This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a tour of Johnson's Backyard Garden (JBG), the largest local CSA (community supported agriculture) farm in the area. The tour was organized by Slow Food Austin, a local member organization of Slow Food USA. "Slow Food Austin supports activities and education to preserve biodiversity in the food supply, spread the education of taste and connect producers of excellent foods with the co-producers (consumers) through events and initiatives."
You may recall that I have blogged about CSAs before. Getting to see a local CSA up close and personal was great! Farmer Brenton Johnson is fabulous! Before the tour he told us about his background and how he came to be an organic vegetable farmer. When he was about to graduate from college, he told us he began to think people had a tendency to constantly strive for increasing their standard of living WAY beyond what was necessary and sustainable (he was studying mechanical engineering at Purdue at the time. For those of you who don't know, I was a mechanical engineer before I became a dietitian, so my ears really perked up when I heard that!). I cannot do justice to exactly how he worded it, but the gist of what he said is that he thought if animals had to work for their food and shelter, we should too, rather than relying so much on devices that make our lives overly convenient. I've never heard anyone speak about truly being a good steward of our natural resources in such a way. He said that when he spoke to his professors about it and they thought he was crazy! Then they suggested he go talk to the Agricultural Engineering group, which he did and ultimately got his degree from that college.
Fast forward several years to where he is at today: vegetable farmer. JBG is an organic, sustainable vegetable farm. I never realized how complicated farming is; he is definitely putting his degree to good use. Brenton and his staff look at all aspects of their operation in order to keep it as sustainable as possible. They analyze each chain of events to determine what will be the best overall course of action to minimize their inputs. For example, he described for us how traditional farmers will use plastics and drip irrigation. A lot of people think that is a great idea because it limits evaporative water loss that you would get from using elevated sprinklers. However, the plastic has to be replaced after virtually every crop is harvested, which means a lot of plastic going into landfills. He and his staff believe overall it is a better use of our natural resources to avoid using the plastic liners by using sprinklers. True, the sprinklers do cause some evaporative water loss, but his are still 80% efficient and they avoid filling up landfills with plastics.
I could go on and on about the details of what it takes to run their farm, but I would need to write a book! I think if more people realized exactly how much work goes into producing sustainable, organic foods, and the care that these farmers put into producing their crops, they may be more willing to pay a little extra. At the end of the tour, we were treated to 6 different heirloom tomato plants and two other plants (I choose heirloom eggplant!). I was also one of the lucky people to get a sample of carrots to take home fresh from the ground!
If you live in the ATX, I highly encourage you to attend the next tour of another local CSA that happens to be right in the City at Springdale Farm on April 10. There will also be a tour of a dairy in nearby Schulenberg, TX on March 27. If you do not live in Texas, please check out Slow Food USA for a local chapter for more information and farm tours in your area.