There's nothing new about fundraising events in Austin, but a friend-raiser is a new concept in River City. That's what the board members, staff, and community volunteers associated with the Sustainable Food Center / Austin Community Gardens (SFC / ACG) chose to call the event they threw this past Sunday afternoon.
Food for Thought
There's nothing new about fundraising events in Austin, but a friend-raiser is a new concept in River City. That's what the board members, staff, and community volunteers associated with the Sustainable Food Center/Austin Community Gardens (SFC/ACG) chose to call the event they threw this past Sunday afternoon. The friend-raiser, titled "Food for Thought, Thought for Food: Farmers' Markets in Renaissance," was designed to address the issue of what a city-centered farmers' market could bring to Austin and generate a broad base of community support. The invited guests included area growers, local restaurateurs, members of the local environmental community, food writers, city and area government officials, and farmers' market customers. The star attraction of the event was award-winning author Deborah Madison, in Austin last weekend to promote the new edition of The Greens Cookbook (Broadway Books, $29.95) and to teach at Central Market. Madison has spent the past two years touring the country researching farmers' markets in preparation for a forthcoming book, Saturday Market, Sunday Brunch: How Farmers' Markets Can Save Civilization, a cookbook that will consider the impact farmers' markets have on how we live and eat. She is also one of the founders and a member of the board of directors of the Santa Fe Farmers' Market, a vibrant market created in an area with less annual rainfall and an even shorter growing season than Central Texas. Madison spoke eloquently about the many positive contributions healthy local growers' markets make to cities around the country. During the panel discussion, speakers who ranged from local chefs to area growers and business people shared their visions for how a central farmers' market could benefit Austin. Some of these benefits include the regular availability of fresher, more nutritionally complete produce; more local, seasonal food presented in Austin restaurants; economic development that keeps money in the community; the opportunity for consumers to re-connect with people who actually grow our food; a heightened sense of community; and an increased number of growers and diversity of product stimulated by greater demand.
While no one denies the benefits of farmers' markets in general and everyone at the event was "friendly" to the overall idea, there are issues specific to the Austin market that will need to be addressed before the idea can ever come to fruition. Given Austin's weather and growing season, how many months a year could such a market expect to be busy and profitable? Would city, county, state, and/or private funds provide infrastructure and support for the market? Would it be run by a nonprofit entity with a board of directors? Will organic growers and farmers who practice conventional agriculture share the same market? Is there a viable central city location with necessary shade cover, adequate parking, and bathroom facilities without intractable neighborhood association opposition? Would it be possible for a city-centered farmers' market to enhance rather than endanger the area markets and farm stands already in existence?
As the party ended, guests were encouraged to fill out contact cards demonstrating their areas of interest. (Call SFC/ACG at 385-0080 for a card.) According to event organizer and SFC/ACG community volunteer Karen Enyedy, the next steps will be to evaluate the level of interest and resources available in the community and form a Farmers' Market Initiative Task Force.
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