When Nathan and Megan White bought 82 acres between Burleson Centennial High School and Southern Oaks Golf and Tennis Club, the mesquite trees and brambles were so thick they had to use machetes and hacksaws to clear a path through the tangle of undergrowth, just to walk a few feet.
“You couldn’t walk far without getting a thorn stuck in your thigh,” Megan White said.
They’ve cleared about 30,000 trees from about two thirds of the land, and there is more work to be done, but the Whites are living their dream of creating a farm to grow food without chemicals and pesticides to feed their large family and the community as a way of giving back.
The farm is a stone’s throw from downtown Burleson, Interstate 35W and Spinx Airport.
The city straddles Tarrant and Johnson counties and has seen an explosion of new homes and retail as growth pushes south.
But no homes, apartments or stores will be on the land where North Hurst Road dead-ends, although developers have made offers for the land, Nathan White said.
White said he bought the property in August of 2020 and started clearing it a year ago.
The former owner never wanted the land to be developed, he said.
In December, the family got approval to change the zoning from single family to agricultural use.
“I think we are the first in Burleson’s history to back-zone the land,” Nathan White said.
Pandemic moved the dream forward
The Whites, who live in Colleyville, got the idea to farm during the pandemic.
“We just wanted a change of scenery. There wasn’t enough space for the kids,” Megan White said.
The Whites home-school their children and want to teach them about living off the land. They also hope to include other “home-school” families and the community in learning about nature.
Concerns about where their food was grown and ongoing supply chain worries were also factors in their decision to farm.
On a recent chilly morning, several family members were driving tractors and working to clear more land of the mesquite trees.
Jeff Raska, Dallas County horticulture program coordinator with Texas A&M AgriLife, runs the Urban County Farm, a research facility where people can learn about what it takes to grow food.
During the pandemic, he has seen an increase of people wanting to know how to grow food, he said.
When people come to the research farm, Raska said he talks to them about what it takes to grow food successfully.
“I certainly applaud the (White) family for doing this,” he said.
“I tell people not to quit their day job,” he said.
It’s also important to have enough labor to properly grow the food, he said.
Raska said he wants to paint a realistic picture of what it is like to farm to help people understand the amount of work it takes and to be successful.
Farm taking shape
When they were children, Nathan and Megan White spent time on their grandparents’ farms. Megan’s grandparents were farmers in Mexico and Nathan’s grandfather owned a dairy farm in what is now downtown Burleson.
They are doing all that they can learn about growing food and eventually raise cattle on their land.
The family met with the Texas Farm Bureau, a farm planner and Texas A&M AgriLife to make sure they plant fruits and vegetables that grow well in North Texas.
Some suggested using chemicals to get rid of the mesquite trees, but White said he didn’t want to ruin the land. He and his relatives used heavy equipment and also removed some trees by hand.
Next month, they will start planting a variety of trees, including peach, apricot, plum and pecan.
They are also building a large barn to store equipment and seeds that can’t be kept outside. The mesquite trees were so thick that no one saw a barn and 50-year-old farm equipment when they first explored the land.
The family isn’t farming to make money, and Nathan White said he will continue running a chain of barbershops, Knockouts Haircuts for Men, with locations throughout the Fort Worth area.
Megan White said she wants to move forward with plans for the farm, such as creating a lavender field, a pumpkin patch and hay rides.
Nathan White said he is continuing work to clear more mesquite trees that are on the opposite side of Village Creek, which runs through their property. He is also plowing so the land is ready for planting.
“Five to seven years from now, this will be really beautiful,” Nathan White said.
This story was originally published January 31, 2022 5:30 AM.