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History of Food in West Texas

By Emmy Ulmschneider and Debbie Roland, Master Gardeners

If you have gardened for any length of time, you know that you come to feel a certain bond with your yard, garden and your plants. Those of us who grow our own food from late winter to the first freeze are having a pretty tough time this year.

The freeze (again) early in the year and the unbearable heat with no rain has been disastrous for us. We are scrambling to put up shade cloth and tarps to salvage a harvest. If this is your first year to try to grow food, please remember that it isn’t like this all the time. For generations West Texans have grown food crops.

We live on the Llano Estacado, the Staked Plains, an area without surface water except for our ephemeral playas. But that was not always so. For roughly fifty thousand generations, (think Ice Age) the people who lived here were hunter gathers. But the land back then was different. During the Ice Age there were lush forests and streams. As climate changed these forests and streams gave way to drier prairies, grasslands, and playas. Then for about five hundred more generations indigenous peoples farmed in arid areas that would support it, principally along the Pecos River and the mesas of New Mexico and Arizona.

The area off the caprock just south and east of Midland and west and south of Odessa once had a much more vigorous system of streams and springs than we do now. By the 1920’s we had already begun to deplete some of the “easy” ground water that the region once boasted of. As our climate has changed and man’s footprint on the region has changed, most of those early water sources were gone by the middle of the 20th century.

West Texas started out as a ranching community. Midland grew vegetables during World War I in a Victory Garden in the northern end of what is now the I-20 Wildlife Preserve. And home gardens were commonplace.

So why does local food matter now? You might think first of the health benefits. Food eaten fresh has more micronutrients and it tastes better.

When you buy from local producers, you support our community economically and develop a relationship with your community. In Midland there is a Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning at the Museum of the Southwest. In Odessa Parks Legado has a Market once a month from June through September. There is another Odessa market at Medical Center Hospital, also once a month, in the evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.

So go out and support your local growers and markets because that is what food is all about.

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.

Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at Click on “Resources”.


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