The Next Step Forward

Supporting Local, Organic Farming

Words by Sommer Brugal  Photos by Aaron Rimbey

Green Gate Farms is located eight miles from downtown Austin. Still, it feels worlds away. The city is far from sight: the hustle and bustle of cars and people replaced with farm animals shuffling. Erin Flynn says this five-acre lot is a magical spot, fundamentally different from the rest of Austin. According to Flynn, it’s much more than just a farm.

In the mid-2000s, Erin Flynn and her husband, Skip Connett, left their corporate careers in public health for life on the farm. With little knowledge of how to farm, they jumped right in the deep end.

“Farmers always tell you, ‘never start with a CSA,’” Flynn explained, “but we started with one anyways.” Luckily, Flynn says people in their community loved what they were doing. By word of mouth, their small CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, program began to grow.

Today, the farm is home to animals like chickens, rabbits, horses, and goats. It has a farm stand, offers educational classes, and invites students via school field trips and camp programs to learn about the farm. The first camp formed after a CSA member informed Flynn that her son wanted to learn how to catch and butcher a chicken.

“Every farmer in Texas has to have a variety of enterprises to survive,” Flynn explained. In most states, organic farms receive state-issued support from non-profits and university programs. Texas, though, offers little institutional support for what their farm is trying to do.

When asked about organics and the narrative surrounding the word, Flynn is conflicted. “I’m deeply concerned [that organic farming and produce] is a trend.” She admits that while shopping at the farmers’ market is beneficial, the real reason to do so is often overlooked. “What many market goers fail to realize is that when it rains, nobody goes.” And when nobody goes, farmers are left without pay.

Just recently, a new housing development was announced that would enclose Green Gate Farms. The initial proposal completely replaced the farm, but a petition from the local community, along with pushback from Flynn and Connett, changed that. The new plan will build around the farm instead.

Flynn has a knack for turning a negative into a positive. So despite her disappointment, Flynn says there’s still great opportunity. “In a perfect world, developers would be required to feed the people they were building homes for,” envisioned Flynn. She continues to explain that development plans have basic living amenities, so why not food?

Instead of building communities around golf courses or tennis fields, Flynn suggests doing so around a farm. The idea she is referring to is agrihoods. “The hope is that when you buy into this community of homes, you buy into the CSA as well.” In a time where support for local farmers is low, Flynn sees this new way of living as a way to tackle food security in Austin—and elsewhere.

Visibly frustrated by the impending changes set to take place around her farm, Flynn switches gears. She begins to describe their plans to incorporate agrotourism at the farm’s second location on the Colorado River. “We want people to come to our farm to harvest their food and to make their own dinners in a community kitchen.” She wants the farm to empower visitors to experience farming in an intimate way.

When discussing agrihoods and agrotourism, one theme is made clear; a farm, according to Flynn, is much more than just food. Often times, it’s mental health; other times, it’s an escape from daily life. Either way, both scenarios fuel the more than 800 volunteer requests Green Gate Farms receives
every year.

“There’s a tremendous need to provide access to outdoor education and healthy food to all people,” declared Flynn. This is especially true for elementary-aged children and marginalized groups in Austin, like refugees. Green Gate Farms is working with the Multicultural Refugee Coalition to bring groups of volunteers to the farm.

Flynn says that while this group of people needs it most, she can’t do it alone. She calls for the local food movement to go beyond the farmers’ markets and to take the next step. “If people care about local food, they need to care about more than just their own table.”

Restaurants like Dai Due and Lenoir use only locally sourced food from farms like Green Gate Farms. Flynn says it’s important to support local businesses but urges residents to do more than just go out to eat.

“Take some money and put it in the local food economy,” suggest Flynn. “Go to food policy board meetings and let it be known that your farmer’s financial stability matters to you.” Join a CSA or enroll your child in summer camp. Flynn proposes buying groceries locally for just one week.

When Flynn and Connett moved to Austin, locally-sourced, organic food was a new, exciting concept. Since then, Flynn says those who’ve arrived without a sincere interest in what she and other local farms are doing have diluted the appreciation for such products.

Still, Flynn remains hopeful. “Now, more than ever, we need community.”

Native Knowledge:

Green Gate Farms has more than 200 seasonal CSA members who pick up their weekly or bi-
weekly shares at the farm’s location on Canoga Avenue. Alternatively, individuals can become community organizers. In exchange for organizing a pick-up location in town for a group of ten or more, COs will receive a discounted vegetable share.

The CSA further supports food access and food justice by offering a SNAP Community Supported Agriculture program. In partnership with the Sustainable Food Center’s Double Dollar Program, families can purchase the Vegetable CSA using SNAP Lone Star benefits.

8310 Canoga Ave.

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