Innovative Austin company plants seeds of change with vegetable gardens
Larry Franklin and Fredrick Douglas want to help more people in Austin eat a healthy diet. They also hope their six-month-old company, Black Lives Veggies, makes the local food system more diverse by providing people of color with education about agriculture and entrepreneurship, along with the materials to start their own vegetable gardens.
“We want everyone to be healthy, but more than that, we want opportunities for the disenfranchised,” says Franklin. “It’s about plants, but also entrepreneurship and social justice. When you listen to the news, you hear politicians talk about the healthcare gap, the wealth gap, the literacy gap. At the base of that is the need for people of color to take ownership over their health and their money.”
The company’s services include delivering a variety of seasonal vegetable plants, consultation with people about how to grow a garden where they live, and even putting in plants for customers.
Black Lives Veggies operates out of a greenhouse in East Austin where Franklin and Douglas grow all their plants from seeds in soil they mix themselves. The two currently manage all operations, with help from friends and the volunteer days they host on Saturdays.
“We aren’t professional gardeners, we’re learning as we go,” Douglas says. “It takes a while to grow some kinds of veggies, depending on time of year and other factors.”
They plan to start producing a newsletter to update people about the types of plants available and announce events such as volunteer days, and a podcast as a place to have conversations with people about their gardening experiences.
“We want people to come out and have a conversation — that is big part of why we do what we do,” Franklin says. Ultimately, the pair says they want to help people create gardens to grow food to eat and to sell.
“We want to incentivize people to live better and eat better,” Franklin says. “All you need is some land or containers. The thing is, it doesn’t require much space at all to grow enough food to feed a small family.”
For example, four tomato plants feed a family of four for the entire season. Those with small yards or no yard can grow vegetables in a container garden (download a free guide to container gardening from AgriLife Extension Service.) Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes, and parsley are just some of the vegetables suitable for container gardens.
B.L.V. offers start-up kits that include a flat of 20 small seedlings along with information on when to plant, how to care for the plants, and when and how to harvest. Eventually, the entrepreneurs want to see their model replicated elsewhere, and envision hubs in communities across the country producing veggies that growers can share with each other and their neighbors, which would help reduce dependency on mass supermarkets and allow consumers to know the source of their food.
For now, the focus is on Austin, which Douglas points out is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. “There’s a need to be met,” he says.