Monday, April 12, 2010

(Incr)edible Austin

I've been hearing about the sheer awesomeness of Austin -- described by locals as being "so great you forget you're in Texas" (ouch!) -- for the better part of the past ten years. Many point to the live music scene as the city's prime attraction, but I would argue that the food around here is a comparable selling point. Seriously. It's something of a foodie paradise, and considerably more affordable than, say, San Francisco. (Incidentally, I understand there is quite a bit of cross-pollination between Texas' state capital and the Bay Area. That explains the food. And the thriving hipster culture.)

It's the birthplace of Whole Foods (or "Whole Paycheck," as my former partner, Kelly, likes to call it), but still, there's so much more here than I'd expected in terms of local, sustainable producers. Whole Foods has started climbing onto the locavore bandwagon in recent years, but the majority of products are still sourced much further afield. Around town, however, I have been regularly surprised. I mean, really: urban pasture-raised chicken eggs? local rum? goat milk feta? olive oil? Check, check, check, and check. All produced within Texas' borders. Apples, wine, grapefruits, sourdough. Some I purchased at the Wheatsville Co-op when Laith and I biked over on Friday, others I sampled at the Saturday and Sunday farmers' markets, and quite a few of the local delicacies were offered at this Sunday's farm tour. All have earned the bikeable feast "deliciousness seal of approval." Yum.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Marla, publisher of Edible Austin magazine, to join her and her husband at yesterday's East Austin Urban Farm Tour. The event allowed me an opportunity to visit a handful of successful urban farms, meet the farmers, and sample farm-fresh goodies prepared by some of the city's most talented local chefs. (Yeah, I love my life.)

Ollie and I started out yesterday afternoon's activities at Boggy Creek Farm, nursing a pepperita (a rum and jalapeno-based cocktail) and nibbling on a broccoli and goat cheese tartlet as Carol Ann gave an inspired tour of her farm. Knowledgeable, unpretentious, and eminently personable, the farmer pointed out unusual varieties of heirloom fava beans and tomatoes, shared recipes for parboiled broccoli leaves, and apologized for the chicken-pecked brassica row ends. Since she and Larry started farming nearly two decades ago, they have grown food for themselves, then also neighbors, then even Whole Paycheck. They have mentored neighbors, including farmers at the next three stops, who continue to approach them with questions about composting or choosing crops or raising chickens.

[Speaking of chickens, Carol Ann wrote a hysterical one-page piece in the most recent issue of Edible Austin on the joys and challenges of having backyard layers. It ends with her urging readers to "take your favorite hen with you when you go hiking in the wilderness--if you become lost, she will demonstrate what is edible in your surroundings. In addition, while stranded on a mountain, she will lay an egg for you almost every day." I think even MacGuyver would do well to bring a chicken with him after this sound advice. He'd probably figure out a way to cook the egg using only toothpicks and a stick of gum.]

With chickens on the brain, Ollie and I next biked over to Springdale Farm to meet up with Marla and admire rows of veggies and flocks of chortling poultry as we sampled Dai Due sausage and sipped on cups of Live Oak brew. Next, we hiked over to HausBar Farm (the third stop on the four-farm tour) where Eastside Cafe chef/gardener Dorsey kindly gave me a personal tour of the farm. The property, I learned, was converted less than a year ago by Dorsey and her partner Susan. You'd never guess that the fabulous chicken coop was formerly one of three crack houses on the property, or that there were once weeds ten feet high where chickens now placidly wander near rows of lush, leafy kale. That these two managed such an impressive transformation so rapidly and successfully is an inspiration for novice food growing city dwellers like me. (I have complained about the rats in the alley behind my little studio apartment in DC: at least the ground wasn't littered with crack pipes and used needles when I moved in!) I was impressed by Dorsey's intensity and her infectious enthusiasm. I've visited the farm, but if I'm truly going to understand the full spectrum of this food expert's, er, expertise, I might need to make my way over to her popular organic garden-sourced eatery before I hit the road for Houston....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ibti! It was so nice meeting you at the Austin Farmers' Market Downtown at the Urban Roots farm stand! I'm so glad that you enjoyed your stay in Austin, and I wish you fun & safe travels on your way to Houston.


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