GC: Henneke Farms offers natural homegrown foods
June 7, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.
In general, food sold in local grocery stores has traveled hundreds to thousands of miles from its original farm, handled in a processing center and then trucked to the store in a tractor-trailer.
Thankfully, Gary Henneke and his farm, Henneke Farms, can help ease the worries of where food comes from and where it's grown.
Henneke and his family have a farm on at least 250 acres in Cuero. Since the commercialization of farming began, techniques may include the use of man-made chemicals and fertilizers to grow larger yields and grow more quickly.
After a lot of what he describes as a "self-educating process," the 53-year-old changed the way he operates his farm and said he can tell a difference in the way his farm grows. He said plants on his pastures are heartier and the animals are healthier.
"It's been about 10 years that I have been doing this, getting away from the chemical and commodity way of doing things," he said. "It's taken a while to get us to where we're at. It's kind of a continual thing."
With the help of his wife, Shirley, and their two children, ages 18 and 11, Henneke Farms raises chickens for meat and eggs, rabbits, grass-fed cattle and turkeys in the fall.
"I try to have it diversified because that is the way nature is: It's diversified. In nature, you don't have all one animal here and there, it's diversified," Henneke said.
A longtime customer of Henneke Farms, Cindy Meredith, of Hallettsville, said she has been buying his chickens for at least half a decade.
"I really object to the way commercial chicken is raised, so I don't like to eat it," she explained.
Meredith, 64, who lives on a farm with her husband, grows herbs and vegetables for a living. She owns a small nursery called The Herb Cottage in Hallettsville. She travels around the area selling her plants at market days and flea markets. She said she used to raise her own chickens, but when the workload became too great, she stopped.
"When I found out he had pasture-raised chicken, I thought it was the perfect solution," she said.
The Hennekes will order a new clutch of chicks about once a month. Once they mature to a size that Gary is pleased with, he will contact his customers to let them know when they can pick up their goods.
"They're fresh, so we might cut them up for use later and freeze them, or I'll leave them whole," Meredith said. When she travels to the farm, she'll pack herself a cooler and some ice for the trip to Cuero.
It's a full day's work for the Hennekes, but once the hard work is done, they are proud to say that customers can rely on them for a product free of hormones or antibiotics and what they believe to be a great tasting chicken.
"Once you've had one of our birds, it'll be hard to eat another one from the store," Shirley offered. "They just taste better."
Henneke encourages families to bring children, the next generation, to the farm to learn more about where food comes from because he believe they are the future.
"It's a great thing to do with children. It can help them learn to eat better when they see it growing," Meredith added.
Customers are an important part of the Henneke Farms business model. They've even had a local school come out to see what goes on at their farm. The kids, Shirley said, get really excited about seeing all the different things.
"We let them touch things and show them where the hens stay and where we get the eggs," she said.
Teaching people about the planning and care that goes into the food is an important part of what goes on behind the scenes.
"I sell local. That's why I encourage my customers to come out, because I want to have a more personal relationship," he said. "I think there is more to food than what's at the store."
Gary takes a lot of pride in the namesake farm, which he has balanced alongside a position with a pipeline company for more than 30 years.
He treats his animals and his garden with respect, distancing his farm from the commercially-run operations. Through this, he hopes that farms like his will become more popular.
"As people become more knowledgeable, I think they'll get more interested in what they eat and how things are grown for them to eat," he said.
Meredith agreed that visiting a local farm can show people what goes on behind the scenes.
"People don't realize how much effort it really takes to produce a good food product, whether it's meat, vegetables, fruit," she said. "It's important to support small farmers. Even if they aren't organic, buy local."