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Big City Farm Life

By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert | The Daily Texan

Larry Butler, owner and proprietor of Boggy Creek Farm

Shelley Neuman/The Daily Texan

Larry Butler, owner and proprietor of Boggy Creek Farm, stands in front of the patch of arugula and mustard seed plants that makes up just a small portion of the Five-acre urban farm located in east Austin.

Chris and Laurie Blumentritt & their children, Alex and Erin

Shelley Neuman/The Daily Texan

Chris and Laurie Blumentritt show their children, Alex and Erin, the hen house at Boggy Creek Farm on Saturday afternoon. "It's like a little oasis in the city," Laurie said. "Our kids get to see where their eggs for breakfast and the lettuce in their salads come from."

On a chilly Saturday morning, a steady stream of Austin residents lured by the promise of fresh organic vegetables trickled into east Austin’s Boggy Creek Farm, where tables of butternut squash and bell peppers greeted them.

A dirt path led visitors behind the market stand, where they found a three-acre plot of winter crops including beets, arugula, carrots and leeks.

Farms in the middle of major cities are not a common sight, but a recent City Council decision could make it easier for Austin residents to start their own farm like Boggy Creek.

City Council adopted a resolution last week to promote urban farms and community gardens. The resolution, advised by the Sustainable Food Policy Board, asks City Manager Marc Ott to present a plan that will streamline the process of applying for an urban farm or community garden by late February.

Part of streamlining the process includes identifying empty lots that could serve as land for cultivation and broadening the definition of an urban farm or community garden so more applicants can qualify.

“The city has land, and now we want to know where we can create, on city-owned property, applicable places for gardens and growing food,” said Andy Moore, council aide for Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez. “We want it to be easy enough for somebody to go on the city’s Web site and know what land’s available and how they can bring a community garden to their neighborhood.”

Moore said the Sustainable Food Policy Board is made up of 13 members who advise City Council on how to ensure better food security and reduce greenhouse gases through increasing the local food supply.

Moore said the greatest hurdle for people who want to start a community garden or farm is the cost of land in Austin, especially for agriculture. The city, however, will offer agricultural subsidies and lower the price of city-owned land for that purpose, he said.

Moore said growing food locally uses less energy to transport food to grocers compared with shipping food in from out of state. Growing locally also produces better quality food, he said.

“A banana that ripens in a box during transportation doesn’t have as much nutritional food value as the banana that ripens on the plant,” Moore said.

In addition to their effect on the environment, urban farms and gardens also impact the city’s economy and community relationships. Not only do they create more jobs, but the revenue that farms make keeps money circulating in the city, Moore said.

Along with jobs, farms and gardens can provide work for at-risk youths who can learn the various steps in maintaining a farm or garden while developing a productive trade, he said.

Market days bring people together, and as people get to know each other, they become better neighbors, Moore said. Growers can also provide food to support local restaurants, he added.

Although vegetables at Boggy Creek Farm seem expensive compared to vegetables at H-E-B, customers have to keep in mind that the farm needs to be able to treat their workers well, said owner Larry Butler.

“We give our workers a living wage, not 35 cents a bushel after they work 10 hours every day,” Butler said.

Restaurant manager Kate McClung and her husband Deegan McClung, head chef at Jeffrey’s Restaurant and Bar, shop weekly at Boggy Creek Farm for restaurant ingredients. Deegan McClung said shopping at local grocers forces people to eat seasonal foods that are at their peak nutritional value and have the best taste.

Markets that only sell what is in season also have less waste, Kate McClung said.

“Grocery stores have huge displays of all this food because they know that’s what consumers want to see,” she said. “It’s a visual sales strategy to create the feeling of abundance, but most of that food rots on the shelf, and then they have to throw it out.”

The city expects to have a full plan to support community gardens and urban farms by March.

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