PaperCity Magazine

January 2019- Dallas

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49 they couldn't yet get locally. The farm- to-table craze, started in the '70s by Alice Waters, was still a new concept in Texas, but area chefs were eager to embrace Ray's idea. Soon, Gabler Farms' heirloom produce was on menus at the former Routh Street Cafe, Beau Nash at The Hotel Crescent Court, and what is now The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Chefs commissioned fancy lettuces, beets, sorrels, baby leeks, herbs, and garlic; the farm grew eight kinds of basil, selling it to Paula Lambert's Mozzarella Company among other retailers. When a purveyor of frozen Italian foods placed an order for 2,000 basil plants, Ray knew the farm was saved. A hired hand helped pick produce, and Ray, often accompanied by Mary Ella's sons, bagged and delivered it within hours of harvesting. Every inch of the farm was utilized: Marigolds and nasturtiums, planted to ward off insects, were edible and sellable. The farm offered wild mustang grapes along with their vines, which made for flavorful grilling. Dried pine needles from surrounding cedar trees were bagged into sachets. From an abundance of cucumbers and garlic, the family made garlic pickles for gourmet shops and restaurants. "I once paid for a dentist visit with a case of pickles," Josh remembers. "I didn't think much about it. At 10 or 12 years old, you don't see the bigger picture until later. But we did what we had to do to survive." Today, both the family farm and Peacock Alley are flourishing. After Ray's death, Mary Ella married John F. Bitzer, Jr. and handed the company reigns to her sons; Bitzer, the retired CEO of his family's New England publishing business, acts as an informal consultant whenever needed. Mary Ella continues to be involved with product development. Her 2013 memoir, Uncommon Thread, chronicles many of the personal and professional challenges she has faced, and she frequently shares her journey with women's groups across the country. Under Jason and Josh, Peacock Alley has expanded with an e-commerce website and flagship showrooms in Dallas, Atlanta, Austin, and Nashville. A new bunkhouse and kitchen have been added to the farmhouse, and the smokehouse is now used as an office. While the farm no longer sells its produce, Mary Ella still grows seasonal vegetables in the garden and cooks with the bounty. The evolution of the family business is so intertwined with the family farm, Jason says, that it's hard to imagine one without the other. "The farm has been such an integral part of Peacock Alley's development," he says. "We take vendors from Italy and Portugal there, and customers down for fishing and four-wheeling. It's where we do a lot of our strategic planning." Bedding collections have been inspired by the farm's landscape, Jason adds, such as the way bark is formed on a tree, or the many shades of leaves. It's also host to countless Indian Princess and Boy Scout camping trips for a third generation of Needlemans, who one day will inherit not only the farm, but Peacock Alley. The winding road at the farm Wildflowers in a window. Jason Needleman, left, and Josh Needleman. Grandchildren at the family farm. PHOTOGRAPHY YELLOW DOG PRODUCTIONS, HEATHER HAWKINS, JANE SOBEL KLONSKY; PORTRAIT MISAEL RODRIGUEZ.

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