new approaches

Backyard gardens: Austin goes hyperlocal with the 5 Mile Farm's new CSA

Backyard gardens: Austin goes hyperlocal with the 5 Mile Farm's new CSA

Austin Photo Set: News_tavaner_five mile farm_jan 2012
Courtesy of 5-Mile Farm
Austin Photo Set: News_tavaner_five mile farm_jan 2012_house
Courtesy of 5-Mile Farm
Austin Photo Set: News_tavaner_five mile farm_jan 2012
Austin Photo Set: News_tavaner_five mile farm_jan 2012_house

If you are at all interested in local food, you’re likely familiar with the usual lingo and services — community supported agriculture (CSA), sustainable food, farmers’ markets, farm to plate, farm delivery, roof top gardens, you get the idea. But have you heard of a hyperlocal farm?

5 Mile Farms, is the brainchild of Randy Jewart, founder of Austin Green Art, a non-profit founded in 2004 to foster collaborative art projects between the arts, environmental and green business community here in Austin. Austin Green Art’s other operation, Resolution Gardens, helps people start vegetable gardens at their homes.

The produce from the farm, which until last month was wholesaled to the likes of Taco Deli, Casa de Luz, Daily Juice, Wheatsville Co-op and Greenling, is grown in nine different locations across the city. And all but one of the nine farm locations, which total two acres, are residences — i.e., people’s backyards.

5 Mile Farms, which started as a moment of inspiration scribbled on a napkin by Jewart, has started offering its produce directly to the public as a CSA. The farms’ spring season starts January 2. Members pay $20 a week for 13 weeks and can pick up their produce from the farm’s headquarters — Jewart’s home on Burnet Road (a.k.a. Resolution Farm) — or Sunday at the HOPE Famers’ Market.

Unlike many CSAs, 5 Mile Farms members can choose their produce from what is available versus receiving a weekly box of vegetables and fruit selected for them.

After learning that the city of Austin is about 800,000 acres, Jewart, when driving, began to notice empty yards — blank slates in terms of the potential to grow food.

“Farming is not an easy business. And the land ownership piece of farming is a real challenge economically,” Jewart says. “Think about the cost of buying land and then the potential for selling enough 50-cent tomatoes.”

The hyperlocal farm — many small locations — approach is not completely new, Jewart says. Initially he thought it was, but he began hearing about hyperlocal farms in other areas of the country such as City Fresh in Cleveland, My Farms in San Francisco and Urban Patchwork in Austin.

Although starting small, Jewart is thinking big. His immediate goal is to expand the number of members, so in turn, 5 Mile Farms can expand to new yards across Austin.

“In a region of a million and a half people, in a city that has hundreds of thousands of acres, our goal is to have hundreds and thousands of these little yard farms and thousands of members,” Jewart says. “We hope that this business model will be able to be utilized in other communities across the country.”

Dave Foster, 28, who has worked with Jewart for several years with Resolution Gardens and the Austin Green Art non-profit, hosts one of the nine farm locations at his home in Del Valle. Foster has the potential to farm one acre of land, but currently has 1,500 square-feet ready for planting and is growing kale and collard greens.

For Foster, being involved in 5 Mile Farms is about fostering a healthy and strong community for his 9-month-old son, Pike.

“I’ve seen a huge connection with what the garden can do for community health,” he says.

5 Mile Farms is not just looking for CSA members to enjoy its produce, but people who want to have a farm in their yard.

The farm has about 28 members signed up for its spring season. When it reaches its capacity at 40, people who are interested in joining can will be added to a waiting list.

“The thing to do that is easier than transferring all your money to a credit union is start eating locally and try to get yourself off of the corporate eating system,” Jewart says in the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. 

In addition to weekly fresh produce, farm membership includes a monthly farm meal and education workshop that will address the full spectrum of eating food straight from the farm — gardening, farming, preserving and pickling and even cooking.

The next eating event at 5 Mile Farms is on Saturday, January 14, and is part of its Occupy Your Plate series. The meal will include information on the way corporate ownership connects to the food we eat and soup and beer. The event is free to members and $5 for anyone else who would like to attend.

The first workshop of 5 Mile Farms‘ spring season is on January 21. Attendees will learn how to build an herb spiral. The same free structure applies; the event is free for members and $5 for the public.