The Dirt

Interview with Agua Dulce

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Jack Waite has some oceanfront property in East Austin. Well, maybe not, but he’s got the next-best thing: Agua Dulce, an aquaponic farm where he raises fish, organic vegetables, and culinary seaweed that tastes bright and briny, just like the sea. Agua Dulce is a model of sustainability; Jack also addresses issues of food access by offering part of his land to his neighbors for community garden plots. We’re so proud he’s part of our community in Austin and even more thrilled that he’s joined us as a vendor at SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown on Saturdays. Read on for a little bit of his story and come out to the market to offer a big SFC welcome!


Tell us a little about the journey that led you to where you are now—growing food at Agua Dulce?

When my grandmother turned 90, my family went to see her in Wisconsin. We stayed with some friends in Milwaukee and they had just started a commercial aquaponic farm. I was intrigued and blown away. I asked my friends a million questions and they graciously answered. I was hooked, horrible pun intended.

Aquaponics is a very old concept--the Ancient Egyptians were doing it, the Aztecs were doing it. But the past 30 years have seen technological leaps that make it a highly efficient, climate adaptive, and natural way to grow veggies and fish. I had always loved fishing and gardening, as well as sourcing high quality food and cooking for my family. The journey has been long: everything I have done or studied in my life factored into making this farm work.

Why raise food?

I've long been a person who would spend a crazy amount of time on the weekend visiting several different farms, markets, and grocery stores to find the right food for my family. We eat on a budget, but I prefer quality over quantity, healthy over convenient. We eat meals made from scratch most nights and eat together at a big table. Food is at the center of my family life. Now I have the chance to provide others with high quality, delicious, and healthy food. I want Agua Dulce Farm's fresh veggies to be on the plates of other families too. You are what you eat, so don't eat crap! Be selective and deliberate.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

At UT I studied biology & botany. I have worked as a bartender, a gardener, and a cook. I was a founding officer of a nonprofit and served as treasurer, then its Public Affairs Director, and later became a fundraising professional. I studied nonprofit management at the LBJ School at UT and I learned about how little ideas can grow and change the world. But the bartending really helped most—it taught me to become a great listener and how to deal with all kinds of people.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Sustainability to me means minimizing the inputs required to get a desired output. It really means trying to think 100 years down the road. Will we still be ranching cattle? Will we continue to grow fruits and vegetables in the ground when water becomes more and more scarce? How will we feed 10 or 20 billion people without further damage to our environment? Sustainable practices are an ideal to strive towards. We don't have all the answers, but maybe we just haven't asked the right questions yet.

What does a “day in the life” look like at Agua Dulce?

There is no normal day, but in general the fish, chickens, and goats need to be fed first. Then we begin harvesting as early as possible. We plant seeds, transplant seedlings, perform pest management, take several water tests, give tours of the farm. We try to keep up with social media, research crop selection, volunteer coordination, and then there's always the sexy accounting and bookkeeping to be done. A good day is when everything functions as it should, but I've come to expect the worst each day, that way I'll never be disappointed.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

I always deliver the food to our restaurant clients to find out what they are looking for and to get feedback on quality. I also drive an hour each way every few weeks to buy live fish.

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

Watching people eat food produced at Agua Dulce Farm makes me smile. Seeing them thoroughly enjoy and appreciate that food makes me beam.

What do you find most challenging?

Farming within the city limits of Austin means access to a nearby hungry market, but burdensome City of Austin permits and regulations very nearly put us out of business.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

Access to water and energy costs are the biggest obstacles I see with raising food sustainably. Managing energy costs are also a crucial piece to a complicated puzzle.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

Farmers are the suppliers. Farmers are like plankton in the ocean--everyone depends on them to survive, though they usually go unseen and unnoticed.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

Shop at the Farmers Market to know where your food comes from and what makes it special. Support your local economy. Support small farmers!

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

The possibility of aquaponic farming in space is pretty cool news story I recently saw. Check it out here.

I really want to explore the idea of setting up floating gardens on Lady Bird Lake. Here’s how they do it in Paris.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

I think if people realized the amount of time, attention, and care we put into each and every plant we produce, they'd probably think that we're crazy. Maybe we are. But to do so in any other way would compromise the reason we are doing what we do: growing healthy, fresh, sustainable, and delicious food for a healthier Austin.

Who inspires you?

Will Allen. Michael Pollan. Local chefs who take chances.

What are a few simple things everyone can do to create a better, stronger food system?

Buy locally. Get to know your farmers. Choose quality over quantity. Make food from scratch. Don't buy processed food. Skip the fast food.

What are you cooking this week?

Gazpacho Andaluz

What’s your favorite recipe or dish from the farm?

Tuscan Kale Caesar Slaw
from Bon Appétit. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it!

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: Farm eggs with chopped fresh herbs, buttered toast, and a cappuccino

Favorite comfort food: Homemade Shepherd's Pie or Migas from Tamale House (R.I.P.)

Favorite book about food: Tie: Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and Carla Capalbo's The Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania.

Favorite cookbook: Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking

Favorite fruit/veggie in season now: tie: Figs and tomatoes

Favorite food indulgence: Super fresh uni; Central Texas BBQ brisket and pork ribs

The Happy Kitchen's Guide to Cooking Without a Recipe

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Scene: Thursday at 6:00. There are errands to run, laundry to do, and everyone's starving (and not quietly). That recipe that seemed so enticing on Sunday afternoon suddenly feels daunting . . . and of course, a crucial ingredient never made it into your shopping basket. These are the moments we are tempted to forgo something healthy and homemade for something convenient and pre-made. The Happy Kitchen to the rescue! With a few handy skills up your sleeve, you'll always be ready to whip up something good to eat on the fly--read on for our tips for cooking without a recipe!

  • Start with what you have. Take stock of what you have on hand, then choose one ingredient as a focal point and keep it simple (think stir-fries, pasta or whole grains topped with a simple braise, and easy soups).
  • Stock up. Keep a well-stocked pantry—dried beans, pasta, and whole grains create a foundation for simple meals. Flavor enhancers (soy sauce, lemons, anchovies, Dijon mustard, capers, toasted sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce, etc), spices, and staple ingredients (olive oil, eggs, salt and pepper, etc) make throwing an impromptu dish together infinitely easier.
  • Know what you like. Use ingredients that already work together (for example, if you love Italian, experiment with ingredients in that flavor family, like basil, tomato, olive oil, and Parmesan).
  • Keep it balanced. Remember that the basis of creating and balancing flavor is in how you use the Five Tastes: Sweet, Sour, Salt, Bitter and Umami/Pungent. Too sweet? Try a little acid. Too bitter? A drop or two of sweet and sour can turn that around.
  • Follow your nose! Scent and taste are closely related, so let your sense of smell guide you as you develop your culinary intuition and judge cooking times. The scent of toasted nuts and seeds is pleasingly nutty and aromatic at the moment they are ready – wait any longer and they will smell--and taste—burnt.
  • Make a plan. It might sound like an oxymoron, but improvisation is enhanced by organization. Take stock of what’s on hand, lay out all your ingredients, and have all your cookware and tools at the ready.
  • Get inspired! Read food blogs, cookbooks and magazine recipes that interest you and before you know it, you’ll be using recipes as a source of inspiration rather than a hard and fast set of rules.

Kerbey Lane Chef Joel Welch's Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You say tomato, Kerbey Lane Cafe Chef Joel Welch says Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho! Shoppers at the SFC Farmers' Market at the Triangle got a cool treat when this talented culinary icon served up tastes of this sweet and savory summer soup. If you missed it, here's the recipe--come on out to the market his weekend to pick up ingredients to make it at home!

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

9 c cubed watermelon

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1/3 c olive oil

1/3 c red wine vinegar

1 small red onion

1 red or yellow bell pepper

1 medium cucumber

2 cloves garlic

3 T lemon juice

1/2 c parsley

1/2 T salt

freshly ground black pepper

Remove seeds from watermelon, cucumber, and bell pepper. Place half of the watermelon and half of the tomatoes in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl and stir in red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Finely dice remaining watermelon, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, garlic and parsley and add to the watermelon-tomato puree. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and chill for several hours before serving.

SFC Citizen Gardener Classes Begin in September

Monday, July 21, 2014

You've got the power! The freshest, healthiest, most nutritious, affordable food is food you have grown yourself. Celebrate your freedom to feed yourself and your family well by learning the skills you need to grow food successfully in even the smallest urban spaces. SFC's Citizen Gardener Classes offer in-depth knowledge on Central Texas growing seasons, raised bed construction, rainwater harvesting, composting, and more, and provide an opportunity to serve as ambassadors for growing your own food in our community. Ready to join the cause? Click here for more details and to register »

Come to a Food Swap in the SFC Kitchen!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Home-cooked food can turn strangers into friends. Walk into a room with something delicious and handmade (or homegrown) to share and the next thing you know, the room is buzzing with conversation, cooking tips, and kitchen stories. Come see for yourself: on Monday, July 28th The Happy Kitchen is hosting a Food Swap here in partnership with ATX Swappers and we hope you'll join us! This event is a marketplace where no money changes hands, an opportunity for home cooks and gardeners to diversify their pantries, taste new recipes and trade what they've cooked or grown for something else. 

Bring a loaf of zucchini bread or a jar of homemade salsa and you might leave with warm scones or a just-harvested basket of summer garden produce--the more you bring, the more you take away! Even better than the delicious homemade goodies? Connecting to new friends who share a passion for cooking and local food. 

Read details about how the swap works and register here.

Looking for inspiration? Check out our "Food Swap" Pinterest board for ideas!

Celebrating Tomatoes at SFC Farmers' Market: July Vendor Picks

Monday, July 21, 2014

Heirlooms, cherries, slicers, and canners--we love them all! At SFC Farmers' Markets, July is a celebration of the summer tomato in all its glory. Market farmers and chefs are just as smitten as we are with this summer's lush, juicy, abundant harvest--here's the insider's scoop on our vendors favorite offerings from their own farms and kitchens!

  • Richardson Farms loves grilled Pork Chops with a fresh tomato-basil salad.
  • Brazos Valley Cheese recommends their Marinated Feta with Sundried Tomato—perfect for picnics or cocktail hour.
  • Lamba’s Indian loves pairing sweet Tomato Sabji with warm paratha or naan.
  • Peach Creek Farm loves pairing their pastured Sweet Italian Sausages with summer peppers and tomatoes—serve with pasta or crusty bread.
  • Shrub Drinks’s Tomatillo Lime Serrano Shrub makes a great margarita mix, marinade for cucumbers, or a tart flavor kick for fresh salsa.
  • Blackland Prairie Yellow ‘Mini’ Tomatoes have a fruity flavor—try them in a savory-sweet salad with cacntaloupe, cucumber, mint & feta cheese.
  • Black Krim Tomatoes from B5 Farm are smoky and a little salty—Farmer Jamey says they are best just plain!
  • Monkebo Farm is whipping up a simple omelette supper with their Duck Eggs and summer tomatoes.
  • Blue Lotus Winery pairs lighter, more acidic Malvasia Bianca and Grande Blanc with summer tomato dishes.
  • Crusty, warm Texas French Bread Baguettes are fantastic for tomato crostini and bruschetta.
  • Round Rock Honey simmers up a balsamic reduction with Wildflower Honey to drizzle over tomatoes.
  • IO Ranch loves Ground Lamb for grilling up juicy burgers with thick slices of tomato.
  • Texas Olive Oil recommends buttery Muy Bueno EVOO Blend with summer tomatoes, or their Basil Oil for the classic bsail + tomato combo.
  • Confituras Green Tomato Jam is a classic French-style jam infused with cinnamon and lemon, which pairs great with cheeses.
  • Texas French Bread Ciabatta is fantastic for tomato crostini and bruschetta.
  • Kitchen Pride suggests ripe summer tomato personal pizzas with Portobello Mushrooms for the crust.
  • Mill King Creamery & Dairy makes an incredible caprese salad with their tangy Cheese Curds, ripe tomato, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Simmons Family Farm can't grow enough sweet Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes--customers eat them like grapes!
  • Yvonne at Concha's Salsa & Seafood stuffs Fresh Flounder with breadcrumbs and tomato, then pan fries them.
  • Bat Creek Farm grows a wide array of heirloom tomatoes--try the Black Pineapple (great for BLT's), the sweet and stunning Chocolate Stripe, and bight and lemony Yellow Russians
  • All this shopping made you hungry? Pick up a Goat Cheese & Tomato Jam Sandwich on Seven Grain Bread from Easy Tiger.
  • Lone Star Nursery has Five Varieties of Basil for your home garden--plant now for enjoying with fall tomatoes.
  • Agua Dulce has sweet and spicy purple Opal Basil--beautiful on tomato crostini with goat cheese.
  • Tomato-flecked Tabouli from The Mediterranean Chef is fantastic for a quick summer lunch, on a mezze platter or with grilled fish or chicken.
  • Farmer Hersch at Indian Hills Farm waits until his juicy Hybrid Tomatoes are bright red to pick them--not a moment sooner. Customers love his Heirloom Varieties too!
  • Countryside Farm suggests serving their Stuffed Chicken with an heirloom tomato sauce.

Chef Albert Gonzalez Wants You to Grow Something!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest post: by Albert Gonzalez, SFC friend & Chef at Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar

As Americans, we are fortunate to have easy access to a wide variety of meat, grain, fruit, and vegetables at our local grocery store. For exotic and rare items, there are a plethora of gourmet specialty stores that stock all that one could ask for—from dragon fruit to langoustine, galangal root to Wagyu beef. As much as we (myself more than most) love these conveniences and luxuries, the pleasure is complicated. We have gotten further and further away from where our food comes from, less connected with its origins than ever before in our history. Fast food has stolen our patience and made a two minute meal seem normal.  In my opinion, all this has led to a lack of appreciation for the food we eat as well as the people and processes that make it all possible. We are not lost yet, though. I believe we need to work to reestablish that relationship with our food. I am not advocating that we all start raising our own cattle in the back yard, or that we only eat what we catch or grow, but rather that we connect with some of our food in some way. Planting and tending a garden is an absolutely fantastic foundation for this relationship. The appreciation of something that you yourself grew from a seed or seedling is unparalleled. Read on for a few tips to get you growing!

Ready to get your hands dirty and grow something? Check out SFC's Grow Local classes in the Teaching Garden for fall, with classes for every experience level.

  • Start small: a few plants (2-4) will help get you accustomed to the time commitment and routine of tending a garden. Planting much more than that for your first time may be too much to manage and can lead to less than successful results. Keep it easy, build some confidence and grow the operation from there.
  • Grow things you enjoy. Hate cilantro? Don’t plant it, there is nothing less motivating in gardening than working for a plant that you find absolutely no enjoyment in. Think about what you grab from the produce department every time you go shopping and see if you can grow some of that yourself, this way you will not only be motivated, but you are less likely to have much waste.
  • Do your homework. Before you plant come up with a list of possible options then do a little research as to planting times, ideal sun, water, etc. If this is your first time, keep it simple. Plant things that need the same general sun and water, that way you are tending one patch as opposed to fighting a war on multiple fronts.
  • Be proud. Share whatever excess you have with friends and family, they will love it and you will feel great about the feedback you get. Try and convince someone to grow a garden of their own, and see if you can have diversified plants, it starts a great trade system and keeps you in some product that you didn’t grow yourself but are still connected to.
  • Share your knowledge. This is the most important. If you have the opportunity pass this down to children. The sooner a child gets involved in the process the greater their appreciation will be as they get older. This is how we get ourselves back to knowing our food and caring about it as a people.

Panzanella Salad

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Some of the world's best recipes were born from frugality--a need to stretch ingredients or use up odds and ends (think bread pudding, fried rice, and stuffed cabbage). Got a half loaf of slightly stale bread? That's not filler for the compost bin, that's the start of a hearty main-dish salad! We'll  be serving up samples of the classic tomato-based Panzanella at the Taste the Place tent at SFC Farmers' Market Downtown and Sunset Valley this Saturday, so come on to try it and grab ingredients to make your own--you might also enjoy this twist on the original from Fresh Seasonal Recipes--our cookbook from The Happy Kitchen, with nutrition info and meal planning tools including cost per serving. That's frugal and delicious!

Want your own copy of the cookbook? Order it here.

Panzanella Salad

4 c rustic whole wheat bread (cut or torn into 1" pieces)

1/4 c + 3 T olive oil, divided

3 c winter squash (butternut, red kuri, etc in season now), peeled and cut into 1" cubes

1 c cooked black-eyed peas

1/2 c fresh basil, chopped

2 T apple cider vinegar

1 T honey

salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Drizzle 2 T of oil over bread and toss to coat. Spread bread pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5-10 minutes until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.

Place cubes of butternut squash in baking dish. Drizzle 1 T oil over squash and toss to coat. Roast squash for about 15 minutes, until cooked through and slightly browned on edges. 

Combine vinegar and honey in a small bowl; whisk in 1/4 c olive oil. Combine toasted bread, squash, black eyed peas, and basil in a large bowl. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Salad is best if allowed to stand for about 30 minutes before serving.

Malabar Spinach: A Succulent Summer Green

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

by Joy Casnovsky, Program Director, The Happy Kitchen

It just takes one step outside to be reminded that the full-fledged summer heat has finally arrived in Austin! These sweaty temperatures make the cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes filling up harvest baskets a refreshing and welcome treat, but are you missing garden-fresh salad greens? Malabar spinach may be the summer green you’re looking for. 

Malabar spinach, known by a number of other names such as Ceylon spinach, red vine spinach, and climbing spinach, is a delicious and super nutritious vegetable that thrives in hot weather. Native to tropical regions of Asia, this beautiful vining plant is not a “true” spinach but bears this common name because it has a similar flavor. It also shares a similar nutritional profile, containing high levels of vitamins A and C (in fact, more vitamin C than true spinach), as well as calcium, iron, potassium, manganese and magnesium. Malabar spinach leaves are succulent and a bit slimy in a way similar to okra. Some people find this texture delightful, and others  distasteful, but in any case, the mucilage that causes the sliminess also makes Malabar spinach rich in soluble fiber and a helpful aid for digestion. Both green-stemmed and red-stemmed varieties (particularly red-stemmed) are high in carotenoid pigment antioxidants, including beta carotene. Throughout tropical Asia and on the Indian subcontinent, the leaves and shoots of Malabar spinach are eaten raw and in stir fries, curries, and soups.

With a bit of special care, Malabar spinach will thrive even when planted in July. Start Malabar spinach from seed, from a cutting, or from transplant as early as mid-March, after the last frost. To plant from seed, sow seeds one inch deep in well-drained soil, one to two feet apart. Sprouts will emerge after 2-3 weeks. Transplants can be planted using the same spacing. Malabar spinach should be planted along a fence or trellis. It is an impressively fast climber, and it needs support or it will grow into a disorderly mess. As a tropical plant, Malabar spinach requires consistent moisture, so water deeply and keep the soil around your plants covered with a 2-inch layer of mulch to minimize evaporation. Planting Malabar spinach in partial shade will also help keep moisture levels consistent, and will cause the plant to produce larger and more succulent leaves. In one warm-weather season, a Malabar spinach plant can climb 10 to 20 feet high, so harvest abundantly!

Malabar spinach will not tolerate frost, so in our climate it is an annual, but it produces copious numbers of seeds so you will likely find volunteer plants the following spring (if these are not desired, pull them up when they are young). This prolific vegetable suffers from few pest problems, except for susceptibility to root knot nematodes and a fungus that can eat holes in the leaves. Prevent the former problem by rotating this crop with corn or amaranth, and address the latter by removing all affected leaves.

Harvest tender, young leaves and shoots (the growing tips of the vine) using scissors or clippers (the flowers are edible too!). For that seasonal green summer salad you were yearning for, toss some Malabar spinach with pecans and homemade vinaigrette.  Making homemade vinaigrette only costs pennies and a few minutes, so once you start making your own, you will probably find that you like it better than store-bought versions. The most important part of a vinaigrette are its two basic counterparts—oil and vinegar. The ratio should be three parts oil to one part vinegar (feel free to adjust slightly depending on the combination and your taste, but this is the basic formula). As far as what types of oil or vinegar—it really is up to what you like. If you enjoy the taste of olive oil, you might opt for extra virgin oil with a fresh, grassy taste or even a smoked olive oil. Feel free to experiment with grapeseed, pecan, or even avocado oil. Of course regular canola or vegetable oil will be fine too in a pinch. For vinegars, the most basic vinegars are plain white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Feel free to use others that you may enjoy as well—red or white wine vinegar, rice vinegar (very mild) or balsamic. You may also want to use some lemon, lime or orange juice in place of the vinegar for a more refreshing taste. To make your vinaigrette even more summery, try adding seasonal fruit, like we have done in this recipe! 

Peach Vinaigrette


  • 1 cup sliced ripe peaches
  • 1/3 scant cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey


Place peaches and white vinegar in the blender*. Turn on. Slowly add olive oil in a steady stream and then add honey. Mixture will emulsify and become thick. Drizzle on salad greens and toss. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Makes 1.5 cups of vinaigrette. 

*If you do not have a blender, whisk ingredients together by hand.

Companion Plants in the Summer Garden

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

You know about the birds and the bees, right? When planning a garden, it's important to think of the entire ecosystem that you'll be creating. You want to provide food for the top of the food chain (that's you), but also support the many players that give life to the whole, from plants that supply nutrients and microorganisms for soil health to blooms that provide food and support to pollinators. When we create a natural balance in the garden, we find growing organically is easier than we might imagine. As summer gets hotter and we take a break from planting vegetables and fruit, it's a great time to think about growing some of these companion plants before fall cultivation takes off. Here are three of our favorites!

  • African Blue Basil - technically edible, but most often used as an ornamental, this basil variety is one that bees love. Plant some in the garden and they'll stop in often, pollinating your late season squash and melons while they're there. Bees need all the support they can get these days, and basil has the added benefit of repelling flies and mosquitoes.
  • Marigolds - pretty, sunny, yellow and orange flowers repel aphids and squash beetles, important as stressed plants become more susceptible to pests.
  • Hairy Vetch - a popular legume cover crop, this grassy plant returns nitrogen to the soil for fall crops. At the beginning of the fall planting season, mow it over and plant directly in the resulting mulch. 

Want to connect with more garden wisdom? Stop by the JP's Peace, Love and Happiness Foundation Teaching Garden at SFC during Open Garden Hours to work alongside our resident gardening experts! Check the calendar for days and times »