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If you see a grubby-looking guy walking away from your neighbor’s house with a green bucket full of trash, don’t worry. He’s not a thief.
Paul Wilson is an employee at Compost Pedallers, an east Austin company that uses bicycles to collect their customers’ compost for a small fee and funnels it directly to micro-farms and community gardens throughout the area.
Wilson moved to Austin all the way from Chicago to work at Compost Pedallers.
“I love getting to see where our food comes from and how we can make it in our own backyards and how we can feed ourselves in a healthy, organic way without having to go to Whole Foods and spend your whole paycheck,” Wilson said.
Dustin Fedako, the CEO and co-founder of the company, explained that the impetus behind the venture is to further the idea of sustainable living.
“If we went into your kitchen, and we dumped your trash on the ground, we would find that over 30 percent is not trash at all,” Fedako said. “It’s compostable material. So that means that one-third of the stuff that you’re hauling out of your house into the landfill is actually a valuable resource. We’re here to make sure that you never have to put your resources in the trash again and that you can be part of a system that takes those resources and enriches the community.”
“One thing that makes the Compost Pedallers unique is that we do 100 percent of our collections with bicycles,” Fedako said. “So we’re 100 percent bike-powered. That means that we run on fat instead of fossil fuels.The motto of the company is “More food, less waste, zero fossil fuels,” and that creed is taken very seriously.
“One thing that makes the Compost Pedallers unique is that we do 100 percent of our collections with bicycles,” Fedako said. “So we’re 100 percent bike-powered. That means that we run on fat instead of fossil fuels.
The process is simple. Compost Pedallers asks their customers to collect their compostable materials and place it in the green buckets emblazoned with the company logo that are provided them. A weekly pickup by one of the employees is carried out, in which the organic materials are collected and the bucket is cleaned. The employee will then bike those materials over to the local gardens and micro-farms to be used for compost.
“You’re really just mimicking what nature does at the bottom of the forest,” Wilson said. “Things fall down. Fruits and leaves cover it. It stays the right temperature. It stays out of the sun, it rots, it cooks down and those things go back into the soil for the tree to pull up as nutrients.”
There are few limits as to what is considered compostable material.
“Compost is anything that was once living that’s not meat or dairy,” Wilson said. “It’s any fresh, organic material, like banana peels or apple cores. We always joke that if you shave your dog, you can put the dog hairs in there. You can put your nail clippings in there. I don’t think they will add up to much weight, but pretty much anything that was once living can go into your compost bin.”
The most ideal mix of organic material for compost are “greens,” which is slang for fruit peels, and “browns,” meaning leaves, bags, shredded newspapers and other such things. The materials meld together for weeks and eventually rot into what the pedallers term “black gold,” or compost.
“That is the richest thing you could add to your garden,” Wilson said. “It has the most nutrients.”
The business has recently created a system called “The Loop,” which rewards customers for using their services. For each pound of scraps given to Compost Pedallers, a customer receives a point. Accumulated points can be spent at the Loop Store, which includes goods and services from other local businesses.
The company is a for-profit business, but they have goals beyond just making money. Eric Goff, CFO and co-founder, explained that educating the community is also something that Compost Pedallers strives to do.
“Our bicycles and our actions in the community are a way for people to learn sometimes even what composting is,” Goff said. “From there, most people really want to get involved.”
In the end, Goff said, it’s really about encouraging people to live a new way of life.
“Composting to me is a way to be directly involved in the natural systems of life,” Goff said. “When you compost, you know that your food waste breaks down and becomes a resource, and that’s really exciting to see it happen right before your eyes.”
By: Julianne Staine, Hymi Ashenafi, Jessica Barrera and Stacie Richard
In an effort to make changes to Austin’s Guadalupe Street, popularly known as The Drag, the city’s transportation department is seeking feedback from students and the community.
The official plans for changes, formally known as the Guadalupe Corridor Improvement Program, were initiated in 2014 by the transportation department.
Possible changes include the upgrading of sidewalks and an overall improvement in mobility and safety.
My Guadalupe, an organization at the University of Texas at Austin, was created in an effort to ensure that students’ opinions would be considered in the overall planning of the project.
“This organization began early in the semester in response to the low student turnout at a public meeting that the city hosted regarding the Guadalupe Corridor Improvement Program,” Jacob Brackmann said, a member of the organization. “Myself, along with a few other students and local stakeholders held a few preliminary meetings to decide what kind of organization we wanted to become and what our approach to the issue would be.”
Overall, the organization hopes that the city’s plan for improving the street will place an emphasis on pedestrians.
“Most Austin transportation engineers might be able to give a traffic count for the number of people in cars that utilize the street on a daily basis, but those same engineers arguably might not be able to give a count for the number of people that utilize the street by walking,” Brackmann said. “In our thinking, we argue that an individual that walks deserves just as much attention in a planning or design process as individuals that drive.”
Several changes that the organization would like to see include the expansion of sidewalks, the planting of trees to provide shade and the improvement of safety regarding the interaction between pedestrians and individuals in cars.
“Simply put, we would like for Guadalupe to become a wonderful urban public space for people to interact with and enjoy,” Brackmann said. “We want to ensure that the improvements focus a lot on pedestrians, as well as other methods of human movement.”
On Thursday, April 30, the city’s transportation department held an open meeting on campus to discuss the current state of the planning process with project manager Alan Hughes. Students and members of the community were encouraged to attend and provide input on changes for Guadalupe Street.
Few of the takeaways from the meeting include an emphasis on pedestrian safety and improving the overall appearance of the entire area. The city also plans to hold another open meeting in the fall after receiving designs from consultants.
“They hope to have project proposals with cost expectations established and ready for potential funding by May of 2016,” Brackmann said.
For more information on My Guadalupe, click the following link:
In recent times, Austin, Texas has become known for its pricey music festivals, enormous Whole Foods headquarters and the hype of the weak mixed drinks on Sixth Street, but we must not forget the cowboys and hippie musicians that created this funky place back in the day.
The City of Austin has long recognized that music is a defining element of Austin’s culture, however as the city is in a rapid growth phase and the cost of living skyrockets, many worry the Texas Capitol will lose its charming historical music touch.
As music is an integral part of what many around the world consider Austin to be, several music venues specific to Austin have remained dedicated to maintaining the southern music charm.
“There has been a trend of out-pricing the housing market, to the point that musicians that could struggle to survive here now just struggle and they don’t survive,” said Diane Scott, an Austinite who has worked at the famous Continental Club for decades.
Austin is even home to a Music Commission within City Hall, which works to develop and preserve the local music industry.
In 1964 upon returning from the service, James White came back to Austin. At 25-years-old, after some soul searching, and reminiscing on his country childhood days, he found himself on South Lamar Blvd. staring into rolling green hills, imagining what would be the start of 50 years of the best Honky-Tonk in Texas. Today, Broken Spoke sits at that very spot and is flanked by condo complexes on one of the busiest streets in the Capitol city.
The City of Austin was home to 208,475 people when James first began laying the foundation of the historic country dance hall in 1964. Fifty years later, the population has more than quadrupled, amounting to over 865,504 people in 2014, according to the US Census Bureau.
James White has made it his life’s work to create and maintain a true Texas dance hall.
“Over 50 years I’ve been out here, whatever it takes to keep a honky-tonk going,” White said.
While Austin has become known for it’s trendy downtown bar scene, White is determined to keep the country bands playing and the boots on the dance floor for as long as possible.
“I never want to lose the heart and the soul of the Broken Spoke,” White said.
In 1957, The Continental Club was established less than two miles down Congress Ave from the Texas State Capitol. At the time, the upscale private club featured nationally touring bands and was hailed as the first venue in Travis County to sell liquor by the drink, after originally encouraging its visitors to bring their own liquor, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
A true Austinite, Diane Scott has worked backdoor security and band hospitality at The Continental Club for 22 years.
Scott is concerned that the expense that comes along with living in Austin is pushing away musicians that would otherwise love to live and perform here.
“Today it’s really hard to follow a dream that takes you down a non paying road. Most musicians are leaving Austin altogether or moving out to the suburbs,” Scott said.
When country music lover Kenneth Threadgill opened a gas station north of the Austin city limits in 1933, he soon applied for a beer license and he began growing a new favorite beer joint for traveling musicians.
“Not to mention it was here [Threadgill’s] where Janis Joplin developed her brassy style that would propel her to become the first female rock and roll superstar,” according to their website.
In 1996, Threadgill’s was opened in South Austin.
Eddie Wilson, who has owned the restaurant since the mid 1970s has made a distinction between the two locations: the original location on North Lamar has the theme of Austin between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. The south location celebrates the history of the Armadillo World Headquarters, opened by Wilson, and the 1970’s.
After taking over the popular eatery and music joint, Eddie Wilson has seen it through the past 40 plus years, witnessing the rapid growth of Austin.
“Now when you go on Mt Bonnel you look out at rolling roof tops instead of rolling hills,” Wilson said.
Culture and creativity are the basis of what Austin stands for, however as these historic venues rapidly lose their chance to survive only time will tell if the quirky Texas Capitol will truly remain the “Live Music Capitol of the world.”
By Taylor Turner, Garrett Callahan, Jacob Kerr and Kylie Fitzpatrick
As Austin’s population continues to rise, so do the construction zones on the city’s roadways.
Between 2011 and 2016 Austin is expected to have a growth percentage of 6.1 percent, according to Forbes, making Austin one of the fastest growing cities in the country. And to combat the extra population, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority have already begun several construction projects they believe will increase mobility and traffic in the Austin area.
But many local environmental groups believe there is a significant threat to the local ecology as construction projects develop.
One of the projects is the Mopac South expansion project, which would build two toll lanes in each direction from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane in addition to a double-decker bridge crossing Lady Bird Lake. The plans also pass over a segment of the Edward’s Aquifer, which runs into Barton Springs.
Activists against the construction said the project would increase pollution in the spring’s waters with the rise in traffic. According to Keep Mopac Local, an initiative against Mopac’s construction plans, the project would add up to 60,000 travelers per day in addition to the 130,000 cars that already use the highway. The organization said the additional travel would increase urban runoff and pollution in the Barton Springs waters.
“The water that goes into this aquifer doesn’t have any sort of filtration so pollution that goes into this aquifer goes into Barton Springs,” said Aubrey Cravotta, an outreach coordinator with Save Our Springs Alliance, which is part of Keep Mopac Local.
Cravotta said one of the consequences of any increased pollution is the further endangerment of species living in Barton Springs, including the Barton Springs Salamander.
The Barton Springs Salamander, a small, completely aquatic salamander, became formally recognized in 1993. The salamander only lives in Barton Springs in Austin, but has become increasing less visible in the Zilker Park waters.
In late April 1997, the Barton Springs Salamander was listed among the U.S. Endangered Species after its population sharply declined entering the 1990s. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the salamander had a large population in the early 1970s, but has since fallen due to pollution in the waters.
The waters the salamanders are found in are feed by a small segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which is influenced by rainwater and water flow. However, this also presents an opportunity for contaminates to run into the water that can endanger the species living there.
Most species of salamanders, once they reach adulthood become terrestrial, no longer keeping their external gills. However, the Barton Springs Salamander stays aquatic for its entire life, retaining its juvenile characteristics and external gills to breathe.
If pollution and other contaminates, which Cravotta said has the ability to increase with the construction project, inhibit the waters, the salamander’s ability to breathe will be prohibited, which has resulted in its population decline in past decades.
“That’s why the species was put on the endangered species list because of these true threats of and possibility of contaminants affecting the entire species at once,” said Dee Ann Chamberlain, an environmental scientist with the Austin Watershed Protection Department.
To help combat the declining population, the City of Austin has set up a Captive Breeding program within the Austin Watershed Protection Department, which helps maintain the Barton Springs Salamander’s population.
“The idea is to have a population of the species in captivity that you could introduce into the wild if something happened to the species,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain also said the Captive Breeding program helps the city better understand how the species lives. Since the Barton Springs Salamander lives mostly underground, the program allows for the species habitation to be seen first hand.
“Parts of their life history is difficult to understand looking at them in the wild so we’ve had to study their life history working with them in captivity,” Chamberlain said. “It’s like thinking of it as putting together different pieces of a puzzle to put together all the different parts.”
Currently, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation are in the last year of an environmental study that looks at the environment impacts that the expansion project could cause. At the end of the year, if the study finds to have any impact on the Barton Springs Salamander or any other endangered species, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said it would take steps to fix them.
“At the end of the year, there is going to be a final report were all those issues will be identified,” said Rick L’Amie, the communications director with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. “It’s too early to say what [the issues] are right now because we are still studying it.”
Austin, Texas, takes pride in being a health-oriented city, by giving its residences the ability to choose food from a number of grocery markets, health stores, farmers markets, and community gardens.
The University of Texas at Austin’s Concho Community Garden is one of those options. Located just off campus, the garden is accessible by foot, UT shuttle, or bike. With the help of students and volunteers, UT’s first community garden was established in the spring of 2011. With backing from the UT Campus Environmental Center, the UT Office of Sustainability, the UT Division of Housing and Food Service, and the UT Landscaping Services, the Concho Community Garden is a thriving student and volunteer run garden here on campus.
The garden presently grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as five different fruit trees. With over 30 individual plots, students, or faculty and staff, may request to use one of these plots and grow an assortment of different foods from the seeds up. The Concho Community Garden provides the seeds to the growers, and educates them on the importance of gardening.
“The vision of the community garden is just to create educational space for people part of the UT community and the surrounding community,” said Mijae Grosman, an assistant coordinator at the Concho Community Gardens.
Currently, UT is also home to a Micro-Farm, which opened in 2012 and is completely student run. Unlike the micro-farm, which is geared to outsourcing the grown produce to the university and surrounding food shelters, the community gardens produce is given back to the growers themselves to cook and eat.
Community gardens and micro-farms help enrich a sense of community ownership and they foster the development of locally grown fruits and vegetables that are not normally available in urban areas. It is a healthy, inexpensive activity that helps bring together people in the community in a productive way.
“It creates solidarity within the community,” said Grosman. “It allows people to kind of have their own space and go to somewhere they are surrounded by living things and nature.”
For many people, working at a community garden is very therapeutic. According to a study done by The American Community Gardening Association, exposure to green spaces reduces stress, and increased a sense of wellness.
Of the students the garden wishes to reach, the Concho Community Garden is also open and welcoming of teams and organizations wishing to join and look after their own plot.
Micki Smith-Stocker, a member of the group Habitat for Humanity, started volunteering with the Concho Community Gardens at the beginning of the spring semester. She said that she has worked with community gardens before, but is still getting valuable experience.
Community gardens are not uncommon, with over 10 urban farms and around 30 community gardens in the Austin area; the fresh food movement seems to be making headway. Educating the public is just the first step in creating more efficient gardens around the city.
“One of my favorite things is learning about all the other things in the garden,” said Smith-Stocker. “I did not realize so many things were edible.”
Students and community volunteers currently oversee the day-to-day operations in the gardens, and gain knowledge from first hand experience. Those who volunteer at the community gardens get a better understanding of where their food comes from.
“It’s good to know where your food comes from,” said Nina Lobo, a Concho Community Garden volunteer, “its good to be connected, just to appreciate the earth and food and just realize how important it is.”
Here are a few interesting facts about sustainable food:
by Alyssa Brant, Sylvia Butanda, Kim Carmona and Rebecca Salazar
It is difficult to run a business, but trying to balance school adds a whole other level of stress. However, Sid Gutter is one out of the handful of college students who has accepted the challenge of doing both.
Sid Gutter is a sophomore liberal arts honors student majoring in economics and history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the founder of Entrée, a startup company that is creating a new and enhanced restaurant operating system.
“I never ever in my life thought I would start a business or work in restaurant technology,” Gutter said.
The idea was inspired when Gutter was at a restaurant with his parents. Tired of long wait times, waiting on food and slow check out times, he thought there must be a way to fix this problem. Gutter then started talking to numerous owners, managers and waiters to gather insight.
“After a month of that it became clear that there is a problem, and maybe it’s not that crazy to think I as a student can actually solve the problem,” Gutter said.
What Gutter uncovered was that traditional restaurant operations systems are clunky and expensive. This led him to creating Entrée, a cost-effective system that combines point-of-sales technology and smarter analytics through carefully crated interfaces. Eventually with this technology, waiters will be able to check out a table by using just a mobile phone or tablet, and one day may eliminate the need for waiters completely.
“It’s not necessarily the sexiest industry,” Brian Alford said. “But if you look at their presentation and the way they bring a lot more advanced user interfaces, it is really an exciting change for restaurants.”
Alford is a small business lawyer as well as Gutter’s Longhorn Startup Lab mentor.
“I have an undergraduate degree in business,” Alford said. “As a lawyer, I can represent companies at the early stages by helping them make more business level decisions and not just legal decisions.”
Longhorn Startup Lab is a course offered by the university, so students who are attempting to start a company can get course credit for their efforts. The course includes weekly mentoring sessions as a free co-working membership at Capital Factory. At the end of the spring semester, they host Longhorn Demo Day to showcase their accomplishments.
“It’s a large advertising event for young startups that don’t usually get the chance to get their ideas out to the public,” Stephen Franklin said.
This year’s Demo Day was held on April 30. Thirteen different student startups went on stage to pitch their company. Franklin, a senior mechanical engineering student, was there to promote his product as a part of the company called Grey Matter.
“The dream is to have someone really interested in our product and invest in our idea,” Franklin said. “But really it is to get our name out there and to promote our product.”
Franklin’s product is an athletic mouth guard that can identify when concussions occur as well as track an athlete’s concussion history by storing data in the cloud. With the help of this class, they were able to make a functioning prototype to showcase at the event.
“This class itself provides us with a ton of mentors and great connections that really helped us establish our product,” Franklin said.
Pamela Valdes is an exchange student from Mexico City and creator of Beek, a social network for book lovers in Latin America.
“I want more people to know about my startup,” Valdes said.
Valdes’ company already has about 23,000 followers on Facebook and 400 subscribed on the website. By October of 2015 they plan to reach a goal of 100,000 active users.
“It is a place for discovering, discussing and recommending books between followers and friends,” Valdes said. “It is like a Facebook, but for people who like to read.”
Valdes created Beek for a MIT contest about a year ago. She did not win, and in result, all of her team left. She had to start from scratch and build a whole new team, which was probably one of the most difficult things she has had to overcome.
“Believing in yourself when no one else does is the hardest thing as an entrepreneur,” Valdes said.
Longhorn Startup Lab provides the students with many resources, but also a place for them to see other entrepreneurs their age struggle, as well as succeed, balancing school and other work.
“I think this is really an example of the great community here at UT and what is possible with student entrepreneurs here on campus,” Gutta said.
Even after the semester ends, many of these startups will continue to grow and develop. Because for these entrepreneurs their projects are no longer just a school assignment, it is their future.
“It’s kind of corny, but entrepreneurship found us,” Gutta said.
Patricia Tamminga uses Patricia’s Table to empower children to eat healthy by making fun, simple food in the kitchen. She uses locally-grown food from the Austin area as well as the garden near the building. She was a kindergarden teacher before starting Patricia’s Table.
After witnessing the lack of diversity in media outlets and lack of representation of Latina women in magazines, Laura Donnelly and Alicia Rascon wanted to fill that niche. They transformed their ideas in a UT graduate school class into Latinitas, a non-profit organization with locations in El Paso and Austin, which has been actively empowering Latina youth through media and technology for 13 years.