Austin urban farms strive to solve food insecurity


Rows of cauliflower, squash and other vegetables grow in the middle of the bustling East Austin neighborhood that has been transformed into a village of tiny houses. At its heart is Green Gate Farm, a community-based certified organic farm.

Founded in 2006 by Skip Connett and Erin Flynn, the 10-acre lot just off Decker Lane is today just one acre. He is one of the few farms still operating in the city.

Flynn, who owns a farm with her husband, noted the limited supply of affordable land as well as the availability of quality water. As the city grows, the need for more housing, grocery stores, and other services will gradually reduce the available land left in Austin.

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“The reality is that a lot of people want to farm, but people can’t afford the land or the rest of the available land,” Flynn said.

That creates a domino effect, she said, leading to food insecurity and barriers to affordable and accessible local food systems.

Earlier this year, the City of Austin’s Department of Sustainability released its 2022 State of the Food System Report, which includes data on food insecurity in the region, outlining key barriers and opportunities.

Edwin Marty, Austin’s food policy manager, said the September report highlighted some of the key challenges facing Austin and provided a path to solving those problems. I was.

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Food Access and Safety in Austin

Despite strong demand for local food in the Austin area, less than 1% of the food consumed in Travis County is produced locally.

Access to quality, healthy food is Austin’s biggest challenge, Marty said. About 14 percent of the Travis County population is food insecure, according to the city’s food report. Think about it, and the community has to come up with ways to improve it.

“We get a lot of good food through Austin,” Marty said. And then how do we talk about this and how do we address systemic inequalities in our communities?”

Green Gate Farms aims to be a community farm resource through programs such as farm stands on its premises. The farm is in the middle of a community of small homes and close to other East Austin neighborhoods, making it a food base for fresh vegetables and farming classes.

South Austin couple Amanda Longtein and Matthew Shepherd tried something similar at Training Kitchen, a farm-to-food bank program that operates on 1.5 acres near Menchaca Road and William Cannon Drive. The location is near two local food banks.

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With the help of local organizations, the couple learned that many families in the area were living on a fixed income or living at or near the poverty level. Their needs included food security, adult education and child care for their families, Longtein said.

Hoping to improve access to healthy foods, the couple began growing various vegetables such as okra, onions, peppers and peas, and raising chickens on the property for fresh eggs. and eggs are used to make gumbo prepared family meals that are donated to local food banks.

Meals and fresh eggs can also be sold to the public. All proceeds will be donated to the organization’s food bank program.

En route to helping out with adult education classes, the couple said they began offering classes to teach families about growing, preparing, and preserving food.

We also host a monthly market where local entrepreneurs can sell their products and improve access to healthy food.

Ultimately, the husband and wife team want to create their own food hub in South Austin, distributing locally grown produce. They slowly renovated their property to include a commercial kitchen and a small grocery store.

“This is just the beginning,” Longtein said. “By building and expanding your kitchen, you’ll be able to supply as much fuel as you can master.”

Land Loss Affects Austin Farms

Growing food locally means having available farmland that the county struggles to maintain, Marty said. According to the Austin Food Report, Travis County is losing nearly 17 acres of farmland every day.

“We need to develop the land in different ways, such as grocery stores and affordable housing,” Marty said. “But what we want to do in this food planning process is try to figure out how if we don’t have land allotted for affordable housing or grocery stores and it can be used for farming, how can we save it?” is to be.”

Flynn said Green Gate Farms is addressing this challenge through Bastrop Interval, a program that gives prospective farmers a piece of land and teaches them not only how to farm, but how to preserve the land.

Flynn said the goal is to preserve 1,500 acres in Bastrop County in Wilburger Bend, just a few miles west of Bastrop, to grow farmland in central Texas.

“When I talk to farmers, I often hear that they want to farm but can’t afford the land,” Flynn said. “Food security is worse than ever, and if farmers are prepared, we can provide access to land with access to quality water.”

Purchasing a South Austin lot for a training kitchen and trying to rezoning it could be long and costly and discourage others from setting up their own farms in the area, Longtain said. said.

Access to capital also remains a major barrier for new and small food businesses, and can be particularly challenging for people of color, says Austin’s Food Report.

“There are so many barriers, especially in Austin,” says Longtain. “Without a full-time staff and lawyers, it will be difficult to navigate the city’s process, making it difficult to push forward with initiatives like this.”

Create a meal plan

The future of Austin’s food system will be guided by the actions communities make today, Marty said, adding that the report seeks to provide a starting point for solutions. He said it’s up to the community to figure out how to use the limited resources they can.

Several nonprofits are working to solve food insecurity and empowerment issues with several grants, including the City of Austin’s Food Justice Mini Grant Program, which supports community-driven solutions.

“Through this effort, our vision is to ensure everyone’s right to food,” Marty said. “Together, we can imagine and build a food system that meets the needs of everyone in our community.”

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