NOTE: Publication was not sought for this story, as it was produced for a lifestyle reporting class at The University of Texas at Austin.
By Kali Venable
If the saying “green is the new black” first grew roots somewhere in Texas, it was in Austin. In the past two decades and arguably even before that, the young and innovative city has managed to embody what it means to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle—a rather hip one, that is.
At the center of health in Austin, food and farm-to-table restaurants are redefining what is considered healthy. In partnership with nearby farmers, chefs are using only locally sourced ingredients to highlight the importance of supporting local agriculture.
Mike Mosley, restaurant manager and coordinator at Johnson’s Backyard Garden (JBG), says the number of restaurants sourcing from its nearly 200-acre farm is constantly growing.
“We will sell vegetables to anyone who wants them and there are always more restaurants and catering companies calling. The Austin restaurant community is very supportive of local agriculture, it’s pretty amazing,” Mosley said.
The boom in farm-to-table restaurants is drawing attention to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations, which are age-old projects that provide individuals and families with the produce they need to bring the farm into their own kitchens.
“There are people that go and see farm-to-table at restaurants then want to do it at their homes,” Mosley said.
The majority of CSA projects are ran by farms that deliver a share of each week’s crop to households for a regular fee. Some local companies also offer CSA boxes with produce and eggs sourced from multiple farms.
Kellie Bailey, a local mom and small business owner, is one of many CSA members in Austin. Every Tuesday, she rushes home to a basket of locally grown produce delivered directly to her door from FarmHouse Delivery.
“It is my favorite day of the week. There is just nothing as fresh as my basket, I love it,” Bailey said.
Four years ago, Bailey became a member of FarmHouse Delivery to support the environment and local business owners like herself.
“When we have these large commercial productions of food, whether it be at farms or ranches, it is devastating for the environment, but also for the local growers and producers. The corporate pig farms, for example, just crushed the small farmers and that resonates with me because I’m a small business owner,” Bailey said.
For Bailey, the best part about CSA deliveries is not knowing what you’re going to get each week.
“I remember one time we got sunchokes, which I had never eaten or even heard of. We went on the FarmHouse website to learned all about them because we had no idea what the heck they were,” Bailey said.
A sunchoke, also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, is a root vegetable native to specific parts of North America.
“After using them, I spent months wondering when we were going to get more. So finding those kinds of ingredients is what is so fun about it and what makes it a learning process,” Bailey said.
People widely assume that buying local is expensive, but Bailey found that it actually ended up saving them money.
“I don’t waste food and I don’t over buy, I try to just cook everything I have in my basket in seven days. I am always really busy, so it also saves me the time it would take to go to the grocery store multiple times each week,” Bailey said.
While CSA memberships are the only way to have fresh produce delivered directly to your door, there are other ways to get local fruits and vegetables in the city.
Raad Mansour, a demonstration chef at Travassa Resort and personal healing chef, visits Texas Farmers’ Market at Muellers each week for his local ingredients. Mansour’s main goal in buying local, he says, is supporting the environment.
“My focus is on having the smallest carbon footprint possible. If you are sourcing locally, you’re not harming the planet. If anything, you’re empowering your people and getting the freshest ingredients because they aren’t traveling far for delivery,” said Mansour.
Since there is no travel-time for produce, CSA members and farmers market shoppers start to expect certain fruits and vegetables at specific times of the year. Ada Broussard, marketing and CSA manager at JBG, says that the expectation is all part of an understanding of the seasons that you can’t get from a supermarket.
“Our CSA customers and anyone who is a CSA member or shops at a farmers market, develops an appreciation for the seasons because eating local makes you understand what is actually in season and have a better consciousness of the environmental impacts of getting stuff out of season,” Broussard said.
CSA deliveries range from $12 to $100 depending on the farm and the size of the order. Some farms also offer options for fresh eggs, meat and a variety of homemade goods such as bread or cheese at an additional charge. For more information on CSA membership options, click here, and for a list of local farmers’ markets, click here.