Zero Waste Grocery Store Fosters Community in East Austin

View full story with photos here.

Story by Amanda Pinney 

Photos by Bryan Rolli 

Homegrown and locally sourced food products line the narrow shelves of a tiny grocery store located in east Austin, Texas. Wooden picnic tables deck the front patio, where locals sip on beer and munch on sandwiches ordered from the counter inside. Just a few feet away lies the garden where the produce grows, a reminder to customers that the crunchy kale on their sandwich came directly from the earth beneath their feet.

In.gredients aims to be more than just a corner store. With a stage for live music and a playground for children, the store hopes to be a staple for residents seeking local food products as well as a spot to hangout in the neighborhood. Although the store joined the neighborhood in 2012, its existence grew threatened by rising property taxes in Austin until it was saved by a successful crowdfunding campaign in early March.

The grocery store embodies the concept of zero-waste – the idea of keeping discarded materials out of Austin’s landfills.

“We have less waste on average as a store than a residential property would per week,” said Ben Hasan, the In.gredients prep food lead. “Not only is that way better than a household, that’s far knocking it out of the park when comparing it to somebody like HEB or Whole Foods.”

The city’s movement toward zero-waste came with the adoption of the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan in 2011. The plan outlines milestones for the goal of the city becoming zero-waste by 2040, which means at least 90 percent of waste materials will be kept out of landfills.

In.gredients initially started out as a package-free establishment when it opened its doors in 2012. The challenges of functioning as such outweighed the benefits, and over the years the store moved in the zero-waste direction instead.

The transition has been successful, and the store diverts approximately 99 percent of its materials from the landfill.

“We tackle that by having upcycling with some of our vendors,” said Hasan, referring to the process in which vendors bring the store’s items in reusable packages and then take away the empty containers once the store has been restocked. When Hasan prepares food in-house, any leftover scraps are given to composting services or other organizations that will reuse them.

The efforts of remaining a zero-waste business present low conflict in terms of the grocery store’s operation. The rising cost of living in Austin, however, has In.gredients facing double the property taxes and a spike in rent.

To combat the increasing operation costs, the store launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to invoke community help in raising extra cash through slow times in the year.

“When it’s pretty slow it gets pretty hard and costs to operate keep rising,” Hasan said. “The Indiegogo is an effort to raise some money to get some major equipment and renovations done to this space.”

The renovations will focus on the outdoor space, including expansion of the playground. The store also hopes to offer expanded tap and coffee services to customers who often dine on the patio. In.gredients sees its fair share of regulars and the plans to renovate reflect things people ask about.

An In.gredients customer from the beginning, local resident Katie Stellar was originally attracted to the package-free initiative of the store,  but now views the space as a connector of the community.

“The interaction of music and earth and family and waste reduction is my favorite thing about this place,” Stellar said.

A touring musician, Stellar’s band recently played a show on the patio’s stage. To Stellar, In.gredients has become a  neighborhood fixture and a staple in the midst of the gentrification happening in East Austin.

“I feel like there are a lot of ways to be when you move into a neighborhood where low income people are being forced out and a new population is coming in,” Stellar said.

As the city’s population continues to grow, Stellar sees the gentrification east Manor Road has undergone.

“I think In.gredients has been a very positive force in terms of what it stands for,” Stellar said. “It meets several different layers of community needs all in one space.”

The surrounding businesses also see In.gredients as a unique part of the East Austin neighborhood. The reassurance from these local vendors plays a  part in the reason the grocery store felt confident in its decision to launch the Indiegogo.

“One of the reasons we knew we wanted to, and that we could even with a property and rent hike, was that we’ve seen such an outpouring from the community,” Hasan said.

The store was rightfully confident– on March 6, the stores Indiegogo surpassed its goal, raising $30,241 for the renovations with the help of 80 donations. Some contributors gave as much as $250.

Nearby vendors and businesses helped by encouraging their own customers to support In.gredients and offering free tickets or coupons if they showed a store receipt. They provided a unique way to contribute to the campaign and initiate a sense of community among small local businesses.

“We’re all in it together,” Hasan said. “The focus on a local food economy, a zero-waste cycle and local businesses, whether it’s our food or our producers—I think it fits pretty well into the Austin city.”

 

 

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