“You have to go where the customers are,”


“The Great Commerce of every Civilized Society is that carried on between the Inhabitants of the Town and those of the Country.– Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, 1776, (pg. 473)

My wife, Shelby Ann Brown and I, discovered, by forsaking our lives as Inhabitants of the Town, to become farmers, goat farmers, but farmers none the less, and live lives, like those of the Country, that everything Adam Smith said about agriculture in his seminal work the “Wealth of Nations,” was just as applicable in 1998 and 2008 as it was in 1776.

As Oogwei said to Shifu, in Kung Fu Panda, “There are no accidents, only reasons,” and God, my higher power and most assuredly Shelby, hadn’t dragged us to the most eastern tip of the Texas Panhandle in the summer of ’98, for no good reason.

Follett, Texas, the home of Shelby’s ancestors, was at the crossroads of history, in the American West. The Spanish conquistador Coronado, in 1500 came north from Mexico, through New Mexico and West Texas, then hung a right at the Canadian River. Two hundred fifty miles later, after enduring 27 mph average daily wind velocities, ambushes by the Native American crowd and not spotting a single solitary bush or tree along the way, Coronado threw up his gauntlet, and declared the Texas-Oklahoma “High Plains” to be the “inland desert of the Americas.” He then turned his expedition around and marched back the same 1,500-mile way he had come.

After the Civil War, Colonel George Custer came to Follett and lost his scalp while trying to massacre those pesky Native Americans, the pioneer cowboy-farmers solved the problem themselves by setting the prairie grass on fire, starving the buffalo and forcing the Native Americans to follow their food chain farther west.

The pioneers then established their own food distribution system by retracing Coronado’s steps with huge cattle drives, from south Texas north to Abilene and Dodge City. The prairie grass had scratched the belly of Coronado’s horse, but after a few trips, the cowboys over grazed the prairie to the nub. The citizens of Dodge were forced to lay off, both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, who later moved on to Tucson to make the original, “OK Corral.”

Shelby’s mom, dad, aunts and uncles had long ago abandoned the place, haunted by childhood memories, of being at ground zero, for the 1937 ‘Dust Bowl.’ Therefore, in the summer of ’98, Shelby and I pretty much had the place to ourselves. There was circumstantial evidence, with Christian radio, heard on all FM/AM frequencies, as well as in the grocery store, that not everybody’s higher power had left town.

Our game plan was to raise Black Boer Goat breeding stock and sell the goats for an average price of $500 apiece. This contrasted with the market price of $60 for an ordinary meat goat. The theory was, selling each of the two kids, from 120 adult nanny goats, would get us a $10,000 monthly income and achieve our goal of replacing our former urban professional salaries.

“The inhabitants of the town draw from the country the rude produce which constitutes both the materials of their work and the fund of their subsistence: and they pay for this rude produce by sending back to the country a certain portion of it manufactured and prepared for immediate use.”

After two years, we former inhabitants of the town had received less than a $1,000 portion of it manufactured and prepared for immediate use,” from the sale of our rude produce, Black Boer Goat breeding stock. I therefore dusted off Ted Levitt, the Father of Marketing’s Market Myopia axiom, “know what business you are in,” showed it to Shelby and she moved the goats and us back to Houston. Coronado’s past life regression chant of, “I told you so,” was audibly visible in the extended side mirrors of our, dually-diesel, F-350, crew-cab, truck.

Shelby went back to work to support the 15-acre homestead in Follett, 650 miles from our new 18 acres, farm-to-market, location, 50 miles southwest of Houston. I laid around the ratty old trailer-house all day, reading Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” and rethinking just how farmers were supposed to make money in the food business.

Adopting the philosophy – “if you want to learn something, teach it,” – I taught Goat Farming 101: Urban Income, Rural Lifestyle, six times a year for six years, averaging 25 farmer ‘wannabes’ each session. BUT! It wasn’t until the sixth year, May 2006 to be exact, that I was able to stand in front of the class and honestly say, that yes; it is possible to have a rural lifestyle and earn an urban income of $10,000/month, from only fifty goats on five acres. AND! It took two years in Follett, plus six more years in Houston, Shelby’s $300,000 net worth, another $100,000 on MasterCard to figure out how those of the Country could make money selling rude produce to the inhabitants of the Town.

Architects are trained to use the iterative process (a fancy way to say, try and try again) for problem-solving, and once again I took Shelby’s money, to this time, buy 44 Nubian billy goats, for ‘Eid,’ the Moslem holiday, where traditional ‘Allah fearing’ families sacrifice a lamb or goat. This time was supposed to be different and it was, this time Shelby bought dinner for the entire Palestinian community of Houston. BUT, the silver-lining behind this iteration of “The Great Commerce of every Civilized Society carried on between the Inhabitants of the Town and those of the Country, was the discovery that Mrs. Kettler, the owner of those Nubian bad boys, had been selling raw goat’s milk to David Keresh’s Branch Davidians, in Waco as well as the citizens of Dallas, a two-hour drive away, for $7 a gallon.

The apple had fallen from the tree, the way for those of the Country to make a six figure income was to sell their rude produce to the Inhabitants of the town for at least $12 a gallon. Shelby liked that idea and went all the way to Tennessee to bring back four pregnant Saanen nannies, built a $30,000 dairy, TB tested our 100 ruminants to comply with every Texas Department of Health regulation in order to obtain the Grade ‘A’ raw dairy license, that Mrs.Kettler and others sold their raw milk without. No sooner than we were up and running, we noticed that the Houstonians were not coming to the farm for milk more than three times, at most. Why? Too far. Mother Necessity, made us take our rude produce to the farmers’ markets in Houston and thus, we became farmers, manufacturers and merchants. The parking lot of 2100 Richmond Avenue became our friend because we could sell everything we had to sell in two hours, while educating the public on why they had to pay ten times as much money for our rude produce as the store bought milk.

You can raise six lambs, six goats or one cow; on one acre of good pasture land. You can raise the lambs, the goats, the cow plus 100 chickens on an organically composted acre through the use of multi-species and rotational intensive grazing techniques. That four legged Nubian maiden can produce 2,000 pounds of milk in a years’ worth of ruminating around that little old acre of a pasture. At an average per pound price of say $2.50 a pound, the farmer if he sells direct to the consumer, gets to take $5,000/yr. back home, to his wife and kids.

Now, I know what you are saying, “tegory, that can’t be true, you are just making that, up.” I know it is difficult, and if I threw in the additional 2,000lbs. of sheep’s milk Greek feta, another 2,100 lbs. of cow’s milk at $1.19/lb and 100 chickens at $4/lb, the total $15,700 per acre, per year, would be just too big a number, for you to swallow, but it’s true.

When I showed my proposal to Prof. Jefferson Wang’s Zhengzhou University MBA class they were more than somewhat skeptical that any Chinese mother would pay a jin more than 2.5RMB (35 cents) for a liter of milk and there wasn’t a snowballs chance in Hainan they were going to pay anywhere near my suggested price of 40RMB ($5.85) per liter. I told them that there wasn’t a snowballs chance, even in Detroit, that Americans were going to pay $30,000 for a fully loaded, Buick sedan (the most popular car in China).

How do you get the Chinese mother to pay 40 RMB/liter for milk, when she currently wouldn’t give you a ‘jin’ more than 2.5 RMB/liter? Easy, repair the link between the dairy and the single child mother. An internet billionaire (Netease) is raising 10,000 hogs on webcam because China consumes 55% of the world’s pork but they don’t trust the local supplier. The mother will buy the milk from New Zealand for her baby and drink made in China for herself.

The Chinese mother will pay, once she sees the quality in what she is buying. 2009 was also the year that China passed up Japan as the world buying leader in the luxury goods market. I experienced the buying power of the Chinese when I offered to buy lunch at the best restaurant in Gong Yi, a small city west of Zhengzhou. I changed my tune when the taxi driver told us that the BEST restaurant in this small burgh would cost 5,000 RMB. I asked my friend, now who would pay $750 for lunch in Beijing or Shanghai, let alone Gong Yi. “Rich Chinese don’t care about money,” was his reply. We don’t need to sell all the mothers in China on the health benefits of raw goat’s milk, only the well-educated 1%. The mother of a newborn, in Houston, who raided our refrigerator at 3am couldn’t afford to buy a $75 lunch, let alone a $750 one, but she left a $10 bill in the fridge door, for a half gallon of milk for her baby.

Exactly as Adam Smith said in 1776, “The Great Commerce of every Civilized Society Is that carried on between the Inhabitants of the Town and those of the Country, and by visiting eight markets a week, holding cheese-making and goat farming classes, that included farm visits, were we able to restore the customer relationship between the farmer and his community.”  America’s agricultural system is a complete failure, fiscally and morally bankrupt. Farming no longer provides revenue and wealth creation for the individual farmer, and he is forced to turn to crime, industrialized agriculture, which depletes soil quality and ends up being complicit in poisoning the nation’s food supply.

So why is our system of agriculture, the sole or the principal source of the revenue and wealth of every country,” broken? Why are we the most malnourished developed nation on earth? Why hasn’t the family farmer made any real money since WWI? Why are two-thirds of Americans obese? Why are Romney’s 47% poor in health and wealth? Because 99% of USA farmers left the country to be merchant-manufacturer-inhabitants of the Town. Actually they took the town with them on their way to the big city.


Yuppies Loop Foto

Yuppies Exit the Loop

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Shelby Brown and her husband Teg Gregory admit to being former yuppies who gave up high-income careers — Brown as a systems analyst and Gregory as an architect — for life on the farm. Married for almost nine years, Brown, 48, and Gregory, 59, are owners of Anala Goat Co. in Beasley. The company is named after Brown’s nanny, Anala Hebert. They live without satellite television and cell phones in a trailer on 18 acres.

Boer goat

They have been raising, breeding, and selling dairy and meat goats for five years. They began in 1998 on Brown’s 130-year-old family homestead in the Panhandle town of Follett. “My grandparents spent their whole married life on this (Follett) farm. After they passed away, my mom and her siblings rented the place out for several years. When I found out they were going to sell it, I got so upset that Teg and I bought the place ourselves,” Brown said. She and Gregory moved there, but Brown soon returned to Houston in 1999 for employment. Gregory stayed in the Panhandle to work their fledgling goat herd. In 2000, they bought their Beasley farm, and he rejoined Brown, bringing their 40 goats with him. Their working roles now are reversed, with Brown tending to the goats while Gregory works full time in management at the Richmond/Rosenberg Wal-mart.

While Anala Goat Co. is not quite at the monthly income level they made at the height of their yuppiehood, their calculations show that it is possible. Brown’s sense is that small farms are not a growing trend since they generally are not sustainable. Figures from the Fort Bend Extension Farm Service Agency show no trend toward smaller farms; 65 percent of the farms in the county are at least 50 acres. Brown said “hobby farms” comprising about 10 acres are popular where people can keep a horse and a few cows. “Goats are more profitable than cattle. They give you five times the return that cattle give, partially because goats have a shorter pregnancy of five months – cows have nine months — and often give birth to twins or triplets,” Gregory said. “We think about someday increasing the number of goats we have. But 100 is the most we can care for now.” Because their herd contains both dairy and meat goats, Brown and Gregory have added responsibilities.

Their pasture near the barn is divided into pens. For instance, male dairy goats are separated from females because their scent is picked up in the milk. Meat goats — the breed Anala Goat Co. raises is known as Boer — mingle during breeding season. Dairy goats are milked once a day. For now, Brown uses the milk to feed the farm’s goat kids and calves they buy. When the company receives its Grade A license to retail raw milk from the Texas Department of Health, Milk and Dairy Products Division by September, it will sell goats’ milk. Dairy goats are profitable because they can produce milk for up to six years. A goat farmer can keep the female dairy goat population static and keep milk production up. “The market for natural goat milk and cheese products is tremendous. Customers can’t find what they want in the stores. Certain diets advocate goats’ milk for a healthy intestinal tract,” Brown said. Brown and Gregory are intent on breeding Boer goats that are black in color with proper conformation to compete in the show ring. Nell’s Guy Noir is their male Boer who is sire of most of the farm’s Boer goats. “We’ve always liked the variety of the colored Boers,” Gregory said. “But from a marketing perspective, we believe the competitive black meat goat will bring more money at sale time, in the same way as the Black Angus cattle.”

Saanens Tree Nibbling

In the Houston area, the main customers for goat meat are people from Mexico and the Middle East. Most of the couple’s breeding stock sales are generated from the Web site, www.analagoatcompany.com. Anala meat goats are sold live. “Folks from Ohio and Kentucky are looking at goat farming as a more profitable alternative to traditional crops like tobacco,” said Gregory. “Texas has 80 percent of the goats in the United States. Demand has been up for goat meat since 1996 when government support for mohair lessened.” The federal government for 40 years had price support programs for wool and mohair to ensure an adequate supply to make soldiers’ uniforms. Those programs ended in 1994. However, subsequent legislation has provided reduced levels of support. Students who take Gregory’s goat farming course through Houston’s Leisure Learning Unlimited take a trip to the farm to see it in operation. “Students are typically astounded at seeing all the components of a working farm, and many refer others to the class. But what I have learned and try to share with my students is that goat farming is the most economically viable agricultural family enterprise and only in its infancy,” he said. Goats from Anala won Grand Champion at the last two years at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and have placed in the top 10 with their male goats in performance tests that measure their weight gain and conformation under controlled conditions to select desirable sires.

Anala goats eat local alfalfa and corn, milo and cottonseed meal. They are fed no steroids or antibiotics. Each of the 100 goats on their farm has a name. “The goats that we’ve bottle-fed are very personable. But there is a great deal to learn about caring for any animal. Unfortunately, you get your practice on live animals,” Brown said. “Hopefully, you learn from your mistakes. You learn when to call a vet. We try not to assist during births. We want our animals to be the healthiest and most productive goats possible, because that translates into profitability.” The couple says they do not miss their life inside the Loop. “Our lives in the country let us commune with nature in ways we never knew. In the city, I had a dog and always had to be sure I walked him daily. Now we have six dogs who exercise themselves and are doing what they’re meant to do,” Gregory said. The dogs protect the herd from any predators. One of the livestock guardian dogs is Lady, a rescued Anatolian shepherd. “Lady is shy because she was mistreated early in her life. But I often find her in a pen with several of the goats, and I know she’s bonded with the goats and is always taking care of business,” Brown said.

Black White Boer kids

Brown and Gregory have learned that running a farm is high-maintenance. But they are planning and working toward their economic goals. They are adding a milking parlor and milk room to their barn to meet the Grade A license-requirements and are planning to add chickens. Brown plans to soon sell products like goats milk cheese to local markets under the name Earth Mother Farms. Brown’s friends have been calling her Earth Mother for years. “I’ve wanted to do this since high school. I was raised to believe that farming wasn’t an option for a woman. When we’d visit my grandparents’ farm, my brother and the boys got to help Grandpa in the field, but I was supposed to help Grandma in the house. So I put farming out of my mind. Then, you get to midlife and things surface. I allowed myself to think about it. By the beginning of this year, I was very ready to do this,” Brown said. Brown envisions sustainable agriculture as a way for young people to stay in small towns. “It’s a shame to see young people moving away. Teg and I hope to demonstrate small-scale operations like ours can make a sustainable profit so that there will be work for small farmers,” she said. Brown has two adult children from an earlier marriage, a son and daughter who live in the Houston area.