One warm Easter day, a family in Southern Louisiana sits around a table prepping dinner. The menu: a spring salad with homegrown tomatoes from a family friend called “Juicy” (likely because of his perfectly ripe produce), fresh green beans from Uncle’s garden, and Grandma’s authentic crawfish bisque. The whole family peels crawfish and snaps green beans at the kitchen table, where they really get to know each other, while the aroma of fresh spring air and roasted coffee brews in the background. The vivid imagery and descriptive smells transport me to another time and place while Stacey Roussel, owner of All We Need Farm, illustrates her small town upbringing that led to her local business mission.
Roussel grew up outside of New Orleans with a rich family food culture that valued “eating with the seasons.” She remembers the taste of each season from the vegetables that were grown in the garden and the family’s dedication to creating meaningful, healthy meals. Today Roussel lives in Needville, TX, outside of Houston, where she works to live off her garden grown food, and where growing and making food is a family affair.
In Roussel’s home life, she creates a similar homegrown culture to what she remembers growing up with. She wants her two children, Emelie (9) and Jessie Clare (4), to know where their food comes from: “I don’t want their culture to be a drive-through window,” says Roussel. At their farm, the girls help to raise their own chickens and rabbits, and soon will learn how to milk the goats. She wants to educate them now about healthy practices and how food is made, even if they “grow up to be the weird kids in college…where their friends say, ‘you did WHAT back at home?!’” jokes Roussel.
Hearing how deeply she believes in her work at the farm and how passionate she is about her local mission, it is hard to picture her doing any other field of work. Roussel began working in an office after graduating with a degree in Accounting from Louisiana State University, but quickly realized that this type of work was not her fate. After taking a class on pesticide application, Roussel grew cautious of what was in her family’s food, and decided to start growing her own vegetables in the local community garden. Aside from knowing that her vegetables were pesticide free, Roussel enjoyed watching the miracle of life happen in the transformation from seed to plant. “There’s something beautiful about it. I plant the seed in the ground and come back a few days later to a little sprout: That’s not me, that’s something bigger,” Roussel explains. Realizing she was passionate about gardening, her husband encouraged Roussel to follow her dreams. They took baby steps in starting their own farm with their new family, moved to Needville, which reminded them of home, and worked towards their passions by creating All We Need Farm.
All We Need Farm is completely locally sustained. They purchase everything as close to home as possible, all the way down to their hardware, which they buy from the local Needville hardware shop where Roussel is on a first-name basis. “It’s the local message that is so important, but gets lost in most businesses,” Roussel says. She explains that money spent by the community on her vegetables, is spent on local products to use on her farm, like feed and fertilizer. In other words, her profits from the farmer’s markets get recycled back into the community in a cyclical system that helps sustain the local economy. She believes whole-heartedly in supporting local businesses because, she says, “its about those small guys. My money that I spend there gives them a job.”
Talking to Roussel for a while, I feel like I have known her for much longer, her southern Louisiana charm and love for building relationships seeping through in her warm conversation. Roussel seems like she easily forms friendships with the people she works around, building relationships being the most important aspect of her work. She keeps her clients local, probably so that she can form more personal, meaningful relationships with them.
All We Need Farm sells vegetables mostly to local restaurants and chefs like Monica Pope of t’afia, Bryan Caswell of REEF, and Paul Lewis of Cullens. She enjoys working with chefs who often challenge her to grow customized produce for new menu items. She sells produce at the Central City Co-op on Wednesdays, a friend of the farm, Joe Apa, sells her produce at the Midtown Market on Saturdays, and she also sells produce occasionally at the Highland Village Market. The farmer’s markets are not only a place for Roussel to sell her produce, but she says they are “an education system for her – touching the hands of people one by one – educating people about where their food comes from.” She believes consumers should ask questions, and the farmer’s market is the perfect place for them to become educated on their food. “If you are going to buy processed food at the farmer’s market, you can ask, ‘which farmer do you support?’ Know where your food comes from,” she emphasizes.
Roussel hopes that as Houston continues to grow, more farmers will grow produce for the local markets, and more consumers will begin shopping regularly at farmer’s markets. She knows “it’s hard to give up a Saturday morning – it takes commitment for farmers to be there, and for shoppers to come out.” However, she sees dedication in people that come to the market every week – whether its 18° or 108°– they come for the experience. To Roussel, her job is worthwhile if she is able to see her hard work reflected in the faces of customers’ appreciation for fresh, flavorful vegetables. “More people should get that experience – taking beautiful things to the market and seeing people excited about a tomato, a squash, or a broccoli…I realize I’m with people who are just like me!”
Roussel lives simply, and enjoys life’s beauties. Whether spending alone time in the garden, talking with her local business friends, educating her children and her customers at the market, or looking up at the star-filled country night sky, Roussel appreciates every aspect of her work at All We Need Farm. She hopes for the community that the future of locality in Houston continues to grow. The support of local business supports families like hers.
After hearing about the hard work and the amount of thought that is put into her food and her mission, I am truly inspired. Getting to know Stacey, just one of the many farmers we invest in, puts much more meaning behind the phrase, “Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you!” Eating vegetables is not only good for you, your family, and your overall health, but buying them locally is also good for our economy, local farmers and their families, and small business owners all around town. So next time you are at the market and you run into Stacey and her farm-fresh products, introduce yourself and ask her some questions. You will feel like you have known her forever, and once you try her green mix, peppers, or chicken eggs (hurry, they go fast), you will wonder how you have gotten by so long without her!
For more information about All We Need Farm visit their page at localharvest.org