Grow Up!: 5 Local Farms Feeding Austin
Featuring five local farms rooted in feeding the community.
(page 5 of 5)
Johnson's Backyard Garden
Brenton Johnson turns onto the farm property in an old Nissan truck, barreling down the dirt road straightaway like he’s racing in the Baja 500. Even if you don’t know him, it’s clear that he’s a farmer. With the exception of his rugged boots and JBG trucker hat, he’s dressed head-to-toe in denim—an outfit he wears every single day. But nothing at Johnson’s Backyard Garden is what it seems.
Johnson looks like a farmer, and still maintains his native Alabama drawl, but he’s actually something of a hippie. Before he began commercially growing vegetables at JBG, he spent the early ‘90s following the Grateful Dead and fixing up Volkswagen buses. (He’s owned eight of them.) What makes him even more of an anomaly is his education and background as a mechanical engineer.
So, how did a Deadhead engineer end up on a farm? It was a hobby that got out of control, he says. When you hear the word ‘garden,’ you might think of a small plot in the backyard, which really is how it started. Since 2004, Johnson has taken this operation from his East Austin backyard to two commercial locations—a 200-acre farm where all the vegetables are grown, and a packing plant where the produce is washed, packed, and cooled before distribution. The old name stuck, but the scale is far greater. In fact, just last year JBG sold $5 million in vegetables. And thanks to Johnson’s engineering knowledge, any contraption or mechanical system he dreams upbecomes a reality. From the custom irrigation system, to the retracting walls of the greenhouse, there are impressive systems here that you won’t find on any other farm.
Although JBG delivers vegetables to over 300 restaurants, a large part of their success is attributed to the members of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. People can pay for a CSA membership to receive a weekly or bi-weekly box of freshly harvested produce. There’s plenty more to look forward to, though—Johnson just started planting fruits, and has plans to expand with an animal farm.
Affiliated Cause: Farmshare Austin
Farmshare Austin takes a whole-systems approach to community food security by training organic farmers, improving farm practices, preserving farmland, and increasing access to organic food.