Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series that features the 2014 grant recipients of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance Culinary Grant Program.
Springdale Farm is bringing a hint of idyllic country life to the heart of the city. Life is just a little bit slower at this 4.83-acre farm off Springdale Road, just 3 miles from the Capitol. On any given day, you might spot a high-profile chef sharing cooking tips with a customer at the farmstand, or a flower-crowned bride posing for photos between rows of cauliflower or a school field trip group quizzically examining the gourd archway. It’s more than a farm, it’s a place to gather.
Last year, The Austin Food and Wine Alliance gave out $30,000 in grants and Springdale Farm was awarded $7,500. The grant has allowed them to bring in non-native produce and test heirloom crops. Paula Foore, one half of the husband-and-wife duo who own the farm, was excited to take a chance on the new crops including sujara and wax melons. But beyond the excitement of the new crops, Foore felt even more inspired by the sense of community they brought—local chefs came out to buy produce and offer seeds, and volunteers got their hands dirty helping pull weeds, learning the nuances of urban farming along the way. Springdale Farm helped her realize and experience the true sense of community that happens around food.
What moment sparked Springdale Farm for you?
For me, it began as a hobby. But after we had friends over that helped us weed and harvest and then prepare a meal together one day, it was that moment that I fell in love with what we were doing.
Springdale Farm appears to be very community-oriented. Why is community involvement so important?
It’s the thriving community aspect of the farm that makes Springdale Farm what it is today. It’s people coming by to shop, it’s school groups coming for tours, it’s chefs buying for restaurants, it’s fundraisers and supper clubs and weddings and people just stopping by to look around that make the farm viable. It’s a wonderful spice of life for us. We feel a real calling to share the farm, and the dialogue around food that the farm creates.
To what do you credit for making the land so fertile?
Well, my husband Glenn, the Resident Horticulturist, can really geek out about the soil profile here. Before the Colorado River was dammed up, we were in a floodplain. Sediment on this property brought rich fertile soil to this area. Now it’s our job to see that it’s stay rich and healthy.
Which heirloom seeds and non-native produce have you been able to test on the farm?
Thanks to the grant, we have had the freedom to test a variety of interesting crops without the financial concern of a potential failure. Some things have been a surprise—like the rice peas that took off on trailing vines over 10 feet long. We planted some Tindora from India, that looks like small cucumbers. We grew bitter melon and wax melons. We are trying a supposedly heat tolerant cherry tree. But without a doubt, the biggest show came from a plant called Sujara. It’s actually a sponge gourd that is edible when picked young. It’s vines are lush and long and it produced a tremendous abundance of edible flowers that the bees adored.
Can you explain what pocket planting is and why the farm uses this technique?
When we refer to pocket planting we just mean planting in the micro-environments of the farm. In an urban setting, you don’t necessarily see long, long rows of crops. We plant fruit trees in “pockets” along the creek to help with erosion. We plant citrus trees in the chicken coop, where the trees can provide the chickens some shade and since the chickens don’t like citrus, the fruit is safe.
Who are some local chefs / restaurants you’ve been able to work with? Why are these kinds of partnerships so important?
We work with more chefs than we can list here, and they are all invaluable to the success of the farm. When a chef can come to the farm, we often get a chance to walk out in the fields and we learn from each other about different uses of the plants. Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas of Olamaie take whatever the farm may offer and turn it into amazing delights. Todd Dupelchan of Lenoir regularly brings us seeds that he’d like us to try and grow. Eric Polzer of Wink happily shares cooking methods with farm stand customers. It’s a classic symbiotic relationship to some degree. We want to grow what chefs want to use, within our ability. They also, are willing to help buy things that we might have in an over abundance, to keep us from having a loss in a certain area. And of course, shoppers love interacting with the chefs and getting cooking tips and recipes for farm produce. There’s that real sense of community again.
What’s next for Springdale Farm?
We are excited about 2016 and building on some new partnerships that are in the works. We want to continue to have people out to the farm to learn where their food comes from. Honestly, farm life is quite the adventure. We just never know where the road will lead us next.
You can visit Springdale Farm farmstand on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and you can learn more about volunteer opportunities and events on their website.