Austin, TX-based Green Gate Farms Offers Organic Food and Educational Opportunities
September 6, 2013 | Minnie Payne
Skip Connett, 57, is co-owner of Austin’s approximately 40-acre certified organic Green Gate Farms. The operation is a realization of a vision he had to cultivate a healthy farm that feeds mind, body and soul. He and his co-owner wife, Erin Flynn, 51, established Green Gate Farms in May 2006, five acres of which are in what was once a blighted neighborhood, eight miles east of downtown Austin, Texas. Another four to six acres of a 35-acre plot located 23 miles from downtown Austin are presently being developed with cover cropping, fruit trees and vegetables.
Skip, formerly a writer for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, saw firsthand the dilemmas of poor health and that, combined with a passion for organic farming, drove him to cultivating the soil.
“By having worked in public health for many years, Skip embraces sustainable practices and feels that organic farming is the only way to go. I was more interested in creating a community-based farm,” says Erin, a former freelance writer/PR person. “It was years before we took the big leap of leaving our careers and deciding to develop Green Gate Farms.”
The farm’s primary economic engine is its year-round Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership. Erin relates that their goal is to maintain an annual 200-membership. Members pay seasonal, weekly or biweekly fees and receive fresh organic food that can be picked up at the farm and various sites around Austin.
Green Gate Farms is very active in sustainable agriculture practices in that it pasture raises rare breed Guinea Hogs for soil fertility, saves seeds and uses companion planting with flowers to draw beneficial insects.
Certified fresh organic vegetables, free-range meats (chicken, lamb, pork and beef), pastured eggs, edible and wildflower bouquets, honey, native seeds, herbs, plants for your garden, lard from the Guinea Hogs and more can be found at the farm stand.
Educating people on sustainable farming developed when the farm decided to have an open-door policy, wherein volunteers could work for food.
“Because we have an ‘open-door policy,’ people asked us to teach them how to farm, so in 2011, we started non-profit New Farm Institute,” Erin informs. “Most farmers have to have an off-farm job to make a living.
“Farmers are a great wealth of information, and I don’t think that people realize how much farmers know. Therefore, I want to give a forum to farmers so that they can share their knowledge and increase their income.”
According to Erin, the farm and school makes much more money than a conventional farm; however, since it’s a new enterprise and startup costs such as funding a barn, fencing, infrastructure, plumbing, refrigeration, etc. are extremely high, it will take time to see a clear profit.
Climate change, lack of support from traditional sources such as retail water and a not-yet Farmer’s Cooperative present a challenge. Also, banks won’t make loans, despite good credit.
“The organizations that should be supporting us don’t,” Erin laments. “They always say that farmers have to provide their own funding. It’s a great opportunity for people willing to support farmers.”
Nonetheless, Skip and Erin have big plans for Green Gate Farms, in that they are developing a farm school and investing in agritourism whereby they are looking toward international exchanges with other farmers.
Their advice to future farmers is to start slow and enlist as many people as possible to help them.
“It’s easy to deplete energy,” says Erin. “It’s a lifetime of work – not a sprint.”