Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Johnson's Backyard Garden: Work Share

 A dark pre-dawn sky welcomed me to my "day off" last Friday as i prepared to drive just east of Austin to Johnson's Backyard Garden, a local farm that serves the Austin area with organic produce and an opportunity to work for your share of the harvest. JBG's workshare program is not unique, but it is a great choice for folks looking to get their hands dirty, learn a bit about farming, or just work for their food: every workshare volunteer comes away with a full CSA box full of organic produce definitely worth the 5 hours of labor. Here's a little bit about JBG from their own website:
About Johnson's Backyard Garden
Johnson's Backyard Garden is a certified organic vegetable farm located five miles east of Austin, TX. Year-round, JBG grows over 60 different types of vegetables, flowers, and herbs.
Johnson's Backyard Garden literally got its start in a small urban backyard. In 2004, we completely transformed our backyard in the Holly Street neighborhood in East Austin into a working garden and started selling our produce at the Austin Farmers Market.
In 2006, we began a small CSA and were able to provide weekly produce to about thirty Austin families. Our garden eventually took over the front and side yards, too, leaving our children with little room to play.
 In the summer of 2006, we purchased 20 acres just five miles east of downtown Austin on Hergotz Lane, and moved there in late September. This gave the kids much more room to play and the farm lots more room to grow.

In just three years, JBG has grown from a backyard garden to a 1,000-member community supported agriculture operation (CSA).

In the spring of 2010, with the help of our CSA members, we purchased 40 more acres and leased an additional 10 on River Road in Cedar Creek, TX. With this expansion, we are working hard to bring our high quality organic produce to more members of the Austin

I arrived at their River Road location at about 8 am, ready and willing to plow into whatever chore they had in store for me. A friend of mine recently volunteered and spent her day packing those lovely CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes, but i didn't know what to expect about my volunteer chore. Pulling up behind me in a beat up and well used pickup truck was Brenton: the farmer of Johnson's Backyard Garden. He introduced himself in a soft spoken voice and showed me around some of his fields. From potatoes, to tomato and pepper seedlings, to a bee hive near Onion Creek: JBG was a diverse and lovely farm run by a friendly farmer willing to answer all of my questions. The first thing i discovered about Brent was that he was from Talent, OR - a town just a hop and a skip away from where i grew up in southern Oregon. I want to move FROM Austin to farm in Oregon, and here is a farmer from Oregon farming in Texas...... something is screwy here. We continued our chat as he drove me out to a vast field of carrots and accidental perennial rye, and i donned my Mud Gloves, ready to pluck some carrots.

There were a LOT of carrots to be plucked. Together with another workshare volunteer and two employees of JBG, i pulled, flipped and plucked large clods of dirt and grass to reveal and harvest delicious, organic carrots from the dark soil. The River Road farm may have only been with JBG for about a year, but this large field of carrots was certainly fruitful! (Or should i say rootful?) We chatted about gardening and cooking while we methodically moved from end to end of 3 long rows of carrots, pre-sorting the tough from the choice specimens and piling them in black baskets which got loaded into their uniquely painted truck. Carrots are great conversation starters with their often oddly shaped roots. I found a 'love triangle' threesome, twisted up together in a lovely display of carrot attraction. By 1 o'clock (quitting time for us volunteers) we'd almost finished our task, and i marvelled at the long row we'd completed, and the vast field yet to be harvested.

Farm work is not to be taken lightly - from soil preparation to planting to harvest, many hours of labor are required to bring deliciously fresh, organic product to the consumers of Austin. I'm thankful for every bite of carrot i pop into my mouth: lightly crisp, sweet and so much more delicious than the grocery store version. Pocket loves to munch on the ends my husband and i toss to her, and the roasted carrots i'm planning for later this week may not happen if we keep snacking on them raw. My sore back and hands, muddy toes and sun nipped arms were all a real reminder of what i'll be getting into soon with our plans for the near future, and for what it takes to make 'real food' arrive from farm to table.

As i told Brent, i'll leave the "real farming" to folks like him. I'll be happy by simply achieving greater self sufficiency and a hobby farm that is sustainable within itself, with maybe a tiny profit margin to make it that much more satisfying. To me: counting on the weather and the health of plants and animals for our actual income sounds and feels like a majorly stressful and exhausting gamble.  Working as  a part of JBG's functional and successful farming reality was a wonderful learning experience for me and an excellent reminder that we don't always have to do it all ourselves. Our future hobby farm will become whatever it is to become, but a work share style format may be something we consider when our farm gets big enough to need extra hands. "Will work for food" is not just for the desperate, it can also be for the curious, the passionate, or the lucky folks with a few extra hours to spare who are wiling to get their hands (and feet!) dirty in exchange for something wholesome like organic produce or freshly made goat cheese.

This article can be found at the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

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