Logan Scott, age 7, owes his life to a goat and a backyard garden. In 2006 Logan's parents, Aaron and Stephanie Scott, began a small experiment to save their son from a severe nutritional deficiency. A mere three years later, the Scotts have created their own small enterprise, "Southern Hope Farm," which has nourished their son back to health and has blossomed into a community hub where friends, family, neighbors--and even strangers--are welcome to witness and partake in the passion and potential of a simple, family garden.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Alice Waters and her responsibility to take on the problem of high sustainable food prices. Yet the potential for change is within reach for all of us and if we value sustainable food, we must develop a personal stake in what we eat. That means knowing our food sources--costly as they may be--and producing our own. Unfortunately, many people claim that they are incapable of growing anything, and find the process too daunting. After visiting the Scotts, I better understood this common apprehension, the root of which may be more intimidating than the idea of killing a few plants.
A few days after publishing the Alice Waters piece, I was working at a nearby community garden, where I noticed a ruddy man in a suit plucking weeds and watering patches of seed. I was intrigued: typically, people on their way to the office don't stop by to admire the cucumber vine. Another gardener introduced us, telling me that Aaron had worked at the community garden long enough to figure things out and start his own small farm. He did it under two seasons. Two weeks later, I was on my way to the Scott's home in Manvel, Texas, to learn the story of a family for whom gardening became an absolute necessity--and an attainable one.
For nearly four years, Aaron and Stephanie Scott watched their son's body reject nutrition. From his third to fourth birthday, Logan gained less than an ounce of weight. Logan's condition began when he was just ten days old and underwent a serious round of antibiotics, which destroyed his intestinal flora and ability to properly digest food. Eventually, the condition was so severe that his body recognized food as an antigen and Logan had to be fed through a surgically inserted tube.
Even after upping the dosage and increasing the steroid and protein content of his formula, doctors could not help Logan gain weight--in addition, the steroid dose caused a violent behavioral reaction. Finally, a specialist suggested admitting him to a hospital and inserting a TPN (Total Parental Nutrition) line into an artery. Having her son indefinitely attached to a feeding pump was not an acceptable option for Stephanie Scott. Frustrated by the limits of Western medicine, she researched alternate forms of healing and discovered the nutritive properties of raw, organic goat's milk.
"I finally realized that it was up to me to help him," Stephanie explained, "So I started putting a little bit of raw goat's milk into his IV bag to see how his body responded." Logan's body readily accepted the mixture of milk and formula. Ounce for ounce, Stephanie continued replacing Logan's prescription formula with goat's milk until that was all he drank.
"Within weeks he was asking for solid food," Stephanie said. "That's a big deal, because there were all sorts of psychological issues attached to food, since his body had forcefully rejected it all his life." Under careful monitoring, Stephanie slowly introduced organic, solid foods into Logan's diet. In the meantime, the family consumed upwards of six gallons of raw goat's milk per week. At $10 a gallon, it was proving an expensive habit.
So, Aaron Scott (who works as a full-time salesman) bought a goat and learned to milk it at home. Shortly thereafter, a small garden was blooming in the backyard and within a year and a half, the Scotts were subsisting mostly on what they grew organically. Today, the family diet consists almost entirely of homegrown produce, hunted game plus some organic grains, oils and spices procured as locally as possible.
It has not been an easy process, the couple admits, although dealing with discouraging doctors and Logan's illness was infinitely more depleting. "It's hard work," Aaron explains, "The choices we've made affect our whole life." Although eating as cleanly and autonomously as possible requires great sacrifices--no more restaurants or grocery stores--the Scotts would never revert back to typical American eating habits.
Discovering the power to sustain themselves was an incredibly empowering experience. "When I first started, I didn't know how to do any of this," Aaron admits. "So I read books and I learned. And it worked." Today, the Scotts plan to expand their small farm into a functioning business that will provide produce, eggs and classes to the community. In a few years, Aaron hopes that the farm will be his only source of income.
The Scotts live in a cottage they built on a six-acre tract of land about 30 minutes outside of Houston. As is the case throughout Houston's city limits, the road to Manvel is lined with shopping complexes, developments and cleared tracts of land peppered with bulldozers waiting to go to work. Still, it was incredible to see how just a few exits can separate the developed from the rural: the Scotts live fewer than five miles from the main highway amid fields, forests and streams.
As we talked about Logan's life and the history of the farm, the smell of rich greenery blew in from the back window. Both the living room and kitchen offer a view of the garden, including rows of fennel, tomatoes, corn, onions and a large bed of herbs. Goats, turkeys and chickens roam in paddocks set farther back. It's the kind of vision every farmers' market attendee would love to enjoy, if only for a day.
Most of us don't have the space or time to cultivate six acres of land and keep livestock, but the Scotts are proof that anyone who wants to grow good grub can do it. Visiting Southern Hope Farm felt almost like time travel, going back to a simpler moment when family ties and communal efforts were, quite literally, the stuff of life.
Along the highway out of Manvel, I was struck with melancholy and apprehension over the joy that most of us are missing. I'm not sure when I'll be able to have a small farm--or even a large garden--though the Scotts made me realize one thing for certain: once I do get my hands on a piece of land, I may never leave it. Perhaps that is what we fear when we say we are incapable of growing our own food--that the joy will be so great it will inspire us to make difficult or alienating sacrifices that pull us apart from the social and institutionalized food habits we've grown accustomed to.