas.” That in mind, it’s easy to see why he and Stacy decided a farm would be a wonderful place to raise their kids.
“It’s become more of a family affair in the last two years because we live on our farm in Princeton… our kids are involved with planting seeds, harvesting some specialty crops, and helping with farmers markets,” Reeves said. “The kids also have their own chicken egg business.”
Over the past 12 years the farm has grown, and it’s now home to a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, including yellow squash, zucchini, sweet onions, cucumbers, cantaloupe, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, garlic, green beans, potatoes, radish, broccoli, beets, cabbage, carrots, and of course, okra.
Reeves said his personal favorites are the cantaloupe (which is highly lauded on social media, as well), yellow squash, and okra. “Of course, okra is number one!” he said.
With access to so much wonderful locally-grown produce, he said, “Be creative with vegetables! There are so many different ways to cook vegetables. You may not like the taste of one style of cooking but may really enjoy another style. People are surprised quite often when they find another way to cook a particular vegetable.”
The perfect case in point is actually the Reeves’ personal favorite, okra. Though many southerners are used to enjoying okra fried or boiled, the Reeves like it baked! They simply place the okra on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, bake until slightly brown, and then, roll the baked okra in Parmesan cheese! It is a fine example of seasonal eating at its finest – simple and delicious!
Though the Reeves don’t get to see their customers enjoying their produce, they do love hearing and reading praise from their many fans. “What most excited us about entering this field is the fact that we get to grow food for a living. The fact that we can provide good, fresh, local food for our family and community is rewarding to us!” Aaron said. “Our favorite part of our job is listening to people’s positive feedback about our product. Also, we love to hear people’s gratitude for local farmers and having their support!”
In fact, one of the farm’s primary goals is to help increase the awareness and support of local farmers. “Some dreams and goals of our company are to know that we encouraged young people to start a profitable farm,” Aaron said. “I wish more people knew about the intensive labor, cost, and time put into growing good food… Seeing a community fully support local farms, is another goal… Although we have a great community backing, we still have a culture around us that settles for convenient and cheap food overall… If the demand was there, then the product would catch up to that demand.”
Fortunately for the Reeves, they do have a strong following on Facebook and in the community, which helped them win a Cultivating Change farm grant from Pro Act USA and Greener Fields Together. They were recently able to use the funds for a much-needed refrigerated truck. And that is just one of the big changes underway, for the Reeves.
“I would say in the last 5 to 10 years I have seen an increase of education and interest in supporting local farms and eating locally. Part of seeing this increase of interest and support is the whole reason why we are in the process of building a farm store to be open in May. We are very grateful for our North Texas community!” he said.
The family broke ground on the new building earlier this year. As they announced on Facebook, “In addition to providing you with our own fresh and organically grown fruits and veggies, our heart is to support other local farmers. We are excited to be working alongside our neighboring farmer friends, as we have always done, to bring you a wider variety of local produce. Eventually we want to be a one-stop shop with local meats, eggs, honey, fresh canned goods, soaps, and possibly dairy products… We are excited to serve our community, and hope to see you this spring!”