Support Your Local Farmer at Farmgrass Fest

Farm-to-table connection only works when farmers are healthy

photo by Filip Maljković/ Wikimedia Commons

If our urban farm movement is ever to become as emblematic of modern Austin's zeitgeist as our treasured live music scene, local foodies will need to rally around area farmers in much the same way Austin music fans lavish love on local musicians. Farmgrass Fest 2015 and the VIP gala beforehand are good places to start.

Farmgrass Fest 2015 is the second annual food, fun, and bluegrass event founded to benefit the farmers' emergency medical fund of the Growers Alliance of Central Texas. GroACT was formed in 2010 as an organizational and advocacy group for area farmers, and the emergency medical fund was established last year to help members who were faced with expenses resulting from accidents or catastrophic illness. Self-employed small farmers are historically uninsured or, at best, underinsured, and are rarely financially equipped to deal with the calamitous expenses caused by injuries from a serious car wreck or months lost from work while recovering from a broken arm.

Without disability or income replacement insurance, farmers aren't making a living when they aren't working, and those of us who benefit from their labor don't have as many good things to eat. The very people who grow clean, healthy food to feed other families and who are always first in line when it comes to donating support for worthy causes are occasionally in need of a helping hand themselves. It's an awkward, humbling position to be in, having to ask the community for help, and hardy, self-reliant farmers aren't comfortable needing to ask. But think of it this way - Farmgrass Fest and the Gro-ACT emergency fund are the sprouts of HAAM for area farmers. In the long run, everybody wins.

The festival was founded in 2014 by bluegrass musician Talia Bryce, a transplanted New Yorker with a degree in environmental studies and a background in organic farming and AmeriCorps activism. Through her friendship with Simmons Family Farm matriarch Penelope “Penel” Simmons, Bryce learned about the founding of GroACT and became aware of area farmer's needs for financial assistance in emergencies. Inspired by the pastoral beauty of the Simmons farm, she proposed to create a benefit day offering bluegrass music programming that included her own band, the Lost Pines, plus plenty of local food, drinks, and family fun. Thanks to Bryce's efforts, Farmgrass is now an official 501(C)3 nonprofit with the mission to promote the “mental and physical well-being of local, independent farmers.” Is it possible she could be the Robin Shivers (HAAM founder) with the vision to create a safety net for our beloved area farmers?

Last year's Farmgrass Fest raised over $5,000 to establish the emergency medical fund. This year's event is scheduled for Sunday, May 3, from 1-9pm on the grounds of the Simmons farm near Niederwald. $20 tickets are for sale now. However, there's another event on the schedule this year to kick things off, a VIP Gala fundraiser hosted at the Austonian on Friday, March 27 from 6:30pm to midnight. The festive evening will include live music from the Lost Pines, a social hour with cooking and cocktail demonstrations, followed by a locally-sourced, farm-to-table dinner, a Gold Circle guitar workshop and jam, plus a fabulous auction. Auction items will include a seven-night stay in Aruba at Villa Bougainvillea; a two-night stay at Montesino Farm Studios in Wimberley; an acoustic guitar signed by Robert Earl Keen; and a private house concert by the Lost Pines. A limited number of $100 tickets are still available here.

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