With childhood memories of sitting on his grandfather’s lap while riding around in the bucket of a tractor on their Iowa farm, you might think that Bryan Markley was destined to become a farmer himself.
But the son of a chiropractor and acupuncturist didn’t feel that calling until he visited a pick-your-own strawberry farm years later with his wife, Becky, in Florida. He had already been working as a contract carpenter before they bought their farmland in New Braunfels and went to work.
Now, with the help of their two kids, Jake and Lily, Markley Family Farm produces up to 10,000 pounds of strawberries a year. Some of those juicy fruits go into seasonal Lick ice cream flavors like our Sweet Cream and Strawberry.
“Everybody loves strawberries,” Bryan said. “It’s the number one fruit in the world. I think it’s number one with kids.”
Although strawberries are their biggest crop, Bryan said it’s also one of their most unstable. The past few years of rain have been tough on the drought-loving berries who are more prone to fungus when rain levels are higher. Even then, Bryan said strawberry season will often go past June and they’ll even grow in the winter as long as their blooms don’t freeze.
Besides strawberries, the family grows a rainbow of produce, from Swiss chard, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts to eggplant, yellow squash, blackberries, carrots and tomatoes. His children are also one of the farm’s biggest fans of their peaches.
“They’ll eat hundreds of dollars’ worth,” Bryan said.
Although farming runs in his family, Bryan said starting one of his own 10 years ago took a lot of researching – and it never ends. Every day is different and presents a new lesson to learn.
“It was a real awakening,” Bryan said. “I didn’t know the different bugs. I didn’t know anything. So I was just like looking on the internet, reading books, trying to figure it all out. You know, nobody really knows a whole lot anyways. You kind of just learn as you go.”
With a decade’s worth of knowledge under his belt, Bryan brings more than just produce to the kitchen table. Recently, he’s enjoyed creating tomato and pepper starter kits to sell with his son at farmers’ markets and help other people begin growing their own vegetables.
“[My son] will plant the seeds with me and talk to customers at the farmer’s markets. All the ladies love him,” Bryan said. “I like people growing their own stuff instead of just going and getting it. It’s taking the time to grow your own stuff. It’s good for kids and good for you, you know? It’s therapeutic.”
The farm’s produce is mainly sold through farmers’ markets and CSA, or community supported agriculture, where the community comes and picks up a weekly basket of vegetables from the farm. Although their farm is technically not open to the public besides CSA pickup days, a time when customers can also pick their own blackberries and strawberries, Bryan said the farm always gets visitors.
“People come all the time. You can have set hours, but that doesn’t matter,” Bryan said. “Sunday, Monday? Don’t matter. Thanksgiving? Don’t matter. Somebody came one Thanksgiving or Christmas, he was like, ‘You open?’”
Just like how Bryan came into farming on his own, he has no expectations of his kids becoming farmers when they grow up. The farm has been a result of putting hard work into it for many years, and now Bryan is ready to sell part of his land off to enjoy some of the finer things in life, like fishing and spending time with his family.
“I like a little slower pace instead of before, I was trying to conquer the world,” Bryan said. “It was always work, no play. I’m trying to be more balanced.”
Bryan said he’d like to start traveling more. While he got his start in carpentry, Becky worked as a flight attendant before joining the farm and still works occasionally for Southwest. Her airline now goes to tropical places that Bryan would like to visit, such as Belize and Cancun.
Perhaps you’ll know if the Markley Family Farm went on vacation when we start serving a Barbados cherry and pineapple ice cream.