Lay Berry Farm prepares for another season
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer
PHALBA–Farming at this time of year is basically a lot of
backbreaking preparation and watching the weather.
Not much can be put into the ground in the cold weather of
February besides onions and potatoes.
Brent Lay said he has planted several large parcels with onions
and potatoes and plans to add more, for a total of three acres
planted so far, on his truck farm in Van Zandt County.
He currently has about 10 acres in use, including the
vegetables, fruit vines and new cuttings, of the 30 acre tract
that makes up Lay Berry Farm.
He spends every weekend on the farm, working and preparing for
the spring and summer. The rest of the week, he works as a
Brent Lay and wife Allison have two children, a son and a
daughter who attend school in Rowlett, where the family
Their East Texas family farm has been a place where churches,
families and groups have come to pick their own fresh produce.
The farm was opened to the public starting in May, 2008, when
the main product was Quachita and Apache blackberries (both are
thornless varieties for easy picking).
Today, he is working toward developing his own cuttings for both
the blackberries and blueberries, to increase the plants and
thus his crop, so his customers of all ages will have plenty of
fruit to pick.
“It’s really fun to see the kids that come. They ask all kinds
of questions about what things are,” Lay said.
“That’s what it’s all about. Families and people relaxing,
getting rid of stress and bringing people together,” he added.
Included, for the benefit of the church, scout or school groups,
are picnic tables nestled under a huge oak tree beside a large
catfish pond, where novice pickers can rest after an hour or two
in the sun.
Lay started years ago, “growing things in the house. I guess I
just like to play in the dirt,” he said.
Some of that dirt can be found inside two, approximately 12-foot
by 24-foot greenhouses where he is starting seeds and cuttings.
The seedlings will grow into bedding plants.
“They will be ready to put into the ground sometime around
Easter or maybe from mid-March through April,” Lay explained.
He said he plans to have several varieties of tomatoes, peppers,
squash, egg plant, watermelon and whatever else he can get.
“Watermelon and tomatoes are my biggest cash crop,” Lay
explained, adding corn was another crop people liked.
But what his customers like the best is that his produce doesn’t
contain chemicals or additives that are often found on produce
in the grocery stores.
“Also, everything we offer for sale is fresh picked. It hasn’t
been on the shelf for days,” Lay said. “What I don’t have I
bring in from neighboring farms,” he added.
The cuttings he is starting are an effort to increase the number
of blueberry and blackberry vines he has growing.
“I have about 25 hundred blueberry plants under cultivation
now,” he said.
While Lay said he enjoys getting out in the fresh air and
working in the dirt, he is grateful for the help he gets from
family, neighbors and friends.
His friend, neighbor and co-farmer, Rod Bass, along with Rod’s
son Sam, are there for him when extra help is needed or when
things go wrong, which can happen often and sometimes be
Rod, a FedEx driver, when he isn’t farming, plans to put in
several acres of black-eyed and cream peas on his own place.
That will add to the available crops of Lay Berry Farm.
The small daily problems can be anything from equipment
breakdowns to insect invasions (like grasshoppers feeding on the
Lay has his own well on the property. It reaches 395 feet down
to find a large supply of water for irrigating.
“I did have a pipe break but luckily most of the water drained
into the pond,” he said, describing a muddy mess from the
As our forefathers and anyone who has ever tried to cultivate
the land for a living found out, farming is not for the
In addition to the hungry hoard of grasshoppers that stripped
the leaves from his fledgling blueberries, there was the
long-enduring months of drought.
“Two years ago, a tornado hit the farm, just laying down all of
his blackberry and blueberry cuttings.
Then the year he had blackberries producing and customers
picking, a hail storm hit, stripping his plants and ending his
“Last year, as my watermelons ripened, the wild hogs came in and
in two days time, destroyed the crop,” Lay said.
He and his friends have been shooting the hogs when they can but
that has not taken care of the problem.
“We are going to try some preventative measures this year,
including a system involving loud, pulsating sirens,” Lay added.
“It has been a rough five years, trying to truck farm here,” he
But I still would like to plant more berry vines, some fruit
trees and I want to raise my own plants,” he said.
Despite the tornados, grasshoppers, hail storm and drought, he
wants to continue his farming endeavor.
The sandy, productive soil of East Texas still calls to him and
he said it was not beyond the possibility that someday, he would
build a house on the farm and move to Van Zandt County.
The farm is located between Phalba and Canton on CR 1256, off FM
316 past Purtis Creek State Park (from Eustace). Brent Lay can
be reached at (214) 208-0967 or visit layberryfarm.com on the