Since late last year, there has been a debate brewing on the role of urban farms in East Austin. The Chronicle has posted an excellent summary of the whole situation, and Addie Broyles has weighed in with a detailed piece in support of the farmers. The crux of the issue is that after Haus Bar Farms was shut down for unknowingly violating city codes, it became clear that the entire urban farm code was in need of an overhaul. One one side of the debate are neighbors and several members of PODER, a twenty-year old organization which has won major environmental battles on the east side, including the closing of the Holly Power Plant. PODER argues the new code should be restrictive, and land occupied by urban farms could be better used for affordable housing. On the other is the farmers and their supporters in the Austin food community, who argue that urban farms are essential aspects of the city's "green" mission and enhance, not harm, their East Austin neighborhood.
The city council will vote on the new code tomorrow, October 17, and sixty Austin chefs have recently signed a letter of support for the farms. Eater spoke with signers Todd Duplechan of Lenoir, Sarah McIntosh of Epicerie, James Holmes of Olivia and Lucy's Fried Chicken, Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen's Kitchen, and Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due about their support, which almost all of them bring back to a question of community.
Update! The city council has postponed their vote on the new ordinances; no future date has been announced.
Update 2! The new hearing will be held on November 21.
James Holmes argues that, "Everything about urban farms is right." He says that when he opened Lucy's off of South Congress, he learned an important lesson in reaching out to neighbors and going beyond the letter of the zoning law to make the community happy. And he's not saying, "Let's wipe out the East Side and make it a giant urban farm with hippies running naked." But he values that Boggy Creek especially has become a meeting place for chefs, and hopes the community can come to "a compromise." Though he also points out that, "Shit, some people hate Willie Nelson."
Sarah McIntosh of Epicerie says she supports urban farms because, "they are small businesses, and as a small business owner I'd rather support another small business than go to a big company like Sysco." She likes having farms within the city's core because she can stop by Rain Lily to "pick up duck eggs" that otherwise she would have to go much further to find. The discounts the urban farmers offer to chefs also allow, "mom and pop restaurants to make a name for themselves and source locally." She feels that urban farms are a better use of land on the east side than "selling for a million dollars an acre" to a multi-use development, which she sees as being a more likely outcome than affordable housing.
Todd Duplechan of Lenoir says Austin's urban farms were "a huge factor" in their decision to move to Austin from New York. Lenoir sources from Boggy Creek and Springdale "a great deal" and he worries that if Austin starts losing things like urban farms, "then you're living in San Antonio."
Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen's Kitchen doesn't source from urban farms, only rural purveyors, but he values that they are a part of the city, and says, "Heck, if we owned some land downtown, that's what we'd be doing, too." He does see a point in curtailing nighttime events on the farms and working more aggressively with neighbors to make sure they are not disruptive. He wishes the city would "get out" of the debate, since the last thing Austin needs is "another ordinance" and farms have a hard enough time dealing with "mother nature."
Jesse Griffiths has a personal connection to Austin's urban farms, especially Rain Lily, who hosted Dai Due's first dinners and even Griffiths's wedding. He says Austin's urban farms "have got to be a viable model for other cities" and would "hate to see restrictions." He points out that in Austin's past, there were "strawberry and spinach farms all along Boggy Creek" and that PODER and urban farms share a common enemy in "Big Ag."
· Urban Farm, Neighbors Collide in East Austin [Statesman]
· Urban Farm Debate Intensifies [Chronicle]
· A Few Things To Keep in Mind as Urban Farm Code Heads to City Council [Statesman]
· All Urban Farms Coverage [EATX]