Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Save HausBar Farm & Save All Austin Urban Farms!

My backyard garden and flock, hugely inspired by HausBar Farm

An Open Letter to Austin's City Council,

I read an article in the Austin Chronicle recently about the surprise shutdown of HausBar Farms in East Austin. I've wanted to write to y'all about this since I heard the news, but have been debating the best approach. Pardon my self-indulgent tangent here, but let's stop for a moment and consider different possible tacks I might take. I could be all sweet-- more flies with honey and all that plus I think there's some nonsense about decorum when addressing politicians. Or I could go the opposite direction-- as is my wont-- and get all New Jersey on y'all and say WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? 

Striking a balance is not my strong suit. So pardon me if my chapped ass flavors tone here.

I will allow that I have not been to HausBar since the shutdown, nor have I spoken to Dorsey (I left her a phone message to try to set up an interview but I can only guess she is hard at work on the farm and unable to answer every call that comes in immediately). I have not spoken to the folks at PODER either. So yes, I am going by what was written in the article.

It turns my stomach that there is even a hint of race-card-playing here. By this, I am referring to the section of the Chron article that reads as follows:

PODER accused HausBar Farms of operating commercially in a residential zone and gentrifying the area surrounding the farm. According to PODER's Daniel Llanes, the activist group had to tackle the issue because other environmental groups wouldn't touch it: "HausBar Farms and the whole urban farm movement is generally a white movement, and so here's where it clashes. You don't see SOS [Save Our Springs] over here, or Sierra Club."

I think what Llanes might be saying is that HausBar is somehow "bad" because the owners are white and, by virtue of their whiteness, it can only mean they are trying to take over the land of East Austin and drive out folks of color. Is that right? How fucking preposterous. Dorsey has been a part of East Austin since the '80s when she opened Eastside Cafe. She is an active member of the community, she loves her neighbors and she is a real GIVER in Austin. 

It's one thing to say there are code violations or odors that need to be dealt with (and if you read the article it addresses how some so-called violations are due to confusion with city ordinances, not some blatant violations). But the race card must not be played-- that is playing dirty and opens up cans of worms that are not good for composting but only good for fostering bitterness and division that will last for a long time and be difficult or impossible to mitigate. If we want to trot out some accusation of land theft, let's go whole hog (pardon the pun) and see if we can have some Tribal Nation organizations shove PODER aside. I mean, whose land is it really? 

Here's a video report I did about HausBar Farms for my KUT series Whim City. And there is a related article here.

I've been to HausBar many times. I first met Dorsey when I wrote about the farm for Edible Austin magazine. I was so blown away by the project to bring farming into the city that I decided to follow HausBar's lead. I now have three raised beds in my backyard where I grow a lot of my own food, I've got a backyard flock of chickens (which, yes, I got from Dorsey) and a badass coop. 

Besides having my own food, here's what else I have: a beautiful yard I love to show off, so I use it for concerts and, soon, fundraisers. Folks come over, see my gardens, and ask for advice on how to start their own. Community is forged, we log off the fucking internet, we are a neighborhood. I also share the food I grow with others. I also take tremendous pleasure in looking at my garden and meditating on it and appreciating where food comes from. Oh, and I also hire LOCAL companies/individuals to help me with my garden, my coop, etc. So I'm putting money directly into the hands of locals as opposed to, say, buying eggs laid by stressed out chickens locked in tiny boxes in chicken death camps somewhere far away.

HausBar is being accused of running an operation which, as described by PODER, sounds like something out of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. That is pure bullshit. The place is sustainable, innovative, and a perfect combination of tried and true techniques and cutting edge techniques. HausBar is also being accused of gentrification, as if they're using the land to become wildly wealthy. 

Hello? Have any of you been to the farm? Have you seen Dorsey out there busting ass from dawn til dusk? Do you have any idea how not profitable an urban farm is?

I'm so disgusted that PODER is trying to permanently shut down HausBar. Do they not realize that prior to Dorsey taking over the site it was a bunch of illegally built crack houses, an eyesore and a crime magnet? Now it is a majestic, out-in-the-open model for ways we can live that don't involve constantly driving our SUVs to HEfuckingB to buy a bunch of GMO processed "food" that has been shipped in from filthy factories run by enormous profit-driven corporations.

I wrote another article for Edible Austin about a Smithville Judge Ronald Jones (who happens to be African-American, which seems to fly in the face of PODER's accusation that only white folk engage in urban farming) who has started a series of big in-town gardens in his small town. He actually sentences youth offenders to time working in the gardens to show them the value of gardening. He also works side-by-side with them. He also started a garden near the elementary school to show the kids that food does not originate on a grocery store shelf-- sadly there are countless Americans who seem to think this. 

By having the gardens in town, where folks can see them (and come by and help themselves to food) Jones is doing countless great services for his community. So is HausBar farms and all of our urban farms in Austin. 

According to the Chronicle article, there have been some zoning/permit questions, and these are due in part to confusion coming from the City of Austin. It is time for y'all to get your fucking ducks in a damn line, people, and get this straightened out. Our city is viewed with awe by so many people around the country and around the world. We have a reputation for being friendly, green, and smart. Let's keep it that way. 

Please, please, please, please do not delay on rewriting and clarifying the urban farm ordinance. And please, please, please do the right thing and encourage MORE urban farms. This is not about gentrification or racism. This is about learning-- and teaching others-- sustainable ways to live. 



Carmen said...

Spike, this was an atrocious misquote of Daniel Llanes by Anna Toon. This should not have been a race issue. It was a zoning issue, but you're right that it has become an issue around gentrification. In your analysis, you miss the fact that Xicanos are in fact native people (recognized as such by the Five Tribes of Texas), and that they were relegated to the East side by an explicitly racist City of Austin Master Plan created in 1928. These neighbors have made lemonades out of lemons and created a neighborhood plan that rezoned 600 commercial and industrial properties to single family residential. That is why it is precious to them to protect that land, to ensure that there can be affordable housing and some of this community (what is left) can actually stay. There is not inherently a problem with so many new comers, until they start stepping on the policies that allow the long-term residents to remain in Austin (this is one of the "affordable" parts of town, and it's getting too expensive for many to stay). Yes this is now a race and gentrification issue, because this blanket zoning policy would accelerate gentrification. 78702 has had the second highest influx of white residents of any zip code in the nation. We don't protest that, but we do protest the imposition on planning and zoning code that is intended to protect residents.

topazbree said...

Thanks Spike! Carmen this neighborhood used to be a Swedish settlement full of farms -- things change. Also how are the farms pushing people out of the neighborhood? Condos and big new houses raise taxes and push people out - if we didn't have farms on this land thats what we'd have.

Quiana said...

Urban farm owners and their advocates make it seem like the community is against a green environment with fresh fruits and vegetables. They don't mention the slaughtering of animals or the selling of products to expensive restaurants. It's ballsy and highly unethical for outsiders to enter a neighborhood and set up business, especially one that is offensive and disruptive!

Spike Gillespie said...

HausBar is not an outsider. Dorsey has lived on, worked in, and provided so much for the East Side for thirty years. Please stop with the fucking bullshit.