December 26, 2007 - 07:17 PM
One day late, but no less well-intentioned for it. Merry Christmas, Merry Xmas, Happy Holidays, Namaste, etc. Whatever your reason for the season we hope you are enjoying a well deserved pause and spending time with those you love.
We had 23 family and friends in for Christmas yesterday. Things got a little harried. One of the house ovens wasn't working so we had to use an oven in the apartment and the two ovens in the new cabins. Two turkeys and a whole lot of fixins. Everybody had a good time. It was nice to spend Christmas with so many loved ones.
Our phone was out of order all day, which was actually quiet pleasant. Everyone should take a phone vacation from time to time.
December 12, 2007 - 03:16 PM
The blueberry plants turn a beautiful red this time of year. Once the plants are full grown I'm sure that the field will be a sight to see.
I only snapped a few pictures as it started to rain on me. First good rain that we've had in some time.
December 12, 2007 - 02:53 PM
This article was in the East Texas Journal. They don't have a website, which is too bad because I think this is the best article yet written on the farm.
It's a long one. Enjoy!
EAST TEXAS JOURNAL, November 2007
Reaching up Through the Mist of Time, a Farm Returns to Life
By HUDSON OLD
On back roads west of Daingerfield, just down the hill from the tumbled down remains of the log barn, long ago someone used stone to box in a spring.
Just upstream Sid Greer has found other stonework squaring up the stream’s banks. He wonders if long ago it was the foundation for the water-driven wheel of some sort of mill.
Whoever the farm’s early arrivals were they built well with what was at hand.
Slowly, Sid and his wife Eva are saving and restoring landmark structures of what’s now Greer Farms. Carpenters worked more than two years on the dogtrot home they’ve moved into. It was built sometime prior to 1861.
Wooden pegs secure the logs used to build what’s now a barn where Sid and Eva keep goats, chickens, ducks and geese.
"It used to be the cotton gin," said Corine Littlefield, whose family share cropped on this farm in the 1930's when one of its earlier owners, George Sewell, was an old man. She has a firm connection to the story of a gin operating here – another tenant on the farm, her father-in-law John Littlefield lost the use of his hand one day when he reached in to unplug the gin without first shutting it down.
Other old farm structures reflect the coming of local sawmills. The lumber used to build the three board and batten tenant homes isn’t planed. They stand on native stone piers.
"There are so many touchstones to the past still here," Sid said.
When work was done on the original two-room dogtrot, they added a long wing to the home, stretching back across old gardens, reaching toward a sharp rise behind the house he’s named Mount Greer.
Eva claims the peak of the mountain as her personal place of refuge. A bit down the hill Sid’s cleared the undergrowth from the forest. He’s made log benches where he comes to sit and occasionally dream about the cabin he and his wife think of building here.
But that’s a project steeped more in romance than practicality.
One of those "someday" things he thinks about when he’s here, thinking about the farm.
"The Amish have a perspective about land that makes sense to me," he said. "We don’t inherit land from our fathers. We borrow it from our children."
Beyond the misty vapor of the history reflected by what previous owners built here is the deed trail. Between 1850 and 1884 the land was owned by men named Wilkes, Conly, Ragsdale, Sweeney and Ogillam. "In the 1880's the railroad was apparently promoting land sales, urging people to come to Texas and settle," Sid said. "The Sewells came from Georgia and as best I can piece the story together, George Sewell talked his father-in-law into coming to Daingerfield. In 1884 they bought the land for $1.50 an acre."
The Greers aren’t the first to try to piece together stories stretching back into the region’s misty history.
In his 1952 Master’s Thesis, A History of Daingerfield, Thomas Minter says that perhaps the first Europeans to traverse Morris County were survivors of an expedition led by the Spanish explorer DeSoto.
"Led by Moscoso after DeSoto’s death on the Mississippi, the expedition crossed the Red River near the present site of Texarkana, traveling southwest in an overland effort to reach Mexico City," he wrote.
When a shipwreck left the French explorer LaSalle’s expedition stranded on the Texas coast, survivors began moving north along rivers and Indian trails in search of the Mississippi River and passage back to French lands in Canada. In 1687 the men mutinied and killed LaSalle leaving a man named Joutel to lead the way. Eight survivors made it back, passing through present day Morris County by following the same Indian trail the Spanish likely followed more than a hundred years earlier.
Here, the story of Europeans melts into legend, plunging back to the story of French Huguenots fleeing France for religious freedom in the New World, according to Thomas Minter.
Daingerfield, some believe, became a camp for the Acadians as the Huguenots became known when they ultimately settled in southern Louisiana.
"There is a legend which says that Daingerfield was first settled by Indians but in the year of 1740 a group of Acadians came and camped here," Thomas Minter said.
In East Texas: Its History and Its Makers, T.C. Richardson provides an account claiming the town was named for Captain London Daingerfield. Thomas Minter unearthed that tale in his account.
"What seems to be the most plausible story is that an Indian battle was fought near the present town site in 1830," he said. "The White troops, numbering about 100, were led by Captain Daingerfield, a native of Nova Scotia, who was killed in the battle."
As for the present residents of Greer Farms, Eva’s European lineage provides yet another link to the Old World.
Their resurrection of the orchards and farming, their restoration of the old structures on the farm and its development as an upscale retreat are anchored in the story of Eva’s father, a Polish doctor who had learned during his years in Nazi Death camps that freedom is a fragile thing.
"It’s an interesting, if not heart rending story," said Sid. "Dr. Antoni von Goscinski served as a physician in the Polish army when the Germans invaded at the outset of World War II," he said. "The Germans overthrew Poland in a matter of weeks and he was made a prisoner at Dachau. Later, he was shipped in a rail cattle car to Austria to work in a quarry as a slave laborer, helping build Gusen, part of the Mauthasen concentration camp complex. It became known as the most brutal of the death camps."
When the war ended, Dr. von Goscinski was picked up by the British and reunited with the wife he’d secretly married while being held a prisoner. The English needed doctors in their colonies and asked if he’d like to go to British Honduras during the last of the days when "the sun never set on the British Empire."
Time passed and as the empire began crumbling. British Honduras was peacefully returned to the native people who promptly re-named their Central American nation Belize.
As the British withdrew, neighboring Guatemala began rattling sabers, threatening invasion. The Guatemalan claim that century’s earlier Belize had been a part of their nation sounded a lot like the same reason Germany had given for invading Dr. von Goscinski’s native Poland. Hedging his bets and recognizing America as the most stable democracy on the globe, Dr. von Goscinski bought the old farm near the early American Indian trail that arguably had led other Europeans here for centuries.
Beyond coming to Daingerfield and his farm on visits of a few days, Dr. von Goscinski never made use of the refuge in America that came to be his because of his daughter’s marriage to Sid Greer and Sid’s familiarity with Morris County.
SID & EVA BEFORE THE FARM
Eva and Sid were globe trotters. They were living in London when he gave up corporate life at 50, walking away from his oil company executive slot negotiating international contracts.
He got his start in the oilfield in the usual way, being unable to find other good work with his new University of Texas political science degree in 1971. So he went to Louisiana and went to work offshore. He learned that being a roustabout could mean spending days standing waist deep in oily water, dipping oil spills with a five-gallon bucket.
"After a couple of months of that we stopped one day for lunch at a rig," he remembers. "As soon as I saw the kind of work roughnecks had, I wanted to be one. They weren’t wet and the work they did sure beat being a bucket operator."
Eva came of age in Belize. She wanted an education, but her mother wanted her close to home.
"New Orleans was just a two hour flight away so I enrolled at Tulane," she said. By the time she met Sid in Louisiana he’d advanced in the oilfield again, becoming a drilling mud engineer.
"It was better work than being a roughneck," he said.
She remembers the courtship.
"We rode bicycles around New Orleans one day, in the French Quarter," she said. A couple of weeks later he proposed. They married in Belize in June, 1976.
Neither of the newly weds liked his having to always be leaving, heading out to some offshore rig. So he went back to school and earned a masters in business and told the oil company people he wasn’t working for them anymore if they didn’t have something he could do besides working off the Louisiana coast.
"So they sent me to the Persian Gulf," he said.
Sometimes in the years that followed she traveled with him.
"We lived in a lot of ancient, undeveloped places where government wasn’t always stable," he said. They shared what time they could in the places he worked, drilling for oil in North Africa and in East Africa off the coast of the Indian Ocean.
When he was first sent to Madagascar he lived on the 13th floor of a Hilton Inn.
"Only Hilton I’ve ever been in that didn’t have electricity, running water, soap or toilet paper," he said. "You used the stairs and once a day the bellhop brought up five gallons of water. Cooking for the restaurant was done outdoors over open fires."
When she wasn’t with him, Eva lived a lot in Houston raising four children. She studied culinary arts at the Houston Institute of the Arts.
She’d always enjoyed cooking. It was in Madagascar that the pleasure she takes in preparing sumptuous meals first became intertwined with the family business.
"Sid was by then head of Madagascar operations for Amoco," she said, and there were always visiting oil company people, engineers and various officials of East or North African states to entertain.
She had a kitchen staff, such as was available. Directing work in the kitchen, preparing for large gatherings was fun and a challenge.
Sid enjoyed challenges of his own and had at his fingertips the resources to see through drilling operations wherever he cut deals.
He was in charge of logistics once for a military style beach landing at Madagascar ferrying in drilling rigs instead of soldiers.
"We built roads 150 miles inland across beaches, mountains, deserts and 17 rivers," he said.
Another time in Tunisia a drilling rig punched into an aquifer unleashing an artisan well with such a powerful flow no gravity of mud could plug it. Red Adair was called in – before that episode was resolved the rig sank in a lake that grew to 20 miles across and threatened to drain a series of desert oasis’s.
In Tunisia their home overlooked ancient Carthage.
"We literally overlooked thousands of years of history," he said. "From our front yard we could see the ancient catacombs, the archeological record of the Roman invasion thousands of years earlier. From the front door we could see the World War II German gun emplacements along the Mediterranean coast and the American Cemetery full of soldiers."
Born in Arkansas, Sid grew up in Texarkana until moving to Daingerfield when he was 14. When Guatemalan saber rattling caused his father-in-law to begin looking for land in America, Sid steered him to the old farm in Morris County which was being sold at auction to settle the Sewell family estate.
After Dr. von Goscinski died Sid and Eva bought the farm from the other heirs of his estate.
"We came here for good when we left London on Christmas Eve, 1998," Sid said.
In the years since, they’ve developed a diversified farming operation spread over a bit more than half of the original 511-acre tract. Nothing here is typical.
Their full blood French Maine-Anjou cattle are grass fed and grass finished. Customers from as far away as Corpus Christi and Fort Worth buy the beef they sell by the split quarter.
The commercial pine forests they’re developing are molded around tracts of native hardwood left undisturbed. Rather than the typical planting of 600 bare-root pine to an acre, they’ve planted 366 "containerized" trees, each with its own root ball.
"The goal is to shorten the time cycle from planting to mature cut to maximize revenue," he said.
Their "pick your own" fruit farm includes 3,500 blueberry and 1,000 blackberry bushes and they’ve developed a truck-farming Dallas niche market for their premium berries.
Similarly, they’ve developed a niche retail nursery. Some of the 80 varieties of rose bushes come from root stock dating back to the 1700's. They’ve planted 10,000 flowering bulbs. The mid-summer explosion of blooms has made Greer Farms the site of an annual mid-July survey of butterflies and moths and the farm goes on record as having the largest number of varieties of any single place surveyed in North Texas.
Developing a farm with unique attributes, more recently they’ve added guest cabins in the shade of a pecan orchard planted by Skeet Greer, Sid’s father. The orchard grows on the shore of Lake Gos, named for Eva’s father.
"Our mission is to develop revenue streams and paying customers for each of our activities," Sid said.
That goes for everything down to Eva’s cooking. She’s a "Chef," as evidenced by the degree from the Houston Art Institute. Recipes she’s written for Pilgrim’s Pride have appeared in both Southern Living and Good Housekeeping. She also develops recipes for Pilgrim’s Pride products featured on their website.
FLOWERS & FINE DINING
Almost exclusively by word of mouth, she’s also developed a private dining business, serving gourmet meals to parties of 10 to 30 in their home’s formal dining room, an addition to the original dogtrot home included in a long wing that has living quarters, a great room, his study and her kitchen.
As what I’d envisioned as an hour interview stretched into mid morning, Eva served us an, uh – lemme brush up on my culinary descriptive stuff here – exquisite? banana nut bread served with a mind-blowing sweet tea. (So much for grasping at upscale culinary description.)
She sweetens tea with a syrup of her own creation, made with a combination of sugar, almond and a vanilla extract made, naturally, with imported vanilla beans.
Afterwards, Sid took me on just a quick farm tour and laws me, we got back just in time for lunch – German sausage and home made sour kraut, some sort of antique peas grown on the farm and another round of her home baked bread. Served with home made butter gently spiked with some sort of spice that gave it a bit of a bite. Strange but fine.
For her own amusement, I think, she served me creme brulee. As it turned out, that pastry served with it was created with nothing but caramelized sugar.
When she began to describe the work already underway for setting the table for a party of ten expected three days hence, hearing her description of the importance of flowers as the centerpiece at dinner, I asked her to call when the table was set.
The call came two hours before her guests arrived.
The flowers I’d envisioned as fresh cut from the florist weren’t there.
In their place was an arrangement of wisps of weed stalks topped with colorful berries and seed heads framed by foliage turning with autumn colors.
"I gathered them just a bit ago on a walk through the woods, not far from my kitchen," she said, and she smiled.