It was so exciting to organize the second annual Today’s Dietitian farm tour on May 20—this time in Austin, Texas, during the Today’s Dietitian 5th Annual Spring Symposium. We had a fabulous group of 48 attendees, including dietitians (from as far away as Mexico and the UK), speakers, and sponsors for a full day of learning about Austin’s food and farm scene. A huge thanks goes to the Sorghum Checkoff for sponsoring this field trip. Despite the torrential rainstorm that rolled in, complete with thunder and lightning, attendees still had a great time networking and learning more about the food system in this region.
Our first stop was to meet with Jenny Perez, education coordinator for the American Botanical Council, where we learned more about the evidence on food as medicine and toured the edible and medicinal demonstration gardens at this historic location in Austin. During this tour, we learned about the interconnectedness of flavor and pharmacology as we explored the phytochemicals in common foods and culinary herbs and how they relate to therapeutic attributes.
As we toured through the medicinal, herbal gardens, this carved tree caught my attention.
After the herbal farm tour at the Botanical Council, we made our way to a sorghum farm, during which Doug Bice from the Sorghum Checkoff told us all about how sorghum is grown in Texas, and Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RD, filled us in on the basics of sorghum nutrition and cooking.
Our next stop was to visit James Kamas’ farm, where he works approximately 2,350 acres of cultivated land growing small grains (wheat and oats), corn, grain sorghum, and cotton.
It poured rain on the way to James’ farm, so we were unable to go into the fields, which was covered in mud up to our knees, to actually see how the sorghum grows. This was a huge disappointment to our group. However, James told us a little bit more about how he grows his sorghum and other crops and shared his story about how he went from being an engineer to a farmer. He loves to watch something take root and grow—there’s nothing better, according to James.
It kept on pouring as we made our way via bus to the home of Wayne Cleveland, the executive director of Texas Sorghum Producers. He opened up his own home to our group—muddy shoes and all—for a home-cooked meal of delicious Texas-style foods, including grilled meats, salads, grilled vegetables, beans, corn on the cob, and homemade ice cream. There were even wonderful choices for the vegans and vegetarians in our group. The whole family, featured in the kitchen here, was part of the culinary team.
Even though it was pouring, we took refuge under the tents to enjoy the delicious fixings and Texas hospitality.
After lunch, we gathered in Wayne’s living room for a discussion on sustainability with Danika Trierweiler, RDN, of the Sustainable Food Center. From seed to table, Sustainable Food Center creates opportunities for individuals to make healthful food choices and participate in a vibrant local food system. Through organic food gardening, relationships with area farmers, interactive cooking classes, and nutrition education, children and adults have increased access to locally grown food and are empowered to improve the long-term health of Central Texans and our environment.
Then, we piled back into the bus en route for Austin. During our journey, Lisa Barden of Keep Austin Fed filled us in on food insecurity and food recovery programs in Austin. Keep Austin Fed is a nonprofit organization that gathers wholesome surplus food from commercial kitchens and distributes it to area charities that serve people in need. Its volunteers rescue thousands of meals each month, feeding hundreds of neighbors living with food insecurity. One in seven people in Austin don’t know where their next meal will come from, while approximately 30% of food produced in the United States ends up in a landfill, producing harmful methane gases.
Our last stop was to see the wonderful Urban Roots Farm, a nonprofit using food and farming to transform the lives of young people and engage, inspire, and nourish the community. Unfortunately, some recent roadwork made it impossible to take our bus down the road to visit the farm, so Max Elliott, executive director and cofounder of Urban Roots, hopped onto our bus and told us all about his program. As the only farm-based youth leadership organization in Austin, Urban Roots provides a unique space for young people to learn how to grow food while growing as leaders.
And that concluded our amazing farm tour! We hope you join us on our next farm tour in Scottsdale in May 2019. Stay tuned for more details and mark your calendars today.
— Sharon Palmer, RDN, is a plant-based, sustainability food and nutrition expert, and serves as nutrition editor for Today’s Dietitian. She blogs daily at The Plant-Powered Dietitian.