FORT WORTH, Texas — Over the past year, particularly during the height of the pandemic when families were practicing social distancing, an interest in growing fruits and vegetables at home soared.
In fact, seed packets became hard to find as first-time gardeners took to their yards. A mixture of fun novelty and precaution fueled by food shortage fears motivated many Texans to try farming for the first time.
“It was something we always wanted to try,” Fort Worth resident Tara Coughey said. “We’ve taken social distancing seriously and the pandemic offered the perfect opportunity to finally start.”
Coughey, her husband Nathan and their five kids are now the proud operators of Clover Lane Urban Farm. In the front yard you’ll find some of their favorite produce, and in the back chickens, ducks and bees keep them busy.
A love for animals is just one of the things Tara and Nathan had in common when they met on eHarmony 16 years ago.
“We knew we wanted a family but I don’t think we ever talked about being a farm family,” Tara said, laughing.
When they first started chatting online in 2004 it was the first foray into online dating for both. They both had profiles on popular dating website but hadn’t had success meeting people in person. However, they knew early on that they were a match. They married within the first year of their long-distance relationship.
“We flew back and forth a few times, and on the 10th time we got married,” Tara recalled.
“Now, five kids later, we’re living the dream,” Nathan said. “There’s nobly else that I would want to be on this kind of adventure with except for her. We get along. We complement each other.”
Like many families that started farming during the pandemic, the Cougheys have enjoyed their back-to-basics approach while stuck at home with the kids. As a homeschooling family, they’ve realized this DIY lifestyle has much to offer as it relates to the education of their kids.
“It’s so satisfying to actually be able to eat something you grew from a seed. The kids feel such a sense of achievement,” Tara said.
Before March of last year their front yard was covered with patches of grass, and although they tried many times to cultivate a lush, green lawn, like with many of their neighbors it wasn’t happening.
Now, planter beds growing produce including strawberries, turnips, green beans and carrots cover parts of the front lawn.
Over the past year, urban gardens have thrived as pandemic-bound city dwellers got what’s been called the “farming bug.” A year ago, the Cougheys’ garden didn’t exist but the kids helped to plant nearly all of the fruits and vegetables currently growing. They’ve learned a lot along the way.
“We’ve found that different gardens, different types of plants want different types of nutrients in their soil, so that’s been a learning process where we’ve lost a lot of crops, but we’re still in the early days of figuring those kinds of things out,” Nathan said.
The family had a couple of chickens and ducks prior to 2020 but didn’t cook with the eggs the ducks laid daily. Like many during quarantine, the family has enjoyed baking, and they now know the difference between their bird eggs.
“We use our chicken eggs for eating and we use our duck eggs for baking,” Tara said. “Duck eggs are superior to chicken eggs when it comes to baking. Cupcakes are fluffier and things are richer.”
One project the couple’s oldest child, J.D., is passionate about is the two beehives the family has acquired over the past year. He’s 12 years old and has aspirations of one day becoming an aerospace engineer and working for NASA. He’s extremely knowledgeable about beekeeping thanks to a college course he took with his mom.
“A lot of colleges were offering free classes at the start of the pandemic, including Penn State. ‘Hey, we’re offering a Beekeeping 101 class,’ and we decided to go ahead and take it. The kids and I took it together. It was kind of a little homeschooling project,” Tara said.
The couple hopes that like the other projects they’ve undertaken, the bees will provide a learning opportunity for their kids.
“We’re just trying to think outside the box – what can we do? Like, we want to farm but we live right smack in the middle of the city, so what are the things that we can do that will fit on our property? And bees is one of them,” Tara said.
Whether it’s bees, birds or berries, Nathan recommends anyone wanting to dabble in urban farming take the plunge.
“If you’re thinking about it, do it. Don’t be discouraged if you fail, and stick with it. Just keep going because it’s worth it,” he said.
Nathan said that although the last year has been rough, he and his family feel blessed that social distancing ushered in the perfect pandemic project.
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