Out of Economic Woe, Urban Farming Side Project Evolves Into Viable Business Enterprise
July 2, 2012 | Jessica Morey-Collins
When the global economy deflated in 2008, business slowed for Austin-based landscaping business Texas Trees & Landscapes. Owners Glenn and Paula Foore ran Texas Trees & Landscapes off of five acres in the middle of the city, and had many long time employees counting on work. With landscape work being a very seasonal market, the Foores often took on side-projects to stay busy during slow periods. It was during one of these periods that they decided to start an urban farm on their property.
“We could feed ourselves and our crew, while staying busy and keeping morale up,” says Paula.
Situated on rich river bottom soil, the couple’s small road front plot proved extraordinarily fertile, yielding impressive crops that had passers-by stopping to ask if any of the produce was for sale. And just like that, Springdale Farm was born.
“We opened up a little farm stand and people came,” says Paula, “Soon, a prominent chef in town scheduled a supper club on the property. When he saw all of our tomatoes, he asked if we were going to be able to sell them all. We told him, ‘no, probably not.’ He said, ‘Let me make a few phone calls,’ and literally within 30 minutes, 6 restaurants had called and we sold all those tomatoes.”
In a showcase of community-driven business growth, Springdale Farm has since maintained its relationship with these restaurants, and continues to sell to local chefs. The farm stand sells eggs and vegetables every Wednesday and Saturday morning.
As demand for their produce grew, the Foores added plots to every available space on their five-acre property. Springdale Farm now grows over 70 different crops yearly.
“Our urban farm came to be because we already owned land on very rich soil,” Paula notes. “Now it seems to me that 5 acres is the perfect amount to farm, and we’re so convenient to the community, both the private sector and the restaurants. I can’t imagine any other kind of farming.”
Glenn and Paula now run the farm, but have managed to maintain their landscaping business in concert with this new enterprise. With eight employees running the entire operation, the Foores generally have the full crew work for an hour or two on the farm in the morning, and then keep two full time employees on hand for the remainder of the day.
“Having 6-8 landscape guys here to descend on the fields like a swat team first thing every morning is a tremendous benefit to us,” says Paula, “We couldn’t have them all here full time, but when we need to put shade cloth over the greenhouse, or harvest 500 pounds of tomatoes in one morning, we have the man power. It’s amazing what they can do in short order.”
While Springdale Farm is not certified organic, the Foores are passionate about using safe, sustainable farming practices. The sustainable practices the farm employs include crop rotation, organic fertilizers and planting trap crops. The Foores also have ducks on the farm to forage insects, and incorporate flowers into crops to attract pollinators. They are committed to providing safe, nutritious food to their community, but are as yet daunted by the bureaucratic requirements of certification.
“It seems like we work sun-up to sun-down anyway without needing to add the phenomenal amount of paperwork that it takes to keep the required records,” proclaims Paula. “Instead, we encourage people to tour the farm, get to know us and our operations. Ask questions. Know your farmer!”
Soil health is one critical aspect of the Foores’ commitment to sustainability. Luckily, their original landscaping enterprise has equipped Springdale Farm with a valuable composting infrastructure.
“Because our landscape crew maintains properties, we get the benefit of all kinds of leaves and grass clippings. We also have a few restaurants that send us their compost. We never plant a new crop until we re-compost the plot. Keeping the soil healthy is of the utmost importance here.”
Composting activity at Springdale Farm allows the Foores to use a waste output of one business as a critical input for the other. A consistent source of mulch allows Springdale Farm to nurture healthy, prolific soil, and thereby grow the most delicious crops, says Paula. Maintaining their large composting operation also further integrates the farm with the landscaping company, helping to secure the economic viability of the entire enterprise.
Amid economic uncertainty, the Foores discovered that their garden-turned-urban-farm not only brought in revenue, but buttressed their pre-existing business. Through Springdale Farm, the Foores have been able to provide their community the crucial service of safe, healthy, local produce.