Organic farming is undoubtedly a labor of love and we’re lucky to live in a region where this love exists in abundance, in comparison to other parts of the country. Austinites have embraced the fact that local, organic fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed, pastured-raised meat, eggs, and dairy purchased from any of the city’s numerous farmers’ markets are superior to many of the products found on supermarket shelves.
Even so, of the 240,000 farms located in Texas, only 178 are certified organic. With the departure of a generation of retirement-age farmers and increasing barriers faced by a new generation, that number is unlikely to increase anytime soon. Economic challenges faced by organic farmers are greater than those faced by farmers of larger, conventional farms who receive government subsidies, and this often means going without access to adequate and affordable healthcare.
Farmgrass, a local Austin nonprofit organization, is raising funds to provide assistance to Central Texas organic farmers when they find their health, and the health of their farms, in a state of emergency.
Farmgrass: Where Farming Meets Bluegrass
Farmgrass President and Founder, Talia Bryce, is a member of Lost Pines, an Austin bluegrass band. Her desire to support local farmers, combined with her love of bluegrass music and a dream to start a festival, gave way to the inception of Farmgrass in 2014.
Bryce pitched the idea of Farmgrass Fest as a way of “using music and community events to bring visibility to farmers and the issues they face, specifically with health and medical emergencies,” and found a wealth of community interest.
Now in its fourth year, Farmgrass has raised over $42,000 for Growers Alliance of Central Texas (Gro-ACT) Farmers Emergency Medical Fund. In the future, the organization plans to distribute funds directly to farmers so as not to exclude Gro-ACT nonmembers. When I spoke with Bryce, she wanted to stress that all local farmers are eligible to receive funds, stating, “We want all farmers to know that there are funds available and we encourage them to apply [for our grants] if and when they need them.”
To date, six farming families have been the recipients of grant funds, including Skip Connett of Green Gate Farms, who suffered injuries due to a delivery vehicle accident, and Hersh and Karen Kendall of Indian Hills Farm, who struggled to pay their medical bills after learning they both had cancer. Other recipients include Tecolote Farm, Happy Chick Farms, and Riverbottom Farms.
Annual Events: Farmgrass Fest and Farm to Feast
Farmgrass hosts two main events each year to raise funds for Central Texas farmers with medical emergencies: Farmgrass Fest and Farm to Feast. In the long term, the goal is to transform the emergency medical fund into a comprehensive health care plan for farmers. The plan will include affordable preventative care, medical cost mediation services, and a web-based hub for medical resources and referrals.
The fourth annual Farmgrass Fest was held on May 12-13, 2017 at Simmons Family Farm in Lockhart, Texas with approximately 750 people in attendance. The festival began with an outdoor campground movie on Friday night. Campers geared up for a Saturday filled with live music from eight local bands, including headliners Whiskey Shivers and Shinyribs, and a variety of eats from local food purveyors. The fifth annual Farmgrass Fest will be held in the spring of 2018.
Farm to Feast
On March 2, 2018, the third annual Farm to Feast will be held at Barr Mansion featuring locally-sourced foods from some of Austin’s top restaurants, as well as an auction and live music. In its first year, Farm to Feast raised $30,000 and garnered sponsorships from Independence Brewery, Odd Duck, and Charles Smith Wines.
How You Can Get Involved
Slow Food Happy Hour at The Hightower
Slow Food Austin is hosting a happy hour at The Hightower on June 15 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. The suggested donation is $10 and funds will benefit both Farmgrass and Slow Food.
Donate, Sponsor, and Volunteer
Members of the Austin community can support existing local farms and encourage the success of a new generation of farmers through direct donations to Farmgrass, attendance at or sponsorship of Farmgrass events, and by giving during Amplify Austin Day, which is held each spring.
With only a handful of people running the organization, Farmgrass is always in need of volunteers. Currently, those with experience in marketing, fundraising, grant writing, and bookkeeping are needed. Volunteers can apply online or email Talia Bryce directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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