Thanksgiving on Three Sisters Farm
Family shares ‘a really, really good adventure’ in Needville
At the end of a rutted driveway flanked by young live oaks, living remnants of the property’s bygone days as a tree farm, sits an enchanting cottage with a wide front porch. A hen or two cut across the lane—the unofficial welcoming committee— and soon I am shaking hands with Jennifer (Jen) Plihal and Peg Turrentine of Three Sisters Farm in Needville, Texas. The couple welcomes me to their homestead to trade memories and talk traditions amongst the trees and produce.
We start with a venture to their seasonal garden, where summer lingers and okra and peppers weigh down robust plants; soon they will be pickled, processed into hot sauce or sold fresh to local market shoppers and restaurant chefs. Sweet potatoes nestle just below the surface of fertile dark soil and I watch as son Sid, 11, wrestles with trowel and bare hands to unearth a mammoth spud, a grin as wide as Texas plastered on his face and fingernails painted dark with dirt. His brother Spencer, 9, looks on with approval and the four feline farmhands— Kale, Turnip, Carrot and Tater—oversee it from a distance.
“It’s been an adventure. A really, really good adventure,” says Jen of their years-long progression from living in a tent on site for six months, to transitioning to an RV for a season, and then moving into Jen’s parents’ winter cottage while they currently build their own permanent home nearby. All along they’ve endured the pressures of earning a living and supporting a family while holding steadfast to their love of the land and what they are doing.
“I think, for me, the reason why I don’t get discouraged sometimes by a crop failure or the weather not cooperating is that I think what we’re doing is really important for people,” says Jen. “It’s difficult,” adds Peg. “But we’re multifaceted. We’re not dependent on just fresh veg. We grow it, we can it, we process it. Some of it we process for ourselves, some of it we process for sale. And so that helps to stretch out the season. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Sometimes the hens lay, sometimes they don’t.”
They pull their own weeds and pick their own bugs, rejecting chemicals to grow things the old-fashioned way. They share knowledge with everyone they encounter—from how to plant and harvest to ways to incorporate vegetables into their meals.
“We just try to educate people all the time,” says Peg. “It’s all about educating people and helping them, and feeding them.”
As they grow their business, their values and knowledge also provide enrichment for Sid and Spencer. Take for example the vegetable stand the pair maintained to fund a summer trip to the water park one year, which gave them a direct connection between hard work and the well-earned payoff. When prompted on their favorite parts of farm life, their eyes light up. For Spencer it’s all about the rainbow carrots. He explains: “When you grow them they’re not just orange [but] they can be red, yellow, purple or white. And when you pull the carrot you don’t know how big it will be or what color it will be.” Sid is enthralled with digging potatoes, as evident by his unbridled enthusiasm earlier in the day.
Thanksgiving on the farm means many things: watching the Macy’s and Houston parades on TV and enjoying pre-dinner nibbles of homemade pickles and deviled eggs served on an antique carnival glass egg platter—a family heirloom circa the early 1900s. It means celebrating homegrown bounty including mashed potatoes with gravy (made using homemade chicken broth) and broccoli for Sid, tofurky for vegetarian Spencer and chocolate pie for everyone.
They toast with kid-friendly sparkling grape juice and adult-friendly Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, a tradition begun by Jen’s father, Tom, though he and wife, Val, now share it virtually from their home in Minnesota. Jen does the cooking and Peg does the dishes, which are vintage 1940s china passed down from Jen’s 94-year-old grandma, Millie. They eat at a turn-of-the-century wooden table purchased by Millie years ago for her own house while sitting in chairs that were painted by Millie herself—all of which will go with them to the new house and continue to play a significant role in their lives throughout the year. Monopoly and Yahtzee round out the day.
Last year, Jen and Peg began volunteering to serve the homeless and others in need at the City Wide Club Annual Thanksgiving Big Feast at the George R. Brown Convention Center and say they’ll invite the boys to join them when they are older.
“We like to give back and we can’t always do that financially so we like to give back with our time,” says Jen. “That’s important to us.”
Three Sisters Farm is growing dill, parsley, thyme, sage, arugula, carrots, collards, mustard greens, turnip, kale, radish, peppers, salad greens (leaf lettuce), sweet potatoes and sweet potato greens this season. Find Jen and Peg at the Fulshear Farmers Market on Saturdays 9am–1pm, or make an appointment and pick it up right at the farm (Three Sisters Farm: 832-276-4979 or 713-899-2537)