Jerry Nelson: Meeting Phoenix

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

Phoenix was the first person I’d ever met who went by that name. I asked if she was named for the city or the mythological firebird.

“The bird!” she replied with a smile. “My parents were hippies. That explains a lot.”

Much of the pleasure of traveling to new places involves meeting new people. This is how we met Phoenix Rogers, president-elect of the Texas County Agricultural Agents Association. Phoenix had invited my wife and me to Galveston to address the annual meeting of the TCAAA.

Like her namesake, Phoenix is lively and full of fire. These characteristics are crucial if you are a county agent. After all, those 4-H kids won’t teach themselves how to steer a Hereford steer.

My wife and I attended the general session of the TCAAA annual meeting and learned many new things about Texas agriculture. For instance, a guy from the Texas Pecan Growers Association mentioned the problem of nut rustling.

Thieves have adopted the practice of backing their pickups up to pecan trees and thumping the tree trunks with the bumper until they get enough nuts to sell at the market. Parents often set up nanny cams to watch their kids. Maybe the pecan growers need to install nutty cams.

Another speaker talked about the Texas peanut industry. We thus learned that the executive director of the Texas Peanut Producers Board is a lady named Shelly Nutt.

My wife and I visited with a young county agent lady from southeastern Texas. We talked about our respective struggles with the weather. The young lady said that they, like us, had endured a cold, wet spring.

“Dad wasn’t able plant his corn until March,” she said. “He’s usually done by mid-February.”

I informed the young lady that mid-February in eastern South Dakota is the middle of our ice fishing season. At that time of year, the idea of planting corn is but a fever dream, a side effect of being forced to stare at a sea of snowdrifts that seem to be permanent.

At one point during our Galveston sojourn, my wife and I and a few hundred county agent guys and ladies were bussed to the 1880 Garten Verein for an evening meal. The Garten Verein is a dance hall that was built by a German social club in – yep! – 1880.

The Garten Verein is both majestic and octagonal. Each side features sweeping windows to catch refreshing breezes from the Gulf of Mexico, located just blocks away. Air conditioning has since been installed and the interior of the building is no longer subject to the whims of the weather.

We were served shrimp jambalaya (yum!) and pulled pork barbecue sandwiches (double yum!). But the best part was dessert: bread pudding that was studded with pecans and soaked with a sumptuous praline sauce.

We spoke to one of the servers and told her that the bread pudding was heavenly.

“It’s my grandma’s praline sauce recipe,” she replied. “There’s nothing much to it. Brown sugar, butter, cream, pecans, vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, cranberries and just a tiny bit of chocolate.”

My wife and I made a note of those ingredients. We hope to reverse-engineer that recipe in the hopes of getting another foretaste of heaven.

After supper a bubbly county agent lady named Julie Massey chatted with us. Julie mentioned that she’s a Texas Master Naturalist. I asked what that meant.

“A big part of my job is educating youth about the interface between land and sea and teaching them about the marine ecosystem,” she replied.

I opined that the phrases “marine ecosystem” and “interface between land and sea” sounded awfully foreign to someone from the barren prairies of the Midwest.

Julie replied, “Minnesota has Lake Superior, which is an inland freshwater sea.”

Touché! It’s surprising how travel can remind you of the wonders found in your own backyard.

My wife and I strolled across the Garten Verein’s lawn in the tropical twilight. Kids played tag beneath palm trees as small knots of adults conversed quietly.

We struck up a conversation with a middle-aged couple from Alabama. My wife learned all about their kids and their grandkids while the guy and I “talked shop” about farming. He grows strawberries, peaches and pecans; we grow corn, soybeans and Jersey steers. Even though our operations are radically different, there was an instant farmer-to-farmer connection.

All of these pleasant interactions reminded me when I first met Mel Kloster, my friend and gone-but-not-forgotten county agent. I wish that Mel were still here so he could see what eventually became of his advice for me to publish that spoof letter which began with the words “Dear County Agent Guy.”

The Garten Verein is a dance hall in Galveston, Texas, that was built by a German social club in 1880.