I recently traveled to Central Texas to visit with growers, walk some fields, and talk about the current climate for growers in the region. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at Farmshare Austin, a diversified 10 acre, certified organic farm about 20 minutes outside the city. Farmshare is a 501(c)3 with a mission of “growing a healthy local food community by increasing food access, teaching new farmers, and preserving farmland”.
I began my visit with a walk through the fields, led by the farm manager, Ben. Potatoes were nearly flowering, brassicas were sizing up nicely in the warm weather, the last peppers were being transplanted, and I was offered the first snap peas of the season. Produce from the farm is sold via Mobile Markets on wheels, driven directly to food insecure communities. Part of Austin’s “Fresh for Less” initiative, fresh produce, along with some other food staples, is sold at reduced prices. All markets accept SNAP benefits and offer the Double Dollars program to help with affordability. Farmshare believes that good food is a basic human right, and are working to make this a reality for many neighborhoods in Central Texas.
Along with being a working farm, Farm-share trains new farmers in their Farmer Starter program (which you can learn about here), an 18 week course designed to provide aspiring farmers with the essential skills and training needed to manage a sustainable farm business. Students spend 3 days a week on the farm, with mornings spent working in the field, and afternoons in the classroom, led by education manager Michelle. Participants gain practical knowledge and experience using organic and sustainable growing methods. Lessons include soil management, organic pest and disease control methods, greenhouse management and propagation, crop planning, equipment use and maintenance, marketing, and business planning. Each year, a graduate of the previous year’s program is chosen for the position of assistant farm manager to work alongside Ben, himself a graduate of the program.
I asked this session’s students why they chose to participate in the farmer training program. Erin’s work as a chef led her to explore how to grow the vegetables she prepares in the kitchen; to showcase the connection between the food in the field and the meal on the plate. CUP has a passion for fermenting, and is learning to grow vegetables used in fermentations. Amelia wants to build a viable farm business on her family’s land, and really loves okra. Each has space in the field to grow and maintain crops of their choosing, supported in their mistakes and successes by their fellow students.They walked me by their kitchen garden and through the orchard to get to the field, telling me their stories and pointing out favorite plants. I witnessed a wonderful camaraderie amongst these adult students and staff, all sharing a desire to grow healthy food and healthy community.
To learn more about Farm-share Austin, including information about the new Land Link resource to connect landowners with growers seeking land, go to their website: farmshareaustin.org, @FarmshareAustin on Facebook, and @farmshareATX on Instagram. Other valuable programs and information can be found at the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association.