What do a former nurse, federal government employee, paralegal, teacher and banker have in common? They’re all Austin women entrepreneurs who traded their careers to open small businesses in our city. And they all share a passion for the local community and a commitment to sustainability.
Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit is rivaled by few other cities, and it seems more and more people are abandoning traditional careers in favor of forging their own way through less conventional means. Meet five Austin women who have turned what began as hobbies into budding local businesses, and who are thinking globally while acting at the grassroots level.
1/ Stephanie McClenny, Confituras
In August 2010, after spending two months preparing 100 jars of jam, Stephanie McClenny was ready to sell her homemade preserves for the first time at Barton Creek Farmers Market. She sold all 100 jars in that first afternoon.
“Confituras”, McClenny explains, “is a Spanish word with essentially the same meaning as ‘confit’ in French. It means to cook something down to its essence.”
Confituras’ mission is to create the best quality product possible, and the effects of doing so are more wide-reaching than one might initially think. McClenny told me, “We believe it’s important to produce seasonally because the product is fresher and it doesn’t travel as far, making it more sustainable. We also make a priority to support local farmers. By paying the price the farmers set, that allows them the ability to support their families, which allows us to be able to continue to buy their products.” It’s this cycle that allows ecosystems to thrive, both in nature and in business.
This fall, look for the opening of Confituras’ brick and mortar location, located at 2129 Goodrich Ave. in the South Lamar corridor. The 1,600-square-foot building, which previously housed an auto body shop, will soon be home to a large, shared commercial kitchen pumping out the best jam and biscuits in Austin, as well as hosting canning classes and other events.
McClenny is interested in more than a cafe and retail space. She wants to bring people together while developing the philanthropic side of Confituras. “We want it to not only be a shared space, but one that really invites collaboration,” she stated.
Confituras will sublease kitchen space to other artisans with shared food values, like a focus on sustainability and commitment to supporting local farmers and ranchers. This collaborative space will also house an incubator geared toward small, woman-owned food businesses. Retail and wholesale education, mentorship and sliding scale access to business resources are some of the anticipated program offerings.
For more information and to find out where to buy Confituras, visit this website.
2/ Tara Chapman, Two Hives Honey
After she spent nearly 13 years in Washington, D.C. working in operations for the CIA and later as a lobbyist, beekeeping seems like the least likely next step in Tara Chapman’s career trajectory. But life is strange, and sometimes all it takes is a beekeeping class Groupon to change one’s course.
A native of West Texas, Chapman longed to be closer to home and began working remotely from Austin for her D.C.-based employer. After attending a beekeeping class offered by Round Rock Honey, Chapman was hooked on bees. She quit her government job and began working for a bee breeder in East Texas, where she learned the tricks of the trade.
Two Hives Honey started out with—you guessed it—two hives. Chapman has grown this number to 35 through the installation of backyard micro-apiaries managed by other unexpected beekeepers.
Learning about the crucial role bees play in the environment and pollination of crops was something Chapman had to do in order to convince people to allow her to house her hives on their property. She credits the bees with prompting her to ponder where her food comes from, and as the catalyst to receiving recognition as part of Austin’s food community.
When we met, Chapman expressed a childlike wonderment and enthusiasm for what she does, exclaiming, “I built some empty boxes, the queen bred and I witnessed these combs materialize [seemingly] out of thin air–it’s miraculous! Insects make honey! That’s incredible.”
Two Hives offers hive tours, Bee Builder kits and a HoneyHome Owner program, as well as beekeeping classes. Chapman travels around Austin speaking to groups at libraries and schools about the importance of maintaining our native solitary bee population. She’s also the beekeeper at Sustainable Food Center’s teaching apiary.
For more information and to find out where to buy Two Hives Honey, visit this website.
3-4/ Carla Crownover and Paula Foore, Springdale Handmade
Best friends Paula Foore and Carla Crownover met in 2010 when Crownover saw a tweet about the great looking tomatoes at Springdale Farm and rushed over to claim some for herself. Foore, who owns Springdale Farm (a 5-acre organic urban farm located on Austin’s east side) in partnership with her husband Glenn, immediately hit it off with Crownover and they’ve been friends ever since.
The two women enjoy doing all things homesteading and would often get together for canning sessions. Eventually, they added soap-making to their repertoire, using flowers and herbs from the farm located just steps away. During one soap-making session, things got out of control and they ended up with more soap than they knew what to do with.
“We came up with the idea of selling the soap at the farm stand and created our brand in one day,” Crownover explained. “We sold out the first market. The next market we put out candles and those sold out, too. Then we started making body butter, another success.”
Crownover and Foore have been pleasantly surprised by the overnight success of Springdale Handmade and are content to allow it to continue growing organically.
All Springdale Handmade products are made on the premises of Springdale Farm and use seasonal herbs, flowers and produce for color, texture and scent. In addition to soap, candles and body butter, they also produce bath teas, insect repellent, salves, sugar scrub and shaving kits. Goods made by local artisans are used to infuse several of their products, including Austin Honey Company, Lost Pines Yaupon Tea, Third Coast Coffee, Austin Coffee Traders and Zhi Tea.
For more information and to find out where to buy Springdale Handmade products, visit this website.
5/ Alejandra Rodriguez Boughton, La Flaca Urban Gardens
In a recent past life, Alejandra Rodriguez Boughton was a banker in Monterey, Mexico. After obtaining her MBA from McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, she had a sudden change of heart: “I can’t do this,” she thought. Rodriguez no longer desired to work in finance. In an effort to figure out her next move, she asked herself, “What else do I know a lot about?”
The answer: authentic Mexican food. Rodriguez longed for the flavors of her childhood, many of which do not exist here in Austin. One example is the Chilhacle Negro Chile, used to make an authentic Oaxacan mole negro. Rodriguez decided she would grow the herbs, chiles and spices found in her homeland.
Rodriguez tested her green thumb with a hydroponic balcony garden before moving operations to a backyard. After meeting with Valerie Broussard of V. Broussard Consulting, Rodriguez began getting orders from restaurants like Olamaie and Dai Due, and she knew then that it was time to get serious about growing food as a business.
Enter Ben Carroll, Rodriguez’s first and only employee whom she refers to as a “plant magician.” Carroll comes to Austin from the Northeast with a background in horticulture and a passion for inspiring the next generation of young farmers.
La Flaca Urban Gardens is located in Southwest Austin, at 7810 Copperas Dr., on just under a half acre. Currently over 60 varieties of crops are growing, but specialty herbs are their niche. When I visited La Flaca, I found six varieties of mint, including chocolate peppermint, and nine varieties of basil, including bubblegum.
La Flaca has open volunteer hours every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Carroll and Rodriguez are available to answer any questions and to help others setup their own backyard gardens.
For more information and for a list of products currently available, visit this website.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Are there other sustainability-driven Austin women entrepreneurs we should know about?