Back to the Future
Austin's agrarian past rises again
HausBar Farm3300 Govalle, 476-5858 (Eastside Cafe)
Dorsey Barger doesn't do things halfway. When the co-owner of Eastside Cafe began buying wine for the restaurant, she read and studied, attended tastings and seminars, traveled to California to work the crush at vineyards, all the while building strong relationships with winemakers from around the world. Her fanaticism about recycling is both legendary and contagious, but none of these things surpasses her new passion for gardening. In 2007, Barger took over the supervision of the restaurant's popular organic garden, and her life hasn't been the same since. She was short on experience but long on enthusiasm. "I didn't know whether what I wanted to do was right or wrong, so I made mistakes and learned by doing, but the garden is more productive now than it has ever been," she reports with pride. Total immersion in the restaurant's garden turned out to be the spark that would change Barger's life for good.
Last year, Barger and her partner, Susan Hausmann, bought two acres on Govalle Avenue for their own urban farm. Though farming wasn't part of Barger's background, Hausmann's German heritage is all about rural Fayette County farms and big backyard gardens in Austin. "My dad always had a big garden, and Mom cooked, canned, and baked with everything he grew. I love that lifestyle but don't want to live in the country, so having a farm in town gives me the best of both worlds," Hausmann explains. The Govalle property didn't have much obvious curb appeal – there were three uninhabitable buildings that had become crack houses, an abandoned water well, a lonely driveway. Where others saw urban blight, Barger and Hausmann envisioned a chicken house and run, a produce-washing shed, a half-acre organic garden, and the perfect spot for their all-green dream house. Neighbors welcomed the couple's plans to rehabilitate the property. Longtime residents have recounted anecdotes about some previous owners named Bankston who shared the bounty of their own garden and fruits from their peach and fig trees with families up and down the street. Young families with kids in strollers visit regularly to appreciate the progress.
Barger and Hausmann moved a small cottage on to the property to live in while they build their dream house. They planted a half-acre winter garden, purchased a flock of 300 laying hens, and took up residence at HausBar Farm in January 2010. The garden is flourishing, providing greens for Eastside Cafe's daily Caesar salads and fresh produce to inspire menu specials for the blackboard. "Between what we can grow here and what we're getting from the original garden, before long we'll be able to provide 50 percent of the produce the restaurant uses," Barger estimates.
A hundred of the chickens became an instant tourist attraction in the new chicken run near the original Eastside Cafe garden. The 200 hens that stayed on Govalle Avenue forage around the farm and dine on Vital Farms or Coyote Creek Farm's organic, genetically modified organism-free chicken feed. Altogether, the flock is producing 230-250 eggs a day. "Eastside Cafe hasn't served a factory farm egg in over six weeks," Barger brags, adding: "Our own eggs cost three to four times more than the commercially raised ones, but the positive customer response makes it all worth it. We could never go back." The eggs are indeed glorious, and the whole farm radiates possibilities. A chicken house beats a crack house any day.
View a photo gallery of HausBar Farm's hen house transformation.