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Aunt Sue’s Barn harvests land with sustainable practice

Aunt Sue’s Barn harvests land with sustainable practice

Aunt Sue’s Barn harvests land with sustainable practice
October 18
00:48 2018

It only takes a 20-minute drive away from Denton to stumble happen upon an expanse farmland in Ponder, Texas. This is where Aunt Sue’s Barn resides — a left turn at a bright yellow mailbox. 

Walking down the dirt road past the mailbox, every visitor is greeted by full-time farmer Sue Newhouse, 61, and remote database administrator, Brain Odwyer, 57.

Sue Newhouse of Aunt Sue’s Barn showing off her large greenhouse. At about 2500 sq. ft., the greenhouse will have ranunculus flowers and anemone flowers this year. Emily Olkkola

Laying the groundwork

Aunt Sue’s Barn was named after Newhouse’s nieces and nephews, who would visit her at the barn where Newhouse originally tamed mustangs until she was injured.

“It’s easy to get hurt on mustangs if you don’t know what you’re doing, and even if you do know what you’re doing [it’s] the nature of that animal,” Newhouse said. “They’re wild animals, and during the process of breaking or gentling them, things can happen.”

The 10-acre family-owned barn was first built around 1999-2000, which then contained an orchard of trees, two greenhouses, a beehive and the red barn. Newhouse and Odwyer have grown since then and plan to grow more produce, including blackberries, purple and green asparagus, snapdragon flowers and anemone flowers. 

Newhouse and Odwyer met initially after working years together at Cook’s Children Hospital. When Newhouse quit, she kept in contact with Odwyer and started dating a year later. On Thursdays and Fridays, Newhouse and Odwyer would get ready for the farmers’ markets while they were on-call for their jobs. 

“Something would happen and you would have to be on-call,” Newhouse said. “[Odwyer] would be at the farmers’ market with a laptop working on some big issue that came up and the other person is selling.” 

After they got married, Odwyer sold his house in Bedford and they moved into a house together in Hurst. Now they are having a new house be built on Aunt Sue’s Barn to eventually move back to Denton.

A blackberry ready to be harvested at Aunt Sue’s Barn. Emily Olkkola

For the two, this year was a plentiful harvest, where Newhouse and Odwyer put hundreds of pounds of blackberries, strawberries and peaches into one of four freezers to later be sold at the farmer’s market in Coppell or the Robson Ranch. They sell their produce, homemade cobblers and high-end preserves, including vanilla plum flavor and berry-flavored apple cider vinegar. 

“[The farmers’ markets are] vibrant,” Odwyer said. “We see some of the same people over and over, and you get to know them.”

Sue Newhouse holds up a primocane blackberry — meaning that it makes flowers and berries the first year — to demonstrate how tall they can get at Aunt Sue’s Barn. Emily Olkkola

A day at Aunt Sue’s Barn 

To maintain the vast amount of produce they have, Odywer and Newhouse have to adapt to the changing seasons. This summer caused Newhouse and Odwyer to water 24 hours a day because it was so hot. Last winter, it got down to 8 degrees and was so cold that Newhouse and Odwyer had to put in propane heaters in the greenhouse to keep the flowers warm. 

“I know a little bit more about some of those flowers,” Newhouse said. “We can treat them a little differently this year, but it was our first year. We didn’t know. Everything is a learning experience.” 

The other greenhouse with strawberries has no propane heaters, so the two had to be diligent in protecting them because at 20 degrees, the strawberries start to get affected.

“It was a lot of effort just taking care of that, and you got to water them all,” Odwyer said. “It’s a constant thing. We are always doing something.” 

Although not certified organic, Odwyer and Newhouse use organic and sustainable methods. This means that they must be especially diligent with picking their fruits — a risk they are willing to take.

“It’s like a banana on your counter,” Newhouse said. “You know when a banana gets overripe you’ll have flies around it? You have to pick the fruit when it’s ripe before it gets overripe because then it will attract fruit flies.”

After watering, harvesting and checking on all the current crops, Newhouse and Odwyer must focus on other aspects of Aunt Sue’s Barn — equipment maintenance, building maintenance, mowing and planning ahead for the next crop.

Inside the original house of Aunt Sue’s Barn. Emily Olkkola

Odwyer and Newhouse also receive a lot of satisfaction from the general work of Aunt Sue’s Barn itself.

“If you go out and you pick 50 pounds of berries — it’s harder stuff, but you got 50 pounds of berries,” Odwyer said. “And at the end of it, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I managed to get something from all of this stuff.’ It’s a sense of accomplishment going, ‘I did that.'”

Something Newhouse and Odwyer also share is the love of being outside in general.

“It could be hot, it could be cold, but you’re outside,” Odwyer said. “You just enjoy it. Other times you’re just sitting back to the solitude of stuff at night time. You might hear crickets or frogs going, and you got fireflies.”

Beyond the farm

Kelly McFarland, an anthropology graduate student at UNT, has known about Aunt Sue’s Barn for a year. The 37-year-old is currently doing her thesis research by interviewing a handful of North Texas farmers in the area — Newhouse included.

“Sue tells a story,” McFarland said. “She makes you feel very welcome out [on] the farm. She’s not afraid of sharing any of her secrets for how she gets there.”

McFarland is also astonished by how much information Newhouse knows about natural growing methods.

“It’s crazy because she’s a wealth of knowledge, and she doesn’t realize it,” McFarland said. “She’s helped me a lot with farming, just in her little, ‘Oh you should try this,’ or, ‘You should do this.'”

McFarland also appreciates how Newhouse goes all-in on anything she grows.

“If you want to visit a farm and have a real farm experience, then this is a really good place to go,” McFarland said. “I talk with a lot of people who want to get back in touch with their food, and that’s something I tell them — you need to find a place like this. Usually Aunt Sue’s comes up because she’s really close to Denton, and she’s a good place to go.”

Featured Image: Sue Newhouse and Brian Odwyer standing in front of the red barn of Aunt Sue’s Barn. This is the porch the couple got married on. Emily Olkkola

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Emily Olkkola

Emily Olkkola

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1 Comment

  1. Grandps
    Grandps November 14, 09:19

    Great article. How come yyou both only use last names. Thought ODwyer was how that was spelled. I’m just sayin’

    Reply to this comment

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