Today’s post is a great profile and interview I conducted with the Sustainable Food Center here in Austin. SFC also runs a number of the area farmers markets, in addition to several amazing programs centered around local, healthy, sustainably grown food – what my Locavore project is all about. This will be the first in several interview/profiles I am going to bring you during this project; since it was all about being local, I thought many people might be interested in seeing more about what goes on behind the scenes of some of my favorite Locavore organizations!
Shelley: My current 30 Day Project, Locavore, is all about buying, supporting and eating local. From the perspective of the SFC, what do you feel is so important about doing this?
Susan Leibrock (SFC Community Relations Director): Since Sustainable Food Center’s mission is to cultivate a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food, your Locavore project is a worthy pursuit! Although the “good food movement” has made many leaps and bounds over the past ten years, and even more rapidly in the past five, we need to have more individuals and families personally taking action to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, a project such as Locavore brings the value of food that is grown without chemical fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and thus, makes a positive environmental and public health impact; of keeping dollars in our local economy and supporting the farmers and food artisans who fulfill our most important need.
Can you expand a little bit on the “seed to table” concept of SFC?
From seed to table, SFC creates opportunities for individuals to make healthy food choices and to participate in a vibrant local food system. Through organic food gardening, relationships with area farmers, interactive cooking classes and nutrition education, children and adults have increased access to locally grown food and are empowered to improve the long-term health of Central Texans and our environment.
I think the education programs you are doing with children are great. It seems to me that this type of food production & consumption is the way it USED to be, and over the past 2-3 generations we have gotten so into the mindset of packaged foods, fast foods, processed foods, etc. Do you see kids really embracing this and excited about it?
We do, Shelley! In 2010 we completed our 3-year Farm to School pilot project, Sprouting Healthy Kids, funded by Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and we now receive funding from additional sources specific to our joint project with Marathon Kids, which has expanded into not only middle but elementary schools. We are working in 14 schools total, and will be moving into 40 others in AISD this fall focusing on our Farm to School initiative—meaning, students will be receiving fresh food from local farms in their school cafeterias, as this smaller number of schools currently do, and also have the opportunity for in-class lessons and after school clubs focused on the importance of “where our food comes from.” As our Advisory Council member, Alice Waters, is fond of saying, “If they grow it themselves, they’ll eat it!”
What do you think are the major challenges of changing the way food is consumed for future generations?
We’ve been indoctrinated for as you say, 2-3 generations now, that our food comes in a package, and that the corporations have “food under control.” We now see, through consistent foodborne illnesses, prevalence of food deserts and the very bodies of our children and adult populace, that this is not the case. Our industrial food system is very much out of control, and organizations such as SFC, including the Community Food Security Coalition, of which we are founding members, are addressing the problems and offering innovative solutions on a community-by-community basis. Top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions proposed by industry and government may be well-meaning, but they are far from effective or appropriate to each different market around the U.S. It is an important time to pay attention, especially with Farm Bill 2012 coming down the pipeline.
How has the farmers market concept, and the actual markets, grown and been embraced by the Austin community since you’ve been doing it?
We started Austin Farmers’ Market, now called SFC Farmers’ Market in 2003 on 4th St. and Guadalupe in downtown Austin. Since then we’ve worked with the City and the Parks Department to find optimal space for our markets, and the downtown market moved into Republic Square Park (basically, just up onto the curb and into the park) where the auction oak had just been revived and a new deck for live music and casual dining was built. It looks stellar, and we’re pleased to have two additional permanent sites for our other two mid-week markets now.
SFC Farmers’ Market at The Triangle began in 2007 as a response to citizens in north-central Austin requesting a mid-week and farther north market site, as well as our farmers, many of whom had the bandwidth to harvest twice a week and wanted a second market. We were asked to take on management of the market at Sunset Valley in March 2012, now SFC Farmers’ Market at Sunset Valley, by the City of Sunset Valley, and the farmers and food artisans, 85% of whom wanted to stay at the Toney Burger Center location, and did.
The Austin community has been supportive of our markets beyond measure. 30% growth from 2009-2010 and subsequent growth over 20% year over year has demonstrated both the interest in having high quality, locally grown food and also the village meeting place feel which farmers’ market imparts.
What is something about SFC that is perhaps less well known in the community that you would like people to know?
SFC doesn’t just give lip service to affordability. When you buy at the height of season, you’ll find produce competitively priced with its supermarket counterparts. Meet me at the market this Saturday and I’ll physically go with you to do a price comparison on tomatoes, melons and okra! Providing access to all Austinites, regardless of income, is a core value of ours. SFC was the first farmers’ market system in Texas to accept SNAP (food stamps) Lone Star Card and WIC (Women and Infant Children federal nutrition program) vouchers. With the $45,000 St. David’s Foundation grant awarded this week, we will also be the first Texas Double Value Coupon Program, whereby food assistance recipients will receive twice the value of produce in partnership with Wholesome Wave Foundation, Paul Newman’s baby. Our new Northeast Austin market will open in March 2012 after a feasibility study funded by the grant this fall. The new market will be open to our neighbors living and working in the underserved areas of Austin as well as anyone for whom it is convenient to shop in Northeast Austin.
*Note to readers: I have taken Susan up on her offer to do a price comparison at the market, and will publish that in a future post – so stay tuned!
Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing! Eat well,