Tag: Farming

Johnson’s Backyard Garden: Keeping Austin Fresh

Filmed and Edited by: Alejandra Martinez, Kristen Hubby and Taylor Villarreal

Photos by: Alejandra Martinez, Kristen Hubby, Taylor Villarreal

Infographics by: Marysabel Cardozo

Story by: Taylor Villarreal and Marysabel Cardozo

 

Twelve years ago, a man named Brenton Johnson converted his family’s backyard garden in Austin’s East Side into a million dollar business.

“Pretty soon I was growing more produce than our family could eat, so I started selling at the Austin Farmers’ Market,” Johnson said in an interview with Find Farm Credit. “We didn’t even know what to charge the first time we were there.”

Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, who formerly served as the Program Administrator for the Water Conservation Field Services Program in Austin, and says he has always believed that “human energy consumption practices need some serious reconsideration.”

Inspired by a Japanese farm that fed its’ community through a prepaid service, Johnson set out to kickstart one of Texas’ first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations: Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

A CSA operation gives members of a community direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. They are also often referred to as personalized box subscriptions.

To Johnson, CSA’s are “a relationship between the farmer and its customers. And essentially, the customers share in the risk of the farm by prepaying for a portion of the harvest.”

When you become a member of a CSA, you are purchasing a “share” of the crops. JBG offers CSA memberships in over ten major cities and suburbs across Texas. Austin members can pick up their food at one of 24 locations throughout the greater Austin area, and new pick-up sites are being added as needed.

“Through my work with JBG, I have aimed to strike a balance between these challenges and the resource-consuming aspects of food production,” Johnson says on his LinkedIn biography. “I continue to strive for constant improvement and community involvement through the most earth-friendly, biodynamic-conscious, organic farming methods.”

To date, JBG employs 20 workers, feeds over 1,000 consumers and grosses over $1 million in sales annually. The farm welcomes volunteers five days out of the week at either of their two locations, The Garfield Farm, where all of their produce is grown, or the Hergotz Packing Shed (better known as “The Barn”). A half-day of volunteering gets the workers one CSA share of seasonal vegetables.

Lyndsie Decologero, a Post Production Manager, started at JBG three years ago as a volunteer at Garfield Farms where she planted and picked produce to be transported to The Barn. From there she was promoted to manage accounts with wholesale retailers, such as Wheatsville Co-Op and Whole Foods Market.

“My first day volunteering we were harvesting sweet potatoes and digging through the soil. By the end of the day I had dirt crammed so far into my fingernails,” Delcologero recalled. “It was such an amazing experience because people really don’t realize just how much work goes behind getting their food to the table. It was truly an amazing and inspiring moment for me, and I hope more people start to learn about what it means to buy locally and organically.”

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Beef prices on the moo-ve – How Austin businesses keep up

An Iron Works Barbeque chef cuts through their brisket.

Thanks in part to the long drought that has engulfed Texas, rising beef prices have left consumers in a state of sticker shock.

But despite the 60 percent price increase for a pound of brisket—from $2.21 to $3.52—some Austin businesses are resisting the temptation to charge their customers more for what is becoming a very valuable morsel of meat.

From farm to plate, raising cattle and selling it has become a less profitable endeavor for almost everyone in the state that is the country’s leading cattle producer each year. Just ask Rob Cunningham, the owner of Coyote Creek Farm, a certified organic farm just east of Austin.

“In 2011, when the drought was at its worst, it affected us in that we had 32 or 35 head [of cattle] at the time, and we sold down to 12,” Cunningham said. “The reason we did that was because we didn’t have the grass. If we had millions and millions of dollars in the bank, we would have just bought hay.”

2015 was the first year in which the overall Texas cattle herd increased after eight straight years of drastic decline. The state finally received a normal amount of rain in 2014, which helped grow more grass for the cattle to feed on. But no one is out of the woods yet. The USDA deemed 156 Texas counties disaster areas last month, thanks to the drought.

The pressure to fall in line with the new business model of charging more for cattle was intense, but Cunningham and his family never really in the cards.

“We haven’t changed our price of beef in three years,” Cunningham said. “Cattle prices are really high right now, but I have been able to maintain my price for our grass-fed beef.”

The loyalty of his customers helped make the decision easier.

“Our customers got a really good deal when they buy grass-fed beef from us,” Cunningham said. “About 80 percent of my business is repeat customers. They know our farm. They know our animals and how they’re raised. They enjoy the taste of our beef.”

But while this behind-the-scenes drama plays out on farms across the state, others are only concerned with how hard it is to put beef on the table.

Aaron Morris, the owner of Iron Works BBQ in downtown Austin, said that his customers have certainly felt the financial food struggle caused by the cattle shortage.

“Well, everybody has to eat, BBQ is a great pastime, and so I don’t see that it has affected our business so much as it’s affected maybe what people are able to eat, unfortunately,” Morris said.

Knowing that his customers’ wallets are straining to cover what they typically enjoy, Morris, like Cunningham, has decided against hiking up prices.

“We haven’t passed the price along too much to our customers,” Morris said. “We’ve seen a doubling in our costs but we can’t really double our price, so it’s affected our business in that it has made our margins tighter.”

Those tighter margins apparently extend into Morris’ very own home.

“In our house and with my family, we have kind of switched ourselves to more pork just because beef prices are not just more expensive for us as a restaurant, but if you go to the store yourself, you’ll see that our beef prices are up dramatically from where they were a couple years ago,” Morris said.

Switching to pork hasn’t been all bad, though. At the very least, it’s given Morris more creative license in his cooking and introduced a new menu item to Iron Works.

“We have been cooking a lot of pork at home, and we decided to introduce that at the restaurant a couple of months ago,” Morris said. “We now do pulled pork, which is a product that has been very well-received, and we added it strictly because the price of beef is so high.”

All it would take to make everything right in this beef-crazy little part of the world is a little more rain.

“For the success of BBQ, we need the drought to let up and we need as many cattle out there in America as possible,” Morris said.