Sustainable Food Center

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Library employees sold cacti, bromeliads and other plants outside the Perry-Castaneda Library on Wednesday as part of the Hearts of Texas Campaign, a recurring initiative every October to incite charitable donations from UT employees.

UT Libraries spokesman Travis Willmann said the library faculty is directly involved in the campaign, taking the plants from their own gardens.

“Most of the items sold at these events are made — or in the case of the plants, grown — by our 300 staff members,” Willman said.

The event raised $811 for the Sustainable Food Center, which seeks to increase Austinites’ access to local, healthy and affordable food. The center is about $300,000 away from having enough funds to build a $4.5-million facility in East Austin, according to the organization’s website.

Milly Lopez, a staff member at the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said she is happy about the progress the Hearts of Texas campaign has made.

“We are one and a half weeks in and we’re already at 25 percent of our $615,000 contribution goal,” Lopez said. “We have both contribution and participation goals, but participation is our main focus.”

Gregory Vincent, vice president of the division, said he was optimistic about the rest of the month.

“It’s going extremely well, considering it’s still in the beginning stages,” Vincent said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the university community to display our commitment to the Austin community through our generosity.”

UT librarian Kat Strickland said she has always loved gardening and this was an opportunity to use her skills for a good cause.

“We decided to support the Sustainable Food Center because we support farmer’s markets,” Strickland said. “They’re the reason food stamps can be used at farmer’s markets — making local and nutritional food more available to the disadvantaged.”  

Strickland said eating processed food may be the more convenient decision, but it is not worth the costs.

“Making your own food is generally a lot cheaper than buying a meal — but growing your own food is even more so,” Strickland said.

Max Elliott, executive director of Urban Roots, said a large portion of the city’s population — mainly in East Austin — features elevated levels of diet-related disease. Elliott said many young people do not realize where their food originates from.

“Changing the environment from a public health perspective — so that there are more urban farms than fast food restaurants — would alleviate a lot of these problems,” Elliott said.

Konrad Bouffard, owner of Round Rock Honey Company, harvests honey produced in one of the company’s many local bee hives early Wednesday morning.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

For beekeeper Konrad Bouffard it is honey harvesting season, and some of his harvest will be served with fresh bread at campus dining halls Thursday in support of locally produced food.

Bouffard, owner of Round Rock Honey, is one of several producers who supply local food to UT’s Division of Housing and Food Service through the Sustainable Food Center. The center’s Farm to Cafeteria program connects local growers, including Bouffard, with organizations looking for locally grown products.

“This started with honey from my backyard, selling it at the Austin Farmers’ Market. Now we’ve been with SFC for 10 years,” Bouffard said. “We want to be associated with the large buyers as well as small buyers like at the market. It’s great to be involved with UT. We appreciate their business. They’re helping us out and we’re helping them too.”

DHFS currently directs 23 percent of its $8 million food budget toward local foods grown within a 150-mile radius, from farms ranging between 5 and 200 acres. DHFS environmental specialist Hunter Mangrum said the division’s goal is to increase the amount of locally grown food DHFS serves by 2 percent annually.

“If we can further drive that economy to support local farmers to do organic, hormone-free products, then that’s where we want to spend,” Mangrum said. “It does cost a bit and requires more prep time, but we care about the issue and think it’s important and we’re willing to go that extra mile.”

DHFS hosted a Local Harvest Dinner Wednesday with a menu consisting of only locally grown food at J2 and Kinsolving dining halls to raise awareness of the division’s commitment to supporting local farmers.

Mangrum said the local food takes longer to prepare in-house because the farmers do not process the produce the way a corporate farm would.

Lindsey Gaydos, registered dietician for DHFS, said some foods can be healthier if produced locally because of reduced travel time.

“There are certain things, like produce, that if you shorten the time it takes to get from the farm to the table then it is retaining more nutrients,” Gaydos said. “That’s not true for all food items like your meats and your grains. It also depends on the farming practices of the farmers themselves in terms of pesticides and soil.”

Cecil Winzer, Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers’ Market manager, coordinates the center’s Farm to Cafeteria program and said DHFS is the center’s biggest buyer. He said DHFS is in the process of furthering its commitment to local farmers through predetermined contracts that will notify farmers of the foods UT will need in the future, allowing farmers the opportunity to grow more with a guarantee the crop will be sold.

“A lot of farmers just grow what they will need at the market, and they are selling their bumper crop [to the Sustainable Food Center],” Winzer said. “This will be more predictable and the farmers won’t have to worry if planting extra will pay off or not.”

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: Local food is all the buzz

Kirsten Slade, far left, works with students on Saturday morning as part of a citizen gardener course at the UT Concho Community Garden, teaching composting, planting and harvesting.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Fires have scorched the plains of Texas and substantial rain has yet to come to Austin this summer, but wildfires and a severe drought aren’t slowing down local gardeners.

On Saturday the Sustainable Food Center hosted the first in a series of three gardening classes at the UT community garden located at 2108 Concho Street.

The Sustainable Food Center uses these classes as the first step for someone to become a “citizen gardener.” To become a citizen gardener participants have to attend all three classes and log 10 hours of gardening time.

“My gardening experience is minimal. I am just trying to figure out how to make things grow when there is no rain,” said gardening class participant Tom Mitchell.

The class focus ranged from composting, companion planting, bio-intensive gardening and rain barrel harvesting to special gardening tips during times of drought. Volunteer instructor Khaled Jafar taught the class in a question-and-answer format, honing in on useful tips he learned from experience.

“Growth in drought is all about light,” Jafar said. “If you are getting a lot of sun with little rain, provide a lot of shade covering. Also, I would mulch. You need to cover the western side of the garden because that is where the sun beams in from and can be most harmful.”

Jafar introduced a water-conscious gardening method known as rain barrel harvesting.

“Rainwater harvesting is where you take a rain barrel and use it to capture rainwater for garden watering purposes,” Jafar said. “It recycles.”

Other types of gardening Jafar covered were composting, the process of disposing and reusing organic material; bio-intensive gardening, the systematic planning of plants-per-square-foot in a garden in order to maximize the number of plants in an area and companion planting, the practice of planting compatible plants with each other.

“Some advantages of bio-intensive gardening or systematic planting are that it maximizes the light and at the same time allows the plants room to grow,” Jafar said. “Also, companion planting is important because it is helpful to know what goes with what. Garlic is good because a lot of bugs don’t like the smell, and lemongrass is also ideal for warding off bugs.”

Jafar also suggested the use of a cayenne pepper mix to ward off bugs.

“This is a community garden. We wanted one, but couldn’t have it at our apartment and now we can,” said class participant Phillip Martin. “It’s great.”