Get Your Goat On at Windy Hill Farm
An interview with Ty Wolosin
By Jessi Cape, 1:33PM, Sat. Sep. 1, 2012
“That's my idea: to just get as many people as I can eating goat,” said Ty Wolosin. “We have to start thinking about sustainable meats.”
Ty Wolosin runs Windy Hill, a small farm in Comanche, Texas, but his influence in Austin grows daily. In addition to raising red Brangus cattle, pasture-raised chickens, delicious organic produce, and even selling bat guano, Wolosin’s mission is clear: encourage the public to embrace goat meat as a sustainable protein through education and by simply tasting the difference.
Like so many others, he sees the amazing potential in the Austin community: foodies with big hearts and sharp minds. With some adjustments in perceptions and practices, the Lonestar state can utilize more efficient means of sustaining our population with natural resources and in turn promote improved ecological stability, an essential factor for the future of Texas. Wolosin explains, "Texas can produce basically anything: citrus in the valley, fibers in the Panhandle, great produce on the Colorado River, goat meat in West and Central Texas. We have to find a way to get it to the consumer and then educate the consumer to eat something like goat."
But why goat? “Essentially people can eat Angus beef and it tastes great but it's not for a drying climate, which Texas is, long-term. You can’t have an animal that needs a grass diet to feed populations,” says Wolosin. “Goat really is a sustainable alternative protein that will become something...but it takes a while, like anything.”
After graduate school, Wolosin moved back to his family's farm to help and as hay bales tripled in price because of the drought, a light bulb illuminated his future. “All of a sudden my mom was a goat rancher- this great crazy goat lady that I would visit on vacations. Then I fell in love with it. I became educated on the issues and the fact that Texas is this goat meat producing area. We produce 70% of the goat meat in America and 90% is shipped out. We ship in more goat from Australia than we eat our own goat in Texas. That's insane. We have it right here but we're eating Australian goat meat. If you go to a random Indian [restaurant], it's probably Australian goat meat. It's not local. That’s crazy.”
Wolosin honed in on a niche- and his newfound passion- and began using his marketing expertise to grow the family business. He branched out from selling at small farmers’ markets in Abilene and the Dallas area and began building a formidable goat empire here in Central Texas.
The environmental impact of a goat tribe is remarkably friendly and efficient. Windy Hill operates on a rotation schedule: send in the goats first and let them work their caprine magic, then rotate the other critters such as cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs, depending on the farm’s animal residents. Because goats do not typically eat the grass first, they are ideal for clearing unwanted vegetation as far as they can reach. Goats will clear ground weeds, tree brush, and invasive species difficult for human removal (e.g. thorny plants); this lets the light in, promoting healthy green grass growth more suitable for other animals. The result is a healthy plot of land- all without the use of chemicals or machinery. As a bonus, the foraging Boers reduce dry brush otherwise perfect for fueling the devastating wildfires such as those that ravaged surrounding communities last year.
With increased environmental and social consciousness, locavores are embracing the changes Wolosin- now the Secretary of TOFGA (Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)- and his community counterparts have been fighting for years to see. Recently, the US government released a report that indicates farmers markets have increased in number by 9.6% since 2011. The Austin food scene is flavored with high profile chefs and restaurants that adhere, when possible, to the use of seasonal and local meat and produce.
Windy Hill Organic Farm’s goat meat, veggies, fruits, and other products are currently available at HOPE Market on Sundays, and Wolosin is thrilled with the progress he has made to get his goat into local restaurants. Windy Hill’s first restaurant client was Chef Sonya Cote when she headed up East Side Show Room. With goat meat already on their menu, Cote found out about Windy Hill and she immediately began featuring Wolosin’s specialty meat. As luck would have it, the drought that year enhanced their fledgling relationship. When Windy Hill had to cull their herd, there was enough meat to supply ESSR. Yet this is not always the case, and perhaps that is not a downside after all.
Small animals only weigh so much, and Wolosin explained that proper marketing and networking with other local farmers is critical to promoting the necessary change in consumer habits. Tightening the bonds between local producers and bridging the gap between suppliers and consumers benefits everyone. Wolosin explains, “If a chef says, ‘I want a sample tomorrow’ or ‘I need 10 pounds of meats,’ I can network and make it happen,” even if Windy Hill is sold out or does not have that cut available. “It's hard to break a consumerism society model,” he says. However, Austin’s growing movement to return to local and sustainable food appears promising.
Wolosin’s marketing savvy plays a role in his farm’s visibility factor: regular updates via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter indicate the growing goat love: veggies and goat meat are often available at local spots like Whip-In, Wheatsville, Lenoir, Olivia, and Barley Swine. A recent image revamp features a new label: “a goat with seed eyes and a wheat beard to represent the whole package.” The wide array of products is wonderful, but Wolosin explains that their green practices and belief in freshness means the selection is sometimes limited. As many farmers’ market vendors are aware, competing with grocery stores is impossible because of the seasonal changes in available produce, but Wolosin believes this makes the beautiful yield of eating, shopping, and supporting local businesses a treasure. That, he says, needs to be the focus. Eating delicious food that’s good for humans and the environment. “The network, ultimately, makes it so farmers can be self-sustaining, somewhat. I don't know any farmer, generally, that thinks they're gonna get rich from it. You do it because it's your passion and you want to make a living. Everyone does. You can do that in a healthy lifestyle that's sustaining,” says Wolosin.
Wolosin believes the nature of the food industry can change, but it’s going to be difficult. To be successful, it requires maintaining positive relationships with local farmers and producers, such as his farm’s dedication to the feed at Coyote Creek Organic Farm and Mill. “You have to have a set of rules, but it benefits everyone,” he says. Education and research is essential and these friends and industry companions join forces with other integral parts of the Austin web, such as Boggy Creek and HOPE market to unite on the organic, local food front. They dance daily with farmers and local chefs to boost the popularity of sustainable food such as Windy Hill’s prized goat meat. "It's essentially a pseudo co-op, which is what I had hoped for.” A core set of beliefs includes humane treatment of all animals, organic when at all possible, free range, pasturing, no antibiotics or hormones, and a commitment to networking with proven and reliable vendors who share the same standards.
But what's the catch? The overwhelming feeling of obligation to convert to local, organic products in one fell swoop, perhaps. As I stood in my kitchen this week, it occurred to me that changing the mindset and consumer habits is crucial and it's working toward that goal that helps shape the future. Small steps will certainly make a remarkable difference and begin to turn the tides. Sure, it's gradual and perhaps slower going than many hope, but focusing on the journey instead of expecting a Beam-Me-Up-Scotty paradigm shift seems the most effective plan for creating a positive, healthy, sustainable food future. Afterall, it's really about our community's future.
Windy Hill's Facebook page just announced that Noble Pig Sandwiches will be using their goat meat. Plus, Wolosin will have figs and both sheep and goat stew meat in addition to more delicious loot this Sunday at HOPE Market.
For the interview, Ty Wolosin brought his favorite goat dish and I was floored by the simplicity and phenomenal flavor. He shared the technique, and I’d like to pass along the recipe. So go on, get your goat on:
“My favorite way is similar to what we had tonight. Basically you take a boneless goat loin, season it however you want- simplest way is salt and pepper. It's really good with mint. You get a cast iron pan, turn the oven on to 500* and put in the pan, let it get to 500*, take out the pan and set it on the range top on high. Put in a little butter- real butter- let it melt and then put the loin in there and sear it for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side and cut it real thin. And that's it. That's my favorite way right now."