GO TEXAN Producer of the Month
June 2016: 44Farms
President/CEO Bob McClaren and General Manager James Burks

Here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, we hold farmers in the highest of esteem. We depend upon them at least three times a day and we are proud to serve and honor them. In this spirit, we are launching a new feature here, called “GO TEXAN Farmer of the Month,” where we will shine a light on a farmer in Texas and share their story.

We couldn’t be happier to debut this feature with 44 Farms, from Cameron. In 2012, they launched a program they call, “Know Your Rancher,” which answers the questions many consumers have about where their beef comes from.

They say things are bigger in Texas, and 44 Farms is a big operation, but it had humble beginnings that date back into the late 1800s, when S.W. McClaren arrived with his parents in Milam County. S.W. followed in his dad’s footsteps and became known as one of the larger planters in the bottom lands of the Little River. In 1909 he began branding his cattle with “44,” which started the story of 44 Farms.

“I wish I had a great story on why he picked 44,” Bob McClaren, the president and CEO of 44 Farms, said. “It was my great-grandfather’s original brand that he registered in the branding records in Milam County in 1909.”

Those early days of 44 Farms were raw and rough, but big things come out of a pioneering spirit. S.W. McClaren was a man of faith and he wasn’t afraid to defy the odds and kept on pioneering. He was a leader in developing new agricultural practices and sharing innovation with others.

“One of those innovations involved working with seed companies way back when and trying to make it more productive,” said McClaren. “He was a cotton farmer, primarily, and he was known for quality of production of his cotton crops. He moved into forage development later and he was the first farmer/rancher in Milam county to introduce Bermuda grass to this part of the country, I’m told.”

44 Farms has now expanded beyond crop production and into raising Angus cattle, where they have made a name for themselves. “The whole core of our business is to provide great Angus genetics to our commercial producers,” McClaren adds. “If you help the customer be more successful and profitable, then you will be more successful as well.” Utilizing the Know Your Rancher marketing campaign, it seems to be working. They also still produce most of the seed feed for their cattle on the ranch, with sorghum, coastal Bermuda and Tifton hay, and they still do some cotton production.

Not every farmer has their own website, and very few have one as cutting edge and high-tech as the 44 Farms website. This was something purposeful that carries on the pioneering spirit of the multi-generational company. Like a true pioneer, 44 Farms faced the modern age head-on, which speaks to the courage and inner strength that a farmer must have to make it.

“My dad grew up on the farm with his father, who was the son of the original, Sherwin McClaren. He saw first-hand that it was hard economically. He always told me, ‘Son, you can’t make a living with farming and ranching. You need to find something else to do with your life.’ I always had a passion for farming, though, and I always hoped I could someday be a part of it. In about 1993 I got back into farming. I really knew that to make it work, we needed to employ new technology – not only in production, but also in marketing. That’s a challenge for a lot of folks in production agriculture.”

44 Farms has certainly adapted with the times. Today, four generations later, two great-grandchildren of S.W. and Jose McClaren, Robert S. McClaren and Janet McClaren Salazar, are continuing the same pioneering spirit. They are committed to pushing ideas forward, but never pushing values aside. “At 44 Farms, our values and pioneer spirit begin with reverence to the majesty of God and never underestimating what He can do through ordinary people,” McClaren said.

For more information, visit their website.
July 2016: Amelia's Farm

Husband and wife team, Ben and Amelia Von Kennel, were both working at Dallas advertising agencies and dreaming of self-employment. Inspired by their passion for the culinary arts, they created Amelia’s Farm. Amelia’s Farm is a family-owned and family-operated hydroponic produce company in Bells, Texas, located about 60 miles north of Dallas. They specialize in growing healthy and delicious hydroponic vine crops for local restaurants and markets.

“We were first introduced to commercial hydroponics by our close friend, Sean Henry, and his company, Central Texas Specialty Growers,” Amelia said. “Sean’s passion for growing vegetables hydroponically inspired us to further explore the health benefits of this innovative technology. After years of brainstorming and researching several food industry concepts, we decided to move the operation to the family ranch in Bells to focus on building the Amelia’s Farm brand and build a 6,000 square foot state-of-the-art commercial hydroponic greenhouse.”

The young company is committed to growing local and sustainable food. They start by using  high-quality seeds and well water supplemented by a 3,000 gallon rain collection system. Their specialty is tomatoes, and they use a computer program to provide a precise amount of water and nutrients to each plant. Commercial grade fans and a wet wall cooling system provide just the right temperature to grow tomatoes year-round.

Eighty percent of their greenhouse is dedicated to growing Geronimo Beefsteak tomato plants, while the other 20 percent is devoted to specialty vine products like Brandywine heirloom, cherry tomatoes, strawberry tomatoes and big leaf Italian basil.

In just five short years, Amelia’s Farms has grown and is supplying several Dallas/Fort Worth restaurants, including Al Biernat’s, Meddlesome Moth, Lark on the Park, Sissy’s Southern Kitchen and Bar, Sundown at Granada, HG Sply Co. and Bird Café. For more information, visit their website, Facebook or Twitter page.

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