The phrase ‘urban agriculture’ conjures up many thoughts: safe, local, healthy, sustainable, etc. The movement encompasses everything from backyard gardens to large organic farms, and everything in between. As Americans are becoming aware of toxins in their food system and the effect of food miles in global warming, it has become increasingly important that we not only know how our food is produced but also how far it has travelled to get to our tables. This City Forum will address the efforts and challenges of urban agriculture in Austin, including: initiatives from government and non-profit organizations, opportunities for participation, as well as food access and the social justice realm of local food.
Stephanie Scherzer, an urban farmer in East Austin, has a long history of installing and developing landscapes throughout the Austin area. She worked with the Natural Gardener for six years, and was co-owner of Rain Lily Design for eight years. In 2003, she and her partner Kim Beal bought the home and land on Shady Lane that has become Rain Lily Farm, a place rich with its own produce and livestock resources, which has become a much-loved gathering place for culinary and community events. Stephanie recently became co-owner of Farmhouse Delivery, an innovative online local produce company that provides solutions to the challenges of local produce distribution by bringing farm fresh local produce to customers’ doors in the Austin area.
Marysol Valle has used her hands to cultivate food at Hands of the Earth, a small organic farm in east Austin for the past three years,. Her passion for farming began in upstate New York at Sacred Seed farm where she developed her skills in growing veggies and was first introduced to CSAs. Upon returning to Texas, Marysol began working on Oasis Farm which she has transformed in her own 120 member CSA called Hands of the Earth. Each week Marysol participates in 2 farmers’ markets and prepares 75 baskets of fresh produce for Austin residents.
Jenna R. Neal has a Bachelors of Landscape Architecture from Texas Tech University and an Associates of Applied Science in Commercial Art and Advertising from Texas State Technical College. Her career began in the private sector and in time her focus shifted to Parks and Trails Master Planning for municipalities. In 2006 she joined the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department (PARD). Her primary focus is the Long Range Plan for Land, Facilities and Programs, which is a guide for PARD on how to address residential growth and recreational demands within the city for the next five years. (ci.austin.tx.us/parks/longrangeplan.htm)
Max Elliott currently serves on the Austin/Travis County Sustainable Food Policy Board. In 2006, he co-founded YouthLaunch’s Urban Roots program, which creates empowering opportunities for high school students to give back to their community by growing food on a 4 acre farm in east Austin. He received a Master's Degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Essex in Colchester, England, and is currently a MSW student at the UT School of Social Work. He has extensive experience in urban agriculture through his work with Austin Community Gardens and the New Orleans Food and Farm Network.