By Julia Farrell, Celina Fontenot, and Alexa Harrington
Creative Action works to bring joy to Austin children by teaching through the arts. Their mission, which has remained the same for the past two decades, is to spark and support the academic, social, and emotional development of young people.
The program, which has now reached more than 20,000 children in the greater Austin area, all began with four determined graduate students in UT’s Drama and Theatre Department. Their passion for teaching children through the arts spread quickly, and by 2001, their project received official nonprofit status.
Just last year, Creative Action opened their first permanent home located in East Austin. The multi-function facility provides programs for all ages, from Pre-K to high school seniors. A team of professional teaching artists inspires youth to discover their own voice, use their imagination, and most of all, to grow in self-confidence.
Lily Essence and Lainey White, two juniors at the University of Texas at Austin, dress up about once a week in Lolita—a Japanese street fashion trend.
Both students are members of the Japanese Street Fashion Club, an organization that brings students together who are interested in Japanese fashion. The members spread awareness about the culture by holding events like tea parties, fashion shows and profit shares.
Student, Mylo Merrit, created the Japanese Street Fashion Club as an accessible way for students interested in J-Fashion to come together. She was originally a member of a similar club in the greater Austin area called ATX Lolitas. At ATX Lolitas and at Anime Club she met individuals interested in J-Fashion.
“They didn’t go to many of the ATX meet-ups because they were too far away or too expensive, so I wanted to make something more accessible to UT students… As far as I know the only other college that has a club dedicated the J-fashion is in Vancouver.”
Essence has been involved in the program for a year now, and has been dressing in Gothic Lolita Fashion for two-and-a-half years.
“I love having the excuse to put on makeup and be a different part of myself,” Essence said. “My favorite style is Gothic Lolita with a lot of black accessories. I love black. It’s a very empowering color. “
Lolita has become one of the more popular trends in Japanese street fashion. Lolita has sub-trends that are attached to it, including Sweet Lolita where girls are often seen wearing soft pastel colors, bonnets on their heads, stockings and frilly accessories like cupcake and polka dot prints. Gothic Lolita is composed of only black and white as the color choices.
Some of the members buy their dresses on a site named Angelic Pretty, a store based in San Francisco with an online website. The dresses don’t stay on the market for long.
Lainey White pictured in Sweet Lolita. Photo courtesy of JSFC
“If you’re one of the lucky people with good Internet connection and have everything automatically filled into Google, you’re usually good to go. Imagine a huge Black Friday Sale,” White said.
As a niche fashion, they are like collectibles. Popular designs can take ten minutes to sell out online. From the store, dresses can range from $200 to $500, usually. Through second-hand markets, the full dresses with accessories can fall around $900. Brands release new designs at least once every month.
“It’s really cool to see a small group of people passionate about this. It’s such a niche thing.” Essence said. “I’m never going to have this opportunity again on campus.”
Take a look at the history of Japanese street fashion:
Thousands of people attended the 20th anniversary of the Texas Book Festival this past weekend in downtown Austin. A six-block stretch of white tents filled with a plethora of books, authors and book lovers proved that while audio books and eBooks have been on the rise, the affinity for printed books is still alive and well.
With the rapid increase in the use of technology, people have been turning to electronic books and audio books. The usage of electronic books soared up 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010 according to a study done by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank.
The report then noted the significant slow down of the usage of e-books with a six percent increase of adults who read an e-book in the past year in between 2011 and 2012. A five percent increase occurred in the following year.
The center conducted another research that discovered the percentage of people who read a print book in the past year and compared it to the statistics of people who read an e-book in the same time frame. While the number of people who read a printed book dropped from 71 percent to 65 percent in 2012, confirming the prediction that e-books is taking away print readership, the four percent rise to 69 percent in 2014 showed that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between the two sets of statistics.
Kathryn Sickuhr, a researcher and staff writer at the Pew Research Center, said, “Most American adults read a print book in the past year, even as e-reading continues to grow.”
Marion Rocco, a children’s literature professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said that the benefit of printed books lies in their accessibility.
“A paper book is always free to borrow from the library,” Rocco said, “ While it may be free to borrow an ebook as well, it is not free if one needs to purchase an ereader or computer of some kind.”
The onset of the ebook revolution does not signal the demise of the printed book.
James Forrest started frequenting the Hole in the Wall as a UT student 20 years ago.
He sat on a red diner barstool with a beer in hand. A giant hole in the red plastic peeked out from underneath him. Randy Echels has been going to the Hole in the Wall since it opened in 1974. It has proven to be a place of cheap beer and live music for 41 years. Hole in the Wall, or the Hole to its regulars, is now in danger of closing when its lease expires at the end of this year. Rising rent rates have threatened the future of yet another Austin music venue.
Austin’s booming real estate market has led to increased land values, and has increased rent for music venues. Encor Realty group, which manages the building of the Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe Street, implied in earlier reports that they had kept rent down as long as possible.
Dive bars such as the Hole have struggled to keep up with rising rents, yet owner Will Tanner is hopeful that an agreement can be reached. Advocacy group Austin Music People are involved in mediating the negotiations between Tanner and Scott Friedman, the representative from Encor. Negotiations have improved gradually, according to AMP Director, Jennifer Houlihan.
“We are still working with the Hole in the Wall and I spoke with the owner Will Tanner yesterday. The lines of communication are open. He is cautiously optimistic that they can come to an agreement and Hole in the Wall can stay where they are for a little bit longer,” said Houlihan.
UT Professor, Wanda Cash, complicated negotiations by starting a well-intentioned petition to designate the Hole as an historic venue. However, because the building was not 50 years old, this only complicated negotiations with the owner.
“We knew that wasn’t going to fly…not because it didn’t deserve it, we just know how that commission works and what Will was saying was that it was causing him difficulties when negotiating with the landlord, because it was putting the landlord into a corner,” said Houlihan.
Although the petition closed, it shows just how much the Hole in the Wall means to the community. Because of its proximity to UT, It has become a popular drinking spot for grad students and professors. Cash, who has been going to the Hole since she was a grad student in the late 70’s, is concerned that the drag is losing its character.
“My concern was that one day we’re going to walk on Guadalupe Street and it’s going to be a chain store – and the identity of the Drag won’t be there anyway and you might as well be anywhere in the United States,” said Cash.
Connection to the Journalism School
Wanda Cash, Associate Director
Tom Johnson, Professor
Rusty Todd, Professor
Hope is not lost for the Hole in the Wall. Houlihan believes that an agreement can be reached.
“The agreement would probably include some sort of investment from the club owners in the physical space; keeping it up, maybe repainting the bathroom…to keep the property value up. So when they do finish their lease it’s in good condition,” said Houlihan.
Tom Johnson, a Professor in the School of Journalism, has tried to reestablish the Hole as the journalism bar by inviting colleagues and students to go.
“It just feels to me like an Austin bar. It connects me to when Austin was starting to develop the idea of “being weird.” It still has that hippie vibe – that old Austin vibe. It’s important to keep those places alive because we’ve lost so many others, like the Armadillo …that are really music icons that just shut down,” said Johnson.
Successful artists like Townes Van Zandt, Spoon, Shakey Graves, and Bob Schneider have all jump-started their careers performing at the Hole. Austin Attorney and UT alum, James Forrest, remembers one of their very first live performances.
“Townes Van Zandt…was an Austin music legend. He was bringing his child to this bar and would sing. People would take care of him. Just being part of something original and something authentic that is Austin…. it is probably what’s most precious to me,” said Forrest.
Forrest has been going to the Hole in the Wall for over 20 years and even displays his own artwork next to the music wall of fame.
“For what Austin is, it is one of the last remaining places where original Austin art are welcomed and celebrated. Come by, have a beer, have a dance, have some memories – keep the tradition going,” said Forrest.
Increased rent on Guadalupe, and other Austin music venues, has put pressure on the local music scene as a whole, but Houlihan still believes that we can find a balance between landlords and local music businesses.
“There’s a sweet spot that I think we can find, where we are keeping Austin’s creative spirit, we’re keeping Austin weird, we’re keeping our city affordable enough for our creatives to stay here, but we’re also leaving room for that prosperity for everyone, and I think it’s absolutely possible,” said Houlihan.
The Driskill Hotel, located on 6th Street in Austin, Texas is known to be one of the most haunted sites in North America.
The conversations surrounding paranormal activity are controversial at best. Many are skeptical that the spirit can live on without a physical host. Others claim that we are all made up of energy, and energy doesn’t dissipate just because of death. Believing in spirits, or not, Austin is home to some of the most haunted and actively paranormal places in America.
“Austin is home to some of the most active ghost sites in the nation,” Corissa Chopelas of Austin Ghost Tours said.
Chopelas began working at Austin Ghost Tours three years ago, and said that her first experience wasn’t until she started getting more up close and personal with the historic sites on the tour, such as the Driskill Hotel.
“You have to be open to it when you experience it,” Chopelas said.
Corissa Chopelas leads a ghost tour on October 18, 2015.
“Guests have called the front desk in the middle of the night to say that they awoke to the sensations of someone pushing them out of bed. Other guests claim that their furniture moved during the night,” reads the pamphlet called “Hauntings” handed out at the front desk of the Driskill Hotel.
Colonel Jesse Lincoln Driskill is featured in the grand entrance of the Driskill Hotel, where his ghost is said to haunt the halls.
The Driskill Hotel was built in 1885 by Colonel Jesse Lincoln Driskill, and is generally believed to be one of the most haunted places in North America. Col. Driskill poured his heart and soul into the construction of the hotel, and is said to continue looking after its upkeep decades after his physical body passed on. The hotel is home to numerous other spirits, many without name.
Brandy Bondesen, a concierge at the hotel, is particularly fond of one of the resident ghosts.
The photo from Randi.org is the image most associated with Samantha, the little girl ghost in the Driskill.
“The stories started when a little girl named Samantha was playing with a bouncy ball and it went down the stairs, and she went down after it,” Bondesen said. “She was the first casualty in the hotel.”
The Driskill’s Yelp page is filled with compliments about the quality of service at the hotel, and what a beautiful structure it is. Others, though, proclaim that though the hotel is beautiful, the hauntings inside of it are not.
“Most of the people that come and stay with us know that its apparently haunted,” Bondesen said. “They either love it or hate it.”
The hotel revels in the accusations of guests about different ghosts throughout, and is fiercely secretive when it comes to filming the locations of where the ghosts are seen. Those lucky enough to be allowed to investigate the claims of paranormal activity provide their own versions of proof and evidence surrounding the claims.
“One of the first nights I started working here, there was a couple that stayed with us that just got married,” Bondesen said. “The lady had all the bobby pins in her hair, so she took them out and put them on the nightstand next to her. She woke up the next day and they were all in a row.”
Be it evidence or experiences, the history surrounding Austin bursts with intrigue. Believers of the paranormal and non-believers alike flood to the city to witness its heritage and all of the ghouls that comes along with it.
Interactive map of Austin’s most popular haunted spots.
By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Katherine Recatto, and Jessica Stovall
Physics freshman Dayana Sosa is similar to any other UT student whose life is dominated by classes and studying – except she doesn’t spend her time off frequenting Sixth Street or at Kerbey Lane, gathered with friends and a bowl of queso.
Instead she goes home every other weekend to see her two-year-old son.
Dayana Sosa and her son Liam playing in their backyard on the North side of Houston. Photo by: Michael Baez
Sosa, who had her son Liam when she was 16, has a scholarship to the university through the TIP Scholars program in the College of Natural Sciences. She said getting pregnant never deterred her from striving to meet her academic goals, even when coming from Aldine High School in Houston, where the school district’s teen pregnancy rate is almost twice the national average, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Data Source: Texas Department of State Health Services
“I was just always a good student,” Sosa said. “And I knew, besides the fact that I was pregnant, I was still the same student. I knew that one day I was going to go to a university, and I was going to learn about something that I liked, and I was going to get a degree from it.”
Because of the university’s limited child care services for students with children of their own, Dayana knew bringing her son Liam to UT with her was not an option. So to allow her to get a degree from what she describes as one of the best physics programs in the country, Dayana’s family agreed to take care of her son while she headed to Austin.
But not a moment goes by where she does not miss him.
“It’s really hard being away from your son,” Sosa said. “You’re not there constantly with them. You don’t know what they’re doing or how they’re developing.”
To have the opportunity to watch her son grow up and not be stuck parenting from afar, Sosa decided to transfer to the University of Houston for the spring 2016 semester.
“It would be wonderful to graduate from the University of Texas, but the resources and the cost efficiency back in Houston is greater than what it is here,” Sosa said.
She said that unlike UT, the University of Houston is more student-parent friendly because they have a day care on campus.
“On top of that, their tuition rate for the day care is lower than UT’s,” Sosa said. “They have apartments right near campus where I could leave my apartment, walk with my son, take him to day care and then go to class and pick him up afterwards. It’s very accessible.”
Mike Gutierrez, associate academic advisor for TIP Scholars and Sosa’s advisor, said childcare services do exist on campus but are primarily offered to university faculty and staff. He said Dayana’s situation is unique since the population of students with children at UT is very low.
“Probably, little by little, there will be (student demand for more childcare),” Gutierrez said. “But it’s probably not as prevalent here as it is at some other schools that might have populations with higher pregnancy rates or higher rates of students with children.”
Gutierrez said Sosa’s desire to continue seeking a degree after all she has been through is a sign of strong character and a good work ethic.
“Her still pursuing her education – or any student doing that – is a really great testament to their fortitude.”
Latinitas Aims to Create the Next Generation of Latina Journalists
By: Shadan Larki, Marisa Martinez, and Brianna Walker
For many students group projects consist of weeks of high-level stress, panic attacks, and a last-ditch effort to put together a product and get the grade.
But not Laura Donnelly. She turned a collegiate class project into Latinitas, a nationally renowned organization that helps thousands of young Latina women every year.
“I met [co-founder] Alicia Rascon in a class at UT that required we develop media to benefit Latinos. It was an easy choice to start a magazine for Latina girls,” said Latinitas Co-Founder and COO Laura Donnelly. “Latinitas was born out of that class and the programs followed in order to cull an authentic voice of young Latinas.”
Since launching in 2002, 20,000 girls have walked through Latinitas programs learning to blog, doing video and radio, producing films, doing photography, creating websites and graphic design projects, and more recently, coding, creating video games, apps and robotics.
“We are a publication, a resource for girls and a movement,” Donnelly said.
One of the goals of the Latinitas organization is to confront the lack of Latina representation in the media.
“This is the future,” said Donnelly. “When you say millennial – you are 5talking about a Latina America!” “She is the future of commerce and innovation, yet – she is virtually invisible in media excluding a few continued stereotypes including the overly sexual feisty Latina and there are still many portrayals of maids.”
On Sept. 30, Latinitas partnered with Google Fiber to host “Las Voces: Austin Latinas in Journalism” a panel discussion aimed at addressing this lack of Latina representation.
Moderated by Univision’s Leslie Montoya and a young reporter in Latinate’ outreach program, the paneled featured Gissela Santacruz a columnist with the Austin American-Statesman, Alexa Ura of the Texas Tribune, ¡ahora si! editor Josefina Casati and Verónica Zaragovia of KUT.
“As reporters, we need to expand our base of sources,” said Santacruz when discussing the lack of diversity. “I don’t care what story you are writing, you can find a Latino who can speak to that experience.”
According to a census conducted by the American Society of News Editors, Latinos made up roughly 4.5 percent of all newsrooms.
“This absence or misportrayl of Latinas is powerful,” said Donnelly. If “Latinos are invisible in media than their voice, their value are invisible in the U.S. profile as well. It’s easier to dehumanize and mistreat a community you don’t know.”
Zaragovia encourages young reporters to “speak up” when they see an absence of diversity in reporting.
“I have not been silent about the fact that my newsroom only has two Latinos,” Zaragovia said.
Ura, a demographics reporter at the Tribune says reporters can’t be afraid “to do a little more digging” to find diverse sources.
“Don’t limit the questions you ask because people like you don’t ask those questions,” Ura said. “Never allow your heritage to be a deterrent to your success.”
The panelist wrapped their discussion of the media by offering their advice to young Latinitas members in the audience.
“Dream as high as you can and know that you can do it,” Casati said
Providing young Latinas who aspire to work in media an outlet to dream has been a passion of Donnelly’s since her days at UT. She is hopeful that a change in diversity is on the forefront and confident the Latinitas will be at the forefront.
“I hope people see that media can be a tool for community change,” Donnelly said. “Our future is the girls.”
LISTEN: Austin Girls of Color Participate in Empowering After School Program
WATCH: Panel offers insight from Austin Latina Journalists
The Big Question
The American Society of News Editors reports that the number of latinos employed by daily newsrooms has declined from 7,300 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2015. While the overall number of journalists have declined, specific dialogue of latino representation has surrounded media outlets. It raises the question, are there enough latinos in the media?
Some organizations, like the Media Research Center, have challenged popular spanish-language media are not objective in their reporting. Below is more information about their claim:
Univision and Telemundo have disputed The Media Research Center’s claim, Politico reports.
Would you rather?
Does bias affect audience? We asked University of Texas students to share where they would rather get their news from, CNN or Univision?
"It's more convenient to read news. But I chose CNN because it is easier to find"
International Relations major
"I watch both. Univision keeps my Spanish sharp, but I don't watch news, I would rather read."
"If I have to watch TV news, I'd pick Univision to strengthen language and
hear other perspectives."
Sara Eunice Martinez
"I feel like Spanish news is more detailed. They go more in-depth when covering stories"
Sara Eunice Martinez
"I'd pick CNN because I don't speak Spanish. I've heard a lot of praise for Univision's coverage of the guns on UT debate so I need to start looking at them more."
Advertising, Radio Television Film major
"I just have more experience with CNN."
"I'm more connected to Univision. I grew up on it."
"I don't really watch news, but Anderson Cooper is the original silver fox so I had to pick CNN."
"CNN has become a channel that focuses on using defamatory language and 'othering' minorities. Univision is better source because it doesn't focus on corporate gain and instead focuses on educating. it's better to look at sources that don't just focus on the white man."
"I chose CNN because that's the one I'm more familiar with it."
"I don't know much about Univision. I don't know its credibility. CNN is more well known."
"I never watch CNN." I grew up in a Hispanic household. I grew up around Univision."
By: Austin Hamby, Renee Moreno, Mark Roberson, and Victoria Rodriguez In the midst of the East Austin Business District 1204 E. sixth St. still stands
Gentrification in East Austin sparks need for affordable housing
Austin’s population growth is like a roller coaster that never drops. According to an Austin Business Journal article from 2014, Austin’s population grows by 110 people a day. As more people arrive to the city, the demand for housing increases.
This new demand has caused an increase in prices, especially in East Austin, where median rent and housing costs have dramatically risen in the past decade. East Austin residents, many low-income or fixed income families, have seen their housing costs exceed reasonable prices. The gentrification of the area has created a need for affordable housing in East Austin for those who live on fixed-incomes.
A report on East Austin conducted by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin concluded that an increase in housing costs can have a negative effect on those who live there.
According to the report, “[h]omeowners with low or fixed incomes and limited access to additional financial resources are at risk of losing their home equity (and place to live) if property taxes are rising faster than their sources of income. If trends in property value continue at current levels, the costs of property ownership may outweigh the rewards and become more problematic for too many residents.”
The study defines East Austin as the area of “of Austin east of Interstate 35, south of U.S. Highway 290, west of U.S. Highway 183/Ed Bluestein Road, and north of Ben White Boulevard.” In this area, the average percentage change to the median home value from 2000-2012 was 122.4 percent and the average percentage change in median rent value was 46.2 percent according to the City of Austin 2014 Housing Market Analysis.
East Austin remains vibrant amid constantly changing population
Central Austin continues to grow at a rapid pace
This dated apartment complex still stands despite rapid growth in East Austin
This East Austin home was built in 2005, originally priced at ,000, rose to 9,900 in 2009, according to zillow.com
The vacant building that used to be Uptown Sports Bar sits on desirable location on E. sixth st.
Various murals and paintings adorn the streets of The East Austin Business District
Older architecture can be appreciated in the streets of East Austin
Several apartment complexes have sprung up in recent years in East Austin
This iconic mural is located in 2000 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in East Austin
This colorful home on Cherrywood Rd. is a reminder of East Austin's changing community
This modern home is one of many examples of gentrification in East Austin
“Overall, these increases in property value indicate more demand for the space in East Austin, and a changing perception regarding the desirability of its neighborhoods,” the University of Texas study said.
According to John Henneberger, a 2014 MacArthur grant fellow who has specialized in affordable housing for two decades, this influx of new residents has caused the low-income tenants to leave East Austin.
“East Austin’s low income and family population is emptying out and those folks are moving up and out into those first string suburbs,” Henneberger said. The first string suburbs he mentions are Pflugerville, Hutto, Leander, and Cedar Park.
Henneberger noted that real-estate developers target low-income areas like East Austin for redeveloping.
“The need to produce more housing units and the desirability of the central core of the city has driven developers to look at areas that can be redeveloped and where there is property that is more affordable that they can buy up to convert,” Henneberger said.
The University of Texas study echoes Henneberger’s concerns and reasons that government action is necessary.
“Private developers have seized on the opportunity and are building upscale lofts in the [East Austin] area. Lucrative market rates for housing units, along with the high price of land and increasing construction costs, have severely reduced incentives for the private sector, as well as the ability of the nonprofit sector, to develop affordable housing. Ultimately, however, state and federal resources must be brought to bear on the citywide affordable housing crisis,” the study said.
Foundation Communities, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing, works to provide areas that will benefit those who can’t afford normally-priced housing said Alyah Khan, their communications director.
“We are able to provide people places to live that are in good locations, meaning close to public transportation, close to schools, close to job opportunities, by keeping the rent at a rate that they can afford,” said Khan.
But people unfamiliar with affordable housing often bring negative expectations according to Khan.
“There is one [myth] being that affordable housing is really ugly. People a lot of times will think about project housing [but] our communities are really beautiful,” Khan said.
Khan continued, “I think there is also a bit of a disconnect with people understanding who really needs affordable housing. I think that when they picture the people that live in our communities, I’m not sure they think about the people that work at the grocery store, or fix your car, or teach their children at school.”
For these fixed-income persons, affordable housing provides housing options that allow them to choose places where they can live at a reasonable rate.
Despite the help of organizations like Foundation Communities, the problem for fixed income individuals continues to swell along with Austin’s population. According to affordable housing specialist John Henneberger the population growth in the city could provide an opportunity for Austin housing.
“We should be using this opportunity of growth and prosperity to reimagine the urban design of the city and leverage all that to create a city of the 21st century that is economically … diverse and integrated,” Henneberger said.
Khalil Elharam uses a shovel to turn his compost. Turning the compost introduces oxygen and speeds up production. “I produce enough compost for my entire yard,” he says. Photo by Erin MacInerney
Do you recycle? If not, you might want to pay attention to Austin’s new regulations regarding food diversion and waste recovery.
By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross
Austin, Texas: politically known as the little blue dot in a sea of red. Environmentally speaking, it could also be called the little green dot in a sea of brown.
Or black. Or gray. Or whatever color pollution can be deemed.
Or it could be known as the capital of a state ranking dead last for overall environmental quality.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the carbon boot prints Texas is leaving makes it the least green state overall. Yet Austin, ranks among the top ten sustainable cities in America
This month, the city entered the third phase in a five-year recycling and organics diversion program. The Universal Recycling Ordinance is part of the city’s goal of having Zero Waste by 2040, or keeping at least 90 percent of discarded materials out of landfills.
By 2017, all properties will be required to provide access to recycling for tenants and employees and by 2018, all food enterprises must have a food diversion program in place.
Despite Austin’s ranking, there is still progress to be made in waste reduction to meet these goals, according to the Austin Resource Recovery Center’s Waste Characterization Study.
Some initiatives, like the plastic bag ban meant to decrease the amount of grocery store bags in landfills, have not had the intended outcomes. Reusable bags designed to be used up to 100 times or more are being thrown out after a few uses.
So how can Austin businesses and individuals meet the new requirements?
Barr Mansion, the nation’s only certified organic event facility, is a prime example of a business with a working diversion plan already in place.
As a platinum member of Austin’s Green Business Leaders, Barr Mansion reaches 98% sustainability by growing their own produce, collecting rainwater, using solar panels and composting all organic materials.
“Brides and grooms book us because of our practices,” says Caroline Hunt, Sales Manager for Barr Mansion. “We do the grunt work and they get the good feeling that their wedding was sustainable and didn’t hurt the environment.”
Hunt believes that being considered an ethical company adds more depth to their brand which ultimately increases business.
One way the venue manages waste is by not providing trash cans on the grounds. Guests are encouraged to leave their trash on tables so that a staff member can properly deposit it into the correct bin. This saves visitors from the guesswork of figuring out what bin their waste should go in and saves the staff from having to sort through the trash after events.
“We are very serious about how we throw things away,” Hunt says. “It is a process, so it is something you have to sit down and discuss but setting up and researching how compost’s work is not that hard.”
Hunt says some businesses may be weary of the costs associated with implementing a new recycling plan but their company has actually saved money with their practices.
“We have the same amount of staff as most venues,” Hunt says. “We don’t have to pay the staff more, just instilling in them that it is important, so more training for the staff.”
Businesses will financially benefit from composting with a reduction in trash and associated fees according to Compost Coalition of Austin. The grass-roots network of volunteers is helping individuals and businesses connect to the resources they need to divert organic materials from landfills.
“In Austin, we have at least three different commercial compost contractors and are likely to see more which should help to keep pricing competitive,” says Heather-Nicole Hoffman, leader of Compost Coalition. “We also hope to see more and more decentralized composting efforts which will include on-site composting for some businesses and volunteer collective composting efforts such as the
Compost Coalition program Ground to Ground or the Austin Materials Marketplace.”
Khalil Elharam stands in his garden. Khalil and his wife Jean plant a variety of vegetables and herbs that can withstand all four seasons. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Elharam uses homemade compost to fertilize his lemon tree. "This is the fourth season for this tree to produce lemons, I'm very proud," he says. Photo by: Morgan Bridges
Elharam's mailbox is decorated with a "Butterfly Crossing" sign. His garden is frequented by a variety of the colorful winged insects. Photo by: Morgan Bridges
Elharam loves to plant flowers for himself and his neighbors. He welcomes his butterfly visitors and even hangs bananas for their consumption. Photo by: Morgan Bridges
Elharam checks the mint leaves in his garden. "I love drinking mint tea every morning," he says. "I am the cook of the house, call me Mr. Mom." Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Khalil Elharam demonstrating the content of his homemade compost. He points out that adding worms to the mixture helps make the compost more nutritious for his plants. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
"I make my compost out of lawnmower clippings and coffee grinds from Starbucks. The local Starbucks store has buckets of coffee grinds that they give away for free," says Elharam. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
"This is my small and organized shed," reveals Elharam. "It has everything I need to tend to my garden." Elharam points out that he makes an effort to reuse or repurpose all the bottles and containers that he uses for gardening. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
"We don't use water from the City of Austin on our garden. My wife and I collect rainwater and water from the creek in large barrels," said Elharam. Photo by: Morgan Bridges
"We haven't had much rainfall recently so my water collecting containers are fairly empty," comments Elharam,
Elharam uses water from the creek in his backyard to water his plants. He has built his own water trapping system with a series of hoses and containers. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
"I help my neighbors with anything they need, fixing lawnmowers, giving them compost and plants or anything really." "The peace corps was all about helping people, so that's what I like to do, help people," explains Elharam. Photo by: Morgan Bridges
For smaller restaurants or those short on space, Hoffman assures there are still ways to meet the requirements.
“There are small systems such as bokashi or wormbins that work well indoors and can take up as little as a square foot of floor or counter space,” says Hoffman. “Or, store those kitchen scraps in your freezer until you are ready to transfer to a compost spot.”
A food diversion plan for an Austin restaurant could also mean using organizations like Keep Austin Fed to meet their requirements. The local group picks up surplus food and distributes it to area charities.
“The City of Austin, may not be the first [to implement this ordinance],” says Hoffman. “But they are working hard to be a role model for all the other cities which will soon realize the importance of recovering organics as a resource instead of forever managing them as liability.”