Honeychild’s Sweet Creams
If you want to change the food system, what do you do? If you’re Kathleen Morgan, you make frozen custard. With dual degrees in animal science and business and a lifetime spent on her family’s ranch outside of Houston, Texas, Kathleen saw launching Honeychild’s Sweet Creams as her way to create a sweet impact on the food scene.
In Houston, Texas, farmland juts right up to housing developments and local makers like Kathleen Morgan play a vital role in preserving the region’s farming heritage by sourcing directly from growers and crafting products that highlight the delicious fruit and vegetables grown in this dense urban environment.
When our crew first arrived in Houston, we went straight to Atkinson Farms in Spring, Texas, to meet Kathleen. She sources fruit from this four-generation farm and strawberries were at their zenith, so the plan was for her to pick the ripest berries and then take them back to her communal kitchen, where she’d turn then into a strawberry frozen custard. None of this seemed out of the ordinary, and we agreed it was a great way to dive into this episode. But when we pulled to the farm for the shoot, we thought we might be in the wrong place.
As we pulled off of Ella Boulevard onto Spring Cypress Road, we were in the middle of a town. Klein Collins High School sits at the end of Spring Cypress Road and as we drove toward Atkinson Farms, we passed a storage facility, an entertainment center and an apartment complex. This couldn’t be where the farm is located, I thought.
I checked my phone, and yes, we seemed to be in the right spot. When we’re on the road, we always say that you just “do what the lady says” when our phones are giving directions. We’re always in unfamiliar territory, so we’re dependent on Waze to show us the way. So, we continued down Spring Cypress Road. As we drove, a field appeared on our left and then we turned a corner and the Atkinson Farms strawberry field sat right in front of us. We’d arrived. But all around this farm stood new housing developments.
It seemed like the farm was out of place. It wasn’t, of course. Atkinson Farms has been in this place since 1961 and since that time, the city has grown to surround the farm. What seemed unusual to me turned out to be commonplace in Houston, where, famously, there are no zoning regulations. You can build what you want where you want and because of that, many farms are now surrounded by development.
Here, in the country’s fourth-largest city, makers like Kathleen play a critical role in supporting Houston’s farms. By sourcing from them directly, she is helping to keep farms like Atkinson Farms in place.
Plant It Forward Farms | Houston, Texas
Kathleen sources from a number of Houston farms. She doesn’t (yet) have a storefront, so along with supplying restaurants and selling at retailers like The Heights Grocer and Revival Market, she also sells directly to consumers at farmers’ markets, which is where she connects with many of the farmers she sources from, including Constant Ngouala, who is a master gardener with Plant It Forward Farms. His mint, in particular, is what drew Kathleen to his stand at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market.
Originally from Republic of Congo, Constant has been part of the Plant It Forward family for many years and grows a wide variety of produce at the organization’s three-acre Fondren Farm, which is located in an electrical easement. When we were on location, I asked operations manager Daniella Lewis why they chose to situate the farm here, of all places. Turns out, the soil in easements like the one at the corner of Fondren and Willowbend is typically in good shape compared to other urban land, which often has to be remediated before it can be farmed.
Plant It Froward has a network of urban farms throughout Houston, which is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. The organization plays a critical role in the lives of refugees who have settled in the Houston area, teaching them how to farm in the region’s climate and also how to launch successful farm-based businesses while developing roots in the community.
One Fifth | Houston, Texas
Victoria Dearmond is the pastry director for Underbelly Hospitality. We caught up with her at One Fifth, a unique restaurant that features a new concept every year. The first year was Steak, the second was Romance Languages and the third, which is the current year, is Mediterranean. Underbelly Hospitality is owned by Chris Shepard, winner of James Beard Best Chef: Southwest in 2014, and Kevin Floyd. Their focus is on sourcing as much locally as possible and celebrating the diversity and richness of the Houston food scene — that ethos extends into the pastry program through Victoria’s work in the kitchen.
Victoria met Kathleen at a farmers’ market and once she tasted Honeychild’s Sweet Creams frozen custard, she was hooked. Now, Victoria and Kathleen collaborate on flavors and when Victoria wants something unique to feature with a dessert she’s creating, all she has to do is call Kathleen and soon, samples arrive at the kitchen door. This type of collaboration creates unique culinary experiences for diners and also extends the opportunity for Honeychild’s Sweet Creams to expand further into the Houston food industry.
Blackwood Educational Land Institute | Hempstead, Texas
Cath Conlon is on a mission to teach people about the interconnectedness of all living things. Not a small goal, to be sure, but Cath’s vision is clear.
The land on which Blackwood Educational Land Institute operates has been in Cath’s family for generations, but it was in need of revitalization after years of cotton farming. In 1990, when her son, Cade, was young, she brought his class to the farm to help build a garden. Over the years, as Cade grew and changed schools, his classmates followed along and came to the ranch to help work the land and learn about farming.
Soon, the project evolved to encompass a 5,000-square foot house built of straw bales that allowed school groups to stay on the ranch for extended experiences. The Blackwood Nature Camp was launched and two high tunnels added to the land, offering 11,000 square feet of climate-controlled cultivation. The Gathering Hall followed, which includes a commercial kitchen and space for private events and classes. Everything that Cath and her son focus on at this incredibly special place goes back to teaching people about “resilient agriculture” through modeling a closed-loop system.
Mill-King Market & Creamery | McGregor, Texas
Much of the milk and cream that Kathleen uses in her frozen custard comes from Mill-King Market & Creamery, which is located just to the west of Waco, Texas. Craig Miller is a third-generation farmer who raises Jersey, Holstein and Brown Swiss cows, blending the milk from all three to create a creamy texture and fresh flavor that Kathleen says tastes just like the milk she enjoyed as a kid on her family ranch when her grandfather would offer her a taste fresh from the milking barn.
When Craig and his wife, Rhianna, realized that her dairy allergy wasn’t triggered by raw milk, they switched to producing raw milk along with low-temp pasteurized, non-homogenized milk and cream. By utilizing a low-temp pasteurization method, they retain the beneficial enzymes present in the milk, while killing harmful bacteria. What’s also retained is flavor.
Also of note is that the Kings used to sell their milk to the local diary co-op, which is true for most dairy farmers. By selling to a co-op, though, farmers don’t have any control over the price they receive for their products. Dairy prices — like those for hogs, cattle, orange juice and soybeans — are set on the commodity market. That means that the price can be high one month and low the next. Many small dairy farmers, like the Millers, are choosing to pull out of the commodity market and instead create their own labels, selling directly to consumers, stores, chefs and makers like Kathleen. This gives them control over their pricing and allows them to build a brand, requiring the farmers to not only produce an incredible product, but also know how to market that product. Adding a “value-added product” to their offerings by turning milk into cheese, for example, creates further opportunities for dairies to build their businesses and look toward passing the farm on to the next generation.