Three Generations Contribute to its Success
PEAS Farm has been an anchor vendor at the Westchase District Farmers Market since the market began. For this Conroe-based grower, bringing produce to market is a full-fledged family operation – one where even grandchildren play a role.
It didn’t start that way. According to PEAS’ matriarch and founder Patricia d’Agrella, becoming prolific farmers was something she and husband Elvis had to learn. “We started by growing for our family,” said d’Agrella. “I thought we were doing a poor job as we did not ever seem to have a large crop.”
Making the farm work took on a more vital role when Elvis lost his full-time job. “There was a learning curve for us going from backyard gardening to growing for others,” said d’Agrella. Further, the couple’s daughters had gone off to college. “When they came back for summer, they wanted to know where all the veggies were. We realized that we were eating more than we were picking.”
PEAS’ name represents family members Patricia, Elvis, daughter Ashley and son-in-law Steven. Twelve years later, the farm is growing stronger than ever with a more diverse variety of crops. They grow what d’Argrella describes as ‘essentials’ – tomatoes, cucumber, squashes, potatoes, onions and berries. “We also try new varieties each year as well as some unusual ones,” said d’Agrella, who listed turmeric, dasheen, long beans, heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers and herbs. “Over the years, we have tried to use our seeds whenever we can, but always using non-GMO organic.”
A week in the life of a farmer
For the d’Agrellas, Sunday is the day to see what the harvest holds. “Every Sunday we try to walk the fields and see what is coming ready,” said d’Agrella. “We harvest just about every day. The harvest is washed, separated and stored in preparation for markets. There is also weeding, planting, looking at seed catalogs.”
Other necessary duties include repairs of high tunnels, tractors and fencing plus seasonal chores like trimming, pulling honey and fixing bee boxes. There are also repairs to chicken coops.
“I do most of the canning,” said d’Agrella. “I enjoy it and I can do it indoors. There are times though when we have a lot of veggies, so we call everyone in to help. Some things like soaps and candles we do on rainy days or during the winter when it is slow. I am currently working on a line of fermented foods like sauerkraut and vegetables. These are so good for you and taste great. They remind me of my grandparents.”
Family strength and future generations of farmers
With three farms under its ownership, PEAS Farm is completely family-run and mirrors models for successful family-owned businesses. “Everyone helps when a job needs to be done,” said d’Agrella. “We have shown them how by doing the work together. Ashley and Steven work most of the farm these days as well as pulling orders and doing the farmers markets.
“The grandchildren have been part of this operation since they could walk,” said d’Agrella. “They plant, work with customers at markets and help plan for next year’s crops. This year they even had their own parcel of land to grow what they wanted.” As a result, the operation has provided life lessons. “They have learned that you have to work hard and know how to budget money,” said d’Agrella. “Some days or times of the year are busier than others. During these times we get our other children and grandchildren involved.”
Adapting to customers’ needs
PEAS has augmented its farmers market presence with an online store that offers preordering and delivery options. “This has turned out to be a blessing,” said d’Agrella alluding to business that slowed due to COVID. “We are going into our second year for e-commerce and are able to plan better based on sales and can control our harvesting.”
For dozens of markets, Elvis was a fond and beloved presence at the market. In early 2020, he decided to stay at the farm and let his children run the markets. “He is looking at running his first triathlon along with his three daughters and a granddaughter,” said d’Agrella. “He is enjoying being a grandfather and great grandfather. We often watch our little ones. He also likes going to the track meets and games of the older ones.
“Our goal when we started was for each of us to quit our day job and work the farm,” said d’Agrella. Eventually everything will be turned over to Ashley and her husband Steven. “Our hope is the grandchildren will want to continue as well. A couple have expressed high interest.”