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Record-breaking summer brings challenges to farm-to-table restaurants

Chefs prepare an eggplant dish at Ronin
Posted at 11:35 AM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 09:05:37-04

BRYAN, Texas — Picture this: you’re traveling down a quiet backroad, less than 10 miles south of Lake Bryan that fits just about one, four-door vehicle.

To your left, you see fields, to your right… more fields.

Until, just over a small hill, you see a white wood sign, barely visible to the naked eye.

You get closer and read the word ‘Ronin.’

Sign leading into the Ronin farm
Less than 10 miles of Lake Bryan sits the Ronin farm

It’s a small family farm– just 15 acres, but it’s full of sounds and growth.

“It all just made sense to me,” explained Brian Light, the homeowner and farmer for Ronin, when asked about the layout of his farm.

“For whatever reason,” he ended with a smile.

Lilly Bomberg, a Texas A&M student and manager at the farm, tends to the land with just a handful of others before the sun rises each weekday.

Ronin worker picking eggplant midday
Eggplant is one of the many vegetables harvested at the Ronin farm

They do this because not only have we had the hottest summer on record, but because Brazos County officials have pointed fingers at irrigation for being a major problem during water conservation efforts.

“We've been able to weather the heat pretty well,” she said.

“But we couldn't do this every year.”

Bomberg explained that because they are able to water when most people are asleep, they avoid any problems with overuse, however, it’s still just plain hot.

“All of my previous work experience and education would suggest significantly more quantity decreases,” she said.

No question, the dog days of summer are here, and while the few workers can avoid the heat, the crops cannot.

“You can only grow so much when it's this hot,” she said, while picking eggplant off of a barren vine.

Larry Stein, a professor and horticulturist at Texas A&M explained that water is the answer.

With dry land, and vegetables becoming a bit more than kissed by the sun, nothing will flourish.

“If you don't have water, yeah, they're in a world of hurt right now,” he said.

So, how do you keep the ground wet, when the next chance of rain isn’t in our forecast?

The Ronin team seems to have found a possible answer.

Light, a traveler, began researching how to farm sustainably during his early years in the industry, and found an Irish way of going about it.

You see, potato farms in Ireland use a trench method where the farmer digs trenches to plant the crops. It keeps the seeds moist enough to successfully grow while avoiding overwatering.

Trench irrigation method
Trench irrigation method stabilizes water usage at the farm

“It's able to actually kind of be more effective and not just evaporate off super quickly in one or two days,” Bomberg explained.

Just a few miles back toward town, Ronin the restaurant sits in a 1912 county ice house; a space Brian and his wife Amanda kept a lot of the original renderings.

Ronin Restaurant.bmp
Ronin restaurant utilizes the county ice house built in 1912.

“It's been pretty slow,” Light said, when talking about the amount of customers.

The couple started the restaurant four years ago, using all of the ingredients, from veggies to herbs, they grow at the farm.

Chefs prepare an eggplant dish at Ronin
Two chefs are preparing an eggplant dinner dish as the eggplant prepare to go onto the handmade grill that uses the original bricks from the building

“You get produce and product that's closer to the dirt and directly impacting the local community,” Light said.

The record-high temperatures has led to quieter dining rooms and a less chaotic kitchen.

Business is slower than usual, but booming at Ronin
Hungry customers are filling Ronin's communal-like seating

“You just kind of move around with what's available and what's what's not,” Light said.

However, the Ronin team, both at the farm and at the restaurant, refused to let this weather impact the service and quality they give to folks in the Brazos Valley.

Amanda Light takes pictures of the dinner dish at Ronin
Amanda Light takes a picture of the finished eggplant dish at the restaurant

“As frustrating as it gets and watching a crop fail or whatever the case may be, you try again tomorrow and that's part of farming,” Brian Light ended.

The menu at Ronin does change depending on the farm-fresh ingredients.

So, two pieces of advice: Don’t get attached to a favorite dish; it won’t be here forever, and two, check the weekly dishes before you go, just to be sure you can find something you’ll absolutely love.