Tag: Texas

Baking a Difference

By Adam Beard, Melinda Billingsley, Madison Hamilton, Omar Longoria and Landon Pederson

Some people “pay it forward,” but this organization “challahs back.”

It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. A student lugging a heavy backpack pauses for a moment to breathe in the tantalizing scent before crossing the street. There’s something cooking in the building on the corner of 21st and San Antonio St., but he isn’t quite sure what.

Through the doors of Texas Hillel, down a long hallway and past an extensive meeting room lies a kitchen. UT students donning chef hats are scattered throughout as 90’s pop music blares over the clanging of pots and pans.

By 6 p.m. the kitchen will be cleared out and more than 70 loaves of challah bread will be neatly wrapped and ready to sell in West Mall the next day.

This is how the national non-profit organization Challah For Hunger operates.

Cari Cohen serves as president of Challah for Hunger. One of her main jobs is to ensure the group has the right amount of ingredients the recipe calls for. (Photo by Landon Pederson)

“I think Challah For Hunger is a great because it’s both social justice and fun at the same time,” says chapter president, Cari Cohen.

The Texas Hillel is home to one of the many Challah For Hunger chapters across the United States. Founded in 2006, the UT Austin branch has raised thousands of dollars to help fight hunger in both Austin and Africa. By selling challah for $5 in the West Mall, they are able to give upwards of $200 per week to MAZON: a Jewish national non-profit organization, as well as the local food bank.

Members of Challah for Hunger say it only takes two hours to sell all of the bread they make for the week every Wednesday on the West Mall. (Photo by Omar Longoria)

Although challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten on holidays, both Jewish and students of non-Jewish descent are invited to Texas Hillel to prepare, braid and decorate challah bread to help raise money for humanitarian aid.

“If they’ve never heard of challah before, we explain to them that it’s an egg-based, really sugary, awesome bread that’s based in the Jewish faith,” says Challah for Hunger member, Hillary Haspel.

Incorporating ingredients such as chocolate, cinnamon and their “fun flavor” each week, the bread has become popular among students from all backgrounds – even the ones who pronounce the “c” in challah.

“Not only does it taste amazing, it goes to a really awesome cause,” says Haspel.

Infographic

Pumpkin Mania Takes Over Austin and Beyond

By Maria Roque, Jamie Balli, Lingnan Ellen Chen, Sara Cabral

(Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

(Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

October heralds pumpkin mania—a time where one can buy pumpkin-flavored everything, and Austin businesses are cashing in on this trend.

It all started when coffee conglomerate, Starbucks, introduced their signature fall beverage, the pumpkin spice latte, 10 years ago. Since then, businesses and brands nationwide began offering pumpkin-inspired products. Sales of all pumpkin-flavored foods and beverages increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to market research firm Nielsen. In the last five years, pumpkin sales have risen 34 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Austin, businesses have contributed to the trend by offering seasonal products from about September to November, all featuring the orange squash.

Amanda Bates is the co-owner of Tiny Pies, a local bakery that specializes in handheld sweet and savory pies. Their seasonal pies include the traditional pumpkin pie, the apple walnut pumpkin, and the ginger bumpkin, a blend of pumpkin pie, chocolate brownie mix, and gingerbread crust — flavors that Bates says keeps them baking all day.

“I think it is both for commerce and kind of the nostalgia, bringing in all of the flavors that you grew up eating at home with your granny,” Bates says. “We will put out a tray of pumpkin, and they sell out immediately.”

In addition to keeping the fall holiday spirit alive, as a Go Texan member, Tiny Pies takes pride in sourcing more than 70 percent of their ingredients locally.

“That’s one of the cornerstones of our business is to actually highlight what is seasonally produced locally,” Bates says. “And so right now pumpkin is one of those things that’s being grown and that we can get.”

While pumpkin pairs well with the ingredients used to make pastries, it is also popular in savory dishes.

Goldis Sausage Company purveys unique sausages out of their food truck located downtown. Owner Keenan Goldis created a seasonal sausage for 512 Brewing Company’s six-year anniversary.

“When I was offered to cater the 512 Brewing Party I was overcome with joy, so I decided to grasp the opportunity to throw in some nice autumn flavors,” Goldis says. “So I think that I did a pretty good job of capturing the very essence of a Brandenburg sunset on a cool autumn night.”

The sausage features 512’s six year anniversary Dubbel beer, pork shoulder, cayenne, garlic, mustard seeds and, of course, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds.

“It sold like crazy. People just wanted that sausage, that sausage, that sausage,” Goldis says. “So yeah, people definitely get excited about it.”

Pumpkin Mania Takes Over Austin and Beyond from Maria T. Roque on Vimeo.

Farms across the United States have expanded to meet the demand for the vegetable.

Acreage dedicated to pumpkin farming has increased by about one third in 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the hot Central Texas weather is unsuitable for pumpkins to grow, farms and other establishments in the area buy pumpkins from the Western United States to sell during the October pumpkin season.

Elgin Christmas Tree Farm has been selling pumpkins since 2002. Their pumpkin patch offers families an opportunity to partake in fall activities such as pumpkin picking and hayrides.

Owner, Twyla Nash, says they do well with the pumpkin sales, and buy about a semi-truck and a half of pumpkins to meet the demand.

“We have not had a great increase, but we feel that the popularity of dealing with pumpkins, selling them, having pumpkin events, has increased,” Nash says. “So there’s more places for people to go to buy their pumpkins and to do different activities involving pumpkins. The wealth is spread out amongst different businesses.”

Within Austin city limits, Tarrytown United Methodist Church has been running a pumpkin patch every October since 1988 to help the church youth fund their summer mission trips.

Heather Heard is a lifelong Tarrytown United member. Heard started working the patch as an eighth grader, the first year it was started. Now, her daughter is in the youth program, and Heard continues to work the patch along with the youth and other parents.

Heard says she has seen an increase in pumpkin sales.

“The weather has been so nice that people tend to come out more as a family and buy more pumpkins,” Heard says. “I definitely think that there has been an increase in sales this year.”

Heard says when the Tarrytown United pumpkin patch started they sold about a truckload of pumpkins. Now the church ships in two semi-trucks of pumpkins to sell—that’s 43,000 pounds of the vegetable.

“I think everyone comes and it has just become a family tradition for them,” Heard says. “They come and they take pictures and they pick out their pumpkins.”

Whether used for decorating and carving or baking and eating, pumpkins have become a staple of the fall season in the United States and in the heart of Texas.

Art studio hosts gala to inspire artists with disabilities

A Budding Artist

By: Claire Edwards, Madison Hamilton, Helen Fernandez, Melinda Billingsley and Jonny Cramer

Michelangelo used a 50-foot ladder to reach the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Picasso required a vast color palette to coat his geometric shapes. Banksy operates through complete secrecy. Shannon Donaldson needs a little water and a well-lit room to keep her art alive.

Shannon Donaldson, founder of Flowers on the Fly, prepares succulents on her ice cream bike. Photo by Helen Fernandez

Shannon Donaldson, founder of Flowers on the Fly, prepares succulents on her ice cream bike. Photo by Helen Fernandez

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in sculpting from Stephen F. Austin University, Donaldson didn’t know in what direction to take her artistic abilities.

“I never knew where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do,” she says. “Finally I found this little niche of succulent plants.”

Donaldson says she sees each succulent as a sculpture in itself. She creates arrangements by focusing on different textures and colors. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Donaldson says she sees each succulent as a sculpture in itself. She creates arrangements by focusing on different textures and colors. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

In 2012 she founded Flowers on the Fly with an ice cream bike and a few dozen succulent plants. Her business flourished – no pun intended – when she started pairing the cactus-like plants with funky vases, pots and sculptures that she purchased from local shops.

After securing her three spots: South Congress, The Drag, and downtown Austin – Donaldson became the go-to succulent vendor around town.

University of Texas at Austin student, Leigh Brown has started working with Donaldson to personalize her purchases.

“I buy succulents from here every three or four months,” says Brown. “I design a setup with her and she’ll go and get the plants for me.”

Not only do UT Austin students enjoy sprucing up their dorm with stylish succulents, the local art community has praised Donaldson for her innovation. RAW, “the natural born” art show hosted at The Belmont in downtown Austin, invited Donaldson to showcase her work. Her setup ranged from succulents sprouting out of glimmering black skulls with lit up eyes to blue dinosaurs with plants growing out of their back. The creativity and attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed – her cart was placed on the first floor, directly across from the main stage, where RAW attendees crowded around in admiration.

“My favorite thing is the succulent gasp – it’s the moment when people see my cart and they’re like ‘Ah that is so cute!’”

Donaldson had to create a job to use her art degree, she says she wasn't able to go out and find one. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Donaldson had to create a job to use her art degree. She says she wasn’t able to go out and find one. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Even though her succulents have been in high demand among the art community and UT students alike, Donaldson doesn’t have any desire to raise prices. Ranging from $4 to $25, her succulents are cheaper than most art – and plants in the area. An appreciation for high-quality, reasonably priced art was a key component when creating Flowers on the Fly.

Starting a business was a big risk for Donaldson but it paid off – proving to her family and self that unconventional paths can be successful.

A Budding Artist from Claire Edwards on Vimeo.

Don’t Mess with Sherry Tucci

Monolithic Domes: Architecture of the Future

By Helen Fernandez, Madison Hamilton, Melinda Billingsley, Jonny Cramer and Claire Edwards

Portable cassettes, Mr. Potato Head, and Bruce Springsteen topping the charts are all things of the past. However, one relic from 1975 has lived on – and it’s thriving in the 21st century.

After building his first monolithic dome nearly forty years ago, David South has expanded his business to 49 states and 53 countries.

“I will never live long enough to forget the feeling when that dome went up – standing inside, and realizing it’s the building of the future,” says South.

caterpillarBruco, a giant caterpillar composed of seven interlocked domes, is an easily recognizable landmark on the side of I-35. Photo by: Helen Fernandez

 

Headquartered in Italy, Texas – Monolithic is home to the first dome community. Surrounded by a vast array of domes differing in colors and sizes, South’s two-story dome sits in the heart of the neighborhood.

Although skeptical as first, many have come to embrace the fairy-tale looking structures.

“It’s really comfortable and there’s no extra [electric and water] bills,” says Italy dome resident, Patsy Hall.

However, convenience and economics aren’t the only reasons for Monolithic’s international success.

In 2013 more than seventeen hundred homes were destroyed after a tornado ravaged the town of Moore, Oklahoma – with only one structure withstanding: the monolithic dome. South says dome survivability is a common theme among disaster-ridden areas.

Another benefit is the low cost of building, South explains.

“We don’t need to spend a lot of money, or waste resources to build domes,” he says.

The rounded structures are also eco-friendly.

Despite their unparalleled efficiency, living in a dome has its repercussions. The inflatable Airform building method causes all domes to be the same shape – unlike traditional housing. And although rooms can later be segmented off, many domes in the Italy community are much smaller with less open space than the conventional home.

However, at only $90 per week, living in the Italy community is seemingly economical – which is exactly what South envisioned forty years ago.

“My role since day one has been to teach and help people,” he says. “I really want it to be an industry and not just a David South business.”

3-D Technology Finally Free For UT Students

By: Jamie Balli, Silvana Di Ravenna, Briana Franklin, and Breanna Luna

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UT’s first 3D printing vending machine is the hot topic of technology accessible for students.
Photo Credit: Breanna Luna

AUSTIN – With all the talk about 3-D printing, a few questions still remain. What is in it for the consumer? How does 3-D printing work? Is it costly?

Since early September, 3-D printing has been available at no cost for all students at the University of Texas at Austin. The printer is located in the “T-Room” inside the Mechanical Engineering Building on campus.

Third-year aerospace engineer Kenzie Snell heard about the 3-D printer in the Longhorn Rocketry Association where students had to use it for their rockets. Students in other engineering courses are also using the printer for class projects.

“For my engineering design graphics course I had to recreate a water valve pipe that we took the dimensions of, created 3-D images of them, and then printed them for a final project,” Snell said.

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This rabbit was designed and printed using free 3-D technology
Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

A software development group at the university’s school of engineering created an online portal for students to upload their own designs to the 3-D printer. And here is how the process of 3-D printing works. Each design is reviewed by an engineering student for approval. Students are notified via text message once their design has been approved and is in the process of printing. A second and final text message is sent when the design is finished printing and can be picked up.

“No one has to walk up to the machine and load files which is what typically happens with 3-D printers, and involves students kind of hanging around until it becomes available’’ said Dr. Carolyn Seepersad, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U.T.’s Cockrell School of Engineering.

According to Seepersad, students are customizing parts for themselves, including cuff links, initialed designs, and longhorns for the graduating class. Lately, Seepersad has noticed a significant amount of Pokemon figurines being printed.

“If they can draw it up on their computer, then they can print it out and have it pretty quickly, which is easier than going to the machine shop and trying to make it out of wood, steel, or metal,” said Seepersad.

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Students can pick up their creations at the Innovation Station once they are completed
Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

3-D printing is also being used to make complex shapes in low volume that are not made with other manufacturing techniques used for high volume. According to Seepersad, 3-D printing “is not going to replace other forms of manufacturing,” but it’s going to “supplement manufacturing in very viable ways.”

“Essentially, what you would make in five pieces and glue them together in an assembly shop, a 3-D printer can do it in a single step,” said Dr. Vikram Devarajan, University of Texas alumnus and 3-D printing expert.

According to Devarajan, 3-D printing was invented about 20 to 25 years ago, and because all of the original patents have already expired, the cost of printing has since decreased. This has made 3-D printing much more affordable for the consumer.

The 3-D printer available for the students uses materials that are relatively inexpensive. The mechanical engineering department has offered to help pay for materials, but donations are also being accepted.

“We can print parts almost continuously and only have a couple thousand dollars of material costs at the end of the year,” said Seepersad. “The labor of keeping the machine updated and maintained is probably the biggest expense.”

According to Devarajan, U.T. owns several printers that employ two main types of additive manufacturing processes.The 3-D printer available for all students is based on a process called FDM [Fused Deposition Modeling] and is more reasonable in material costs. The other process, SLS [Selective Laser Sintering], is more expensive but can print more complex designs and is widely used in the medical and the aerospace industry.

“We couldn’t afford to open up [the SLS] process to students because of the material costs,” said Seepersad. “The parts printed from the 3-D printer downstairs rarely print anything that has more than a dollar’s worth of material.”

3-D printers range in price depending on the complexity of the printer itself. Printers using the SLS modeling process can print complex designs such as organs and complex flow field geometries. At U.T., a human heart modeled from a CT scan was printed, according to Devarajan.

“You can go buy an FDM 3-D printer for $1,000,” said Devarajan. “The SLS printers I have operated at U.T. are about half a million dollars each.”


3D Printing from Briana Franklin on Vimeo.

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Not Just a Fad: Austin’s Evolving Locavore Movement

By Sara Cabral, Jane Claire Hervey, Larisa Manescu and Olivia Starich

 

Banner Draft

Pop-up tents form the aisles of HOPE Farmers Market at Saltillo Plaza in East Austin. Photos/editing by Olivia Starich.

 

 

On Sundays, Plaza Saltillo becomes more than a plot of concrete park.

 

The community space, nestled between the railroad tracks and a public housing complex on the intersection of 5th Street and Comal Street, transforms into a mosaic of booths and tents showcasing some of Austin’s local vendors. Called the HOPE Farmers Market, the weekly four-hour event (rain or shine) gives farmers and artisans a chance to sell their homegrown and homemade goods.

HOPE, which stands for Helping Other People Everywhere, debuted as a farmers market in 2009, but it only represents a small part of Austin’s local food movement. Typically, urban areas have their own local food systems that focus on the production and distribution of local food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local food is “defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics” and is “related to the distance between food producers and consumers.”

For Austin, the local food system includes five types of participants that buy and sell local food: small- and large-scale farmers; farm-to-table liaisons; local food retailers (farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores); local food awareness organizations and local food consumers. In Austin’s 2013 Economic Food Sector Report, all of these participants contributed to the more than $4 billion expended on all food in Austin in 2011. Although the amount spent specifically on the production, distribution and consumption of local food in Austin has not yet been quantified, those involved in the local food movement can speak to its impact.

 

John Lash, the founder and owner of Farm-to-Table LLC., created his company to help bridge the gap between Austin’s farmers and food retailers. In 2009, he began buying produce from small- and large-scale local farms to sell to restaurants. According to a 2007 U.S Census, there are almost 9,000 farms serving the Austin area; Lash aims to serve as many of these as possible with the goal of helping restaurants access local food sources.

“More and more restaurants see it as their obligation to serve their customers food that is good and healthy,” he said. “For the most part, but with some exceptions, they can get better-quality food from local producers.”

However, supplying restaurants with local food comes with its own set of problems. Seasons, drought, freezes and other environmental factors can keep farms from producing year-round (or at all) and crop availability varies. Despite the large impact of the environment, Lash said that the biggest barrier to supplying locally-sourced food is distribution.

“The challenge is less being able to provide and how to get it from the farmer to the customer,” Lash said.

Lash coordinates with multiple farms each week to provide local food to his clients, which include low-price restaurants like P. Terry’s and more expensive establishments like Vespaio on South Congress. He either accepts deliveries or picks up produce from the farms himself. He also sells to seven Austin schools, so the cafeterias can incorporate fresh produce into the schools’ lunches.

“Hopefully, more and more schools will demand that, so that all of a sudden students are exposed to the idea and understand the [connection] between X and Y [farmers and food on the table] as they grow up,” he added.

Other organizations, like Austin’s Urban Roots, have tried to intercept local food ignorance by exposing the public to local food at a younger age. The non-profit, which had its beginnings in East Austin, offers 30 local youth paid internships to run a 3.5-acre farm every year. The project typically harvests about 30,000 pounds of produce per season to be sold at farmers markets or donated to local food kitchens. Max Elliott, Urban Roots’ executive director, said that the program aims to connect kids to agriculture, while teaching them the values of hard work and sustainable lifestyles.

“What we’re trying to do with Urban Roots is trying to provide young people with opportunities to really amplify their voice within the food movement and have the community celebrate them as youth leaders,” Elliott said. “For me, it’s about power. How do you ensure that there’s more diversity within the local food movement? Have leadership.”

To maximize their impact, Urban Roots also takes young students on farm tour field trips, and the group plans to visit classrooms this year to spread local food awareness. Elliott said that although Urban Roots has had its successes, Austin’s local food movement still largely lacks accessibility.

“If you really look at where food is being consumed and being purchased, 99 percent of food is being bought in grocery stores, corner shops and restaurants. There’s not a lot of food that’s really moving through the local food community,” he said. “If we want to improve access, we’re really going to have to look at the bigger players, looking at the grocery stores, corner stores.”

Austin is also home to groups that try to promote awareness of local food among adults. Slow Food, the Austin branch of a national organization that considers itself a response to fast food, focuses on reconnecting people with the food they eat. The group hosts free, open educational events to teach the public about various food topics, such as gardening, seasonal food and the importance of food appreciation.

“A lot of our programs grow organically from either the feedback we hear from members in terms of educational topics or areas where we know there is a lot of need locally for fundraising or awareness,” Ashley Cheng, Austin Slow Food representative, said.

For HOPE Farmers Market manager Matthew Olson, local food system awareness and communication between farmers, citizens and the city are important for the survival of their market. For example, citizen complaints in December of last year concerning local, urban farms resulted in radical changes for Austin’s urban farm codes.

“What that’s been doing is burdening those farms, these small, urban farms in East Austin with having to attend city ordinance meetings, having to potentially pay legal fees for attorneys to help draft code compliance literatures,” Olson said. “In the big sense, it takes them away from being farmers.”

Raj Patel, a local food activist and author of the novel “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System,” said these conversations between farmers, the community, and local government are important for developing any urban area’s local food system. The more that grassroots movements such as small urban farms get people talking, the more inclusive the conversation about local food becomes, he said.

“There’s a dialectical relation between what the government does and what grassroots demand and how people demand it,” Patel said.

In this sense, the conversation which drives Austin’s local food system is expanding and local food is now incorporated into many of the city’s communities and institutions. Similar to HOPE Farmers Market, the Sustainable Food Center hosts multiple farmers markets in various Austin areas, from downtown to the Sunset Valley.

To provide access to various socioeconomic demographics, these markets offer the Double Dollar Incentive Program (DDIP), which allows families and individuals who receive SNAP benefits (which were formerly food stamps) to double the dollar amount that they can spend on fruits and vegetables.

Even the University of Texas at Austin has made a move toward local food, with the development of its own student-run micro-farm, which plans to provide the campus’ cafeterias with organic, locally-grown food.

No matter how Austin’s local food system manifests itself, the movement is bound to grow. In a recent report published by the USDA, consumers have shown a significant want for more organic, local food in their diets.

“People [in Austin] are ready to look out for one another and to take fairly unusual steps to be able to put their money where their mouths are,” Patel said.

But, as with any local food system, Patel said that the continuation of the movement goes beyond asking simple questions about local food’s production, distribution and accessibility. The true questions lie in making an urban area’s local food system a profitable part of the city’s economy.

“If the workers [in the local food system] are being paid properly, not only at Wheatsville [a grocery store], but also the people in the fields, it’s going to be expensive. So what do you do? Either you screw the poorest people in America out of money, or you pay more,” Patel said. “That’s something that I want to see the local food movement tackle. Because I think everyone should eat that way, and the fact that not everyone can is an indictment of the way we eat in America. What’s wrong with dreaming that big?”

Austin’s local food system has only gained momentum throughout the last five to six years and the direction and success of the movement is hard to pinpoint. However, community members within Austin’s local food movement, like HOPE’s manager Olson, believe that more people are bound to catch on.

“I think ‘local’ is the new buzz word and what you should be looking for if you are a conscious consumer,” Olson said. “You’re voting with your dollar. You’re supporting your local economy when you do that.”

Looking for local food on a night out? Check out this interactive map of Austin’s locavore scene, which includes UrbanSpoon ratings, prices, and website links: