The Dirt

Can You Help Us Find L'il Sprout?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

L'il Sprout has joined our SFC Farmers' Market Crew! We keep losing him, though--he spends the whole day at the market hiding out in a farmer's stall snacking on delicious, healthy fruits and vegetables. In fact, he's so hard to keep track of, that we need your help! Each market day, help us find L'il Sprout--he'll be somewhere different every time. When you find him, tell the farmer, and you'll get bragging rights with an "I Found L'il Sprout" prize sticker! Happy hunting--you never know where he'll turn up next . . .

Mpowered Youth Cook Up Food Justice Stories in the SFC Kitchen

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Aaaand . . . Action! This summer, SFC was thrilled to host MPOWERED, a youth program that focuses on Media Literacy, Food Justice, and African American Quality of life. The program engages black youth actively in developing and implementing solutions to health and wellness issues in their community, through creative media. When they asked if they could use the SFC Teaching Kitchen to make a film about food justice, we couldn't say yes fast enough.

The Scene:

For this youth media and food justice camp, the kids crafted a short film about health and wellness issues affecting local African­ American communities to be screened at the Capital City Black Film Festival, which was held August 21-23.

During their visit to SFC, youth partners experienced a cooking demo of the "A Taste of African Heritage" Program with Oldways. Program Manager Sarah McMackin and chef/curator/author Toni Tipton Martin prepared a meal with the youth, and the youth shot scenes based on a script they created.

The Background:

Austin’s black community faces a multitude of health and wellness related concerns: lack of physical and economic access to fresh fruits and vegetables; overexposure to high calorie/low nutrition food options; and institutional, systemic, and environmental racism. MPOWERED engages black youth actively in creating solutions to these issues as community ambassadors through media. The group specifically works with black youth because they are a demographic that is disproportionately impacted by health and wellness complications across socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, they partner with black youth because of their ability to guide and set societal trends, as well as serve as influential role models to children and adults in their community. As such, this program seeks to positively impact the quality of life of all African Americans in Greater Austin regardless of age and income.

Meet the Producers:

Black Media Council

Founded in 2008. Since that time has (co)facilitated a number of community programs including the Blackness and Media Project, Kuumba Scholarship, Krew12 (in partnership with African American Youth Harvest Foundation), and Youth Media Project @ SXSW (in partnership with E4 Youth and MVMT50).

Cinema du Cannes Project

A nonprofit organization created to provide current and recently graduated high schools students with hands­-on film production and marketing experience and the opportunity to travel to the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Food for Black Thought

Founded in 2012, this community based organizations works to sustain and maintain Black access to food resources, knowledge, and policy making through critical dialogue, programs, and symposia.


Oldways guides people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science tradition and real foods.

The SANDE Youth Project / Toni Tipton Martin

SANDE is a nonprofit mentoring and training organization promoting the connection between cultural heritage, food and a healthy environment.  They cook up healthy futures for vulnerable families through cultural exhibits, mobile, hands-on cooking experiences for adults and kids, and community events.

Build Healthy Soil with Grow Local

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Soil Health

Dirt is dead. Soil is different . . . soil is alive! Inhabited by millions and millions of microorganisms that bind clay, sand and silt together, soil forms a crumbly structure that holds water like a sponge and provides a perfect growing medium for plants. Read on for important-to-know facts about healthy soil.

Want more inside dirt on healthy soil? Click here to watch our first “Garden Bites” video with SFC Teaching Garden Coordinator, Ellen Orabone, who will talk a little bit more about soil health and the Classes in the Teaching Garden series.

Compost: Soil organisms are our composters. They eat wood, leaves, plants and other organic materials and, in the process, turn these materials into soil.

  • Water retention: Bacteria and fungi, which are the foundation of soil ecologies, exude goo and create webs that bind soil into a crumbly structure containing pockets that store water. Without soil organisms, you get either dirt that is very compact and so does not absorb water or dirt that has no structure (i.e. it is loose and sandy) and so does not hold water.
  • Aeration: The pockets created by soil microbes also store air, which is essential for plant growth. In addition, when larger soil organisms (e.g. arthropods and earthworms) move through the soil, they act as biological aerators.
  • Nutrient retention and cycling: Healthy plants require a range of nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, but they cannot access these nutrients without bacteria and fungi. Many of the nutrients found in organic matter exist in forms not accessible to plants. As bacteria and fungi consume organic materials, they change the chemical makeup of nutrients into forms that plants can access.
  • Disease suppression: Healthy soils contain a diverse range or organisms that out compete pests by eating them and by filling their niches. The healthier your soil, the fewer pest problems your plants will have.

Want to learn even more about this topic? Register for our Soil Health & Composting class on Sept. 3 »

Molly Costigan Awarded SFC Golden Trowel

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre Program Coordinator Molly Costigan, second from left

SFC issues its Golden Trowel Award to staff members who "dig deep" to make the mission happen, going above and beyond, exceeding a goal, meeting extreme challenges, or demonstrating our core values in an exemplary way. Ronda Rutledge, SFC Executive Director, first received this award from our Board of Directors for her work on the Capital Campaign, and is proud to pass it along this month to Molly Costigan, The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre Program Coordinator. Molly is deserving of this very special recognition because of her initiative, hard work, attention to detail, and leadership that made our summer field trips a huge success. This was no solo effort, but Molly modeled SFC's core values of resourcefulness and collaboration while helping SFC reach two important strategic goals: maximizing the usefulness of the new space and reaching more children through summer programming.

After receiving the award, she took a break from her busy schedule to share with us her inspiration for the work she does at SFC and a behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to build a healthier local food community

Tell us about the journey that led you to SFC.

I grew up on a cattle farm in Kentucky, so I’ve always had a strong connection to where my food comes from and I’ve also always loved to talk about food, to cook, and to eat. After college, I spent a year in Spain, and when I decided to move back to the U.S., I was looking for jobs within the AmeriCorps program. The posting for the AmeriCorps VISTA position with SFC jumped out at me in part because of that connection to food, but primarily because of the community organizing approach. I liked that SFC wanted me to talk with community members about what they wanted for health and wellness in their community and about how they would accomplish those goals themselves, instead of just sending me to build a garden or offer cooking tips. The job was as much fun as it sounded, so I ended up spending two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA for SFC before joining The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® as a program coordinator last year.

What is your job at SFC and what does a “day in the life” look like for you?

The biggest part of my job is coordinating our six-week community cooking classes, so when we’re planning those classes, my days are filled with meetings with host sites, making flyers to promote the classes, and registering participants. After that, I find facilitators for classes and gather materials for them, and I observe at least one class in each series. Once the classes wrap up, I meet with the facilitators to discuss the class and do a lot of survey and data entry. That’s probably 70-80% of what I do, but one thing I’ve loved about being at SFC is that there’s always something new (or new to me) to get involved with. This past spring, I facilitated a new six-week series that was themed around a CSA box and, this summer, I got to coordinate the 12 field trips that we hosted from local camps.

What inspires you?

Hearing stories from people’s lives is the best part of my job. I get to work with THK’s network of about 40 community facilitators for our cooking classes, and I love hearing about what brought them to SFC and what they’re doing for their own health, for their families, and for their communities. And even though it’s a less exciting way to get stories, I also enjoy doing the data entry from the surveys that class participants complete because I get to read about what they learned and the changes that they’re making.

What do you wish everyone knew about the work SFC is engaged in?

I think SFC has something for everyone in Austin. I live in an apartment without enough sunlight for indoor plants, so I garden at a community garden that has received a lot of support from SFC. The cooking classes in our new teaching kitchen start at $30 and cover a variety of topics, and the markets have great produce and prepared foods, and are a fun place to hang out. Everybody eats, so even for those who don’t think of themselves as cooks or gardeners, we’re doing a lot of work to increase access to good, healthy food, and definitely have lots of options for people who may want to explore cooking and gardening for the first time.

Ten years from now: where are you and what are you doing?

Almost all of my family is back in Kentucky, so as much as I love Austin, there’s a good chance that I’ll be back there by 2024. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was doing similar work there, or branching out into something in education. I love working with kids, and I had a lot of fun hosting our summer field trips this year. Definitely still cooking, gardening, shopping at farmers’ markets, and talking constantly about food.

Learn Kitchen Fundamentals and Save!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let’s get down to fundamentals! Increase your kitchen confidence with SFC's Kitchen Fundamentals series and learn essential skills for cooking whole foods with a focus on locally-produced and economical ingredients. Whether you are just getting started in the kitchen or giving your diet a reboot, join us and learn how to make quick, healthy, seasonal and affordable meals. There are 4 stand-alone classes in the series, but buy them as a package and save $20! Doesn’t that make good sense?

Why We Ride

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

As we gear up for another Mamma Jamma Ride on Sept 27, 2014, we wanted to share why it’s so important to us to partner with this amazing organization. The ride raises much needed funds for our agency and nine other local non-profits dedicated to helping Central Texans coping with breast cancer. Our share of the proceeds allows us to offer a cooking and nutrition curriculum designed just for those dealing with this disease. Cancer can ravage the body, and sometimes treatment can be even harder than the disease itself. As patients and survivors get used to the new normal, rebuilding the physical self with nutritious foods is essential. The SFC Cooking After Cancer class offers simple and key tips to help rebuild the body and control inflammation. Cancer survivor and SFC facilitator Candyce shares, "Eating seasonal and organic foods can make the body sing. As a facilitator, I have the chance to share information and prepare foods that can be transformational. And the comradeship that develops during the class is really special, like we've all been on a long, difficult journey and finally made it to shore. The reward is cooking and eating foods that have so much life, they make the body sing.” We hope you’ll support us as a rider, a virtual rider, a crew volunteer or a donor.

Interested in registering for our free SFC Cooking After Cancer class series (meets Mondays 6:00-7:30 Sept 22-Oct 27)? Email Molly

Grow and Eat Cucumbers!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

by Sophie Fuchs, SFC Grow Local Education and Community Garden Coordinator

originally published in the Austin American Statesman

As we head into the heat of August in Austin, the saying “cool as a cucumber” takes on a whole new meaning in the garden. Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), part of the Cucurbitaceae family that includes melons and squashes, are a refreshing vegetable to grow in the summer as they contain over 95% water. They originate from Asia, likely from India, and they have been cultivated for over 3,000 years. In fact, the legend of King Gilgamesh references the tasty vegetable around 2500 BC in the Middle East! Cucumbers eventually made their way into gardens in Europe and were referred to as “cowcumbers” by English writers. They also spread to Africa and the Americas over several centuries and are now grown in tropical and temperate climates alike.

Cucumbers come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. They are typically categorized two ways: “Pickling” cucumbers, which are small, have thin skins, and are made into pickles by brining with salt, and “slicing” cucumbers, which are longer, have thicker skins, and are great for slicing and eating fresh. Slicing varieties to grow in Texas include Poinsett, Straight Eight, Sweet Slice, Sweet Success, and Market More. Popular Texas pickling varieties are Carolina, Fancypak, Multipik, and National Pickling.

Plant cucumbers at least 2 weeks after the last frost of the New Year, from March to April, or plant them August through early September, so they have time to set fruit well before the first frost of winter. Grow cucumbers in full sun in larger garden areas or contained with cages or trellises, as their vines tend to creep several feet and take over garden spaces. They flourish in sandy loam soils or soils with good drainage. Amend the soil with compost before planting your cucumbers. Create beds that are 4-6 inches high and 36 inches apart using a shovel or spading folk. Plant 3-4 cucumber seeds 1 inch deep in these beds about 12 inches apart.

Once seedlings emerge, thin out the small plants and let the healthy plants grow. Guide the vines vertically along a fence, trellis or cage, or let them grow along the ground if you have sufficient space. Water the cucumbers on a weekly basis once established, and weed around the beds. You will see two flowers develop, male flowers that appear first and drop off and female flowers that remain to grow the cucumber fruit. If a cucumber grows misshapen, it could mean that the plant was poorly pollinated. You can help along the pollination process by gently brushing together the inside of each male and female flower. Grow plants and flowers that attract bees near your cucumbers to improve pollination and to produce tastier fruit.

Monitor regularly for insects and diseases, such as banded or spotted cucumber beetles and squash bugs, and use organic deterrents such as neem oil to control them. Harvest cucumbers when they are firm, green (yellow cucumbers are too old, so pick before this stage), and the size you want to eat. Pickling cucumber should be 3-4 inches long, and slicing cucumbers should be 6-8 inches long. The seeds of cucumbers develop a bitter taste as they mature, so remove the seeds of older cucumbers before eating them. To make them last, store harvested cucumbers in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Cucumbers are a good source of Vitamin C and K, manganese, copper, and potassium. They also have anti-inflammatory qualities and contain antioxidants and polyphenols that may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer. Cucumbers are typically eaten raw in refreshing salads, cold soups, and sauces such as Indian raita and Greek tzatziki. They can also be eaten cooked, as well as pickled in salt brine to become tasty pickles.

Below is an easy dish that uses fresh cucumbers. Mint is plentiful at this time as well. Chili paste can be found in the “Asian food section” of many grocery stores and once open, the jar stores well in the refrigerator, covered.

Thai Cucumber Salad


1 large slicing cucumber, cut into matchsticks

½ cup onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup chopped mint

½ tsp. chili paste*

1 Tbsp. lime juice

2 tsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. sugar

Salt to taste

½ cup chopped, roasted and unsalted almonds or peanuts


Chop cucumbers, onion and mint and place aside in a bowl. In another small bowl, combine chili paste, lime juice, vinegar, sugar and salt and whisk until combined. Pour liquid over cucumbers and gently mix. For best flavor, allow dish sit at room temperature for approximately 15 minutes, then garnish with roasted nuts.

Serves 3

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.