Grow Up!: 5 Local Farms Feeding Austin

By AFM Staff – April 1, 2017
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

​HausBar Farms

HausBar Farms may be the new kid on the block among East Austin’s urban farms, but the operation runs like it’s been around for centuries. When Dorsey Barger and her partner Susan Hausmann started developing the two-acre property in 2009, they made the decision to never use any gas-powered equipment. Every garden bed—all 51 of them—was dug with pitchforks and shovels. Lawn mowers have mostly been replaced by the two mini-donkeys that graze the pasture, but when they are needed, HausBar employs a solar-powered lawn company. 

In the back of the lot sits a large tank, which stores 35,000 gallons of rainwater and ensures the crops only feed off the purest resources. Thanks to the manure and by-products from the animals that call this place home, HausBar has a rich compost that keeps the life in the soil incredibly healthy. Although they like to stick to old school farming and gardening, the farm will deviate toward modern implementations with good reason—like installing a solar-powered roof that generates 75 percent of HausBar’s electricity.

HausBar Farms also differentiates itself by selling exclusively to restaurants. Working with chefs is more than familiar to Barger, who owned and operated Austin’s beloved Eastside Café for 24 years until she sold the restaurant to work on the farm full-time. When chefs come to purchase produce, Barger takes them on a tasting tour—much like at a winery. And because HausBar prefers to make the most of what nature provides, even rogue weeds are on the menu (and are so delicious that chefs buy them). 

There may not be a market stand for locals to shop at, but there is a ‘GuestHaus’ bed and breakfast on the property, where all guests are free to harvest their own produce and frolic among the many chickens, ducks, geese, bunnies, and donkeys who roam the farm. Consider it an immersive farm experience with a touch of hospitality.

 

 

Affiliated Cause: East Austin Urban Farm Tour

The annual East Austin Urban Farm Tour is a “rain or shine” sip, eat, and stroll fundraising event that takes place on four working urban farms—Boggy Creek Farm, HausBar Farms, Rain Lily Farm & Springdale Farm—all located within walking / biking distance of one another in the heart of East Austin. Enjoy 

delicious bites from many of Austin’s top chefs using the freshest farm ingredients, and handcrafted sips from local brewers, wine merchants, and mixologists on each farm. Guided farm tours allow guests to get to know the farmers behind the food and learn how it’s grown. Proceeds benefit Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance.

 

 

 

Green Gate Farms

To say that Green Gate Farms is historic would be an understatement. The barn was built in 1902 by the Bergstrom family, the same Swedish immigrants of the eponymous airport. It would serve as a place of refuge for immigrants for years to come, until it evolved into a commune for artists and hippies. Rumor has it that the founders of Whole Foods Market would party in the hayloft. If these walls could talk, they’d have endless stories about the people who shaped Austin into the creative haven it’s reputed to be.

Eleven years ago, Erin Flynn and her husband Skip Connett moved onto the property to grow this organic community farm. The intention behind Green Gate Farms is not to source to high-end restaurants. Rather, Flynn and Connett wanted to contribute to the mission of public health by ensuring that everyone has access to healthy food—regardless of their economic status or location.

Green Gate Farms receives about 800 requests to volunteer and hosts more than 1,000 students every year, and when people come to the farm, Flynn goes above and beyond to educate visitors. They regularly run farm camps, where kids can get outside and take a different approach to applying math skills, learning literature and history, and gaining an interest in sustainable practices.

It’s located in Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction—barely outside city limits, in a ‘gray’ area for legal policies. Unfortunately, a developer from Arizona has purchased the land Green Gate Farms sits on (as well as the vast acreage around it) and it’s threatening the business. His plan is to fill the vast acreage with hundreds of manufactured homes. Flynn is directing her efforts toward saving Green Gate Farms by rallying everyone who shares her passion for Austin’s history, feeding the masses, and the way we raise the next generation. If that’s not convincing enough, think of it this way: more homes mean more people crowding the city.

Affiliated Cause: New Farm Institute

New Farm Institute’s mission is to educate, assist and inspire a new generation of sustainable farmers in Central Texas. This nonprofit provides farm-based education including: camps, workshops, and an Incubator Farm. Comprised of farmers, citizens and community activists, NFI is dedicated to engaging people of all ages and abilities in healthy foods and sustainable farming.

 

Farm Stand

Tuesday 3—6 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m.—2 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m.—2 p.m.

If you're interested in saving the farm, donate to the fundraising campaign that supports restoring the buildings and improving infrastructure. Opportunities to join a committee focused on farm-based education and contribute to the historic preservation of the property are also available.

 

 

Springdale Farm

Situated on a five-acre lot in the heart of East Austin is an idyllic oasis of lush greenery. The classic farmhouse, the chickens and ducks, the beanstalks higher than your head—it’s all there at Springdale Farm. When Glenn and Paula Foore purchased this property in 1992, it served as the hub for Glenn’s landscaping business. After nearly 17 years, they began to dabble in farming and it wasn’t long before they made the complete switch. There was no game plan—just a gut feeling. Today, they grow 70 varieties of crops.  

It’s clear that Glenn Foore’s landscaping background hasn’t been completely lost in this venture. Springdale Farm is a hot spot for hosting events. From weddings, to private tourist dinners, to farmer conventions, the area is frequently buzzing with visitors. Of those who come to Springdale Farm, Foore says it’s the local chefs who are the major supporters. They shop the produce, but also swap cooking tips and recipes when they’re mingling around the farm stand. In turn, this fosters a kind of community that Foore wholeheartedly embraces.

Springdale Farm thrives off connectivity. Drop by the farm stand and you’ll not only meet the farmer who grew the food—you’ll likely encounter a chef who cooks at one of your favorite dining spots. Amid like-minded people, your food suddenly becomes a little more authentic.

Beyond the farm, Foore looks for other opportunities to support those around him. For instance, about two years ago he had a surplus of tomatoes. His solution? Call up five charities and give away a few hundred pounds of tomatoes. The farm also has a solid relationship with the surrounding urban farms, and will even refer customers to them if they’re low or out of a certain vegetable. This speaks to the true mission of feeding Austin the highest quality of produce and setting residents up for good health—which always ranks higher than making an extra buck.

 

Affiliated Cause: Springdale Center for Urban Agriculture

Focusing on urban areas, the Springdale Center for Urban Agriculture offers learning opportunities for children and adults on how food is planted, propagated, and harvested in a hands-on environment. Educational programs can be tailored for children of all ages. The emphasis is on children, and giving them a headstart on sustainable practices and healthy choices. Through this nonprofit, Springdale Farm partners with various kids camps that want to provide a true farm experience.

 

Farm Stand

Wednesdays & Saturdays 9 a.m.—1 p.m.

 

Boggy Creek Farm

 

 

 

 

 

The second oldest estate in Austin (after the French Legation) is the Boggy Creek Farm house. It, along with the land that surrounds it, has been documented as far back as 1840—it was noted by Sam Houston himself that the produce farmed here was first-rate. Over 177 years later, it still is.

For the past few decades, Boggy Creek Farm has been owned and run by husband-and-wife duo Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle. They began their farming career on 15 acres in Mallum county—the location at which they learned how to grow vegetables and put food on the table. In 1991, they made the decision to go commercial, so the couple bought this storied house in East Austin with a fervor to fix it up.  

Early on, Sayle and Butler gained some momentum in the industry by selling produce to Whole Foods Market, and with a farm stand in front of Wiggy’s Liquor Store on Sixth Street. These days, though, buyers will come straight to Boggy Creek Farm to get what they need. At the in-house market, visitors can purchase produce, eggs, meat, cuts of wood that comes from their property in Mallum county, or one of Sayle’s skillfully crafted paintings.Boggy Creek Farm could be considered more than just a farm; Sayle likens it to a health center. She says they encounter a lot of people who are either terrified of cancer, or they have it, so they’re trying to clean up their diet by shopping at the farm stand. It’s one of the many reasons Sayle works so diligently to keep everything in its best condition—from feeding the chickens the finest feed, to using a no-till approach that favors regenerative agriculture. There’s no doubt that practices such as these will keep Boggy Creek Farm healthy for another hundred years

Affiliated Cause: Green Corn Project

​You can do it, too! With the help of this nonprofit, any Central Texas resident can build and grow their own organic vegetable garden. GCP installs organic food gardens for elderly, low-income, and disabled community members as well as for elementary schools, community centers, and shelters in underserved areas of Austin. They also turn unused land into garden beds that provide food, education, and a sense of accomplishment and pride for all involved in their creation and maintenance. For 18 years, Boggy Creek Farm hosts the annual Fall Festival in which the proceeds go to Green Corn Project.

Farm Stand

Wednesday thru Saturday 8 a.m.–1 p.m.

 

 

 

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.

 
 

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