Alumnus foregoes finance career to farm tomatoes

Lisette Oler

The soft sun peeks over the horizon line in the mild air as Jamey Gage picks ripe Damsel tomatoes. For eight years, Gage has been rising before sunrise, fulfilling his dream of being a farmer.

Gage owns B5 Farms, an organic farm in Lockhart, Texas, that grows and sells a variety of vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. The only difference between Gage and every other farmer at the market is that while he has tomatoes during the current peak season, he also has tomatoes during the height of winter.

“I don’t find anything compelling about the idea of there are certain foods you should eat at certain times of the year,” Gage said. “Should you change because it’s technically winter? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

Tomatoes thrive at a temperature range of 63–85 degrees and, according to Gage, the perfect time to grow them is in winter in a greenhouse. The sides of the greenhouse are adjustable in order to trap heat in during the winter, while also allowing the crops to grow naturally during the summer.

“It’s a more practical consideration to grow something like tomatoes in the winter time here than it is in the summertime,” Gage said. “(Tomatoes’) ideal temperature is low 60’s, and when are you going to find that here?”

The benefits of seasonal eating are contested, but La Cocina Alegre, a Sustainable Food Center program that offers free community classes on preparing meals, emphasizes the importance of it for the consumer and for the environment.

“Seasonality for local produce means you’re getting the freshest stuff possible,” said Molly Costigan, program manager for La Cocina Alegre. “Seasonal is better for you, better for the farmer and better for the environment.”

However, Gage offers non-seasonal fruit and vegetables locally, so shoppers can enjoy the fresh taste of organic tomatoes in December and still not worry about their carbon footprint.

The farmer got his start as a child on his grandparent’s farm in East Austin where all the grandkids were put to work during the summer.

“Just to keep us out of trouble, my grandfather would basically occupy us for the entire day,” Gage said. “He would find anything to do. One time he had us cut up a huge tree branch into three or four inch pieces.”

Despite his enthusiasm, his family had reservations.

“I had family that were farmers and my grandfather was a dairyman and they always said really anything would be better than (farming),” Gage said. “They said they would hate to see me work my life away.”

Gage decided to attend the University of Texas and received a degree in finance, but after a few lackluster internships and a chance encounter with an employee from SFC, Gage realized it would be possible to farm full-time.

Since then he has built a loyal customer base who love that they can get tomatoes year-round. Don Mason, a long time shopper at the Downtown SFC Farmers’ Market, has been buying produce since Gage started selling there in 2009.

“He has good quality produce and tomatoes when all the other vendors don’t,” Mason said. “He has an interesting variety of tomatoes, like heirlooms and you can taste the difference.”

Whether or not he’s growing in peak tomato season, Gage is just excited to sell his produce, but gets the most joy from seeing people learn about his vegetables.

“There were times along the way where I was basically elated someone was happy to have (my produce),” Gage said. “Especially when people recognize the quality. I was so just so ecstatic when people recognize the quality.”