Where the Sidewalk Ends in Beans and Lettuce


Carol Ann Sayle

No one fell down drunk. No one tripped over the water faucets. And not too many kids chased the chickens. The sky was gray, but it did not rain, although a few folks had brought their umbrellas just in case.

Regarding this last possibly negative outcome, I had advised, in my online newsletter, that rain or shine the first annual East Austin Urban Farm Tour would go on. Too much preparation and commitment by the farmers to let even a badly needed rain cancel the tour. Besides, the attendees were interested in urban farming, and that meant they must stand some weather! Like farmers must!

The gray skies made the spring flowers on each farm pop with exuberant color, especially juxtaposed with the verdant greens of the vegetable crops. That alone made for happy people.

Not boisterously happy though. Each of the four farms on the tour had a couple of chefs handing out tastes of farm produce, artfully prepared, but even though each farm had two wine, beer, or spirits purveyors, no one over-consumed. So the water faucets survived and no injuries were reported—and thus any vigilant attorneys had to dream on about owning the farms.


Carol Ann Sayle

Potential condo land, you know. After all, the farms, all located within three blocks of each other—Springdale, Hausbar, Rain Lily and Boggy Creek—each sit on enough land to entice developers. No matter that they are in humble East Austin.

The rich bottomland, once home to large plantations in the 1800s, and subsequently truck farms in the 1900s, that fed inhabitants of the city of Austin (circa 1839), was eventually divided into house lots and commercial/school/warehouse/factory spaces. The beautiful soil, deposited over the millennia by watercourses that raged now and then—Boggy Creek and the Colorado River—is mostly paved over with asphalt or concrete.

Pecan trees, planted in the 1930s, still march in straight lines through the backyards in the surrounding neighborhoods, and the spinach grown in home gardens and on the four farms keeps the signature flavor that made East Austin the "Spinach Capital" of Texas in the decades before World War II. The first commercial spinach shipped by rail from East Austin wound up on tables in New York City. After the big war, however, Pop-eye sold out and moved to South Texas.

Subsequently, the farms slowly eased into history, leaving only the tall pecan trees as witness to the change. But fortuitously, also left behind were a few small tracts of undeveloped land that waited for this generation of farmers to envision a renaissance of agriculture, a garden district if you will, in historic East Austin. This awakening centers on the four farms, which range in size from two to five acres, and in age from over a year old to 18 years. The oldest, Boggy Creek Farm, dates back to 1839, but in its latest reincarnation, circa 1992, it is perhaps one of the first urban farms in the country. All the farms are unique, but tied together by vegetables, chickens, and the nurturing soil.

Many visitors parked at one farm and walked to the others. The farmers gave continuous educational tours of fields in transition from cool-weather lettuces and broccoli to hot-weather crops of tomatoes, squash and green beans. The chefs at Boggy Creek, Beth Pav and Deegan McClung, used our broccoli, fava beans, and strawberries. Treaty Oak Rum mixed up jalapeno mojitos, Live Oak Brewery brought a keg, and Zhi Tea, whose tea room is a short walk from any of the farms, offered samples of its exotic blends.

Many of the 250 folks who came were amazed at such agricultural diversity and abundance—in their own city! Best of all, the rain we needed waited, until today. Let's drink to that!

To read more about the East Austin Urban Farm Tour, click here.