Story by: Malory Green
Photos by: Kyle Beam
A house destroyed by flames, a family of six children left with nothing and no time to develop a young business, would be enough to crush anyone’s spirit. For a father, the immediate question is not how to rebuild a home, but where his children’s next meals will come from. David Brydon of The Pecan Shop, a local farm that has roots in the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market, has overcome this nightmare and seen the community come together in a way he never imagined.
When Brydon took over the Pecan Shop from its retiring owners in 2010, continuing its legacy as a family business greatly appealed to him. “I wanted a business where I could work with my kids… where I didn’t have to go away from the farm,” Brydon said.
The Pecan Shop slowly began to expand, dipping into local markets and making its way into the brand new Waco Downtown Farmers Market in 2011. Brydon and his family worked together to realize his dream to keep his business close to home.
This dream threatened to transform into a nightmare when one phone call from his wife in 2012 changed everything. “I was at the farmers market when [the fire] happened,” Brydon said, “I have six children and the youngest just turned four and the oldest is 20.”
His family just made it out in time. “My wife had laid down to take a nap and she started smelling smoke,” Brydon said. His daughter smelled smoke as well but didn’t know the source. She went to take a nap outside to evade the odor and saw the flames.
“By then, the house was starting to fill with smoke,” Brydon said. “They got out and it went up within minutes, totally in flames.” His wife Amy believes that if it had happened at night, they might not have gotten everyone out in time.
“She called me and Sarah [Brydon’s oldest daughter] took the little ones to our neighbor because they were very upset.” By the time Brydon arrived, there were six fire departments there who had arrived within minutes of being called.
Brydon recalled the few meaningful items they were able to salvage from the flames from a closet that stood as an addition on the house. “In the closet was a handmade harp that my daughter Grace played, there were some files that survived and a handmade shotgun that had been my father’s.”
Though they’re not entirely sure what started the fire, Brydon is fairly confident it was electrical. The Pecan Shop stood as a separate building away from the house and was spared, but what stood on the other side of the house wasn’t so lucky. “We had a carport the other direction and the wind was going that way. It melted from the heat.”
He calls the entire ordeal an overwhelming experience, made easier by the outpouring of love and support from friends and neighbors. “[The fire] all went very quickly and immediately our neighbors were there offering help, food, money and a place to stay.” Those that surrounded his family did everything they could to help this family in their need.
This kindness went deeper than simple southern hospitality, as local community members were not the only ones who helped carry the Brydons when they needed it the most. The Red Cross offered their services as well. “I’ll never forget how much I needed that care and how much it was provided by our neighbors, friends and church.”
The week before the fire, Brydon met with his father-in-law John Cogdell. They brainstormed the possibility of purchasing a farm together to expand the business and make it a family affair. The following Friday, six days after the fire claimed virtually every material possession they had, Brydon and Cogdell visited the 40-acre farm complete with 1919 farmhouse they have since called home.
Cogdell sold his house in Austin and moved to the farm with Brydon’s family, each doing their part for the family business. Retired faculty member from The University of Texas at Austin, Cogdell volunteers to come to the farmers market every week and sell their pecans.
The reason he comes to the market every week is much more than the business it brings. Cogdell said, “the people are interested in the quality of the food, they’re just good people and I often find something in common with them.” His sentiments are shared by the rest of the family and the Pecan Shop has not strayed from its core as the home-grown business Brydon hoped it would be.
Teaching his children valuable skills and instilling a good work ethic in them is very important to Brydon. Each child, no matter their age, has a place in the family business. “The younger children can help bag pecans and my oldest daughter is in charge of the recipes and preparing them,” Brydon said.
His daughter Sarah learned accounting through the bookkeeping process by keeping track of the Pecan Shop’s finances. “It’s just such good practical work,” Brydon believes. He said the children learn the importance of “attention, being careful, learning how to work with money, and relating to people…The Farmers Market is one of their favorite things.”
The Waco Downtown Farmers Market helped launch the business in the early stages. The Pecan Shop had a presence at the Clifton Farmers Market in 2011 and was one of the first vendors to set up shop when Waco opened its in 2011. It is open from 9a.m. to 1p.m. and many vendors only accept cash. However, the Farmers Market has a token system in which customers purchase a certain dollar amount of tokens and use those to purchase produce, cheese, meat and whatever else they want.
Brydon remembers over 2000 people on the very first Saturday of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market when they bought everything he had. Since then, the business has expanded to markets and stores including Whole Foods in Austin, and online as well.
The flames are a part of the Brydons’ story, but they’re not the most important. David Brydon recalls his daughter’s sentiment as they drove away from their charred home in 2011. She had always hoped that material things were not the most important thing in her life and the fire assured her of it. Her father remembers her statement, “It’s the relationships that really matter.”
Sustainable farming incorporates the idea that friends and neighbors can provide for each other, producing what they can and building friendships along the way. This is the driving force behind the Waco Downtown Farmers Market and others like it. Rather than frequenting super-sized chain stores, proponents of sustainable farming hope to produce for and buy from the same people who would stand beside them during a tragedy like the fire the Brydons experienced.
“When everything is so fragmented we start getting to know each other and provide for each other,” Brydon said of the people he has come to know during this process. “It is so satisfying and it has changed our lives.