Environment

These Antifa Goat Farmers Are Living Everyone’s Dream

Troubled by a conservative industry rife with environmental and equality problems, these Houston farmers quit their jobs to change it.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
March 8, 2021, 6:23pm
Two baby goats frolic through a green field dotted with pink flowers on a sunny day
Courtesy of Blue Heron Farm

By the time the snow started falling over their Texas farm a few weeks ago, Lisa and Christian Seger knew what to do. Running a small farm outside of Houston for over a decade is a lesson in disaster preparedness. Usually it’s a hurricane, flood, or heatwave. This February, the disaster was a record snowfall. They moved the baby goats inside their house and did everything they could to protect the well—the only source of water for both them and their goats out in the country where they live. The bigger goats, which Lisa described as “giant fermentation tanks,” huddled together in the barn, and stayed huddled for the next several days, as the sprawl of Houston was engulfed in an unprecedented multi-day freeze. 

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Between power outages and checking on the well and goats, Lisa unleashed some vitriol toward Texas lawmakers, who left millions across the state to suffer in powerless, freezing homes, on the farm’s Twitter account (bio: “Antifa AF. We make cheese and trouble”). “This lying motherfucker looks awfully warm and comfortable,” the farm posted, attached to a news clip of Abbott blaming Texas’s multi-day, deadly power outages on the Green New Deal. The next day, the farm, whose Twitter avatar is a portrait of a goat, referred to Art Acevdeo, the police chief of Houston, as “this fucking guy.” 

The Segers see no way of untangling their politics from their farm and have no wish of doing so. They’ve been running Blue Heron Farm—perhaps the most online goat farm in the world, with more than 8,000 Twitter followers and a smattering of local press coverage—and tending dairy goats since 2007. From their small goat farm just northwest of Houston, the Segers represent what could be the hopeful, maybe-future of farming. They’re anomalies in many ways. They’re the only farm in Texas (or perhaps even the entire country) with “antifa AF” in their Twitter bio

Neither Lisa nor Christian come from farming families, and learned almost everything they know about tending goats from the internet. And, in sharp contrast to some of the big corporate operations nearby, the couple practices slow, sustainable farming, working with, rather than fighting against, the environment in one of the country’s most environmentally testy regions. 

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The Segers came to farming with politics and the environment in mind. Or even more accurately: They came to farming because of politics. Food, from the way it’s farmed to the way it’s sold, is political. Farming is harmful to the environment (Houston provides relentless reminders) and remains deeply segregated, with white farmers owning more land and acquiring significantly more wealth. Recent stories highlight a growing issue with white supremacy at farmer’s markets, after a couple who operate a popular farm in Indiana were discovered to have ties to an organization that promotes white nationalism. 

“Both of us were interested in the politics of food and food production in the early 2000s, when people started talking about that stuff,” Lisa told VICE. “For my husband, the turning point was Fast Food Nation. We were both on vacation from our regular jobs when we read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. When we put it down, we just knew that it was time to put up or shut up, and we had to be farmers.” 

In 2006, incensed by Pollan’s book, which is a scathing examination of the organic food industry’s brutal farming practices (like pumping cattle up with corn), the Segers bought a plot of land with a collection of barns about 45 minutes northwest of Houston in Field Store, Texas, a tiny unincorporated community located at the intersection of two Farm Roads in conservative Waller County. They read up online and watched YouTube videos about goat farming—everything from birthing to milking. Christian quit his job as a roadie for touring musical acts, and Lisa left her job at a credit card processing company in town. Their dairy was up and running by spring 2007, and has been their only source of income ever since. 

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From the get go, the Segers were intent on staying small, and farming in a way that’s as minimally disruptive to the land as possible. They converted the land from a hay farm when they bought it, gradually allowing natural wildlife to grow back, because “goats will eat almost anything,” as Lisa said. They don’t cram so many goats on the land that it becomes a giant dry lot, and, at least in the beginning, they practiced rotational grazing (moving the goats from pasture to pasture) in an effort to maintain carbon in the strapped soil.

“The other thing is, we don’t pressure our animals to produce too much, we kind of accept them for who they are,” Lisa said. “We take the milk they give us, we don’t do artificial lights to increase milk, and we don’t overfeed them. We just accept that this is a seasonal thing and our goats need the winter off for the most part. Our production drops very severely in the winter; we just kind of roll with it.”

Part of being able to farm so sustainably is Blue Heron’s small size. “The corporate systems try every trick they can to avoid seasonality; those bad farming practices only make sense if you have tons of money,” Lisa said. “If you don’t have tons of money, you have to manage things with creativity. And that generally means understanding your relationship to the land and what it can do, without chemicals and other garbage.” 

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But even on a small scale, Lisa knows that all farming is inherently bad for the environment. Agriculture and deforestation for land use are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and farming livestock, in particular, is a significant producer of methane, a gas that’s very good at trapping heat in our already hot atmosphere. Houston’s increasingly mercurial environment is incontrovertible evidence of the impact of manmade climate change. The city limps between environmental crises. In just the 14 years the Segers have been farming, they’ve been hit with wildfires, multi-day freezes, and, of course, hurricanes and floods, during which the Segers dig trenches around their land. 

In the beginning, the Segers were only really forthright about farming and land practices, speaking openly about it among other farmers. Then, as it did everywhere, 2016 happened, and the farm underwent what looked, from the outside, like a radicalization. 

“We’ve both always been somewhere between left and anarchist our whole lives,” Lisa said. She and Christian just hadn’t yet made their politics part of the farm’s yet. “When we first started, the only politics we really talked about was food politics, because it seemed appropriate and in our lane; there’s a lot people can learn about why our food system’s so messed up and those are the things that drove us to farming. But after the 2016 election, all bets were off.”

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Rather than starting her own Twitter, Lisa used the farm’s account, which had, by then, amassed several thousand followers who thought they were just in it for baby goat pictures and cheese updates. The farm began regularly referring to Greg Abbott as a douchebag and announced a “strict Fuck Fascists policy,” especially as that applies to Ted Cruz, who is not allowed any of Blue Heron’s cheese. These days, Blue Heron’s feed is an idyllic mix of baby goats and leftist Texas politics, with a healthy sprinkling of hatred toward the state legislature. It all feels tame and expected in the online atmosphere, but as Lisa expected, it ruffled feathers around the farmer’s market. 

“We had been doing this long enough, and we are small enough, that we could afford losing customers,” Lisa said. “What we always say is we don't have a lot of money, but the money we have is ‘fuck you’ money. We have fuck you money, and we use it.”

Lisa and Christian’s willingness to discuss politics doesn’t just risk alienating customers, but the farming community. “There may be some neutral farmers, but otherwise, you get left-wing farmers and you get right-wing farmers,” Lisa said. 

The farming community is a community like any other, Lisa added, which means it’s had its own issues with racism and white nationalism. A New York Times story from April 2019 highlights a growing concern of racism at a “seemingly placid farmers’ market” in Bloomington, Indiana, after the owners of a farm were discovered to have a connection to an organization that promotes the “white American identity.” In June 2020, a farmers market in California received staunch pushback from shoppers after posting a sign at the entrance that read, “RACISM & HATE HAVE NO PLACE HERE.” And, as Lisa lamented with a groan, the “Bullhorn Lady” at the Capitol insurrection—a crowd filled with white supremacist Trump supporters—is a farmer who sells goat cheese at her local market. 

As Lisa described it, the farming community remains hesitant to address the institutional racism that still shapes it. “If you let yourself talk about politics, the community dissolves,” she said. “Mostly farmers don’t talk about it, but I think it needs to start being discussed more. We’re going to have to have a reckoning in farmer’s markets.” 

Lisa used to be able to say what she hoped the future of farming in Houston would look like, but now she struggles to answer. “There’s part of me that thought this was going to be a thing, that we were getting in on the backside of a wave that was about to crest, and it has just never proven to be true,” she said. 

That feeling of optimism—the feeling that the wave is just about to break, and the progressive change that Houstonians (and Texans, at large) long for is just around the corner—is rote for anyone who spends time living in the state. There’s almost no place in the country where environmental precarity is on as clear display as it is in Houston. The only word to describe the increasing hurricanes, floods, and now snowfalls, at this point, is “unprecedented.” 

“It’s amazing how many farmers who don’t share our politics absolutely know and understand what man-made climate change is doing to their farming, they’re just not ready to say it out loud yet,” Lisa said. “There isn’t a single farmer alive that could deny, at this point, that we have zero predictability left in our weather, and it makes it extraordinarily challenging to farm.”

Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.